By Wayne Pankratz
When I was in high school from 1962 - 66, my hometown of Glidden was like many small Northern Wisconsin towns. We were simple, honest, hardworking, Christian folks with strong family values, who, if we gave you our word, you could take it to the bank. Located on Wisconsin State Highway 13 between Park Falls and Ashland, most of the town made a living by logging, family farms, at “The Mill” (a hardwood molding factory) or at a number of small Mom and Pop businesses. We actually had a pretty simple way of life, and folks worked together. Families came to town on Friday nights to do their banking and grocery shopping. We had eight taverns, three gas/service stations, two grocery stores, a restaurant, a drug store with a soda fountain and our Catholic (grades 1 through 8) and public school systems.
Our high school sports teams were known as the Glidden Vikings. Most young guys looked forward to November because it was the start of our basketball season and the Wisconsin gun deer-hunting season. Deer hunting was different back then. Prior to 1965, when they started the fall bear season, a hunter could shoot a bear if they had a deer license. They didn’t even need a special bear license. However, in November of 1963, things changed both for our nation and our town. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and “The Bear” was shot about five miles Northeast of Glidden.
Word rapidly spread throughout town that a huge bear had been shot and was hanging on “Cherry” Kempf’s wrecker down by the bank. My girlfriend Mary (now my wife) and I were part of the crowd that quickly gathered to look at/admire this magnificent creature. The head was at the top of the boom on the wrecker and the feet touched the ground. The bear was estimated to be twelve years old, was 665 pounds field dressed, and measured 7 feet 10 inches long. The plaque on the current display states it took seven men to get it out of the woods.
The Bear was taken on the H. R. Krans’ logging job by two hunters from Milwaukee: Otto Hedbany and Don Streubel. I delivered papers to Mr. & Mrs Krans before and after the harvest of the big bear, and despite the notoriety, the Krans didn’t change, but Glidden did!
At first the successful hunters were going to have a bear rug made so the hide was tanned, but then the Glidden Chamber of Commerce purchased the hide, had a small log cabin built to display “The Bear,” and the marketing campaign began. Glidden was quickly named the Black Bear Capital of the World and was also referred to as the Black Bear Capital of Wisconsin. The Glidden Enterprise, the local weekly newspaper, still has written on the front page “Black Bear Capital of Wisconsin.” Even now, whenever a big bear is harvested in Wisconsin, articles refer to the “Glidden Bear.”
In 1965 when I was a high school senior, the Glidden Chamber of Commerce members approached Glidden School District officials to begin the process of changing our nickname from the Glidden Vikings to the Glidden Black Bears. The change officially took place at the start of the 1966-67 school year. Our sports teams remained the Black Bears until the Glidden School District voted to consolidate with Park Falls. In the fall of 2009, the Black Bears officially became the Chequamegon Screaming Eagles.
However, the school “nickname” was not the only thing that changed. Many local Glidden businesses incorporated bear theme references in their names and/or their advertising. The Mill changed its name to Black Bear Industries. We now have family owned businesses such as the Black Bear Bakery and a gas station called The Bear Crossing that includes Cubbies Cafe. There is also The Bruin restaurant located on Main Street. Even the sign before you enter Glidden has a picture of a bear as does our new water tower. If you travel to Glidden today you would see “Our Bear” with a brand new look created by local taxidermist, Gary Thimm and now proudly displayed in a new environment next to the town hall right off Highway 13.
Bear hunting has and continues to help support the local Glidden economy. Some of us actually guide bear hunters while others just bait for bear hunters from out of the area. Our area businesses provide bear bait, lodging (if not provided by local guides), food, liquid refreshments, fuel and hunting supplies to hunters and tourists.
The Glidden area has bear hunters from throughout Wisconsin and out of state arrive during September to hunt bear over bait or with dogs. In fact, we even have a group of hunters from North Carolina who purchased an older home and only use it during bear season when dogs hunt first.
Wisconsin alternates its bear hunting seasons with those hunting over bait starting in even numbered years one week ahead of those using dogs, while in odd numbered years, the hunters using dogs start one week early.
If you are looking for a good bear hunt and/or would like to personally visit our Black Bear Capital of Wisconsin to see “Mr. Bear,” then take a trip to Glidden and enjoy the sights and sounds of a town that one “bear” really did change!