Ed. Note: I solemnly swear that BHGP will not rest until this mystery is solved.
So if you didn't know already, Iowa once had a real live bear for a mascot. Seriously. You can read about it officially here, or in a more entertaining version here. Sadly, regardless of whom BHGP sent to recover more information about Burch's demise - Amelia Earhart, Sir Edmund Hilary - no answers were found (probably because they are dead). However a recent foray into the Daily Iowan Archives for strange and wonderful advertisements led to a wonderfully sad discovery. (thanks to whomever it was posted that link)
Burch in his cubhood days:
Below you will find the truth behind the disappearance and demise of Iowa's once great mascot, Burch the Bear. It is kind of like watching the Titanic - you keep going even though you know exactly how it ends. It is kind of not like watching Titanic because well.. it is more interesting. And there are less boobs.
Here is the transcript, followed by links to the actual newspapers:
BURCH GETS FREEDOM; MYSTERY IS DEEPENED
Former Mascot Escapes and Roams at Large.
Reported Near Coralville - Hen Roosts Raided - Searching Parties May be Sent Out.
March 3, 1910
The mystery of Burch, erstwhile mascot of the Hawkeye athletic teams, deepened rapidly yesterday when "Jimmy" having opened the gates of Iowa field after earnest solicitation, a crowd of students and newspaper men rushed to the bear's cage where, according to Jimmy, he was supposed to be taking his winter siesta. Here, however, they found the bars twisted and the netting torn in one corner of the cage, with no bear visible, Bits of fur were still clinging to the sides of the opening made in the den, and there seems no reason to doubt, that Burch has escaped and is now roaming at large somewhere in the vicinity.
It is probable that bruin was not as soundly asleep as his keepers thought, and that instead of taking a midwinter sleep of a month or so, he merely took a few days' nap. Then awakening, he found nothing to eat in sight, and after enduring this state of affairs as long as possible, took it upon himself to go in search of food. This, at least is the theory by which the bear's escape is explained.
Artist's rendering of Burch's escape from confinement:
The problem now is to locate bruin before he can do any damage. During his incarceration, Burch had grown to full size, and, moreover, had developed a somewhat dangerous disposition. The prospect of a full-grown black bear roaming about through the country is not a particularly inviting one for the farmers, and many protests are expected if the beast is not immediately recaptured.
Already reports are coming in which seem to indicate that Burch is following the Iowa river and timber skirting it. It is well remembered here that he was afraid of the river, and there seems little probability he would try to cross it, but would follow the trees along the bank either north or south. In direct line with this theory are reports from near Coralville, concerning various farmers whose hen-roosts have been invaded by some marauding animal and one man reports the loss of a sheep which had been left in a lot, and which he supposed to have been killed by dogs or wolves. Two children claim that they saw the big black animal about an eighth of a mile away in the edge of the timber while returning from school but it is thought that they had seen a dog until the fact of the bear's disappearance became known.
Whether the animal is actually dangerous to persons or not is a subject of much debate just now. Some claim that he is harmless, but those who have had to do with bruin are not so sure. His confinement to his cage was the result of an increasing savageness in his disposition, and a full-grown black bear may do considerable damage when so minded. Members of the football squad who took the trip to Missouri last year recall the animal's actions there when he drove the entire squad into one small corner of the bus on the way to the game.
The owners and caretakers of the mascot are considering the prospect of sending out searching parties to recapture him, and this will almost certainly be done as soon as another definite report as to the bear's whereabouts is obtained. Meanwhile they are hoping that he will confine his depredations to livestock.
This edition of the 1910 Daily Iowan brought to you by Thomas:
BURCH NORTHWARD BOUND; REPORTED NEAR SWISHER
Plan to Sell Mascot to City Park Board if Recaptured.
March 6, 2010
Latest reports indicate that Burch, Iowa's wandering mascot, is still headed north. Stories of his depredations came from the vicinity of Swisher yesterday indicating that the bear is slowly working up towards Minnesota, perhaps in the belief that the Gophers are more in need of his services than Iowa. The authorities here have been unable to get any definite trace of the animal which would enable them to pursue him with any hope of success, as the reports are always at least a day old when they arrive in Iowa City. However, they believe that he will eventually be located with certainty and be recaptured. The city park commissioners are planning to put two or three black bears into the park this summer, and if Burch is retaken he will probably be turned over to them.
The most authentic report concerning the bear's whereabouts which has yet reached Iowa City comes from the motorman of one of the late cars on the interurban. He reports that as the car rounded a curve about one mile north of Swisher, Friday night, the headlight cast a shaft directly upon the animal as he was slouching along by the side of the track. Somewhat astonished, Burch sat up and struck at the light with his paws; but, finding this useless and apparently frightened by the noise of the approaching car, he turned suddenly and ran into the fields beside the track.
