What Is a Billiken? Get to Know St. Louis' Charming Mascot

The Billiken is one of the college sports world's most charming mascots.
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If things go as St. Louis University desires during the NCAA tournament, perhaps its mascot will be the reason why.

St. Louis' mascot is a charming, devilish-looking creature called a "billiken." The school's official site defines the billiken as a "mythical good-luck figure" representing the mantra of "things as they ought to be."

The billiken was created by Florence Pretz, who taught art and was an illustrator in Missouri, in 1908. A study by Dorothy Jean Ray details how, historically, billiken caricatures have been believed to bring good luck.

There are two legendary tales which explain how the billiken became St. Louis' mascot.

In one, John Bender, a law student who became the head coach of the school's football team in 1910, was said to have a resemblance to the billiken, and was drawn by a cartoonist in the figure of one. The cartoonist posted the drawing in the window of a drugstore and the football team was said to have become known as "Bender's Billikens" as a result.

The other tale suggests that drugstore owner Billy Gunn wrote in his obituary that one day, Bender had walked into his drugstore and Gunn addressed the coach as "a real Billiken!" A sportswriter named William O'Connor was said to have been present for the encounter and began using the name in reference to Bender's teams.