Harveys Lake History

Alex the Bear


Alex with Hanson's lifeguard "Woody" Davis
Courtesy, Jack Davis

From 1936 to 1940 local newspaper accounts chronicled the story of Alex the Bear which had its origin at Harvey's Lake.

On February 13, 1936, the Wilkes-Barre Record reported:

Alex The Bear Sleeps On As He Changes Ownership
"I hev no earthly use for that b'ar, but I think he's worth $50," Sherman R. Davis, 68-year-old janitor of Laketon Township School, said in dismay yesterday when he was asked what he would do with Alex the Bear.
He won Alex by participating in a contest conducted by a neighbor, Squire R. A. Davis (no relation) of Alderson. Squire Davis was getting tired of feeding Alex and beside he was getting a mite too big so he decided to make him a prize in a contest.
"Sherm" Davis, in a quandary for several hours after being informed he was the winner, was resting comfortably again last night, after an enterprising Noxen citizen promised to take the bruin off his hands. [Emory] Newell of Noxen, proprietor of a butcher shop and grocery store and a gasoline service station, must have had a covetous eye on Alex for some time. No sooner had Sherman been awarded ownership of the bear than Newell of Noxen was at the schoolhouse asking for him, Davis, not the bear.

"Sherm" Davis in Steamboat Dress
FCP Collection

Option On Alex
Mr. Newell, evidently pleased with business acumen, has a kind of option on Alex now. But "gol dang it" Alex is alyin' in his hold over at his Alderson home hibernatin' just as though nothing were happening. So the whole deal will have to wait until Spring, and Alex finishes his snooze. Mr. Newell is a butcher by trade and a business man by inclination. Butcher or no butcher he is not going to practice his trade on Alex. He just wants him to amuse customers who stop at his gasoline station and store. Alex has lots of training at that.
In fact, his former master, Squire Davis, on whose property he still hibernates, bought him from the Crow Fox Farm in New Jersey for that self-same purpose. Alex came to Alderson as a cub, but with all the bread, berries, raw meat and donations from visitors he's grown into a 200-pound man-handler.
Not that he tears anybody up. The squire has described him to the press as very gentle and a well-trained bear. He does everything but vote - that is if you reward him with a scrap frequently. By next summer, the folk of Alderson declare Alex will be over 300.
Likes His Sleep
Like all bears he has a bad habit of hibernating. He came out of his hole once this winter shortly before Christmas just as though he didn't want to miss all the good times of that season. When snow covered his hold up a few weeks ago, the family was alarmed for his comfort. They thought he'd suffocate right in the middle of the contest. So they laboriously removed all the snow from around the hole...and there was Alex, smug-looking, as any other gentleman of leisure, and showing no disposition to be disturbed.

R.A. Davis and Family with Alex as Cub
Courtesy, Jack Davis

Newell seemed rather horrified when asked if he was going to kill Alex for the meat. The reporter talking to him didn't know at the time that Mr. Newell is a man of sentiment as well as a butcher. However, the cutting suggestion came from another source, Sherman Davis, who when informed he was the contest winner, clucked desperately, 'Well you can always kill it and eat the meat."
A few humanitarian members of the press have been watching the contest and were participants in it themselves. If they won they planned to have a big time presenting Alex to the city.
Too Many Bears
Thomas Phillips, caretaker of Kirby Park and the city zoo, shushed talk of donating bears to the zoo. He explained that the three the city has now are worry enough. Tenderly he was asked if he thought the city could pay $50 for another bear. "I doubt it," he said straightforward like. "Those they have now are worry enough." It seems that every time the river comes up the bears are liable to a ducking, and furthermore, they are high-handed eaters and quite an expense.
One of the three over there was donated by Plymouth's A. G. Groblewiski Company. The company had used the cub for advertising purposes. The State gave the other two.

