Centennial T-Shirts with Zippy the Chimp

H2O Centennial Life Group T-Shirts featuring Zippy the Chimp

We’ve added another T-shirt to the H2O oeuvre. And it’s quite the shirt: a beautiful forest green (very popular among college students these days), featuring the word “Centennial” underscored by a rootin’ tootin’ roller-skatin’ chimpanzee on the front, and the phrase, “What’s that jawn?” on the back.

The shirt speaks for itself, doesn’t it?!?

My experience suggests that the more bizarre / niche / obscure / weird / question-inducing a shirt might be, the more sentimental / special / beloved it becomes. And it’s kind of fun to share the back-story, too.

H2O Centennial Life Group T-Shirts featuring Zippy the Chimp

“What’s that jawn?” is actually the perfect question for a shirt like this. The word “jawn” means something like “thingamajig” or “whatchamacallit.” It’s a colloquial term from the Delaware Valley area (near Philadelphia) that the people in our Centennial Life Group learned from one of the group’s student leaders who happens to come from the Mahoning Valley area (near Youngstown). The internet provides a definition, suggesting that jawn “refers to a thing, place, person, or event, substituting for a specific name.” The vowel sound in “jawn” also reminds us of the vowel sound in another word from Luke: “chauncing,” which means just hanging around. And both of these words have become a part of the Centennial vocabulary this semester. Partly for fun, and partly for real.

Anyway, the real question is probably about that rootin’ tootin’ roller-skatin’ chimpanzee on the front of the shirt. “What’s up with the monkey?” is the most common question I’ve received (even though a chimpanzee is not technically a monkey). It’s a valid question. Also: Why is the chimpanzee wearing 1950s western-wear? Who gave it such a large gun? And roller-skates?

Zippy the Chimp: Cowboy on Rollerskates

It all goes back to an image that I (re)discovered in the Spring of 2022. I honestly don’t remember what led me to the image. But it was such a special image that I immediately sent it to several different group texts on my phone. My family. The H2O Kent Staff team. And the Centennial Life Group leaders. I thought it would be more funny without explanation: just letting the image speak for itself.

But the comedy and confusion were especially pronounced among my Centennial friends. They claimed to worry that I’d been kidnapped or held hostage and forced to send that message. They ragged on me for dropping it into their collective consciousness without any context. When I told them that I happened to know the chimpanzee’s name was Zippy, it made them laugh even harder (sort of with me, sort of at me). And eventually, we talked enough about Zippy the Chimp that he became a sort of unofficial mascot for our region on campus.

So that’s how he got on our T-shirts. Still, the story is Zippy the Chimp is interesting enough that it deserves its own side-bar.

Zippy was actually something of a B-list celebrity in the 1950s and 1960s. He made the circuit of late-night television shows, including The Ed Sullivan Show. There were Zippy toys and Zippy books. And it was through one of those books that I first became acquainted with Zippy the Chimp.

One set of my grandparents must have gotten the book for one of my parents (I can’t remember which, and neither can they). Because that book remained in the basement of my grandparents’ house until I was a kid. And I remember looking through that book on visits to the grandparents. There were pictures of Zippy the Chimp wearing pajamas and holding a toothbrush… sitting in a high chair and eating cereal from a bowl… and, of course, riding around on roller-skates while dressed in cowboy clothes.

It’s kind of weird, sad, and creepy now, to see the way that people used animals back in that era. But there’s a part of me that hopes there were at least moments when Zippy was having as much fun as he seemed to be having in those old photographs. In any event, all indications suggest that Zippy is in a better place now. And we in H2O’s Centennial Life Group believe in the hope of restored creation. Where the Lion lays down with the Lamb… where the cow will feed with the bear… where none of us will harm or destroy one another… and where we can all ride around with roller-skates and cowboy clothes, when we want to.

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