Hard-working costume for MIT mascot nearing retirement


The pants and tail are hot and awkward to wear. The pap���er mach��� head feels like a private sauna and chafes your shoulders.

Otherwise, wearing MIT's beaver costume is a fun experience.

Jonathan Monsarrat (SB 1989), who played the beaver several dozen times from 1989-1991, loved every second of it. "I'm tall (6'4") and I'm an extroverted guy," said Mr. Monsarrat, explaining the essential credentials he brought to the job. "It was an opportunity to express my 'MIT-ness.' I have a lot of school spirit and this was a chance to express it."

What makes a good beaver actor? "A lot of energy, one-on-one interactions with people, making people feel like they're part of whatever spirit or party the beaver is representing," he said.

Mr. Monsarrat, now a graduate student at the Sloan School of Management, was the beaver at the freshman picnic, Commencement and other landmark events. Unlike most college mascots, however, he never suited up for a sporting event.

The costume, which is worn about 15 times a year, is threadbare from wear and constant dry cleaning. The slippers were retired several years ago.

Beaver I was designed for the Class of 1927's 50th reunion and unveiled at the Alumni Day luncheon. Before MIT acquired the costume, MIT organizations--primarily the Alumni Association--rented it from the outfit's designer for special events.

Meeting the beaver can be unforgettable. "It has a scent all its own," said Mary Morrissey, retired director of Conference Services, who bought the beaver costume for about $1,500 in the early 1980s when the designer closed her North Shore business. The MIT Museum became the caretaker and charged a nominal fee (often waived) for repair and cleaning.

The beaver now resides in the office of Ted E. Johnson, assistant director for programs at the Campus Activities Complex. It's time to retire the old beaver and introduce a newer, more up-to-date model, perhaps with some frills that epitomize the spirit of MIT, he believes.

Before moving ahead, Mr. Johnson, working with the CAC advisory board and the Undergraduate Association, is soliciting the help of the MIT community to determine the desired image, look and design of Beaver II. An open meeting will be scheduled. Ideas may be sent to Mr. Johnson at tej@mit.edu.

By the time Mr. Monsarrat arrived on the scene, the beaver was beginning to show its age. He recalls the nose as being chafed and the legs as threadbare and shedding. The nose and eyes needed constant attention. But he's excited about the prospect of a new beaver suit.

"I hope they choose me to wear it again," said Mr. Monsarrat, who played Cookie Monster during his night school biology class at Harvard last Halloween and is contemplating another costume this time around.

The beaver (unnamed, although some refer to him as TIM) was adopted as the MIT mascot in 1914, at the suggestion of the Technology Club of New York. In presenting two mounted beavers to MIT President Richard C. Maclaurin at the club's annual dinner, Lester D. Gardner (SB 1898) said:

"We first thought of the kangaroo, which like Tech goes forward by leaps and bounds��������������������������� Then we considered the elephant. He is wise, patient, strong, hard-working and like all men who graduate from Tech, has a good tough hide.

"But neither of these were American animals. We turned to William Temple Hornady's textbook, The American Natural History: A Foundation of Useful Knowledge of the Higher Animals of North America (1906), and instantly chose the beaver. As you will see, the beaver not only typifies the Tech man, but his habits are peculiarly our own. Mr. Hornaday says, 'Of all the animals in the world, the beaver is noted for his engineering and mechanical skill and habits of industry. His habits are nocturnal, he does his best work in the dark.'"

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 28, 1998.


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