When I was a young boy, growing up in Aberdeen, my parents took me to the circus a few times.
These were touring circuses so sometimes it was Billy Smart’s Circus, sometimes Bertram Mills’ Circus.
They had performing animals – elephants, lions, tigers, bears and sundry others.
My memory has always been that one of the circuses – Bertram Mills – had a famous bear trainer. I think he may have been a relative of Adolph Cossmy. Adolph was a famous trainer of performing bears; he died in 1930.
Perhaps the man in my childhood memories was only famous because he was related to Adolph or because the circus had a very good publicist. Or, in my mind, because my parents mentioned him to me. But he was said to be unusual in that his act involved mixing brown bears with polar bears.
If a brown bear is about to attack you, the publicity went, it gives you some warning – it will snarl and/or contort its face and/or aggressively move its body so you knew something is about to happen. You know where you are with a brown bear.
But polar bears give you no warning.
At least, that was what I was told.
They seem perfectly placid. You would not know they were about to do anything. Then suddenly, without warning, they will turn on you and lash out and rip your throat out or figuratively – perhaps literally – bite your head off.
I have always remembered that from my boyhood days, growing up in Aberdeen. Same with people. Don’t mess with polar bears and be wary of people.
Bear-trainer Adolph Cossmy was killed in 1930 at Bertram Mills Circus in Hastings. He was inside what was called The Beastwagon, washing the polar bears, and slipped over on the wet floor, kicking one of the bears accidentally. The bear killed him. Not so accidentally. Adolph had locked The Beastwagon’s door from the inside and had the key in his pocket, so no-one was able to save him. A lesson to us all.