The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.
Officially, Eastern Illinois University’s mascot is a black panther nicknamed Billy, but in the 1950s, a golden retriever named Napoleon came close to claiming the title. An etching of the nappy brown and tan dog even graced the cover of the 1959 yearbook. Though thousands of students stroll past his grave marker in the north quad behind Old Main each semester, few know his story.
In 1946, a large golden retriever wandered onto campus. He was a young male, approximately two-to-three years of age, and quickly captured the attention of students at what was then Eastern Illinois State College. They called him Napoleon, or “Nap” for short.
As campus evolved with growing enrollment and a new library and dorms, this wandering dog was a reassuring and constant companion for Post-War students, many of whom were veterans attending college thanks to the GI Bill.
For fourteen years, Napoleon reigned over campus and was given free range by students and faculty. He strolled into classrooms, on stage at plays, and was said to attend football games. Napoleon even ran on and off the field with every substitution.
All attempts to secure a collar around his neck proved futile. Campus organizations kept him fed, and Eastern State News staff held fundraisers called “Nickels for Napoleon” to pay for his medical bills.
In 1953, he appeared in the Homecoming parade riding in the backseat of a convertible wearing a cap and gown. His honorary degree, it’s said, was a “Pet-A-Doggy” degree. “He is loyalty in the truest sense of the word,” The Warbler staff wrote about their beloved mascot. “He is the representative of every high standard for which Eastern Illinois University stands.” Professors reported he had a better attendance record than some of their human students.
Napoleon’s favorite pastime was chasing other stray dogs off campus. Just before Thanksgiving Break in 1954, Nap and a dog named Sam crashed English 120 and sent students fleeing to the back of the room. They knocked over five chairs and tore up a notebook before some of the boys separated them. He was temporarily banished from the building.
Napoleon died at 16 years of age sometime over the winter of 1959-1960. He disappeared in November and his body was found beneath a porch at 1410 Seventh Street in Charleston on Tuesday, May 3, 1960, within sight of Old Main.
Students took his body to campus, where EIU President Quincy V. Doudna helped bury him in the north quad. Students raised funds and placed a marble marker over his grave and hung a mural in the Student Union.
In 1966, students tried to crown Napoleon II by introducing a new golden retriever to campus, but he only lasted two months before a hit-and-run driver killed him on March 3, 1966. He was buried in the backyard of Rudolph D. Anfinson, dean of student personnel services, where he had been staying.
- “His Majesty Napoleon.” Eastern Illinois University. The Warbler. Charleston: 1959.
- “Traditionalists Resurrect Past with Napoleon II.” Eastern Illinois University. The Warbler. Charleston: 1966.
- Kozy, Amy. “Napoleon: The dog, not the emperor.” Eastern Illinois University. The Warbler. Charleston: 1995.
- “Campus mascot… suffers wound—needs cash.” Eastern State News (Charleston) 23 September 1953.
- “Napoleon missing; campus panics.” Eastern State News (Charleston) 28 October 1953.
- “‘Nickels for Napoleon’… will save his life.” Eastern State News (Charleston) 14 April 1954.
- “Doctor calls dog ‘difficult patient’.” Eastern State News (Charleston) 26 May 1954.
- “Lincoln Hall Notes.” Eastern State News (Charleston) 13 October 1954.
- “Canine confusion… English class moves out; dogs move in.” Eastern State News (Charleston) 24 November 1954.
- “Nap narrates assembly.” Eastern State News (Charleston) 18 May 1955.
- “Napoleon Showing Signs of Losing His Once-Mighty Grip!” Eastern State News (Charleston) 2 May 1956.
- “The Sounding Board.” Eastern State News (Charleston) 9 May 1956.
- “‘Nap’ to Greet Alums.” Eastern State News (Charleston) 17 October 1956.
- “Nap Found Dead, Laid to Rest On Campus.” Eastern State News (Charleston) 11 May 1960.
- “Memorial for Campus Mascot to be Placed in Union Lounge.” Eastern State News (Charleston) 7 February 1964.
- “Napoleon II Killed in Hit-And-Run.” Eastern News (Charleston) 16 March 1966.