Everyone knows Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl, and maybe even Ranger Rick Raccoon, but there are many other forest and forestry-related fictional characters that long ago fell by the wayside. Peeling Back the Bark‘s series on “Forgotten Characters from Forest History” continues with Part 10, in which we examine Howdy the Good Outdoor Manners Raccoon.
In the spring of 1959 the Pennsylvania Forestry Association (PFA), along with nine other conservation agencies in the state, sponsored a contest to name a “Good Outdoor Manners Raccoon.” The unnamed character at the center of this contest was to be used by the PFA as the new spokesman for a statewide anti-litter campaign. With increasing costs related to cleanup, maintenance, and repair work on public recreation lands in Pennsylvania, an awareness campaign was desperately needed. The PFA hoped that a friendly raccoon character, wearing a hat and a lumberjack-style plaid flannel shirt, would be an effective centerpiece for their “Good Outdoor Manners” crusade. All they needed was a name. The PFA would have plenty of options to choose from as over 48,000 Pennsylvania school children responded to the contest. The winner, John Hoyes, a first grader at the Second Street School in Charleroi, was selected in May 1959. His winning name entry: “Howdy.”
Howdy the Good Outdoor Manners Raccoon was quickly put into action across the state. Lloyd E. Partain, president of the PFA, stated that “soon you will be seeing ‘Howdy’ along country roads, in parks, and at the many other places where people gather for recreation.” In the fall of 1959, 100,000 school book covers featuring Howdy were distributed to Pennsylvania children asking them to write their own good outdoor manners pledge.
As a forest animal spokesman, the Howdy character was in many ways inspired by the success of Smokey Bear. In early press releases about the character, the PFA actually went as far as to say that Howdy “is expected to become as well known in conservation as Smokey Bear.” In 1964, at the Dauphin County Firemen’s Parade, Howdy got to meet the famous bear himself.
While his popularity never reached the level of Smokey, Howdy’s image did spread beyond Pennsylvania’s borders, eventually finding a dedicated fan on the other side of the country. Margaret Robarge of Seattle, Washington, took Howdy’s message and ran with it. After encountering trash and graffiti on a hike through Washington’s Cascade Range, Robarge was moved to found the Good Outdoor Manners Association. With the permission of PFA, she began using Howdy as the group’s symbol. Based in Seattle, the Good Outdoor Manners Association (GOMA) promoted anti-litter campaigns, sponsored clean-up efforts in parks, and published a monthly magazine, Howdy’s Happenings. Howdy reached new heights out on the West Coast, where he was used by GOMA throughout the 1960s. An active chapter in Los Angeles began showing a 30-minute film, “Recreation or Wreckreation,” featuring Howdy in a starring role.
A 1966 article in Time magazine mentions that GOMA had nearly 50,000 members nationwide. The same article also detailed the group’s annual “Booster” and “Buster” awards, given to the best and worst examples of outdoor manners. And when they say “worst” they weren’t kidding. The 1966 Buster award nominees included such reprehensible examples of humanity as an unknown rifleman who slaughtered over 100 sea lions on the Santa Barbara Island in California and then proceeded to blow up an unattended ranger station.
While GOMA eventually disbanded, Howdy continued to be used as a symbol for several more decades back in Pennsylvania. In the early 1980s you could still find Howdy on t-shirts and tote bags for sale from the Pennsylvania Forestry Association.
Like all of our forgotten characters, though, Howdy eventually faded into obscurity. It may have been due to the Forest Service’s nationwide promotion of a new anti-litter animal character. The need for Howdy was certainly lessened by this pesky new owl, who rendered the “Good Outdoor Manners” message somewhat redundant. Out West, Johnny Horizon also began to encroach on Howdy’s territory. Beyond this, the other factors leading to his demise are open to speculation. Was it his use by multiple organizations? His cumbersome name? His aversion to wearing pants? Whatever the reason, we here at Peeling Back the Bark would like to pay tribute to our forgotten friend, Howdy the Good Outdoor Manners Raccoon.