By Brian Brennan
In 2003, I was introduced to Marion Resch, a retiree living in the Park Vista Retirement Center on Youngstown’s north side. Knowing that Resch collected stuffed animals, I presented her with a plush Pete Penguin purchased from the YSU Bookstore.
She thanked me for the gift, but then said something curious: “I now have a toy penguin, but Burke has a real one.”
Resch was referring to Burke Lyden, founder of The Jambar and fellow resident of Park Vista. I thought nothing of the remark until several years later – when I first read about the theft and disappearance of the stuffed carcass of Youngstown State’s first live mascot. Could Resch’s comment have been a clue to the mystery?
Pete Penguin was brought to the United States by the famous polar explorer, Admiral Robert Byrd, and began his short career as Youngstown College’s mascot in October 1939.
Making his official debut at the Homecoming game, Pete proved to be very popular and quickly won the hearts of students and fans. He was even featured in “Collegiate Digest,” a national publication that was included for a time as a supplement to The Jambar (April 3, 1940).
On Jan. 22, 1941, The Jambar announced Pete Penguin’s sudden demise. The campus mourned, with the official cause of death recorded as drowning. In pursuit of a fish, Pete had dove through a hole in the ice in the Crandall Park pond, but could not find his way back to the surface in time. Many YoCo students were suspicious.
Allegedly, no water was found in his lungs during a postmortem examination. Some even concluded that Pete, homesick for Antarctica, had committed suicide.
Questions arose as to what to do with the bird’s remains. The most logical thing would have been to bury poor Pete with dignity, a finality endorsed by many; however, the college administration chose to have Pete stuffed by a taxidermist.
He would then be mounted for display in President Howard Jones’ office as an addition to his substantial collection of penguin statuettes and figurines. Thus, Pete was duly preserved and kept in President Jones’ office for safekeeping; however, before the bird could be mounted, it disappeared, never to be seen again.
It is quite possible that someone took Pete’s body to an unknown location and laid him to rest. But, what of Marion Resch’s comment? It is unlikely that Burke Lyden was the culprit who burgled President Jones’ office; in 1941, he was no longer a student at Youngstown College.
Even so, is it possible that Lyden somehow came into possession of Pete and concealed him? Resch’s curious quip hints at such. Sadly, we may never know. Resch passed away in 2004. Burke Lyden also died before inquiries could be made. His vacated room at Park Vista was found to be penguin free.
More information about Pete’s death and disappearance may be found in the January and February 1941 issues of The Jambar, located on the Maag Library webpage under “Digital Collections.”