The recent news of the Grand Rapids Griffin’s logo change got me thinking about the origin of the hockey team’s mascot. Where did the mascot come from? Why the Griffin? Grand Rapids isn’t exactly know for its thriving griffin population; I’ve lived here for a number of years now and I’m pretty sure I’ve only seen one of these half eagle/half lion beasts in the wild. The John Ball Park Zoo doesn’t even have any on display because they’re so rare.* So in honor of the 20th season of the Grand Rapids Griffins, I decided to do some digging and uncover the truth behind the Griffin. Here is what I found out:
In 1913, The Pantiland Hotel (not pronounced “Panty-Land”, that’s somewhere completely different) was constructed in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. This lavish hotel was soon rated among the top ten hotels in America and drew visitors from all over the region, but it wasn’t just the beauty of the hotel that brought people in. It was rumored that the building architects (Warren and Wetmore of NYC) had incorporated a secret vault somewhere within the structure, which housed the riches of some of the country’s most well-to-do families. People from around the country would come to the hotel to weigh in with their speculation on where the treasures were hidden.** As a symbolic gesture for would-be thieves, Charles Wetmore had a giant granite griffin sculpture erected on the roof of The Pantiland to overwatch the hotel (mythological griffins have always been regarded as protectors of treasure and wealth).
It is there that the great, granite griffin sat for the next 11 years; it’s sharp eyes ever watchful from high on its hotel perch. But in 1924, everything changed. America was now in its fifth year of Prohibition and the nation as a whole had long since become moody and irritable. Desperate for libations of any kind, many people resorted to making their own alcoholic beverages, which would then be sold and served in local speakeasies. One such speakeasy was located conveniently on the top floor of The Pantiland and all of their beers were brewed on the hotel rooftop which was not visible from the streets below (this is largely regarded as Grand Rapids first micro-brewery and set the city on its path to becoming “Beer City U.S.A.”). The legend goes that the speakeasies master brewer, a man known only as The Hollander, had a habit of experimenting with ancient Gaelic brewing techniques and recipes from his home country of Ireland. On one particular night, The Hollander was brewing something so fiercely robust, that the fumes from his concoction woke the giant stone beast. As The Griffin rose from his mantel and spread his mighty wings, The Hollander stumbled backward into a finished vat of barrel aged stout. The Griffin, startled by the commotion, took to the air and vanished into the night sky. As for The Hollander, his tale was received by the masses as nothing more than the addled ramblings of a beer soaked drunkard, though no one could conclusively explain where the statue had disappeared too.
Since that fateful night, local legend and lore has built around the The Griffin. On many occasions, Grand Rapids citizens have claimed sightings and some have even claimed that the great beast has saved their lives. Most notably, The Griffin has protected this city from outside threats such as Chicago wolves, smelly ice hogs from Rockford, and the always clumsy Lake Erie Monsters who often summer at Grand Haven State Park. It is often said that during full moons, The Griffin can be seen perched high atop the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel (originally The Pantiland Hotel) overwatching the city that is its greatest treasure. It was also often said that on hot, sunny, summer afternoons, The Griffin would cool himself in the fountain at Rosa Parks Circle, but I think if this were true someone would have been able to confirm it.
To this day, The Griffin still guards our city’s greatest treasures and as of recently is rumored to have been hired by the Founders Brewing Company to spend the majority of his time in the gypsum mines under Grand Rapids. He is obviously guarding next years batch of KBS and whatever other secret brews they have down there. Rumor has it they are trying to recreate The Hollander’s brew that woke The Griffin in the first place; undoubtedly to create more griffin guards as they continue to expand.
*The John Ball Park Zoo was rumored to have had a griffin in the early 1980’s, but it was later discovered that some punk teenagers had just zip-tied a seagull to the back of a tabby cat and released it in the park. The cat-gull was eventually caught and the animals separated, but the two remained close friends until the cat got hungry and ate the seagull.
**The staff at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel hates it when you go in and look for the treasure, so please don’t try it.***
***If you do try it, don’t tell them where you heard about it.