You would be forgiven if you believed Clark the Cub was the first Chicago Cubs mascot. After all, Clark, who was introduced in 2014, was the first time the team attempted having a mascot in well over 100 years.
For good reason.
Let’s take a look at the original 1908 mascot, shall we?
Sorry about your nightmares everyone. I mean, scroll back up and take a look at the face of that guy two to the left of the bear. That man has never been then same.
Now, this particular version of the Cubs mascot wasn’t used for long, and was actually a member of the “Top o’ th’ World” musical production being mounted at the Studebaker Theater. Designer Todd Radom did a deep dive into the history of this connection and learned that the mascot seen above, whose name we still don’t know, was likely the understudy to Arthur Hill, the “animal impersonator” for the show, who donned — surprise, surprise — a polar bear costume.
The Cubs played that game in nearly 90 degree heat, which couldn’t have been a lot of fun for the man in the suit, but they ended up collecting a walk-off win in eleven innings. Both the Top o’ th’ World show and the Cubs season were successes, as the Cubs would go on to win the World Series just a few weeks after the above photo was taken, the last time they would win for over 100 years.
After the deeply frightening polar bear used above, the Cubs opted to switch to real live bear cubs, because there was no one to stop them from doing it, and of course it seemed like the perfect idea. One cub, Clara Maduro, was almost executed because of her strength and unpredictability — go figure a bear cub would be uneasy around people — but ended up living out her life in the Lincoln Park Zoo. (Side note, if you’ve never been to the Lincoln Park Zoo before, it’s easily one of the best free attractions in Chicago, so put it on your tourist list for an off-day.)
A 1910 Cubs cub was evidently so loathed by the team, they left it in the Giants clubhouse, “for it has been biting the regular Cubs on the ankle and we have enough cripples on the team.”
Another would-be mascot was shot and killed after an escape attempts. Which brings us to Joa. Joa was named after the initials of J. Ogden Armour, who was co-owner of the Cubs in 1916. Joa first appeared on June 20, 1916, and lived in a round display cage outside Wrigley Field (then still Weeghman Park) to be shown off to fans. The Cubs has dismal luck that season, Joa bit at least one player, and was generally not enjoying his life in the little cage. Ultimately, when the club realized Joa wasn’t the good luck charm they’d hoped for, he was sold to the Lincoln Park Zoo for $20 by Charlie Weeghman.
**Note on the above, I believe the larger photo on the left is not actually Joa, but rather Clara, as the photo is from 1914. And calling Joa the “original” Cubs mascot is obviously incorrect as we’ve now learned. But it does provide a good view of Joa’s cage.
Thus we come full circle, because according to Clark the Cub’s official “biography” he is the grandson of Joa the Bear, who regaled young cubs with his baseball stories after his “retirement.” Clark heard the roar of the Wrigley crowd and escaped the zoo, coming to the stadium just in time to see them raise the W flag. So the Cubs have managed to acknowledge the existence of Joa, while also totally erasing the darker aspects of his history. Luckily for Clark, the team has done well since his arrival, even finally winning the World Series, so perhaps he’ll get to stick around.
If not, we hear the Lincoln Park Zoo is a pretty nice place to retire.
Cubs mascots: A dark and tragic history - Chicago Reader
A Brief History Of Terrible Chicago Mascots - Deadspin