The Arctic Bear

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Norton Johnson
Painting The Bear

 

Yummy Memories and Such!

Photo taken by Randy Sammons at the 1960 Reunion in 2000

 

How the "Subject" Came Up!

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(Click to enlarge)

8/4/06
Jimmie Brand

Found your web site through Huddy Hudgens (63), I was looking for information on the "Arctic Bear".

Easter Seals sells a Christmas Ornament every year as a fund raiser, and the 2006 ornament is going to be the Arctic Bear.  I was looking for a little nostalgia from the '50s & '60s for a brief history of the Bear that will accompany the ornament. 

Attached you will find a proof of the ornament.  

Jimmie Brand
Administrative Assistant

Easter Seals Southern Georgia, Inc.
(229) 439-7061

... one email out to AHS alumnus ... and the memories started to flow!

8/4/06
Bob(by) Mallard (55)
rmallard3@cox.net

     As I recall, the Arctic Bear was built on the corner of Oglethorpe Avenue and Slappey Drive soon after Oglethorpe Avenue was extended from around the 600 block all the way to Slappey. This was either in the late forties or 1950-no later. It was extended either just before or just after the Oglethorpe Avenue bridge was built over the Flint River. I don't think there was even a traffic light where Oglethorpe met Slappey then.  It turned out to be a fortuitous location, with Albany growing north and west.  It was owned by a man with the last name of Johnson. I don't remember his first name,  but he was the younger(?) brother of Mr. Clarence Johnson who owned a hardware store in downtown Albany on Broad Street. The sign was the most impressive thing about the location. It depicted a polar bear standing on his hind legs licking an ice cream cone about his size. There was also a zig-zag neon light running up the sign all the way from the bear's feet to his nose. Highland Avenue Park was just across the street and I played sandlot baseball there the summer the Arctic Bear opened. Some of the players were, beside myself, Eugene Stripling, Willis Bowles, Knobby Freeman, Lavon Payton, Charles Bass, and Tommy Webb. At the grand opening, free soft ice cream cones were given away as a promotional goodwill gesture.  We all went over to the Bear after baseball practice and took advantage of their offer. Most of us quit after four or five,  but the record was held by one young man named Crit Spurling. He gained his fifteen minutes of fame that day by consuming 14, as I recall. Nobody else even came close. The Arctic Bear also served an extremely delicious strawberry sundae for which they charged the sum of 21 cents. (It might have been 26) I remember because this was soon after the State of Georgia enacted its first sales tax and one had to add an extra penny . It was so good that my mother let me do the unthinkable. On our way home after she got off work, she would let me buy one just an hour before suppertime. This was normally a no-no, as things like this would "spoil your supper" . This was the only time I was allowed to do so.

    The Arctic Bear was never a "hangout" like the " Pig n Whistle" or the Dairy Queen, but more of a working man's dining establishment. Good fare for most reasonable prices. 

    Is it still there? I`d like to know.

8/4/06
Becky Gammage Dupree (55)

The Arctic Bear sign was copied in part from one the original owner liked in Atlanta GA.

That sign was made by Paul Pryse of Albany, an unusually good commercial artist.  He was the father of Billy Pryse, who graduated from Albany High School about 1966.  (+/- a yr or two).  At that time, Paul's shop was located in the garage at his home at 1117 Gillespie Ave.  The neon was "bent" by a woman, Judy Baker. 

The sign was originally for 'ARTIC BEAR', but the misspelling was realized before the sign was actually started.      

Paul was the son of William and Alice Pryse.  His father worked for the Albany Herald.  He had 4 brothers:  Tony, Bill, Kenneth and Henry. 

Thanks.

8/4/06
Martha LeSueur Nicholson (56)

Jack Ivey's ('56) father made the Arctic Bear sign.  You can email him at jackivey@bellsouth.net.

This is so exciting!  My sister and I collect the Easter Seal ornaments and we both will absolutely have to have one of these!

8/4/06
Joe Taylor (56)

My name is Joe Taylor and I graduated from Albany High in 1956. I remember the Aortic Bear and also remember the man with the last name Johnson that opened it. He also owned Johnson's Hardware store on Broad Street in Albany. The time was around 1951 or 1952. His son if I remember correctly was Jimmy and should have graduated from Albany High in the late 50's.

