Monthly Archives: June 2012

Jane Austen Revelation

In which I reveal my new Jane Austen fixation and spread the word about the Jane Austen Festival in Oklahoma City. 

 I’m a late-comer to the Jane Austen fan club, but at least I timed it right.  The market is reveling in the success of reproductions and spin-offs based on her 200-year-old books.  Until yesterday, I failed to realize that I’d come under Jane’s spell.  It took a children’s book to wake my sensibilities (pun intended).   

 Jane Austen: A Life Revealed by Catherine Reef is a new biography I picked up at a Scholastic Book Fair.  Although it is geared toward junior high and up, I found it interesting and thorough.  The family tree printed on the first pages was helpful on occasion when the many family names became confusing.  Complete with photos and illustrations, its style reminds me of the 1934 Newbery Award book Invincible Louisa; The Story of the Author of Little Women by Cornelia Lynde Meigs. 

 Now that I “know” Jane better, I think I would have enjoyed her company.  She loved learning, children, and psychology.  She enjoyed watching plays and traveling.  She had a sense of humor.  She didn’t give up when her writing became stalled in the publishing system.  

 What I admire most is that she produced memorable stories, without benefit of writing courses or critique groups.  Based on that alone, I defy those who debate and speculate as to her “worthiness.”  I proclaim, without a doubt, that Jane Austen had writing talent!

 Why did it take me so long to realize my Austen fanaticism? In the last 6 months, I’ve read four spin-off’s to Pride and Prejudice.

 My favorite was Austenland, a modern chicklit in which women in need of some role playing take a vacation at a private resort.  After donning dresses and regency accents, they are “courted” by men who resemble Darcy and Bingley.  Created by Shannon Hale (of Princess Academy fame), the story was well written and hard to put down.  The sequel, Midnight in Austenland, was also fun. 

 Death Comes to Pemberly by P.D. James focuses on a murder accusation against the distasteful Mr. Wickham.  Pride and Prescience by Bebris had Jane and Darcy solving a mystery during their wedding party.  Pride and Predjudice and Zombies was amusing, but less to my taste.  There are zillions more Darcy-esque titles from which to choose. 

 Oddly enough—this week I learned of a Jane Austen Festival being held in Oklahoma City at the Reduxion Theatre, June 14-16 Since I am now a professed Austenite, I plan to attend at least one night.  Featured is regency dancing, a play reading of Pride and Prejudice, and a lecture from author Linda Berdoll (author of Darcy Takes a Wife, which is next on my reading list). 

 To quote Austen, “One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”  I believe that my lack of understanding has more to do with the fact that Jane Austen was not on my particular high school reading list.  It has taken the barrage of spin-offs to introduce me to the joy and quirkiness of Austen lore.

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Carmichael the Famous Polar Bear

What do a polar bear, the 1903 World’s Fair, Jack Benny and Bugs Bunny have to do wtih the Oklahoma City Zoo?  Carmichael!  This beloved zoo bear had a curious past that spanned 100 years!  (Article printed with permission)  ~Amy 

Carmichael the Polar Bear  By Amy Dee Stephens

 Many Oklahoma City Zoo visitors fondly remember Carmichael the Polar Bear, but few realize that his story goes back over 100 years! 

Carmichael’s history is filled with mystery and inconsistency.  Only one thing is clear about the zoo’s polar bears–several different Carmichaels lived at the zoo.  Beyond that, records are conflicting. 

ZooSounds, Spring 2012

According to newspaper articles, the zoo’s first polar bear was over 40-years-old when he arrived in 1939.  Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, the original owner of the dancing polar bear, sent Carmichael to America for the 1903 St. Louis World’s Fair. 

He was living at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in 1939 when Oklahoma City traded two yaks for Carmichael.  During his entire truck-ride from Colorado, the polar bear growled, raged and pawed the floor.  He had reputation for being dangerous and difficult.     

Carmichael’s name was a result of popular culture.  His original name was Court of Rome, named after his birthplace.  A newspaper reporter introduced Oklahomans to the zoo’s first polar bear using the nickname “Carmichael,” because Jack Benny, a popular comedian, had a “pet” polar bear named Carmichael on his radio show.  (Mel Blanc, the famous voice of Bugs Bunny, was also the voice of Carmichael).     

Postcard of Carmichael at the Oklahoma City Zoo.

In 1951, the zoo decided to replace the aged bear, who would have been an unbelievable sixty-years-old.  A polar bear’s average lifespan is 35 years, so another polar bear named Carmichael may have lived at the zoo sometime during this period.  Shortly after trading him, a one-year-old polar bear cub moved into Carmichael’s quarters.  The public called him Carmichael, so the name stuck for a second (or maybe third) generation of polar bears. 

This final Carmichael is perhaps best remembered by Oklahomans as the bear who paced.  People felt sorry him during the unbearably hot summers (during a time prior to expensive chilled habitats).  Zoo philosophy toward animal welfare had also changed, and everyone agreed that Oklahoma was not the best climate for a polar bear.  With both relief and sadness, zoo officials relocated Carmichael to another zoo on a breeding loan in 1969.    

Although the zoo has been without polar bears for over 40 years—Carmichael’s name is mentioned nearly every day by zoo visitors who remembered him fondly. 

 Curious where Carmichael used to live in the zoo?  If you stand by the carousel and look toward the Herpetarium, you will see the curved bars along the back of that building where he and his predecessor(s) once lived.  The ZooZeum also displays part of his old cage, which dates back to 1907.  The rock grotto and moat (seen in the postcard) is likely the currently location of the Leaping Lizard ride. 

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