The Wheedle was originally the title character of a popular children's book by a local author. But he eventually became a popular character generally associated with Seattle.
The Wheedle on the Needle (Serendipity Books, 1974), written by Stephen Cosgrove and illustrated by Robin James, was about a large, round, furry creature called the Wheedle who lived in the Northwest. The image to the left is from the cover of that book.
Briefly, the story is about this fat, happy creature who lived here in the Northwest before any people had arrived. But one day, a ship full of men landed and started clearing the woods and building the city of Seattle. The problem for the Wheedle is that as they worked, they whistled, and whistling noises hurt the Wheedle's ears. He couldn't get any sleep and started becoming irritable.
He tried stealing the men's tools, he tried scaring them away, but nothing worked. Finally, he decided he would have to move away from the bay so that he wouldn't hear the people whistling anymore. He finally settled on the top of Mt. Rainier, since he couldn't hear anybody whistling from there. He fell asleep, and slept so soundly that his big red nose blinked on and off.
He slept for many years, until one day he suddenly awoke to discover that the human population has increased and they had built practically right up to the edge of the mountain. And now he could hear them whistling again. [editor's note - this book was my first introduction to the related problems of sprawl, overpopulation, and noise pollution].
After some grumbling, the Wheedle got an idea. He found a very large sack, and from the top of the mountain, reached up and filled it with as many clouds as it could hold. He then went back to the source of all the noise - Seattle. The climbed to the top of the Space Needle, pulled the clouds out of his bag, and threw them into the sky so that it would rain all around the Needle. With their lips wet from all the rain, the people couldn't whistle and the Wheedle had some peace and quiet again.
The people of Seattle weren't too happy about this, so the mayor went to the top of the Space Needle to see if he could get the Wheedle to stop the rain. The Wheedle explained his problem, and the mayor came up with an idea. He gathered all the sail makers in Seattle together and they sewed together a giant pair of earmuffs, which the mayor presented to the Wheedle the next day. "The Wheedle placed them over his ears, and smiled for the first time in years." In appreciation, the Wheedle gathered up all the clouds, put them back in his bag, and fell fast asleep - and once again, his big red nose began to blink. The book ends with a short poem:
There's a Wheedle
On the Needle
I know just what
But if you look up
Late at night
His red nose blinking
In 2002, a second edition of The Wheedle on the Needle was published. The story was significantly rewritten, which generally matched the existing illustrations, but entirely eliminated the environmental themes, changed it so that the Wheedle was not native to the Seattle area, and generally made the story more contrived and less interesting. If you buy this edition thinking it is just a reprint of the original, you will be disappointed.
There was also another children's book featuring the Wheedle. How to Cook a Bunch of Stuff, with the Wheedle is a cookbook for kids in which the Wheedle shows readers how to cook a "bunch of stuff" and to appreciate what their Moms do in the kitchen. The book was by Stephen Cosgrove with recipes by Nancy Roberts, and it was also part of the Serendipity series.
From the late 70's until 1985, the Wheedle was the official mascot for Seattle's professional basketball team, the SuperSonics. The image shown to the right is from a series of Sonics trading cards that were given out to kids by local police departments as part of a program to get kids to like the police. In my opinion, the Wheedle had a lot more character than the "Squatch" mascot that the Sonics have now. It's worth noting that the only time the Sonics won the NBA championship occurred while the Wheedle was the official mascot.
According to the Space Needle's website, the Wheedle was also the official mascot of the Space Needle until 1984. They have since adopted a new mascot, "The Sneedle," which, like the Sonics' new mascot, is not nearly as interesting as the Wheedle.
The Wheedle has even had a restaurant named after him. In July, 1982, the Space Needle opened the 100-foot level amidst controversy about the change to the 20-year old structure. The restaurant on this level was called Wheedle's. The facility was a restaurant for only about a year, after which it was converted to a full-time banquet facility (referred to as "the Skyline Level").
During the 1990s the Wheedle got a job with KOMO TV. I've seen newspaper stories and photos from 1993 to 1998 in which the Wheedle appeared at local events, where he is referred to as the KOMO Wheedle, or is wearing a KOMO hat and t-shirt.
Finally, the Wheedle has had an influence on the Seattle music scene. In 1974, band Annakonda (originally from Spokane, but relocated to Seattle) recorded a funky instrumental track called Wheedle's Groove. The song got significant airplay and we released as a single a few years later when it became a local radio station adopted it as the theme song for the the Sonics when they made it to 1977-78 NBA finals (eventually losing to the Washington Bullets). Two decades after it was recorded, the song was included on, and provided the title for, a 2004 compilation CD that included "Seattle's finest in funk and soul" from the years 1965 to 1975, on Seattle-based label Light in the Attic Records. As of 2006, a documentary film called Wheedle's Groove was in the works.
There was also a short-lived local band in Seattle called "The Wheedle" that was active around 2000 or 2001. The events calendar on the Experience Music Project (EMP) website described them as follows: "The Wheedle is a trio from Seattle, WA comprised of Robert Walker (drums/vocals), Ed Hodge (bass/vocals) and Joel Lederer (vocals/guitar). Their music blurs the lines of genre in favor of songwriting and lyrical exploration, mining the traditions of rock, folk, pop, alternative, blues, jazz and more to create a sound that is as familiar as it is unique." I never heard them perform, but I was glad to see that the Wheedle continues to influence local culture in Seattle.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that the Wheedle is not as prominent in Seattle today as he once was. And he may not even be recognized by today's kids or by newcomers to Seattle. But according to the book "The Wheedle on the Needle," he can hibernate for long periods of time, so I'm assuming that this must be what he is doing these days. Hopefully, the Wheedle will not wait too long to wake up and make a comeback that will be welcomed by longtime residents of Seattle with fond memories of our city's mascot.
Note - I have submitted a version of the text on this page to Wikipedia for an article on the Wheedle. That text is being made available under the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL).
16 January 2007