The Nittany Lion Shrine

If you visit a Penn State campus this summer, one of the must-do items to check off your list is take a picture with the Nittany Lion Shrine.

Sculpting of the first Nittany Lion statue

Sculptor Heinz Warnecke turns a 13-ton block of Indiana limestone into the beloved symbol of Penn State.

The Nittany Lion Shrine celebrated the 70th anniversary of its dedication last year. It was a gift from the Class of 1940, which took two years to sculpt and was dedicated to Penn State at the homecoming ceremonies of 1942.

The history of the lion mascot goes back to 1904, when Harrison D. “Joe” Mason, a varsity baseball player of the Class of 1907, visited Princeton for a game. Encouraged by the opposing team’s mascot, the Princeton Tiger, Mason came up with the Nittany mountain lion on the spot, calling it the “fiercest beast of them all.”

The word Nittany is said to be derived from the Indian words meaning “protective barrier against the elements.” Penn State University Park is located in the Nittany Valley, and Mount Nittany can be seen from some eastern points on campus. While the mountain lion used to roam the valley in the mid-19th century, it became extinct about 25 years after the University was founded in 1855.

Nittany Lion Shrine at Hazleton campus

The Nittany Lion Shrine at Penn State Hazleton.

Thus, upon Mason’s return to Penn State (after having defeated Princeton), the adoption of the mascot was almost immediate and without vote, since the idea of a Nittany Lion was universally accepted as an engrained part of the community by students, faculty, and townspeople.

After the completion of the original statue in 1942, replicas of this original lion have been created and each Penn State campus has a shrine of its own, making it a popular symbol that represents Penn State all over the world.

The University Park Lion Shrine is being renovated as a gift by the Class of 2012.

The University Park Lion Shrine is being renovated as a gift by the Class of 2012.

As senior gift to Penn State by the Class of 2012, the area around the statue at University Park is currently being renovated to include improved lighting, enhanced accessibility, and landscaping. This gift means that the shrine at University Park is closed to visitors – and for pictures! – for the summer, and it will not open until August 5, 2013 (update: the Shrine is now scheduled to open on Sept. 6, 2013).

If you make it to a Penn State campus this summer, or visit to University Park closer to the fall, look for the shrine and take picture to mark the first of your many Penn State traditions!

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