Wake Forest University’s mascot, the Demon Deacon, rides into games on a motorcycle wearing a black and gold tuxedo, and a top hat on his oversized head. For this month's Carolina Curious, WFDD’s Amy Diaz spoke with an archivist at the university to find out how it came to represent the school.

According to WFU's Director of Special Collections and Archives Tanya Zanish-Belcher, there were actually several other iterations of the mascot before Demon Deacon caught on — including a tiger back in the 1890s. 

“We were known as Wake Forest, the Baptists since we were a Baptist School, the Fighting Deacons, the Deacon Warriors, and the Old Gold and Black," she said.

These names were all used in the school newspaper and written by student journalists. Zanish-Belcher said she thinks the editors and reporters at the time were looking for ways to describe the football team, as the sport became more popular. 

And on Oct. 26, 1923, they went with the “Demon Deacons” for the first time, coined by the newspaper editor, Mayon Parker. 

“And I think that it's kind of a casual term. You know, they've been experimenting with Fighting Deacons and Deacon Warriors," Zanish-Belcher said. "And I think that the concept was they played so hard against other teams that they became known as the Demon Deacons.”

That name caught on more than the others. On Nov. 16, 1923, there’s a short article in the school paper with the headline: Demons off to Elon. 

About a year later, there’s another reference: Demon Deacons Down Carolina. The article states that Wake Forest defeated the University of North Carolina in football for the first time in 35 years in a “glorious victory.”

The newspaper stuck with Demon Deacons, and even the school’s publicity director began including it in press releases. As the team got better at football, the school became better known, and the name, Demon Deacons, became more widespread. 

But Zanish-Belcher said it was just a name until the 1930s. 

“And there's a story in 1932, that the band director, Neville Isbell, asked one of the band members to dress up like a deacon, and serve as our mascot. And basically, he dressed up in a split tail coat, a top hat, and he served as a drum major for the band," she said. "And the whole concept behind the actual physical mascot, as people may have forgotten, Wake Forest was founded by the Baptist state convention. So we were a Baptist school until the 1980s. And so they wanted the mascot to be closely affiliated with their Baptist heritage.”

They decided the mascot should wear the uniform of a Baptist preacher — a deacon. And when Jack Baldwin became Wake Forest’s first official mascot in the early 1940s, that remained the case. He wore a top hat, tails, and held an umbrella as he led the football team onto the field. 

But Baldwin did something interesting. He rode in on a Carolina ram. Zanish-Belcher said he started a tradition, where the Demon Deacon rides something onto the field. 

Most recently, that’s been a motorcycle. For Baldwin, it was a big sheep. And in the 70s, someone else rode a unicycle. 

As far as clothing goes, it wasn’t until the 1980s that a costume was officially constructed. It featured many of the same deacon elements previous mascots wore, as well as an oversized head. It’s the same design used today. 

“One of the best things I think about our Deacon is that he does reflect that Baptist heritage, even though we are no longer Baptists, we still have that element and we still house the Baptist historical collection for the entire state of North Carolina, here in special collections," Zanish-Belcher said. "And so we work with Baptists a lot. And so I think that it's a nice historical memory of who we were, and it still represents who we are.”

Zanish-Belcher, along with a couple other archivists and researchers, are currently working to compile a comprehensive timeline and history of the Demon Deacon. Anyone with stories, dates, or memories of the mascot they’d like to share can email: zanisht@wfu.edu.

Amy Diaz covers education for WFDD in partnership with Report For America. You can follow her on Twitter at @amydiaze.

Sponsored by Roane Law

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