UB Then

The case of the wooden UB mascot

Robert Sugarman created the mascot as part of a freshman orientation treasure hunt intended to encourage new students to explore the campus. Despite a week of daily clues, it was never discovered. Photos: Julie Pavlock


Published February 19, 2024

“As for how the bull came to the University Archives, no one knows. ”
William Offhaus, reference archivist
University Archives

Editor's note: This story is part of “UB Then,” an occasional feature highlighting people, events and other interesting elements of UB history pulled from the University Archives.

Mystery shrouded the carved, wooden bull.

The carving — that of a UB mascot standing on hind legs, its front legs folded across its hulking chest — is among the items in the ephemera collection of University Archives and may be remembered as part of an exhibit of UB sports memorabilia from a few years back.

While archivists admired its appearance, they knew little about the UB artifact. Who made it? Where did it come from? How did it get in the archives?

A break in the case came last summer, after the spring issue of UB Libraries Today featured a photo of the wooden mascot and asked readers for information about its origins. That’s when Robert Sugarman, a UB alumnus and donor who was perusing the magazine, saw the photo and recognized the bull immediately.

He emailed University Archives to explain:

“It had to be the fall of 1960,” Sugarman told UB Libraries Today. “I joined the Freshman Orientation Week Committee and we were given freedom to think up activities for the freshmen for that week. I proposed a treasure hunt to encourage incoming students to explore the campus.

“During that summer, I carved, wood-burned and painted that piece of wood, copying the image of the UB mascot from a campus publication,” Sugarman said. “I hid the bull in a fire hose cabinet on the fourth floor of the physics building — my home away from home. I wrote a new clue that was published each day. Alas, I was a better craftsman than a clue writer.”

By the end of orientation, he said, no one had found the bull. So, Sugarman retrieved it from the fire hose cabinet and gave it to the director of the Norton Student Union at the time to be used in future years.

Sugarman was very active on numerous committees. He was surprised to see his mascot as part of a UB sports exhibit in 2018.  Photos: Julie Pavlock

Sugarman went on to graduate from UB with a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1961. He earned master’s degrees from Purdue University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and in 1967 a doctorate in experimental psychology from UB. Since leaving Calspan in 1982, Sugarman has been self-employed and now also serves as chief scientist and director of human factors engineering at Stavatti Aerospace in Niagara Falls.

As for the wooden bull, well, there’s only speculation as to how it made its way into the archives. Although, Sugarman did happen upon it in fall 2018.

Sugarman was working on a project that brought him to Silverman Library when he spotted the UB sports exhibit. Much to his surprise, there — front and center in one of the display cases — was his wooden bull, some 58 years after he made it for that orientation of first-year students.

Sugarman found someone working in the library, told him about the bull and gave the employee his contact information should anyone want more details about the history of the artifact. Nothing ever came of it.

Until now.

“As for how the bull came to the University Archives, no one knows,” says William Offhaus, UB reference archivist. “We now know that Bob Sugarman created it for a scavenger hunt but once the hunt was over, we don’t know where it went or how it came to the archives.”