After four years of planning, investment and design details, Whiting is now the official home of the $18 million Mascot Hall of Fame Museum.
“The official name is the Mascot Hall of Fame Interactive Children’s Museum, but we’ve created a destination with an appeal and interest for all ages,” said Whiting Mayor Joe Stahura, who helped with unofficial preview tours of the property last week. The facility officially opens at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
“After spending so much time deciding what we wanted this development to be, we made sure we did this place up right,” he said. “Even the 300-car parking lot was a $2 million investment.”
The result is a 25,000-square-foot, three-story state-of-the-art interactive exhibit museum at 1851 Front St. not far from Whiting’s lakefront. Stahura said besides drawing people and educational opportunities, there is another museum mission: to further brand Whiting as a national destination throughout the year, with hopes of the same promotional cache as the annual July weekend Pierogi Festival’s uncanny history of national exposure and big revenue.
“We first began talking about a major property investment about six years ago,” Stahura said.
“Ideas were tossed around such as an amusement park or maybe a major historical museum, but the agreement was we should continue to capitalize on our reputation for celebrating a world of wacky characters in a fun and entertainment spirit, which is the same purpose of any mascot, so it became the perfect fit.”
The new museum includes a snack shop area for dining, a gift shop with mascot merchandise, a 50-seat theater, a “build-a-mascot” area, a wall of fame of celebrities and notables photographed with various sports mascot claim-to-fames, a section dedicated for guests “to transform to become a mascot,” displays of mascot memorabilia, costumes and collectable keepsakes from uniforms to bobbleheads, a history timeline room of how the concept of mascots began, as well as interactive play and learning areas for children.
Deleware-based Mascot Hall of Fame creator David Raymond said he was approached by City of Whiting officials in 2014 to partner for the idea to transform what was already his Mascot Hall of Fame website into a multi-million dollar brick-and-mortar museum.
“I had been to Chicago but never heard of Whiting, so I wasn’t sure why Northwest Indiana would be a draw for this type of museum,” said Raymond, who traveled to Whiting last week to promote the opening.
“But after visiting, clearly, it’s perfect and this museum exceeds any of my expectations.
The first class of mascot inductees to Raymond’s Mascot Hall of Fame included the Phoenix Suns’ Gorilla, the Famous Chicken, formerly the featured mascot of the San Diego Padres, and Phillie the Phanatic of the Philadelphia Phillies. The trio was unveiled with their announced honors in 2005, a year before Raymond launched the Mascot Hall of Fame as a website.
Orestes Hernandez, who is the executive director of the new Mascot Hall of Fame Museum, moved to Northwest Indiana with his family from their home in Miami for his new position. He said the third floor of the museum is designed as an expansive dining and gathering area to serve as a unique landscape for corporate and private events.
“Throughout the year, we will host inductions of new mascot members to become part of the Mascot Hall of Fame,” Hernandez said.
“We are doing an official grand opening weekend for the Mascot Hall of Fame April 5-7 and then the weekend of June 14-16 will be our first 2019 Mascot Hall of Fame Induction Weekend when the museum will welcome The Chicago Bulls’ Benny the Bull, Kansas City Royals’ Slugger Lion, Chicago Blackhawks Tommy Hawk and Penn State’s Nittany Lion to our museum to receive their honors.”
The Mascot Hall of Fame Museum has its own mascot and brand representative, Reggy, a pink furry, googly-eyed monster with a shock of yellow hair and playful spirit, whose likeness is not only found throughout the inside of the museum, but also outside, towering across the front facade of the building beckoning guests to enter.
Stahura, Raymond and Hernandez all agree there is also room for expansion for the museum, with discussion of possible future recognition opportunities for high school mascots as well as the potential for company sponsorships and inclusion of corporate brand mascots, such as cereal claim-to-fames like Tony the Tiger, the giggling great Pillsbury Doughboy and other pop culture and brand icons, into the museum theme,.
• The Mascot Hall of Fame Interactive Children’s Museum
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays and Fridays and Saturdays; with extended hours 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays
Where: 1851 Front St., Whiting
Cost: $12 for children and adults with children under the age of 2 free. All children under age 12 must be accompanied by a person age 16 or older with a valid ID
Information: 219-354-8814 or www.mascothalloffame.com
Philip Potempa is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.