ATTENTION: THE FOLLOWING IS A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT
BURCH'S CAREER ENDS; FOUND IN IOWA RIVER
CORALVILLE ICE BLASTERS BRING BODY TO TOP.
Bear's Career a Troubled One - Head to be Placed in Museum - Jimmy Fears Ghost.
March 11, 1910
The last chapter in the history of Burch, Iowa's ill-fated mascot, has been written. Wednesday afternoon men who had been blasting ice some distance above Coralville noticed a dark and almost submerged object floating slowly down with the masses of dislodged ice. Its peculiar appearance caused them to mount upon the bridge and push it into the shall water, where it could be reached from the shore. Here it was at once discovered that the object was a full-grown black bear, without doubt Burch.
Just how the bear came to be in the water is still a mystery. In the days of his cubhood, Burch was afraid of the river. But now it seems probable that he ventured upon the rotten ice in order to get a drink and that some sudden break-up caught him and drew him under, where he had no chance of escape.
The last reports which had come fro the animal reported him somewhere between Coralville and Swisher; but the latest of those came almost a week ago and the owners of the bear here had almost given up hope of ever hearing of him again.
Burch's two year career in the university world has been marked by many vicissitudes. Few of his kind ever attract so much attention or arouse so much comment as has centered about him since he left his Idaho home to attract the favors of the God of Chance to Hawkeye athletes and athletics. At the beginning of the 1908 football season he was heralded as the good omen which would bring success to Iowa upon the football field. He was taken upon the first trip, and Iowa was beaten by a supposedly inferior team. Then followed the most disastrous season of recent years, and Burch's popularity waned. The players still continued to wrestle with the bear for amusement, but at the close of the season he was shut up in his cage, and by last spring had grown too large and savage to be played with. So he has been kept pretty much is his den ever since, remaining there in spite of frantic efforts to escape while the big games were played on Iowa field in 1909. The unlucky animal's final end has just been told, and the discussion which the various reports which gained circulation have caused is still fresh in the minds of all.
The men who found the body took it at once to Coralville and telephoned the owners of the bear as to what disposition to make of it. Acting upon their orders, the bear was sent to Iowa City via the interurban, and taken at once to Taxidermist Dill. After an inspection, Mr. Dill announced that the water had so affected the body that in all probability it would be impossible to preserve it, with the exception of the head which was in fair condition and would be mounted and placed in the museum. "Jimmy," Burch's erstwhile guardian, refused to express any great regret when told of his former charge's fate. "Well, he was no kind o' use anyhow" is the way he puts it. The venerable mower of grass on Iowa field also admitted that he had some slight fear that Burch's ghost, like those of all who die violent deaths, would return to haunt the scenes of his bearhood days. In such event, says Jimmy, a new caretaker will be needed at once.
(1) Newspaper writers used to be awesome. The description of the discovery of the cage is amazing. Although, they did have a tendency to state the obvious.
(2) The jury is still out on whether there was foul play (there clearly was). I mean, come on. The bear was afraid of water. Why would he ever go on the ice? And really? People just HAPPENED to be out blasting ice on the river that day? How often have you seen an ice blaster on a river in 1910. I'm pretty sure the answer is zero. Conveniently, there are two full days of papers missing from the Daily Iowan archive between the disappearance and the discovery of the body.
(3) There were apparently no rules back in 1908.
(4) Jimmy believed that Burch would come back as a ghost. And the Daily Iowan quite matter of fact-ly states that such a result is an obvious result. But the truly crazy part is that Jimmy thinks he can just "quit." I know for a fact that Ghost Burch hunted him for the rest of his life. At least he finally found a "kind o' use."
(5) Seriously, who thought this was a good idea? They were wrestling with a real bear? He was on a train? They just left him in a cage under the stadium? For months at a time?
(6) Want my theory? Assuming that Jimmy and the Soviets (they had time machines, duh) didn't conspire with the "ice blasters," here's my best guess: Burch happened across the March 6 edition of the Daily Iowan and read the suggestion that Iowa intended to send him to the Gophers. He took the gentleman's way out: a nip of Whiskey, a nibble of lamb, walked out onto that icy river and smashed his full-grown bear paws into the ice. As the frigid water slowly overtook him, he fell into a deep, peaceful slumber, thankful for the great opportunity to leave the Idaho hills. His only regret being that he could not more successfully send " favors of the the God of Chance to Hawkeye athletes and athletics." Oh, and also not finishing off that stick-wielding Missouri yokel.
(7) Clearly even after these ghastly revelations, a major mystery remains: who now has possession of Burch's head? Is it in the flooded basement of the art museum? Has a nefarious rival obtained it a las manos de Juan Peron? Let's start wilth Sally Mason and work our way down. Where is it? Only time will tell, dear readers. Let's pursue the mystery one day at a time, 25 cents per day.
Original papers available here.