Early bird special
By Andrea Blair and Kevin Hyde
Like trying to trace the history of other species, the origins of the UofL Cardinal Bird are a bit murky.
The cardinal has been associated with the University of Louisville since 1913 when Ellen Patterson, the wife of UofL College of Liberal Arts dean John Patterson, suggested the athletics board adopt the brilliantly colored avian as the athletics symbol along with its red and black colors.
But for the next four decades, the UofL Cardinal lived only in two-dimensional form. According to The University of Louisville history book by Dwayne Cox and William Morison, the school symbol made its first "live" appearance in the mid-1950s.
In 1953 two female members of the cheerleading squad escorted fellow cheerleader T. Lee Adams to the Home Economics Department.
"They introduced me to Mrs. Gold, whose name was Mrs. Goldsmith, I think," Adams recalled. "They told her they wanted her to make a Cardinal head for me. She looked at me and said, ‘You must be a total extrovert to do this.’ And I said, 'Yeah I am, kinda.' "
After agreeing on a pattern, Mrs. Gold created a cloth Cardinal head. "It was really more of a black head with a yellowish beak," Adams said. "There was hardly any red on the head at all. And then I had my red cheerleader sweater."
But it didn’t take too long for Adams’ extroversion to wear off.
"I used it for the rest of the football season and one or two basketball games at the Armory," said the retired dentist. "And then I quit because I got teased so much. They would just harass and aggravate me."
A few years later, the Cardinal Bird mascot made the jump from cloth to papier mâchê when, in the fall of 1958, marching band member Richard M. "Dick" Dyson, a 1961 J.B. Speed School of Engineering graduate, first put on a handmade costume for Louisville’s Thanksgiving Parade.
"Three of us in the band—Gearl Asher, [Robert] Sam Badgett and me—got the idea to dress someone up as the university’s mascot and march with the drum major for the Thanksgiving Parade," recalls Dyson, who served as the mascot during the 1958-59 and 1959-60 school years. "I got tabbed to do the honors because I was a drum major at Frankfort High School."
Dyson adds: "Now you have to be a gymnast—certainly not a Speed student!—to be the Bird."
The costume was made at the old UofL Arts Center on First Street.
"We created the head out of papier mâchê on top of a wire frame," Dyson says. "The UofL Players gave us a long black coat with tails for the costume. I had a white dress shirt, and we found a large ‘L’ for the front. I had white dress pants and a pair of spats worn over my shoes and I carried a black cane with a white top. The head had holes in the eyes and below the beak for viewing and breathing. I’m six foot five, and when I wore the head I was about seven feet tall."
The costume was an immediate hit, and the Cardinal Bird soon joined the UofL Cheerleaders at the next football game and subsequent sporting events. Those first few years were "unofficial," says Dyson, so traveling far was a little hard. But the Bird made it to all the home games and many away games along with the cheerleaders.
Badgett, another Speed grad, followed Dyson as the Cardinal Bird mascot in 1960-1961. Just before Christmas of that year, he experienced the mascot’s first major wardrobe malfunction—in this case an out and out mugging at the hands of some University of Dayton fraternity members during an away basketball game.
"I was sitting on the sidelines of the court," Badgett remembers, "and as halftime ends, all of a sudden—whammo—a group of fraternity guys from Dayton ripped off my head."
He spent the entire Christmas holiday constructing a new head.
Badgett says he was always trying to think of innovative things to do as "Mr. Cardinal Bird," from laying a papier mâchêd football "egg" in the middle of the field to incorporating a feather duster during basketball games.
"I tried to involve the crowd," he says. "I thought that Mr. Cardinal Bird should have a feather duster, since he was supposed to be made out of features. I’d ‘cootchy coo’ the women under their chins and dust bald men’s heads with that duster."
After graduating from Speed School, Dyson worked with the Navy for 35 years in the Washington D.C. area before moving on to the Pentagon. He retired in 2007. Badgett went on to a three-decade Naval career. After serving as captain of a nuclear submarine, he retired in 1989. He worked at several plants, and retired in 2002 as manager of a nuclear weapons facilit