Though she was born a Buckeye, Rosemary Hathaway has always considered herself somewhat of a Mountaineer at heart. When she moved to Morgantown, she realized being a Mountaineer was about more than being a football fan, it was about something closer to people’s core identity in the sense of their values and ideas. She became interested in what people really think it means to be a Mountaineer and started the Mountaineer oral history project.
Managing Editor Jennifer Gardner sat down with Hathaway to talk about her intrigue in the Mountaineer mascot.
Q. Can you tell me about why you decided to study the Mountaineer?
A. It’s actually really closely connected to all of that family history that we were talking about, in that I grew up listening to my parents’ stories about WVU back in the day when they were in college. I feel like I spent a lot of time in my youth hearing about the Mountaineer. The whole first semester that I was here, I realized that I’d never been on a campus where people were more passionate about their mascot and the identity they derive from the mascot of the mountaineer, and that really fascinated me.
Q. What has been interesting about interviewing the Mountaineer mascots, both present and previous?
A. They’re such different people in a lot of ways and yet, there are definitely threads that link them to each other. What I find really interesting is that I sort of expected that all of these people were going to be really extroverted and very enthusiastic, because I just figured that’s what you have to do to be the Mountaineer. But it has been really interesting because it is not about personality, persay, because I have met a number of these people who are soft spoken, humble, and who are very passionate about the State and the University, but they are not cheerleaders and they do not think of themselves that way.
Q. How do the Mountaineers stand out from other mascots?
A. What really has been most fascinating to me, is that all of them really resist the term "mascot." In part, I think because our idea these days is that a mascot is somebody who wears a funny costume with a big, giant foam head. Instead, they almost say ‘I was the representative of the entire State, I was sort of the personification of what it means to be from West Virginia and people.’ Obviously, they took it very seriously when they were in that role, and they still take it very seriously. They all just have a deep commitment to the state, and its well-being, even though many of them do not live in the state anymore. That’s what has really struck me, and has kind of fit in with my own thinking that, that’s what the Mountaineer idetity is about.
Q. Has anything unexpected ever come up in your interviews?
A. They’re all a little bit rebellious, too, and almost all of them have said something like, ‘well I always figured it would be better to ask for forgiveness, than to ask for permission ahead of time.’ A lot of it involves shooting off the gun in places you aren’t supposed to shoot it off, and you know, tangling with the other team’s mascot in the middle of the game.
Q. Did you notice any differences in interviewing the male Mountaineers versus the female?
A. In some ways, it really wasn’t all that different. They both also have the same core characteristics, but both of them also really struck me in that they have much thicker skin than I ever could. In particular Natalie Tennant, she was booed, people threw things at her, they yelled names at her, they told her to go back to the kitchen. It was really incredible the kind of abuse she suffered, and not just when she was first chosen, but really throughout her tenure as the Mountaineer. It’s not that it didn’t affect her, she was just able to rise above it all. She said in the interview that in some ways that really prepared her well for being a politician.