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Kaukauna High School hopes new sign sheds light on history of its 'Galloping Ghost'
by Molly Ruffing, FOX 11 News
KAUKAUNA, Wis. (WLUK) -- Nearly a year after students raised concerns about the statue in front of Kaukauna High School, a new sign has been added with the hopes of providing a bit more context regarding the unique galloping ghost mascot.
Several students voiced their concerns last spring, saying they were worried that people may see similarities between the hooded figure and members of the Ku Klux Klan.
Rather than suggesting the statue be completely removed, the students proposed relocating it to the back of the school or adding signage to explain the mascot's origins .
But after sign options were estimated to cost between $20,000 and $32,000 , the project stalled until some alumni stepped in.
The sign out front of the high school now was built by alumni who work at Team Industries. Because of their support and funding from the Alumni Association, the new sign was built at no cost to the school.
"So, after having initial conversations and seeing some price points of signs that were quite high, somebody from Team Industries reached out and basically said, 'Hey, we don't make signs, we're more into pipe fitting, you know, that way, fabrication. But we think we can do something for you,'" explained Kaukauna High School Principal Chris McDaniel.
McDaniel hopes the collaboration sets an example for students.
"I think just being able to have something that shows a great skillset and a great pride in the school," he said. "[It] is something we're really hoping for with our students too."
The new sign simply states, "Home of the Galloping Ghosts" in large, orange lettering.
An older sign provides more detail about the mascot, explaining that the Galloping Ghost was born in the 1920s in references to the football team's "speedy running backs."
The tradition was furthered when 20 years later, a cloaked student rode onto the field to present the game ball to the referees. This tradition continues to this day.
Kaukauna School District will add signage to its Galloping Ghost statue, but questions around the final design remain
KAUKAUNA - The Galloping Ghost statue in front of Kaukauna High School is staying put, but it will have new signage adding context and a greater understanding of the history of the mascot.
The Kaukauna Area School District administration asked the board Monday to approve just under $53,000 for a single-sided letter sign to sit in front of the Galloping Ghost statue that would read "Home of the Galloping Ghosts" and an LED message board next to the statue.
After discussion, the board did not move forward with the original proposal, but instead asked the administration to develop and present new design proposals by the end of July that would not spend more than $25,000 in district funds. The final design of the signage is yet to be determined.
The final signage could end up costing more than $25,000 if community members were to make donations or other fundraising efforts were made, but district money spent on the signage will not exceed $25,000, the School Board decided Monday night.
The statue depicts a ghost with its arm raised in the air, riding a horse. It is mean to portray the schools longtime mascot, the Galloping Ghost, but some say the hooded figure resembles a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Of the 20 or so people in the audience at the meeting, two spoke on the proposed signage. Both were alumni of the district.
"Tonight's decision on the signage is more difficult due to controversy, and I realize, the expense," one woman said.
She asked the board to support the signage. Kaukauna, she said, is her home and a welcoming place, which the signage speaks to.
The other speaker, who said he graduated from Kaukauna High School in 1980, said the solution to the ghost statue issue is throwing $20,000 at what could be solved with a $500 vinyl sign.
Superintendent Mark Duerwaechter said this is the third time students have come forward with concerns about the statue in the last five years.
While the attention to the topic has been difficult and brought many phone calls and emails to members of the board and administration, Duerwaechter said the district needs to be responsive to community needs. Discussions about the statue and what sort of imagery it evokes have happened for the last 22 years, he said.
"That's a significant amount of money, but this is a significant topic, as well," Duerwaechter said.
Administration choose to add signage over the other options of leaving the statue as it is or relocating it because it is a compromise between the people who have pride in the Galloping Ghost and the people who can see hateful imagery from it.
Every board member who participated in the discussion expressed support in adding signage to help clarify the history of the Galloping Ghost. As alumni themselves, some board members including Chad Berken said it's an emotional issue. But, he said, the district needs to ensure the story and history of the statue are being told so others can understand the purpose of the statue.
One idea to better tell the story was the addition of a QR code on the signage that people could scan with their phones and be taken to a website that outlines the history of the mascot. Other ideas included a video and other slides on the electronic LED sign to add context.
Board members had concerns with the price tag of the proposed design, especially because it wasn't taken to a bid -— which a project of that cost typically would. Board Member Joe Huss was also concerned about the placement of the LED sign because snow removal typically pushes a lot of snow up in that area.
Chris McDaniel, principal of Kaukauna High School, said the intention of the proposed design was to add context to the statue and do it right so there wouldn't be a need to redo it every five years.
Approving the $25,000 budget Monday night was an idea suggested by Berken. While he recognized some concerns with the proposed cost originally brought forward Monday night, he didn't want people waiting much longer for a resolution to this issue.
"I want to give people some closure," he said.
This decision comes after a group of students addressed the board in January during a closed session, saying the statue can evoke racist imagery and isn't reflective of the district's welcoming and inclusive nature.
Adding signage to the statue was one of three options the district said it would explore in response to the students' concerns. The other two were to leave the statue as it is or relocate it away from the front entrance.
More: New developer named for downtown Kaukauna apartment project. A groundbreaking date is yet to be set.
More: Does the Kaukauna Galloping Ghost statue evoke the Ku Klux Klan? A group of students wants it removed. It's an issue that has a history.
Reach AnnMarie Hilton at [email protected] or 920-370-8045. Follow her on Twitter at @hilton_annmarie .
