Wednesday, November 28, 2007

World-Famous Bear Has a Name: Alice Teddy

You just never know what tracing your family tree will lead you to!

First of all, I was doing some searching this evening for more information on George Bayard CRAPSEY (see previous post). Mike Kirchmeier had told me that he and his wife, Carrie, had died in Oregon. So I went to Ancestry and searched the Oregon Death Index. I found both their deaths listed in Jackson County. Carrie died 16 Apr 1941, and George died 12 July 1943. It appears that George may have remarried in the two years between Carrie's death and his own, because there is also an Anna Mae CRAPSEY who died in the same county on 13 March 1985. Her birth date was 10 May 1890, and her spouse is listed as George. Since George and Carrie did not have any children, it is possible that Anna was George's much younger wife, rather than a daughter-in-law. I Googled to see if I could find more information on Carrie, and did find her listed as "CRAPSEY, Carrie L." in the Lincoln County, Wisconsin probate cases index. I'm fairly certain this was the same Carrie that George married, as the county seat for Lincoln County is Merrill, Wisconsin, and I had already found several pieces of information online about George residing in Merrill.

Seems like George's rollerskating bear really was a globe-trotting show! First of all, I found this family history website by Thomas J. DALEY, great-grandson of John AKEY. AKEY was a personal friend of George CRAPSEY, and he, too, trained a bear to rollerskate. On the website is a transcription of an undated newspaper clipping from what appears to be the Merrill Daily Herald:


John Akey, the Second street business man, has been quite busy the past ten days teaching his bear to roller skate. Mr. Akey has only had the bear for about three weeks and for the past ten days has been teaching it to skate at the Union Roller rink. From the progress that has been made in that time, Merrill will undoubted be made famous by being made the home of two roller skating bears. Geo. Crapsey has traveled for several years with Alice Teddy; and is known not only in this country, but has also exhibited for the crowned heads of Europe.

Here's another one from the same source:



The following article was clipped from a recent edition of the Portage Daily Register and will be read with interest by local people:

"The people who were about the streets Monday were given the unusual sight of seeing a bear driving an automobile. The sight was an unusual and much commotion was created to get a peek at this bruin at his new job. The animal was owned by John Akey of Merrill and is known about the fair and show circles as Foxey Queen. She drives a car us through the main streets, making all the turnouts and appears to be a cautious driver. Mr. Akey is seated with the bear on the front seat and she presides at the steering wheel absolutely, Mr. Akey pointing the direction she is to take.

"'Queen was captured, May 28, last, fifteen miles from Merrill,' said Mr. Akey, 'and we have been busy domesticating her since. She appears to take a liking to humans and performs roller skating stunts as well as other tricks. We are touring the state giving exhibitions with Queen and expect to give the people of Portage a chance to see her perform.'

"Akey has a large collection of wild animals at his place in Merrill, a bear, monkey, porcupine, coon, wild cats and ferrets mingle with the patrons of his place at the northern city.

"Akey is a personal friend of George Crapsey, who was here at the fair a few years ago with his world famous "Alice Teddy" the roller skating bear which is now exhibiting Manitoba and has netted Mr. Crapsey over $55,000."

I also found this newspaper article from the front page of the 1 Jan 1911 Greensburg [Pennsylvania] Morning Review at the Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania archives at RootsWeb:

Skating Bear A Wonder

Alice Teddy draws record breaking crowd at the big rink, will be here all week - one of the world's animal wonders.

Amid the enthusiastic applause of fully two thousand people, Alice Teddy, the wonderful skating bear, made her initial appearance and performance at The Big Rink carnival last night.

To say that this wonderful skating bear is one of the most unique animal wonders of the world is merely stating a fact and voicing the verdict of two thousand people who saw her performance last night. Following is Alice Teddy's history.

Alice Teddy, the wonderful roller skating cinnamon bear appearing here this week, was a tiny baby bear when captured in Oregon. Geo. B. Crapsy, her present owner, who also made the capture, says that at the time little Alice weighed four pounds. Today Alice is past two years old and weighs 215 pounds.

