WHAT: “Bear” statue at Maymont in Richmond, Virginia.
LOCATION: Maymont Park, in the wildlife exhibit area across from the bear habitat.
ARTIST: William Turner.
DEDICATION: June 17, 2006.
DESCRIPTION: Donated by Charles and Sibyl Thalhimer in memory of the bears “Buster” and “Baby” who were euthanized after a biting incident involving a 4-year-old in February 2006. The 4 1/2 foot by 5 foot bear was created in 1987 and is one of five created by the artist.
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Everybody loves to go to see the bears at Maymont. There aren’t many places that can give you such an up-close look at bears, and it is easy to see why people connect so well with Maymont’s Children’s Farm and Wildlife Exhibits.
The spring and summer when the biting incident occurred was one of the more bizarre ongoing story lines I’ve been a part of covering. I was working for TimesDispatch.com at the time and we immediately got hundreds of comments on the articles — almost all blaming the mother for the incident initially. In later stories, people turned to blaming Maymont for euthanizing the bears so hastily. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries had consulted with Maymont after the biting incident and recommended to Maymont that it euthanize the bears, so then they got the people’s backlash. Then-mayor Douglas L. Wilder joined in and then he got his share of the blame for trying to politicize the entire fiasco.
It went on and on, and really, there was no right anywhere. Two bears dead over an incident that should never have happened. More than 500 people attended the funeral and attention was still at its peak when Maymont brought in the first of two new bears. I did a profile story and video shoot with one of the keepers at Maymont two years later and they were still quite sensitive and guarded about the entire bear episode — it left a big scar on so many people in Richmond.