R.A. Davis Store
Courtesy, Jack Davis

Squire Ralph A. Davis (1880-1956) was a well-known figure at the Lake for decades. In 1901 he lost his left arm in an accident while working at the Alderson sawmill. Despite the loss he was known as an excellent hunter. He operated a boarding house and gas station near the Picnic Grounds and also a lakeside store during the summers. He was elected to seven four-year terms as justice of the peace. A son, Elwood "Woody" Davis, was a lifeguard at Hanson's Amusement Park, and a one of the championship-level swimmers in the pre-WW II era detailed in another article on this website.

The lanky Sherman H. Davis was a beloved figure at the Laketon school (now the site of the Lake-Noxen Elementary School). In the Summer months he was an engineer on the Lake steamboats. His two daughters, J. Pauline Davis and Hazel A. Davis, were well-remembered teachers at the Laketon school.

At the end of February 1936 Emory Newell (1907-1972) coaxed Alex out of his Alderson cave with candy and three bottles of soda which the bear drank with ease. Newell then was able to tease Alex into a truck and took him to Noxen.

Alex's antics at Noxen were reported in the March 9, 1936, edition of the Wilkes-Barre Record:

Squire Ralph A. Davis
Courtesy, Jack Davis

Alex Breaks Loose, Tears Master's Pants, and It's Marguerite's Laugh
The joke is on Emory up at the Newell place in Noxen, where Alex the bear - purchased by Emory a few weeks ago - got real frisky yesterday afternoon and threatened to rout all the folk of Noxen.
He was just "full of the ole' Harry" Emory reported last night and there seems to be no reason for it, "although it may be the Spring weather."
"Don't shoot, don't shoot," Emory pleaded with his brother Russell, who got out the family weapon and was about to leather Alex with a well-directed shot, when it appeared that the 300- pound beast was going on a tear.
Alex was brought over from Alderson, where he is living until the Newells build a cage, yesterday for a visit. He broke loose, took a pass at Howard Johnson - a neighbor and one of Emory's "bear trainers" - chased Cousin Roy Newell into the store, sprawled his master on the ground, knocked over an oil drum and "clumb" up the gas tank which - according to observers - he began to pump.
In the melee he tore Emory's pants, scratched the hands and face of Johnson and gave Noxen folk a good scare.
It took three youths to finally coax Alex back into the truck with such delicacies as soda pop, milk, tobacco, jelly beans, ice cream and meat.
Sister Marguerite Newell, who at first objected to the purchase of Alex and once stated, "That b'ar business is baloney," reported exultantly from her home last night that the bear pulled one over on Emory.
"That bear had a good time - he did," Marguerite falsettoed jubilantly, "and he showed these three guys something."
The "guys" referred to are Emory, Howard and Roy, who have been having fun wrestling with the usually good-natured Alex.
Roy, now, weighs 280 and is about six feet tall, but he scampered when Alex came rushing after him after breaking loose. Roy made for the Newell store and got inside in the nick of time. It took three to hold the door shut against the bear's determined efforts.
It was while Alex had Emory sprawling in the dirt that Russell came out with the shotgun and threatened to blow him to eternity. Emory said he didn't want that b'ar shot.
Probably no amount of imagination could exactly picture 260 pounder Roy racing across the lot with the bear on his tail and Alex's final gesture of magnificence - the climb up the gasoline pump. The Newells were still laughing themselves sick last night. Young Johnson is nursing bear scratches, Emory is waiting to have his pants patched and everybody in Noxen is waiting for next Sunday afternoon when they bring Alex over from Alderson again.
But nobody enjoyed the brawl more than Marguerite, who it appears, has been trying to get something on Emory ever since he started that "b'ar business."