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Origin of kaukauna high school mascot, the "galloping ghost".
There are two versions of the origin of the Galloping Ghost. We have included both versions.
Origin of the “Galloping Ghost” I
The origin of the term “Galloping Ghost” as now used in conjunction with Kaukauna High School athletic teams and students started in the early 1920s.
A sports writer for a local paper promoted the name of “Ghosts” for Kaukauna’s football team in one of the articles he wrote. The writer had predicted a Kaukauna win over the Appleton Terrors based on the fact that Kaukauna was lighter and would trample Appleton with our speed. This game was played on Halloween and Kaukauna was dressed all in white–looking like a large group of ghosts as we galloped over Appleton. In many article written during this time, we were know for our great speed, which accounted for many victories. We were referred to as “Galloping Ghosts” and also “Tigers” and Kaws”.
The galloping horse and its rider came into the ghost story 20 years later when those attending home football games witnessed the presenting of the game ball to the referee by a sheet-clad rider and galloping horse. The students, faculty and others in those days past who were involved in the planning and execution of both the name and the phantom horse had a great time. Those memories to many alumni are priceless and a part of our heritage, as well as our high school’s since 1925.
Origin of the “Galloping Ghost” II
The Kaukauna High School sports’ mascot, ”Galloping Ghost”, evolved from an interesting history of athletic events and competitors beginning with the legendary Harold ”Red” Grange. Red was a three-time All American halfback who played for the University of Illinois during the early 1920’s. Following his college competition Grange played football professionally for the Chicago Bears and the New York Yankees. He was fast and elusive, difficult to catch – ghostly! Red’s success on the gridiron earned him the nick name, The Galloping Ghost.
In 1924 during Grange’s great successes, ”Tiger” Bill Smith, a recent graduate of Lawrence College in Appleton, was hired to coach Kaukauna’s struggling high school football team. ”Tiger Bill” was so impressed with Grange’s competitive spirit and achievements that he motivated the team and especially his lighter than average (but speedy) running backs to emulate Red Grange’s goals and accomplishments. In an article in the Kaukauna Times dated 1926 November 11 the following quote is found “…and the backfield, Esler, Macrorie, Verbeten, Kemp, Hishon, Kronforst and Ludke rightly earned the name of ‘Galloping Ghosts’ which some writer tacked on to Bill Smith’s ‘Pony Backs’ “.
Coach Smith referred to his running backs as ”Galloping Ghosts” to instill that sense of competitive confidence and desire to win. It worked! His teams and Kaukauna’s subsequent football teams, as well as the basketball, baseball, track and boxing teams provided Kaukauna High School and the city with a wealth of ”Galloping Ghost” memorabilia. The phantom horse and rider virtually galloped into KHS tradition about 1940 when a student cloaked himself and his mount in bed sheets and thundered onto the football field to present the opening game ball to the referees.
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Galloping Ghost: Eerie Mascot
Sculpted in 1999, the Galloping Ghost is a sheet-wrapped human astride a running horse outside the entrance to Kaukauna High School. The Ghost has been the mascot of Kaukauna High since the 1940s, but in early 2022 some students asked that the statue be removed because it might be mistaken for a "hateful" Klansman. Other students responded that the all-black statue does not in any way resemble a Klansman, and that removing it would inevitably lead to the removal of the Ghost as the team mascot. Opponents said that they had no problem with the Ghost, just with the statue of the Ghost.
A potential deadline for Ghost-removal passed without incident on June 30, 2022. The statue remains, although Kaukauna High has reserved the option to add an explanatory plaque or to shift the Ghost somewhere less visible on the school grounds.
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New welcome sign installed in front of Galloping Ghost statue at Kaukauna High School
By Dan Plutchak
KAUKAUNA — Following a school board directive last year, a new sign has been installed in front of the Galloping Ghost statue at Kaukauna High School.
The sign was built by employees from Team Industries who are KHS graduates with materials donated by the company after cost estimates came back above budget.
The the alumni association paid for its installation.
The board voted to install the sign as a way to help explain the history of the statue after a group of students expressed concern that it looks like a hooded Ku Klux Klansman and gives the wrong impression to visitors about the values of the district.
The students never asked the school board to drop the mascot, but to move the statue from the front of the school.
In response to the students’ concerns, the district in March proposed three options:
- Maintain the presence of the statue as is
- Maintain the statue and enhance it with signage
- Relocate the statue away from the front entrance of the high school
The district agreed to move forward on the option to add signage.
The statue represents the school mascot and there are two possible origins, but most likely the name comes from football star Red Grange of the early 1900s who was known as the Galloping Ghost, according to a history from the Kaukauna Public Library.
But its similarity in appearance to a hooded Klansman has always followed the mascot.
When the tradition first began in the 1940s, the phantom rider that presented the game ball at the beginning of football games was dressed in all white, but in recent years was changed to its current black cape and hood.
The students made their request to the board in January 2022 and said they understood that the intent of the statue was to promote and honor the pride of being a Kaukauna High School Galloping Ghost and that there was no intentional symbolism alluding to a Ku Klux Klansman.
However, they also noted that instead, the statue creates confusion for visitors and leaves them wondering about the values of the high school and the community boasting a statue, even though unintended, of a racist symbol.
Dan Plutchak, born and raised in Kaukauna, is cofounder of Kaukauna Community News.
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