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Rhonda's View Rendezvous: Motoring bear known far and wide

11:44 AM, Mar. 25, 2013  |  Comments
Rhonda Whetstone
Rhonda Whetstone
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Author's note: Part 2 of 2 - Queenie, the motoring bear.

Queenie, the bear cub trained by John Akey of Merrill, gained quite the reputation with her abilities.

Performing roller skating, bike riding, rope-jumping, wrestling and other stunts, her real claim to fame was that she could operate a car, just as a human would.

Motoring down the streets of this fair city, she so shocked an unsuspecting driver that all he could think to do was pray, even though Foxy Queen, better known as Queenie, by all accounts was a safe and attentive driver.

The Eau Claire Leader reported when she was in town there, she climbed in the front seat of Akey's Ford, placed her front paws on the steering wheel, and proceeded down the busy city streets, not only staying on her side of the road, but executing corners flawlessly, with Akey in the car with her, pointing the direction to go.

In Manitowoc, police deeming it perhaps unsafe, could find no statute to cover a bear driving, since all state laws applied to humans only. They shrugged and did nothing.

In Washington, D.C., and Maryland however, she was arrested for speeding.

Fortunately, by the time Akey was ready to show off Queenie far and wide, the automobile was well in fashion, even if decent roads were not too common, and Akey was able to easily travel not only around central Wisconsin locations, including Wisconsin Rapids, Rudolph and Biron, but out of state also.

In June 1916, Akey had an engagement in Sartell, Minn., then was heading to Canada after which Akey and Queenie were heading west.

Newspaper notices came from in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Texas and points beyond. Akey booked her as the "Bear that made Merrill famous," a take-off on the well-known slogan, "the beer that made Milwaukee famous."

After a tour of 24 states, Akey came home - without his bear. While in Henderson, Ky., in early 1917, Queenie became ill and died, probably because of something fed her by the crowd.

Not one to give up, Akey found another cub and began to train the new Queenie.

Eventually, Akey opened a saloon at the depot in Merrill, and there his trained animals had the run of the bar, nuzzling customers and looking for food in their pockets. Any of them could appear at anytime, much to the delight of the usual patrons when someone from out-of-town stopped in for a libation.

The local career of Foxy Queen II came to an end when Akey died of pneumonia on Oct. 20, 1933. The bear raised by Akey from a cub, seemingly mourned Akey's passing and showed no interest in anything once he was gone. Queenie also was suffering from lack of exercise, and Akey's wife, Cora, felt she had no choice but to sell the bear. Queenie was bought by a Chicago amusement park owner and animal trainer. Queenie even appeared at the Chicago World's Fair.

Just in case any of my readers heard tales from parents or grandparents about the day they saw a bear driving a Ford down the streets of Wisconsin Rapids, you can rest assured the story was true.

Akey's obituary was mostly about Queenie, with just a small mention of the eight children he and his wife had, but I doubt the children cared. I am betting those kids thought of Queenie pretty much as a sibling anyway, which I guess is how it should have been.

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