Andy the wrestling bear breaks loose in Seattle on May 20, 1933.

  • By Peter Blecha
  • Posted 5/23/2014
  • Essay 10710

On May 20, 1933, a giant 300-pound trained bear named Andy, owned by well-known Northwest middleweight wrestler Mervin Barackman, briefly escapes from his backyard in Seattle's Cascade (later South Lake Union) neighborhood. Two policemen collar the bear on a neighbor's back porch, where he's snacking on kippered herring from a refrigerator on the porch. 

Wrestling Bears 

Mervin Barackman (1894-1977) evidently began his wrestling career in the Pacific Northwest in the 1920s. The 150-pounder grappled his way to status as a middleweight champ on the Northwest circuit and by 1930 was seemingly trying to intimidate potential opponents by touting that he "trains for his wrestling matches with a bear" ("Barackman and His Bear ... "). Soon he was touring the region with Billy, the 300-pound wrestling bear, staging matches where they would wrestle each other or against brave townies who opted to take either of them on.

Then, in 1931, Barackman began booking additional matches accompanied by a new bear named Andy. Accounts vary, but it seems that Andy was either a cub sired by Billy or had been captured in northern Washington and raised since he was a baby. Either way, Andy also hit the road with Barackman, wrestling from Seattle to New Mexico to Texas and back home again. In 1933, Andy wrestled challengers at various venues, including Seattle's Playland resort (at Bitter Lake on N 130th Street), the Western Athletic Club (5th Avenue and Lenora Street), and the Civic Auditorium (225 Mercer Street). Each time, the bruin and Barackman received media coverage in The Seattle Times sports pages.

Gone Fishin' 

But the biggest news coverage for Andy surrounded the incident on May 20, 1933, when he managed to free his chain from a stake and escaped from the backyard enclosure at Mervin and Dolores Barackman's home at 329 8th Avenue N in the Cascade neighborhood north of downtown. The first sign of the breakout occurred when a neighbor, living four blocks east, screamed after spotting the large bear on the back porch of her home in the 1100 block of Thomas Street. The police were called and by the time patrolmen Paul C. Taylor and Ralph Osborn arrived on the scene, Andy was happily feasting on some good ol' Northwest-style kippered herring that he'd managed to liberate from a refrigerator on that porch.

"Spying a chain which hung from the bear's collar, Taylor pulled gently. ... The bear stopped eating and made a swipe at the officer. Pulling in his midriff at just the right moment, Taylor managed to retain the chain, but his clothes came perilously close to being ripped off," The Seattle Daily Times reported ("2 Policemen Bag Bear ... ").

Luckily, just before the policemen had to decide what to do next, Barackman showed up frantically searching for his wandering bear. The wrestler succeeded in walking Andy safely back home, and he offered to pay back the cost of the devoured herring. Andy, who eventually grew -- hopefully on a diet that included more herring -- to be an even larger 360-pounder, continued his wrestling career at least into 1935, with Barackman grappling at least into 1937.

Sources: "Barackman and His Bear Attractions," The Seattle Daily Times, April 6, 1930, p. 24; "2 Policemen Bag Bear on Back Porch," Ibid., May 21, 1933, p. 1; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Mervin Barackman and His Wrestling Bears" (by Peter Blecha), http:/ (accessed May 23, 2014).

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