Just in case you haven’t noticed, we have a large, male polar bear in our lobby. He has been present at hundreds of weddings that have taken place at the Pink Palace through years. When the Memphis Grizzlies make the Playoffs, he is often lit with blue lights. You might think he looks out of place, but really, the museum has been his home for over 40 years!
Our Polar Bear has been a part of our collection since 1972 when Roger Van Cleef, an education instructor at the Pink Palace Museum, convinced fellow Memphian Dr. Harold S. Misner, an avid hunter, to donate the prized bear to our collection for educational purposes. Dr. Misner was Secretary of the Shikari Safari Club International during March 1967 when he was sent on an expedition to the Arctic to address the issue of abandoned polar bear carcasses. Apparently, several members of the Club were disturbed by inexperienced sportsmen shooting the bears from planes and not claiming their pelts, so they sent Dr. Misner to Alaska and the Arctic Ice Cap to investigate.
During March of 1967, Dr. Misner travelled to Alaska with his wife, Sara—who was one of the founding members of our volunteer organization, the Friends of the Pink Palace or “the Friends.” The Misners had been to Alaska several times before. From there, they took a private charter plane (a Super Cub with skis for landing) to the isolated town of Kotzebue, Alaska. When they arrived it was -56 degrees Fahrenheit. It was a very harsh climate; it took less than 5 minutes for your hands to freeze if you took them out of your gloves. The Ice Pack moves and it was obvious that you couldn’t retrieve a polar bear with just one tiny plane. You had to have one plane for the pilot and hunter, the other plane for another pilot, and space for the detached polar bear head and pelt.
From the experience, Dr. Misner developed a conservation protocol to appropriately hunt polar bears. On the way back from this hunt, they saw another hunting plane that was tracking a bear. They watched as shots were fired at that bear, saw blood on the bear, and saw as the bear went into the open ice float. “That bear was dead and gone,” Dr. Misner explained in his oral history. There is no way to retrieve a polar bear unless the hunter works quickly and with a team of experts. If you’re shooting a bear from the air, “it’s just a crime,” Dr. Misner reiterated. Many of the hunters who did this also did not care about the sex or size of the bear. He also has heard stories of “hunters” killing mother bears and their cubs. Dr. Misner took the information he learned from this expedition back to the Shikari Safari Club, so they could implement rules for future polar bear hunting excursions.