What it’s like to be Ephelia: Students and staff reveal stories from their time inside the iconic costume

Annie Lu

Bill Kangas goes incognito in the Ephelia costume at a women’s golf match. (Photo courtesy of Tomas Adalsteinsson.)

Inside a large bag on the third floor of Mears House lies an assortment of purple-and-yellow fabric parts: two hooved shoes, a pair of purple gloves, a zippered jumpsuit, and a helmet in the shape of a cow’s head. This is where the College’s mascot, Ephelia, resides while off duty.

Ephelia can be seen snapping photos with spectators at Homecoming and alums at reunions — although the person inside the costume is subject to change. This iteration of the costume is only about a year-and-a-half old, as it was purchased to resemble the new Ephelia after the College updated its visual identity in the spring of 2021, according to Alumni Engagement Program Coordinator Alice Wilson.

Despite the ubiquity of love for Ephelia among the campus community nowadays, the College mascot was not determined to be a purple cow until a student vote in 1907, and the name “Ephelia” was not selected until 1952.

The Office of Alumni Engagement manages the Ephelia costume and answers any requests that students, faculty, or staff make for Ephelia to appear at various events in addition to Homecoming and reunions. “We’ll accommodate if it’s a reasonable request,” Wilson said. The Office of Campus Life and the admission office have both used Ephelia to film promotional videos, for example.

Ephelia can be loaned out for more ad hoc excursions as well. Last spring, shortly before the women’s golf team was set to leave for a tournament, head coach of men’s ice hockey Bill Kangas took the mascot out for a spin. “He wanted to surprise [the golfteam], so he did it incognito,” Wilson recalled. “He came and borrowed the costume and went for their send-off as they were getting on the bus to wave them off.”

Kangas described the humorous circumstances that led to him donning the purple-and-yellow suit: After Kangas joked to head coach of women’s golf Tomas Adalsteinsson about wearing the Ephelia costume to a practice, “[Adalsteinsson] said,‘ There’s no way you’re going to do it,’” Kangas recounted.“ Once he said that I had to. The alumni engagement office was kind enough to let me use it.”

After putting on the costume and stepping out into public, Kangas was pleasantly surprised by the excitement Ephelia elicited.“ People really gravitate to it,” he said. Members of the women’s golf team and nearby spectators asked to take photos with him.

Some of the students who asked for a photo were members of the men’s ice hockey team, who didn’t realize that it was their coach behind the costume. “Three months later, I told the group [in that photo], two of whom were my hockey players,” Kangas said, and they were all able to laugh about the incident.

“I really enjoyed just being a part of it,” Kangas said about his time as Ephelia. “I liked putting a smile on people’s faces. I had a blast.”

Wearing the costume comes with challenges, however. “I will say that once you put it on it is warm,” Kangas said. “It’s hot. It’s hard to see out of.”

Students who have worn the mascot at Homecoming and at reunion weekends expressed similar sentiments. This past summer, Harry Whitman ’24 was a reunion ranger at the College — one of the students that the alumni engagement office hires to help out with reunion events. In addition to his other responsibilities, Whitman had to wear Ephelia at a few events — including one on a 90-degree day.

“The suit was super hot,” Whitman said. “But it was this ice cream social event with all these kids, so it was super cute. They’d run around and all wanted to take pictures with me.”

Regarding heavy usage of the costume during hot weather, Wilson also explained the process behind keeping the costume fresh.“ Especially during reunions, when it’s warm, I Febreze very carefully between wearings,” Wilson said. “After it’s had several wearings, it gets washed. Very carefully.”

Wilson mentioned facing similar difficulties to Kangas and Whitman while wearing the mascot, having been Ephelia herself for a Mountain Day promotion.“ It made me appreciate what the students go through when they have to wear it for long periods of time,” she said. “It’s hot, since the costume is very thick. The head is a little heavy and doesn’t give you a lot of visibility.” As a result, she said, there’s always a designated person nearby to provide on-the-ground guidance.

A fellow reunion ranger had to guide Whitman’ssteps while he was Ephelia.“ You can just see a foot in front of your feet,” he said.“ You feel like you’re an astronaut in that suit.”

Betsy Paul ’26 went through a similar experience when she donned Ephelia during Homecoming this fall after personally seeking out the job. “One of my friends was walking me, because you can’t really see in the head,” Paul said. “You can’t bend down either, so if there’s anything below your stomach or waist, you can’t see it. You might bump into children.”

While the person inside the costume has limited visibility, outside viewers are unable to tell who’s inside the suit entirely, leading to a unique combination of publicity and anonymity. “I think that’s what the students like about wearing it, too,” Wilson said.“It’s like, ‘Nobody knows that this is who I am in here.’”

Paul felt that the best part about being anonymous behind the headpiece was not having to smile for pictures.“ At first, I would automatically smile for pictures even though they couldn’t see me,” she said. “After a while, I realized I could literally be frowning in the picture and they would never know. I thought that was really fun.”

Ephelia also doesn’t speak, communicating emotions solely through body language. “Everything she does is with hand and head expressions,” Wilson said.

People wearing the costume are at liberty to interpret Ephelia’s expressions at will, although the alumni office does go through a list of dos and don’ts beforehand. Whitman described a “guidebook” that came with the costume about how to be a good mascot. “The main thing is to develop a certain way to walk that’s jumpy and not have your arms straight at your sides,” he said. “Walk around like the Jolly GreenGiant or something.”

Paul described her role at Homecoming as primarily walking around, taking pictures with people, and raising the energy levels. “I clapped when I heard people cheering,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on, but I clapped anyway. I walked through the stands and tried to get people hyped up.”

Despite struggles with the bulky costume, people who have worn the costume emphasized how much they enjoyed the experience.

“Being Ephelia was one of the things on my Williams bucket list, so I wanted to do it,” Whitman said. “It’s one of those niche things that you don’t really think about doing at Williams,” he explained, but, years later, it might take on new significance. “I ran into people [at reunion] who had been Ephelia before, and they gave me a pat on the back. It was nice.”

Paul also specifically sought out the Ephelia role, in part due to her interest in being a cheerleader. “But I couldn’t be a cheerleader here, since there’s no cheerleading team,” she said. “So I was like, ‘What better way to support school spirit than being the mascot?’”

Paul emailed several people at the College before being directed to the alumni office, which briefly interviewed her before giving her the Homecoming gig. “I got an email a few days later asking, ‘How tall are you? Because we need someone that’s about five-six or higher,’” Paul recounted. (Wilson explained that this height requirement is to prevent the legs of the costume from dragging on the ground.) “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m exactly five-six, so this was meant to be,’” Paul continued.

Being Ephelia was even better than she dreamed it would be, Paul said. She added that she would like to continue being the mascot at sports games in the future. “But I would not recommend anyone do it, because I don’t want them to take my spot,” she said. “Once I graduate, they can do it.”