When Mr. Crapsy returned home to Merrill, Wis., he brought Alice along. Her remarkable intelligence prompted hi2m to spend his spare time in teaching Alice tricks. She readily learned to wear shoes, clothes, to walk upright and finally, after months of hard practice, to skate on ball-bearing rollers. Alice is the only bear in the world skating and dancing on skates.

So it appears that George found Alice in Oregon, and not Wisconsin, as Kirchmeier believed. Another archived RootsWeb source, DC Old News, has this article from a list of amusements on page 4 of the 4 April 1912 Washington Post:

Fourteenth Street and Park Road.
JOE TURNER, Champion Middleweight Wrestler of
the World, Will Meet All Comers.
Agreeing to Throw in 15 Minutes or Forfeit $25.
Turner will attempt to throw in 15 minutes be???
HARRY FIDDISO?, ?????????
and VINCENT COSIMANO, "Young Greek" Of Washington
ALICE TEDDY The Bear That Skates on Roller Skates
Tues., Thurs., Fri. also Sat. Afternoon at 4.

At Google Books, you can download a copy of The Vaudeville Theatre Building Operation Management by Edward Renton (New York: Gotham Press Inc. 1918). On page 257, you will find the following line:

Alice Teddy, roller skating bear, lobby stunts.

You can also view some of the flyers used to advertise the act at various theaters., The Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History (a fabulous site, by the way!) has an image of a flyer from the Pantages Theater in Seattle in the 1910s here. And a similar one, c. 1909, for the Empress Theater (location unknown) sold on Hake's auction website for $50.14 last year.

The Schuco toy company of Nuremburg, Germany, founded in 1912,

made a roller skating bear toy that was probably inspired by Alice Teddy, a real-life bear whose skating party trick wowed audiences in the United States before the First World War,

according to Christopher Proudlove at this online article.

I'm sure if I look at some newspaper database websites, I could find more. Isn't this fascinating? As I said earlier, you just never know what you'll find when you start digging through your family roots!


Terry Thornton said...

Miriam, Ah! To find a teddy bear in one's family search! And to learn that its name is Alice Teddy. This is such an interesting story. Thanks for sharing your research.

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

This is great Miriam. My family is downright boring! LOL There are loads of articles about Alice Teddy in the newspapers at Ancestry. She even performed in Syracuse, NY in Nov. 1914.

In 1911 she traveled to France. Found at ancestry today.

The Marion Daily Star (Marion, Ohio) 1911 June 19, bottom of pg 5

Arthur Holterman, whose home is in this city and who is well known here, is now in Paris, France, traveling with Alice Teddy, the skating bear. A postal recieved from him, this morning, states that the bear is making a hit and drawing big crowds in the foreign county.

Becky Wiseman said...

Just proves that "family history CAN be fun!" and what a neat story it is too.

Janice said...


What a fascinating story! My family is as boring as Apples! lol

I wish a roller-skating bear would fall out of my family's closet :D


Miriam Robbins said...

Thank you for your comments, folks, and especially to Apple for copying the article about Alice Teddy!

CrowFeather said...

Thank you for this post. I discovered when I was a teenager that I was related to John Akey. Stories my family told said he was the owner of Alice Teddy, but it's nice to know that he instead owned Foxey Queen and his friend George Crapsey owned Alice. After all, two trained bears are better than one, right? I think this is a fascinating story and one I will certainly continue to pass down to my own children.

Rhonda Whetstone said...

I wish you had been related to John Akey as I just wrote a wonderful 2-page newspaper column about John and Queenie.

TJ said...

Oh my! My family has been searching for pictures and information about Alice Teddy! My grandpa told us he skated with her in a traveling show? I’m uncertain of places and dates, I seem to remember him talking about Wyoming.(?) his name was Bennie Johnson. If anyone has any information I would be most grateful for your response. Thank you Terry