Sparty the Beloved Spartan

25 07 2012

Professor Jungwirth and President Hannah discuss the logistics of the Sparty statue with a model.

President John A. Hannah is almost without question responsible for more widespread and influential changes to Michigan State University’s administration and student

affairs than any other president in the college’s history.   It follows then, that one of the most recognizable and loved landmarks to come out of the last half century was a product of his time in office: the Spartan Statue.   After Beaumont Tower, Sparty is the second most photographed object on campus, and, knowing the Wolverines, he’s probably the most vandalized.  The Spartan mascot has even been recognized throughout the country—voted the No. 1 mascot in the nation by two different associations, and also dubbed the “buffest mascot” by another group.

The statue itself was erected almost twenty years after the MSU community agreed to be nicknamed the Spartans.  Originally, the students of Michigan Agricultural College went by the name of the Aggies, but when the college changed names to the Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science, both faculty and students felt it was also due time for a change in the college’s representative.  The local newspaper held a vote, and the nickname that was actually decided on was the “Michigan Staters.”  Obviously acting under the correct assumption that this nickname was not nearly epic enough for our college, journalist George Alderton from the Lansing State Journal hunted and discovered the runner-up idea for a name: the Spartans.  The name came from a former MSU athlete, Perry Fremont, and shortly thereafter Alderton published his piece referring to the MSU Baseball players as the Spartans.  The name stuck, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Sparty resides on campus near Demonstration Hall, at the intersection of Kalamazoo Street, Red Cedar Road, and Chestnut Road.  The statue was created by a professor from the Department of Art and Art History, Leonard D. Jungwirth, and dedicated on June 9, 1945.  The basics of Jungwirth’s process are explained by one of the many books the Archives holds about MSU’s history, “The [terra cotta] clay figure was cast in three sections and fired in industrial kilns at the Grand Ledge Clay Products Company in Grand Ledge, MI.  The hollow cast sections were fused on site, and then concrete cement was poured into the ceramic sections.  Sparty is approximately ten feet tall, and he weighs several thousand pounds.”

President Hannah felt that Sparty was an, “exemplification of the youth and spirit of Michigan State College.”  To Hannah, the Spartan statue was a symbol of the strength, honor, and courageousness which represents the spirit of MSU’s students.

President John Hannah presents his speech “The Spartan” at Sparty’s unveiling ceremony.




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