After 100 Years, Kewpie Mascot's Origin Still Unclear
COLUMBIA - In mid-Missouri, there are tons of Tigers, plenty of Panthers and a bunch of Bulldogs, but only one high school goes by the name "Kewpies." But even as Hickman High School celebrates the 100th anniversary of its iconic mascot, the origin of the nickname is still very much a folk tale.
Hickman's yearbook, the Cresset, gives some clues as to how the school's athletic teams took the name of a popular early twentieth century doll. The first appearance of a kewpie in the yearbook came in the 1914 edition, in which a drawn kewpie dedicates the book to the state champion boys basketball team for "its loyalty to the Kewpie motto, ‘keep smiling.'" A kewpie doll also stands on the court in the team photo.
Columbia resident and 1963 Hickman graduate Charley Blackmore has spent much of his retired life tracking down Kewpie history on his website he calls "The Kewpie Gathering Place." He said while everyone is proud to be called a Kewpie, very few have actually demanded a concrete origin story.
"No one even questioned it. That's what it was. No one was upset being called a kewpie," Blackmore said. "You went to high school at Hickman High School in Columbia, Missouri and you were referred to as a Kewpie."
Blackmore said he had typically heard tales that were similar to the story high school tells, although administrators are admittedly uncertain. Hickman Athletic Director Doug Mirts said the name may have come from a reporter or other observer at a game during the 1913-14 school year, but no one knows whether it was a football or basketball game.
"A team was walking off the field or court and they got beat very handily," Mirts said. "And when they came off the court, they said they were smiling like kewpies. And from that time forward, it just stuck."
But in 2009, Blackmore received an email from a woman claiming she knew the true story of how Hickman, then known as Columbia High School, adopted the Kewpie nickname. She described a basketball game at which a school secretary placed a kewpie doll on the court before the tipoff. Both teams somehow played the entire game without knocking it over, and Columbia won, and took the doll as a good luck charm.
It sounds as fanciful as any origin story, but there is reason to believe it. Lucy Church, a Kansas City resident, relayed the story as it was told to her by her great-uncle Sam Church, the captain of the 1914 state championship team, at a family gathering in the 1960s.
Lucy Church was researching her uncle's brief career as a member of the Mizzou basketball team when she came across Blackmore's website and realized no one had ever heard this first-hand account.
"I just assumed that they knew this story, that he just told me and that everybody knew it, and the fact is it doesn't seem like anybody knew it," Lucy Church said. "And I felt that somebody should tell this story before there was nobody left to tell it."
It is unlikely anyone will ever prove an absolute origin story about the Hickman Kewpie, but one certainty is that Hickman students will always be known as the Kewpies.