Written by Lilia Walsh
Recently, my job as student assistant in the Archives and Rare Books Library has led me to begin an inventory of all of the UC student newspapers in the collection. While trying to find when the title of the newspaper changed names from University News to The Bearcat in the 1900s, I stumbled across a humorous and perplexing cartoon featuring one of the marble lions which now stand in front of the McMicken building: Mick and Mack.
The cartoon, from the October 22nd, 1919 issue, is titled “Freshmen, Profit by Experience.” It depicts two freshmen pledging “never again” and standing in front of Mick or Mack, which has stripes across its body and a brush and bottle of acid paint remover at its feet.
Strangely, none of the articles on the front page of this edition of University News reference the cartoon. However, if you turn to page four, you stumble across a small article titled: “Freshman, Warning.” This article asks all freshmen to examine the cartoon on the first page “as a special favor.” It explains how important the stone lions are to the university (it seems that they were not yet called ‘Mick and Mack’ at this time), and the distress of the upperclassman when they discovered that some pranksters had painted Freshman along the sidewalks in front of McMicken Hall, and “had gone so far as to paint the lions we revere so much, making them resemble zebras with green stripes.” They suppose that this was done to intimidate the Committee of Vigilance, an official club of upperclassman, who kept the freshmen in line and enforced school spirit through paddling, humiliation, and intimidation. The upperclassman considered this subversive act “sacrilege against their Alma Mater.” The perpetrators were found out and confessed to their transgression. As punishment, they were made to remove the paint “with acid provided by the Chemistry Department,” the event depicted in the cartoon.
It is clear that this cartoon and article were intended to be serious warnings to all freshmen to respect their school, upperclassman, and the stone lions themselves. The article concludes: “Freshmen, accept this warning and continue your good behavior.”
Photographs from the 1919 edition of The Cincinnatian depict the distinctive paint job given to the lions by the delinquent freshmen.
As well as the clean up depicted in the cartoon:
Interestingly, the practice of painting the stone lions became a tradition for rival teams before a match against UC. It is unclear if this tradition was launched by this incident by UC freshmen.
It seems that Mick and Mack had a much stronger identity as mascots then, perhaps due to the fact that they were more central to campus, if only in location. The campus was much smaller then, and McMicken was the most important building. Mick and Mack were also only 15 years old in 1919, having been gifted to the university in 1904. Many seniors in the 1919 edition of The Cincinnatian are depicted posing with the lions.
The growth of the UC Bearcat has now largely eclipsed Mick and Mack as mascots. However, they remain important fixtures of the university and characters of UC history.