In early May 1936 Emory Newell sought to display Alex in a carnival act which went awry, after which Alex was temporarily housed at the Kirby Park Zoo. The Wilkes-Barre Record again reported the events on May 12, 1936:

Takes More Than Fall Out Of Wrestling Mat, So He's In Cooler
Alex the bear is behind bars - at Kirby Park Zoo - all because of a bad attack of stage fright.
Emory Newell of Noxen, enterprising butcher, won Alex in a contest in January, wooed him with tidbits and tenderness and trained him to wrestle with some of his Noxen neighbors. So Sunday Emory trucked Alex and one of his wrestling partners, Sam Dymond of Noxen, to Phoenixville, where there was "some kind of a carnival."
According to Emory's brother, Russell, Sam Dymond is no slouch. Russell described him as "Not such a big fella, but just chuck full a' dynamite!" Emory was out fishing last night, so the real details of the rumpus Alex caused in Phoenixville were not available first- hand. Fishing and tending Alex are two of Emory's favorite habits.
Brother Russell explained that Emory saw an advertisement in the "Billboard," magazine read by all aspiring vaudeville actors, seeking a wrestling bear. Nobody knew until then that Emory had dreams of going on the stage. Emory packed for Phoenixville with Sam.
They got on the stage down there, according to Russell, and Alex downed Sam and then took a snack out of Sam's hand. Everybody got excited and Alex snarled to Emory who had to coax the stage- struck bruin off his partner.
Well, on the way back from Phoenixville Emory gets to thinking how perky Alex is lately because of the heat and decides that now is a fine time to put Alex away until he cools off. This is probably a first impulse which Emory gets, so he stops off at Kirby Park Zoo and explains to William Law, the foreman, that Alex is frisky and would Mr. Law mind if Alex just stays with the other bears during the summer?
Lately, Alex is getting very nervous, so Emory figures it's the heat and maybe Alex needs a rest before he starts some real wrestling next fall.
So Emory tells the boss at Kirby Park he will be back when it gets cooler and will take Alex on a vaudeville tour.

By late July Emory Newell was pained to see Alex confined to pacing inside a cage. He had Alex released from the zoo and settled the bear at a restaurant owned by Stanley Kreiger in West Nanticoke where Alex attracted kids and families. Alex also developed a fondness for eating watermelons which seemingly had a calming effect.

On Sunday, August 2, 1936, Alex was featured in a famous (for the time) wrestling match with Howard Johnson, a close friend of Emory Newell. The Harvey's Lake event at Hanson's Amusement Park was reported in the Wilkes-Barre Record on August 4, 1936:

Alex the Bear Leaves His Marks on Man 'Wrassler'
Howard Johnson, 145-pound bear "wrassler" had a little the better of Alex the Bear in an hour-and-a-half bout at the picnic grounds, Harvey's Lake, Sunday, but according to Emory Newell of Noxen, Alex's owner, Johnson's back resembled a checker board in the closing minutes. A crowd of 3,000 witnessed the match, Emory said last night.
Johnson preferred to wrestle shirtless, and the marks on his back were proof that Alex was not fooling. He drew blood. All told, Newell says, the man had the bear down some 20 or 25 times, while the bear only pinioned Howard about five times. Newell was referee, and there was one time during the match when he was glad he brought along some watermelon.
Alex evidently thought the bout was just horseplay, and began shaking his head and walking around. This is not a good sign, Emory has discovered. So when he left the ring and started for a tree, which he climbed to a height of about 10 feet - the bear's limit - Emory started for the watermelon. This calmed the frolicking bear, and the bout was renewed.
Emory complained, however, that the bear wouldn't listen when he, as referee, tried to pry the principals apart. Once he threw Johnson over his head, which was much enjoyed by the crowd. Emory said he thought Johnson had pinched the bears nose, a trick Howard has learned to use when the going is rough.
After an hour and a half of mauling and grunting, the bear laid down, Emory said, and he stopped the slaughter. The bear was then fed a light lunch of peaches, candy, tomatoes, and a case of chocolate milk. He eats tomatoes by the bushel basket, but Emory didn't think he ought to have that many Sunday.
Before the bout, Alex ate five watermelons, donated by a stand at the picnic grounds because they were cracked. That helped to keep Alex in good humor, plus the one he had during the wresting bout. After it was all over, he was taken to Stanley Krieger's restaurant, [West] Nanticoke, where he is being kept.


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Copyright April 2020 F. Charles Petrillo