Bothell man in bear costume is almost shot on October 12, 1957.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 11/25/2009
  • Essay 9219

On October 12, 1957, Vern Strong, a member of the Bothell Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) climbs a tree dressed in a bear costume as a publicity stunt for an upcoming Jaycee event. Mistaking him for a real bear, anxious Bothell residents, including a Deputy Sheriff, almost shoot him down.

Trouble’s a Bruin  

Strong donned the bear costume to promote the Jaycees' upcoming Laff-O-Rama event, a hometown circus for the benefit of the Bothell Teen-Age Canteen. Carrying handbills, he climbed up the town’s 108-foot tall Christmas tree, hoping to draw attention. That he did, but not in the way he had hoped.

Because Strong was so high up in the branches, passersby mistook him for a real bear. Some ran home to retrieve their rifles. Others called the Sheriff’s office. When Sheriff’s Deputy E. L. Kirkpatrick arrived on the scene, a large crowd had gathered. Some had their guns at the ready, just in case they needed to protect themselves against a wild animal.  

As a matter of public safety, Kirkpatrick planned on shooting the bear dead. He raised his high-powered rifle, and just as he was lining up the shot, he noticed through the scope that the bear was wearing shoes. He immediately lowered his gun, and rushed through the crowd, urging hunters not to join him in a barrage fired at the treetop.

Grin and Bear It  

After the commotion ended, Strong slowly made his way down from the tree, scattering handbills along the way. When he reached bottom, he took off his fake bear head, and noted, “It was awfully hot up there.”

Kirkpatrick replied, “Buddy, you don’t know how warm it nearly was.” The Sheriff’s Deputy also stated that this was as close as he had ever gotten to shooting someone.  

At the foot of the tree, Strong was trembling noticeably. He stated that when he was high in the branches, all he could do when he saw anyone pointing a gun at him was to “get around on the other side of the tree or wave at them.”

Sources: "Human ‘Bear’ Nearly Gets Shot," The Seattle Times, October 12, 1957, p. 1; "Man Posing as ‘Bruin’ Nearly Shot Dead,"  Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 13, 1957, p. 25.

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