After five years of planning, design, and construction, the Mascot Hall of Fame Interactive Children’s Museum (MHOF) has opened to the public. The 25,000-square-foot attraction was created to engage, educate, and entertain fans, school groups and visitors through innovative, interactive, mascot-themed exhibits.
Formerly an online-only organization, the dream of making the MHOF a brick-and-mortar reality happened during a serendipitous phone call between former Phillie Phanatic mascot, David Raymond, and Joe Stahura, Mayor of the City of Whiting, Indiana. The Chicagoland town was already known for its popular annual Pierogi Festival and turned out to be the perfect quirky location for Raymond’s equally eccentric project. “Five years ago, I first got a call from the City of Whiting, and my first question was, ‘well, why Whiting?'” says Raymond. “And now I have my answer, and it’s this amazing place that came from that original bold idea from the Mayor, that this was right for their city.”
Now that the Mascot Hall of Fame is open, Orestes Hernandez, MHOF Executive Director, has a bold vision of his own: “on the museum side, [the vision] is to elevate us to a point where we’re considered one of the top ten children’s museums in the country…and on the Hall of Fame side, the character side, I want it to be considered on the same level and spoken about in the same sentence as Cooperstown and Canton, Ohio – the professional hall of fames.”
What is it about the Mascot Hall of Fame that could propel it to that level of prominence? Take a tour with us and find out what the fuzz…er fuss…is all about.
The whimsy of the Mascot Hall of Fame envelopes you before you even set foot through the doors. Hugging the building’s exterior is Reggy Funfurhuggin, a mascot created by Raymond specifically for the MHOF. In the adjoining plaza, cast figures of Hall of Fame inductees such as Mr. Met and Benny the Bull offer the perfect photo backdrop.
Once inside, visitors find themselves in a towering, sunlit lobby, with inflatable heads of MHOF inductees bobbling from three floors above.
Here they pick up their ticket and their “exam card,” which they can then stamp at various kiosks throughout the museum. Once they stamp all six squares, they are officially a “Phi Beta Kooky” graduate of Mascot University, and they can redeem their card for a small prize from the “School Store” gift shop.
The first class at Mascot U is, of course, “Fureshman Orientation”, where Reggy greets visitors with an introductory video of what they will see, experience, and – most importantly – learn throughout their visit. “My buzz line for this place has always been, ‘this isn’t a place to come and look. It’s a place to come and do,'” said Al Spajer, MHOF Director of Community Engagement. “There’s a lot of fun embedded in here, but there’s also a lot of educational concepts.” The Hall partnered with local colleges and universities to ensure that the museum’s exhibits met state curriculum guidelines for S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology engineering, art, and math) education.
After orientation, a variety of physical interactives await in the Science of Silliness Lab. What are mascots made of? And what are the physical demands on the performer? This area answers those questions and more by making guests actually feel what it’s like to be a mascot. Visitors can put on a weighted head or vest and try to dance or jump just like their favorite characters, or they can discover how difficult it is to grab an object or sign an autograph with furry mascot hands.
In the Marvelous Mascot Maker, they can learn the process of mascot design and fabrication, turn the magic crank, and see Reggy come to life before their very eyes!
History is an important subject in any university curriculum, and visitors will cover it in the Department of Mascot Studies. Here you’re created by the museum’s “Mascot of the Month,” which currently features the lovable Moonchester from Manchester City soccer (or football, depending on where you’re from).
Also in this department, a floor-to-ceiling graphic chronicles the origins and impact of mascots, and a whimsical library depicts memorable mascot moments of the past several decades. An interactive kiosk pinpoints where mascots are making people laugh around the world.
Visitors can tap into their creative side at the Department of Furry Arts, where a green screen activity challenges them to audition for their favorite team.
And in the “Dr. Frankfurstein’s” Mascots area, kids and grownups can assemble a mascot from various head and body parts, Mr. Potato Head-style.
But if they want to create a mascot to take home, they need look no further than the “Build-A-Mascot” retail space, where they can craft their custom Mascot Hall of Fame souvenir!
Now that guests have exercised their minds in the Silliness Lab and their imaginations in the Department of Fuzzy Arts, it’s time for them to exercise their bodies in the Department of Phuzzical Education. This department offers a variety of activities to get visitors moving, including a mini basketball court, climber, and a digital T-shirt launching game.
Once they’ve experienced all the exhibits that the MHOF has to offer, they can enjoy refreshments at an indoor food truck and eating area or purchase the perfect mascot memento in the aforementioned School Store.
JRA was delighted to provide master planning, writing and concept development, exhibit design, graphic design, executive media production, project management, and art direction for these light-hearted learning experiences. Senior Project Director and sports enthusiast, Rick O’Connell, considers the Mascot Hall of Fame to be one of the highlights of his career. “Working with the MHOF team was fantastic,” said O’Connell. “Not only was the subject matter wacky, fun and interesting, but so was the client! The City of Whiting really wanted the best experience possible for their guests, so they allowed us to be as creative as we wanted and were very excited about all of the ideas we proposed. So much so that almost nothing was cut from the initial concept!”
While the Mascot Hall of Fame will host everything from birthday parties to mascot boot camps in its “Furratorium” special events space, the flagship event of the museum will be its inductions for the new hall of famers. MHOF has a “three-day extravaganza” planned for this year’s induction June 14-16, including mascot parades, community concerts, family activities, and the formal ceremony. Hernandez promises a party not to be missed.
With its interactive exhibits, creative programming, and playful shenanigans, the Mascot Hall of Fame is sure to delight kids and kids at heart, while offering a place for sports fans and mascot enthusiasts to revere their favorite fuzzy characters. It also promises to be a boon for the City of Whiting, welcoming 100,000 annual visitors and stimulating $241 million in economic activity for the region over the next two decades.
“It’s just so amazing that we have a place that’s honoring…the unsung heroes of sports, and really demonstrating how powerful they can be to distract us, to teach us, to entertain us,” added Raymond. “So that’s my message today to everyone who is coming here…you’re going to come with your whole family, of all ages, be distracted, have some fun, and feel better when you leave.”
Photo Credit: Charlie Simotaikis Photography