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What is a Golden Griffin?

An open letter to William & Mary from a (really) old friend

The Griffin is a mythical creature of supposed gigantic size that has the head, forelegs and wings of an eagle and the hindquarters, tail and ears of a lion. They are well known for their speed, ability to fly and having eyes like an eagle as well as the strength and courage of a lion.

Griffins have been known for centuries as symbols of strength and vigilance, have been called “The Hounds of Zeus” in Greek mythology and are said to have mastery of both the land and sky.

They are thought to be from India, where the natives of the land made their talons and claws into drinking cups because the talon of a Griffin was said to detect poison in a liquid. Griffins would find gold in the mountains and line their nests with it and as a result, were forced to become great guardians of the nests to keep the hunters away.

According to Charles A. Brady in Canisius College The First Hundred Years, “Though the problems of when and where the Griffin began his reign as King Herald of the Canisius College of Arms are not easily settled, the whence is simple to establish. Our Griffin flew to us from the prow of LaSalle’s lost Griffon, the Flying Dutchman of the Great Lakes, which disappeared after making a safe voyage from the Niagara River to the Strait of Detroit. LaSalle’s ill-fated caravel, the first ship ever built on America’s inland seas, with its 45 tons and five cannons, had its beakhead adorned ‘with a flying Griffin, and an eagle above it,’ in honor of the two heraldic beasts on the armorial bearing of the great Frontenac.”

The Griffin became the symbol for Canisius athletics in the mid-1930s. Steve Weller wrote in The Buffalo News Jan. 22, 1962, “You can have your Chihuahuas, Piranhas, Horned Frogs and Iguanas. The best all-around athletic mascot in business today has to be the beast adopted by Canisius College – the Golden Griffin.”