During the summer of 1978, David Raymond was interning in the Philadelphia Phillies front office when his boss offered him an unusual opportunity. “They called me in and said I could stay for all the games,” he recalls, “and all I had to do was wear a costume.”
That was the birth of the Phillie Phanatic, the green, potbellied, flightless bird still entertaining Phillies fans today—and the start of Raymond’s unlikely career as a mascot savant. After performing as the Phanatic for the character’s first 16 years, he formed Raymond Entertainment, a branding firm that creates mascots—such as Muddy and Muddonna, cluckers for Minor League Baseball team the Toledo Mud Hens, and Tropo, a rainbow-haired creature who encourages eco-friendly behaviors on behalf of the Air Quality Partnership of Delaware. Now he’s giving sports’ unsung entertainers their due as a founder of the Mascot Hall of Fame, which opened in December in Whiting, Indiana, just 30 minutes south of Chicago.
From the hall’s own mascot, Reggy the Purple Party Dude, hugging the building’s exterior to the interactive stations where visitors can learn mascot dance moves and shoot a T-shirt cannon, the $18 million, 25,000-square-foot Hall brings a zany new attraction to an industrial town otherwise best known for its annual pierogi festival. “It’s like a piece of Disney that’s been plopped down in Whiting,” Raymond says.
The Hall was originally just a website, where Raymond “inducted” the first three members—the Phanatic, the San Diego Chicken who pulled pranks at Padres games, and the Phoenix Suns Gorilla—in 2005. He wasn’t planning to develop a physical space, but in 2014 he got a call from Whiting Mayor Joe Stahura. “He said, ‘This fits with our brand, and we can build this for you,’” Raymond says.
The Hall now has 17 inductees, ranging from animals (Penn State’s Nittany Lion) to whatsits (the baseball-headed Mr. Met). One character who’s likely on the fast track to induction is Gritty, the new mascot that Raymond helped develop for the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers. Since debuting last fall, the endearingly scruffy character has appeared on Jimmy Fallon and even become an unlikely meme among left-wing activists (he received write-in votes in 46 states during last year’s midterm elections). “It’s an amazing case study in rolling out a mascot correctly,” says Raymond. In his mind, the secret to any mascot’s success can be boiled down to one simple tenet: “the power of fun.”