Wheedle on (and off) the Needle

If you lived in Seattle in the 1970s to 1990s you can’t help but recognize the Wheedle. With his huge stature and furry orange coat he sticks out like, well, the Space Needle in the Seattle skyline. As a non-native, when I first heard Sasquatch Books was re-releasing Wheedle on the Needle, I didn’t have a clue that the fuzzy creature lounging on the cover of the classic picture book was such a local celebrity.

It all began in 1974. Richard Nixon resigns, heiress Patty Hearst robs a bank, ABBA climbs the music charts, and Stephen Cosgrove and Robin James publish a children’s book titled Wheedle on the Needle. What began as a simple explanation of the blinking red light atop the Space Needle swept through Seattle like a characteristic rainstorm. Seattleites felt a fondness for the gentle Wheedle and adopted him as an icon of their city. Ironically, the creature who so craved his peace and quiet in the story was thrust into the spotlight.

From 1978 to 1985 the Wheedle helped stoke fans as the mascot at Seattle SuperSonics basketball games. One need only Google the words Wheedle and Sonics to see what a part of the team he was. (Seriously, do it. The resulting images are priceless.) The lumbering orange fellow could be seen frolicking on the sidelines and even posing with the star players and their tiny shorts on a line of Sonic’s greeting cards.

The busy Wheedle divided his time cheering on the team as well as serving as another mascot the Space Needle From the late 1970s to 1984. Todays Skyline Level of the Needle even existed as a restaurant called The Wheedle in the Needle for a year.

A few years later, the Wheedle could be seen as an ambassador for KOMO-TV. He even found time to explore his creative side, with a cookbook and a gardening book for kids (How to Cook a Bunch of Stuff and How to Plant a Bunch of Stuff).

I never thought I would meet a real live Wheedle, but the stars aligned last month at Seattle Bookfest. As publicist Tess Tabor and I were setting out the books, a gregarious gentleman working the Seattle Times booth noticed Wheedle on the Needle. Ah, the Wheedle! he exclaimed. Im sure you folks are too young to remember, but I was the Wheedle.

He described how wearing the heavy fur costume required breathing through a foot-long tube, and, in their excitement, children would surprise and nearly topple him as they ran up and threw themselves on his back. Yet as he painted the picture of a challenging job, there was a gleam in his eye that was a testament to the affection Seattle must have felt and continues to feel toward the Wheedle.

The Wheedle has been out of the spotlight for many years (retired to his position on the top of the Space Needle no doubt), but not for long. Sasquatch Books is delighted to bring Wheedle on the Needle back to Seattle this winter. Look for the new 35th anniversary edition of this favorite childrens book wherever books are sold.

In my quest to learn more about Seattle’s fond history with the Wheedle, I’ve discovered that nearly every Seattleite seems to have a Wheedle memory. What’s yours? Post a comment here with your story or memory of the Wheedle.