Hard Telling Not Knowing each week tries to answer your burning questions about why things are the way they are in Maine — specifically about Maine culture and history, both long ago and recent, large and small, important and silly. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This question came to us from several fellow Bangor Daily News reporters and editors, who wondered aloud in the newsroom one day why Brewer has such a seemingly odd sports mascot.
Why is Brewer High School’s sports mascot the Witches?
Morse High School in Bath has their Shipbuilders, appropriately. Edward Little in Auburn has their Red Eddies, named for their school’s founder. Penobscot Valley High School has the Howlers, since the school is in Howland.
But out of all the high school sports mascots across the state, few are as strangely named as Brewer’s Witches. Not that it’s not a cool mascot — it’s actually very cool and totally unique, like Cornjerkers in Hoopeston, Indiana, or of the Fighting Conchs in Key West, Florida. There’s almost nothing else like it out there, that’s for sure.
The question remains, however: why did Brewer choose the Witches as its mascot?
There’s only one other school in the country with Witches as its mascot, and it’s Salem, Massachusetts, which is highly appropriate, given its history with the Salem witch trials. Brewer, however, has no witchcraft in its history that we know of. Bucksport does, with the legend of Jonathan Buck’s grave and the witch who supposedly cursed him. But Bucksport High School is the Golden Bucks, not the Witches (or the Witchfeet). What gives?
Turns out, despite many theories and half-truths, no one knows exactly why Brewer became the Witches. Brewer’s athletic director, David Utterback, doesn’t know exactly, and neither did any of his more recent predecessors.
Utterback compared it with the unanswered questions surrounding the open-ended finale of the iconic TV series “The Sopranos.”
“Was Tony ‘whacked’? Was Tony just saying ‘how you doin’ to an old acquaintance? [They] left everyone speculating as the screen suddenly cuts to black, even after all of these years since the finale aired,” he said. “So too is the mystery around the Witch.”
One theory, unearthed by Maine writer Dan Stewart, holds that, in the 1920s and early 1930s, Brewer’s football team was historically bad, with one of the worst records in the state. In 1931, however, the team’s fortunes changed dramatically for the better, with its across-the-river rivals the Bangor Rams experiencing a string of bad luck, and Brewer winning a decisive victory over the Rams that fall.
The earliest known reference to the Brewer Witches can be found in a February 1932 Bangor Daily News article — not without racist references to the then-Old Town Indians — about an upcoming slate of basketball games between Bangor and Brewer. The article references both the “curse” and the “jinx” on Brewer, and wonders if it might finally be lifted, after the team’s win against Bangor the previous fall. Could witchcraft have had something to do with it?
There’s also the slightly more pedestrian theory that, since Brewer’s colors have since at least the turn of the 20th century been orange and black — traditional Halloween colors — “witches” seemed like an appropriate nickname. Prior to the 1920s, most high school sports teams didn’t have mascots at all, with teams usually being referred to by their colors. Football season takes place in the fall as well, so a Halloween-themed mascot wasn’t totally out of left field.
Regardless, at some point around 1932, Brewer suddenly became the Witches. Whether it’s because of a supposed curse or jinx being lifted by seemingly supernatural means, or it’s just because of the spooky colors, we’ll likely never truly know.
“That does seem to be part of the allure and greatness of the Witch — the cloud of mystery,” said athletic director Utterback. “Almost like witchcraft.”