Over the decades, Purdue Pete has gone through several makeovers, and two old designs remain stored in the basement of Mackey Arena.
“You know, just to preserve history is the big thing. We bring them out for Homecoming so people can see the old Pete heads for Homecoming, but really, that’s it – just to preserve history,” said Steve Sohlberg, spirit squad coordinator and head cheer coach for Purdue Athletics. “There’s no reason to throw them out, and we can still use them for Homecoming events and throwback days.”
The University Book Store first drew Purdue Pete in the ‘40s, and that’s how the unofficial mascot of Purdue Athletics was born, said Sohlberg. Then, in the ‘50s, a student brought the character to life at Homecoming one year. For Homecoming in recent years, the spirit squad brings the two surviving prior designs out, and they look nothing like the sleek, 8-pound carbon fiber molds of Pete’s head as we know it today.
The older one, which was used from the early- to mid-’70s, weighs 50 pounds. It takes several people at once to hoist it over the wearer, said Sohlberg. They would look out of the head’s mouth to see and had to rotate their entire upper torso in order to turn in a new direction. Looking at the interior of the massive head – it’s practically waist-high and stored upside-down because it’s so top-heavy – one can still see old Exponents husking the inside where what used to be papier-mache has been reinforced with fiberglass. All the other heads made of papier-mache have been lost to the past.
The more modestly-sized head, which is about equally as terrifying, hails from the late ‘70s to early ‘80s. Pete sports his classic angry brows atop a football uniformed getup, and this head is only slightly easier to maneuver in.
It’s easy to replace the heads nowadays. The handful of students who gallivant at Purdue home games and fundraisers as Pete each have their own head and their own lockers in which to keep them. They paint the eyes themselves and can decorate the helmets in various designs of old gold and black. It’s certainly easier to uplift and rouse the crowd without 50 pounds of chicken wire weighing down on you.
“There’s nothing more fun than pulling someone out of the crowd and dancing with them ... (My favorite dance move) is cooking. You hold your bowl with one hand; then you gotta stir with the other one. You gotta pull your spices from the shelves, and you’ve gotta mix it all up,” said Kevin Wissler, a Pete who’s a senior in the Polytechnic Institute.
Read more about the history of Purdue Pete at www.engineering.purdue.edu/ECN/Support/KB/Docs/PurduePeteHistory. You can also check out The Exponent’s YouTube channel for a short video (coming soon) of three unmasked Petes demonstrating their favorite dance moves.