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.