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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Three Bears Born at Rock Springs Park

In his third year as manager of Rock Springs Park C. C. Macdonald kicked off the 1928 season with lots of advertising and articles which appeared in local papers. The ads led with the headline “Grand Opening – 1928” and included the motto “Ohio Valley’s Most Picturesque Playground – where the – Famous Rock Spring Flows.” The ad (left) also lists the many features and attractions at Rock Springs. “Many Rides and Amusements, Remodeled Crystal Pool and Boating, and Monkey Island and Goat Mountain.” That last bit refers to two features of a zoo which was located on the hillside above the upper park. (See Images of America: Rock Springs Park, p. 59) Roy Cashdollar spoke fondly of the “little zoo at the end of Lover’s Lane” and Richard (R.Z.) Macdonald told of the many animals he remembered in the zoo from his time growing up in the park. But it was not until I received the article below, from alert reader Jeff Schneidmiller of East Liverpool, OH, that I learned of black bears born in Rock Springs Park.

Source and Date Unknown


There being at this time only five breeding pairs of black bears in the United States, it is very doubtful if the public realizes the value of such a pair. However, their value seems to be a minor part in comparison with the life of their cubs.

The writer will attempt to give you a short history of Amos, Andy and Ruby, the three cubs, born at Rock Springs Park on the night of January 14th. In the past few years Queen, the mother bear, has been unsuccessful in raising her offsprings [sic]. So this past January, we took it upon ourselves to be mother and father to the little ones, taking them away from their mother when they were about a day old. After a few days, we found ourselves no easy task. We had to feed them with a bottle, and their diet was one of the most studious ones. It consisted of the following: --Skim Milk, Dextras Maltose No. 1, Lime Water, Castor Oil and Honey. At first, they refused the nipple, but as time wore on they took it readily every two hours, night and day. This necessitates two shifts on our part until now we have meal time down pat.

It was surprising how fast they grew. Weighing at the time of birth six ounces, they gained in weight and statue [sic] until now, fifty-eight days after birth, they are eight pounds in weight and as large as a good size poodle dog. At forty days, their eyes began to open, yet they were unable to see. Nature perhaps provides for this, as they are still rather weak in the knees to be walking around. When they will be able to walk and care of [sic] themselves remains to be seen. The night feeder hopes it won't be too long until that night comes when he doesn't have to get up in the cold and administer the bottle.

During the raising of the cubs, Lula, the other female, surprised us with one more cub, however, we decided to let her have the job of raising her own, she seems to be having as much success if not more than we are.

The writer just received word from the nursery, which will sadden the hearts of all concerned. Ruby, the largest, and seemingly the healthiest of all the litter has past into the great beyond, having contracted pneumonia. She died at 11:30 a.m. today. A fitting burial will take place tomorrow and little ruby will be laid to rest with all the pomp and ceremony due her kind.

Loowing [sic] in upon her two brothers, one seems to catch a quiet whine, which may be their crying for their dead sister, or they might be saying: "Come up and see me sometime next summer at Rock Springs Park.”

Jeff sent the above article along with the message, “Here is a another mystery to unravel.”

The mysteries seem to be "Who is the writer?" and "When did this event take place?".

A small zoo was added by C.C. Macdonald when he upgraded the park in 1926. In addition, his other park, Idlewild Park in Ligonier, PA, had a bear den that is still there today next to the roller coaster (see photographs below). Prior to that, C.A. Smith had a Hippodrome or circus-style theater somewhere in the park where elephants and other beasts performed, so the bears could have been born during his tenure as owner . On June 2, 1910, The Daily Times of Beaver, PA reported, “There is a fine bill at the Hippodrome, Rock Springs Park, this week, any of the acts being well worth the price of admission, including Carl Daman Family, Sensational Acrobats; the Orloff Troupe of Famous Russian Gymnasts and Roberti’s Bears, Dogs and Monkeys.”

The key to our latest Rock Springs Park mystery seems to be the names given our three bears: Amos, Andy and Ruby. The names are based on characters from the “Amos ‘n’ Andy Show," a situation comedy set in the African-American community which began on radio in 1925 and continued on television into the 1950s. Although the lead characters were black they were originally created and performed by Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, white actors in black face familiar with minstrels, a theatrical tradition that would be considered beyond politically incorrect today. Naming black bears after stereotypical African American characters would be completely unacceptable and racist, but for our mystery, they do provide a time line for Jeff’s article.

Charles Correll ('Andy'-left) and Freeman Gosden ('Amos'-right) at a Chicago book signing, 1929.

Even though C.A. Smith had animal acts, including bears, at Rock Springs, his ownership does not fall within our timeline. It is only C.C. Macdonald and later his daughter Virginia and her Husband Bob Hand who could have been managers when the cubs were born. I’ve seen no evidence of animals in the park during the hand years, but do know, as I stated in my introduction, that Macdonald added a zoo when he upgraded the park in 1926. Further, I know him, or someone writing for him in this period, to be a writer who used details about the park to paint pictures in the reader's mind and always ended with an invitation; something that the writer of Jeff’s article clearly does.

Ruby Dandridge (March 3, 1899 – October 17, 1987) was an American actress from the early 1900s to the 1950s. She is best known for her radio work in her early days of acting, including her namesake character “Ruby” on the “Amos ‘n’ Andy” show. She is the mother of Dorothy Dandridge. (Ruby Dandridge Pictured at Right)

One other potential clue is the writer’s invitation to “Come up and see me sometime,” which may allude to Mae West’s famous line from She Done Him Wrong (1933). But when put in context and read completely, "Come up and see me sometime next summer at Rock Springs Park,” the invitation clearly does not fit with the suggestive nature intended by West’s character - Lady Lou.

So, does anyone know anything about these bears? From what I can gather, it may be from The Macdonald Years (1926 - 1934). If you have further details or thoughts, please leave a comment below.

Author (left) hanging with The Three Bears in Storyland, Stahlstown, PA, on Route 30 the Lincoln Highway in 1967.

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