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TTU Centennial Exhibit and Shinny Ninny

Screen Shot 2015-10-16 at 9.36.35 AMHave you seen the Tennessee Tech Centennial Exhibit at the Cookeville History Museum? If not, get on downtown, right beside the Putnam County Library on Broad Street, and take a stroll through the last century.

Vicky, the museum’s volunteer, and I reminisced about the many artifacts and pictures on display. One caught my eye. A totem pole. “That’s not the real Shinny Ninny!” I said.

“No, that’s a replica,” said Vicky. I knew it was a fake – it’s too small and looks happy. Shinny Ninny is big and fierce. I know because I slept with him, or rather, Shinny Ninny stood in the corner of Husband’s and my bedroom.

Fall, 1969. Husband and I had been married three months. He was a Tech senior and president of ASB, Associated Student Body. One night when I was sound asleep in our two-room apartment, I was awakened by the sound of our front door opening. Husband was returning from a student government meeting. He didn’t come inside immediately, and when he finally stuck his head in our bedroom doorway he said, “I brought something to keep here until the ballgame.”

The ballgame. A football game between Tech and that team in Murfreesboro that wears blue uniforms. I knew the game he meant, but I was shocked when he lugged Shinny Ninny into our bedroom and propped him in the only vacant bedroom corner. Just a few feet from our bed and partially blocking the bathroom door.

“Why?” I asked.

“So no one will steal him,” Husband said. No one, meaning students from Middle, aka Middle Tennessee State Teachers College.

In 1960, the student body presidents of Tennessee Tech and Middle had decided there should be a winner’s trophy to show the rivalry between the two schools. Mr. Fred Harvey, owner of Harvey’s department store in Nashville, donated a fierce looking, Native American, fifty-year-old pole that he’d bought in Alaska.

The winner of the annual football game kept the totem pole until the next year’s game. Middle named the pole Harvey, but Tech students chose a different name. One based on the antics of Tech football player Joe Mac Jacques who flopped himself onto the ground and threw a fit, also called a shin-a-ninny, on the sidelines when Tech scored. So Tech called him Shinny Ninny.

Because the rivalry between the two schools was intense, kidnapping became part of the totem pole tradition. Shinny Ninny was in danger of being abducted from a glass case in the Tech student union. Husband and other student leaders were determined to keep the trophy secure.

What better place to hide a 6-foot totem pole than in a student’s bedroom? At least, that’s what Husband thought. And I loved keeping that secret. Shinny Ninny went missing from campus for about a week, and every morning as I brushed my teeth, I studied his evil eyes, white furrowed brows, sharp long nose, toothy frown, smooth brown wood, white markings. On game day, Tech students proudly carried Shinny Ninny onto the playing field before the opening kickoff. And Tech players hoisted Shinny high and carried him off the field after beating Middle, 21 – 7.

The totem pole tradition ended in 1998 when Middle moved to a different athletic division. Now Shinny Ninny sits inside a locked glass enclosure in Middle’s Hall of Fame building. Poor thing.

The Tennessee Tech Centennial Exhibit will be displayed only through November 7. Wednesday- Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. You don’t want to miss it. Even though you won’t see the real Shinny Ninny.

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