Thursday, October 03, 2013

A Bear on a Battleship?

To most Arkansans, the “Razorback” is synonymous with athletics at the University of Arkansas. This is why it comes as a surprise to most to learn that USS Razorback is not named for the university’s mascot, but for the fin whale, in keeping with the United States Navy tradition of naming submarines after marine animals.
Similarly for sailors aboard USS Arkansas (BB-33) in the 1920s, it was not the razorback they adopted as their mascot, but a black bear by the name of Teddy.

"Teddy," on deck with handler.

Not much is known about how or why Teddy came to be part of the crew of Arkansas, but he was certainly not the first nautical ursine creature in the U.S. Navy. In 1907, the town of Aberdeen, Washington, presented a bear to each of the 16 ships of President Theodore Roosevelt’s newly-designated Great White Fleet. Perhaps it is simply a coincidence that 16 “teddy” bears were donated to “Teddy” Roosevelt’s ships—but perhaps not! In addition to these bears, the battleships of the Great White Fleet acquired cats, parrots, a pig, and even a kangaroo from Sydney, Australia. 
"Teddy," posing with the 1920 USS Arkansas Baseball team.

In a photograph collection donated to the museum by Dan Healey of Southaven, Mississippi, Teddy appears both on deck and posing with the ship’s baseball team.   The collection contains over 170 photographs of everyday life aboard Arkansas in the early 1920s.  Look for more features on this collection in the future.