Patrick and Topsy, Black Bears


Courtesy Silver Lake Historical Society Stow Library

Ralph Lodge feeding Patrick. The bear family on the right.

In July 1888, Ralph Lodge was presented with a female black bear cub, Topsy, captured on the north shore of Lake Superior. In September of the same year he purchased for $15.00, an eight month old male cub, Patrick, from a man by the name of Crane from the north part of Portage County, this cub having been caught by Crane while hunting in Central Michigan.

During the first summer before the arrival of the second cub, a little female named Topsy, was kept with a collar and light chain about fifteen feet long, hitched to a post in the rear of the Lodge home and adjacent to the park or grove as they called it. A short plank on top of the post for a perch was built about seven to eight feet from the ground. A large iron kettle was sunk into the ground within a thirty foot circle of her runway, and it made an excellent swimming pool, for at the time she was about the size of a large raccoon and could almost completely immerse herself in an ordinary fourteen quart pail of water.

Her playing and scampering around this post soon wore out all the grass. She became an expert climber, and when she became frightened of anything she would go up the post as quickly or quicker than a squirrel.

The cubs proved to be a great attraction to the picnic visitors at Silver Lake. A suitable brick pit, twenty feet in diameter and ten feet deep, with dens on three sides of it. The pit was on the side hill, with the lower side opening through a double gateway towards the lake, thereby giving good drainage. It was provided with a swimming pool and a large spreading oak tree in the center, high enough for the bears to get up above the surrounding walls and have a good view, as well as to be seen at close range by the many visitors.

The bears grew fast and rapidly became tame. During the summer of 1889 when about one and one half years old, they were frequently taken out of the pit by the Lodge children who played with them on the "Homestead" lawn, climbing the trees there.

The bears attained their growth at the age of four to five years. Patrick and Topsy mated at the age of three and one half years, about July 1, 1891 and produced their first off spring, seven months later, January 24, 1892. Only one male cub was discovered and this one was being carried around the pit in the mouth of his father, Patrick. When Mr. Lodge succeeded in procuring it, the little fellow was found to be dead. The cub was the first born of 78, all of which Patrick was the father.

On January 24, 1893, two males and one female were born, all of which were successfully raised. With few exceptions, after that regularly had a litter of cubs from this pair of bears, during the last week in January of each succeeding year until the Park was sold after the season of 1917, but the cubs were always separated in the fall after the first experience of losing the first cub.

It also was found that is was necessary to wean and separate them from their mother about June 1st, of each year, or else there would not be a litter of cubs the following winter.

One September after a pair of cubs had been separated from their parents through the summer, it being desirable to return them to the pits for the winter, they were placed between the outer gates, an annex to the pit, where they could again get acquainted with the old ones. They were kept here for about two weeks. After putting the male cub in the pit first, it was killed by Topsy, his mother. The little female cub was rescued. This was a startling experience and an unusual lesson to raising Black Bears.

During the disastrous Dayton Flood of March 24th to 28th in 1913, the Cuyahoga River backed up, covering the newly paved highway at the south end of the lake, (Kent Rd.) over two feet deep. This raised the lake more than eight feet and flooded the bear pits. An additional pit having been built in the early nineties, the Lodges took the cubs from the nest, one liter of two and one litter of four, and keep them at the house for about four days, feeding them with nursing bottles. Fishing boats were put inside the pits for the old bears and rafts were made for the wolf and other animals. The old bears did not like the rocking of the boats and spent most of the time in the trees.

Topsy had thirteen litters of cubs, two of one each, three of two, six of three, and two of four each, thirty four cubs altogether. In the thirty years that the Lodges raised bears, the total number of cubs born from three mothers was seventy eight. Patrick was father of the entire family. The original parents lived to be over thirty years old and were never sick.

The three bear pits and a cage that was once home to panthers are still located in the Village on private property.

Success of Raising Black Bears

One of the great secrets was always attributed to having fed the bears food in season and almost nothing but vegetables and fruits. No Meat was fed Usually apples, parsnips, and dried sweet corn of which was raised in quantities on purpose for the bears, also a coarse, specially prepared bread made from corn, oats, and some flour was baked in the early spring. These foods followed by dandelions, plantain and clover until the spring greens were supplemented by the scraps from the picnic tables and dining halls. During the summer it was usually possible to collect enough cake, buns and sandwich scraps from the many picnic tables to amply feed them and many of the other menagerie animals.

In the fall sweet cider apples , green corn and many watermelons which were raised to fatten them up. The bears would always become fat enough to hibernate, as in the wild state when winter would set in about December first of each year.

Another strange thing about them was that the cubs were always born during the last week in January, usually about the 27th, and at about the coldest time of the year. They were only slightly larger then a red squirrel and did not open their eyes until a month old, at which time they were about the size of a gray squirrel. When they came out of their dens about the middle of March, they were nearly as large as a half grown woodchuck.

After birth the mother curls herself up into a veritable big muff, and places the helpless little fellows on her nipples, where, seemingly, they remained most of the time during the first few days.

Disposition of Menagerie

Surplus cubs were sold to parks, city zoological gardens and to a number of trainers for the vaudeville stage. Three cubs were sold to the National Zoological Park at Washington, D.C. A number went to animal dealers in the East and The West. A number of two year old males were sold for holiday meat to Cleveland Hotels, in which case we shipped them to Slingman’s Meat Market. The furs were reserved by the Lodges and they had them made into sleigh robes.

The usual price received was $25.00 or $30.00 for nine months old cubs. There was one exceptional sale, and one pair went to the Chicago Cubs at $50.00 each for mascots. Dozens were sent in several years to a bear training school in Brooklyn, N.Y., where they were trained for the vaudeville stage.

After the park was sold in 1918, the menagerie specimens were given to the Brookside Park Zoo in Cleveland. There were four or five of this bear colony included, also a big Russian Brown Bear, together with several other animals and birds. William Lodge never saw them again.

In 1903 William Lodge told Dr. Frank Baker, Superintendent of the National Zoological Park at Washington, D.C. of their success and record of raising black bear cubs and he was awe stricken and said that he had never heard of anybody in this entire country that ever had success in raising cubs in captivity, that some were born, but they never could raise them.

He sent representatives from the Biological Survey to Silver Lake to get information and photographs. As a result of this information and diary records, the Smithsonian Institute published two booklets, the first entitled "A NOTABLE SUCCESS IN THE BREEDING OF BLACK BEARS", Vol. 45 by Arthur B. Baker, January 1904 and a later edition entitled, "FURTHER NOTES ON THE BREEDING OF BLACK BEARS" May 1912, Vol. 59, No. 10. These publications gave the complete records of the dates of births, number and sexes of the bears produced at this unusual bear farm, for until the secrets of the success were discovered, it was claimed by Dr. Frank Baker and others that even though there had been several instances of cubs being born in captivity, none had ever been successfully raised.

Information obtained from the manuscript entitled "An Historical Anthology of Silver Lake" by William R. Lodge, February, 1947.

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