Good luck,

8/4/06
Leon Perrett (56)

Hi Mr. Brand,  My name is Leon Perrett, Albany, GA (435-9634),  The Arctic Bear was opened by Mr. Norton Johnston.  He is still living and lives in Albany on Quail Hollow Rd.   His telephone number is 435-1527.   I worked at the Arctic Bear when I was in high school.  I worked there from '54 to '56 with several other classmates.  Interesting work.  If I can help please give me a call.  

8/5/06
Tommy Herrington (AHS '56)

Jim, the following is on the web site, but I thought you might like to have it as a separate item..

For two years, I picked up my Herald papers at that place, wrapped them there, and then delivered them. So, I can say that for five days a week, 52 weeks a year, for two years, that sign was part of my life....   

"The post that held that sign was of special interest to me. It was  where I had to park.

I was blessed with the fact that my parents had "inherited" an old 1941 Dodge with "fluid drive." It had running boards and a radio.

It was a manual shift (steering column), but because of the fluid drive, you could just leave it in third gear and it would slowly get up to speed when starting out - a good thing for one-armed drivers, but not too good when you parked it on a slope - the parking brake was burned out, and the thing would roll when parked because the fluid drive did not hold the car still as normal manual transmissions would do...

So, due to the slight slope of the "Bear's" parking lot, I had to pull up close to the sign and turn my wheels so that when I turned the engine off, the car would gently roll into the sign, allowing the running board to make contact with the post. As such, I was anchored in place. BUT, there was one thing that had to be remembered - ALWAYS pull forward AWAY from the sign when you were leaving!"

 

8/5/06
Janet Harrison Mills, Tallahassee (56)

Keep me posted on this--I want to buy one!  I left Albany in '54, after my sophomore year, but every time I went back to see Taylor and family, I always had to stop at the Bear and get a soft chocolate cone--Let me know when and where they will be available!  Thanks. 

8/6/06
J. R. (Jay) Coston
702 Edenburg Drive
Columbia, TN  38401
jayandcarolc@cpws.net

    In reference to Beverly's note about the Aortic Bear sign, my dad, Jesse Coston, was the Owner of Albany Neon Sign Company from its' founding in about 1947 to 1975 when he retired and sold the business.  It continued to operate as Albany Neon for several years in Albany until the new Owner, John Scarborough, moved the business to Adel, GA.

    My Dad's company built and erected the Arctic Bear sign.  It was the first rotating neon illuminated sign in Albany and probably in South Georgia at that time.  Albany Neon built and erected several more similar signs in later years but the Arctic Bear sign was the milestone for this type sign in South Georgia.  I assisted (limited to mostly physical labor) in the fabrication and helped dig the hole for the pole for the erection of the sign and still am very proud of being a part of its' history and other signs associated with Albany Neon.  My younger brother (Bob) possibly also had a part in the sign but I am not sure.  We worked with Dad during the summers and sometimes after school.

    I did not know what happened to the sign in later years after the Arctic Bear closed until sometime in the mid 90's when we had a Coston family reunion in Albany and I was told it was in the old Train Depot on display.  The depot was closed and I did not get to see it during this visit and basically forgot about it until I saw it in the snapshots of the 1960 Class reunion held in 2005.  I was unable to attend the Reunion and still have not seen the actual sign.  Other relatives claim there is a plaque on the sign or display whereby an Ed Knight claims responsibility of the sign.  Ed Knight was (is) a cousin of my Dad's and worked for my Dad at that time.  He probably had some part in the sign but only as a fellow worker.  Ed and my Dad had a difference of opinion at some point (one of many) and Ed left Albany Neon and started working for Golden Neon in Albany.  Mr. (Jimmy?) Golden also worked for my Dad before starting his own company.  Unfortunately my Dad is deceased and I have been told Ed Knight is also deceased and cannot be asked to verify their claims to the sign. 

    The sign was also written up in the neon sign trade journal , Sign of the Times  (don't know if it is still in publication or not) at the time it was erected.  I'm sorry but I don't have a clue as to the month and year except to say it was between 1955 and 1960.  These were my High School years and would have been when I worked on it.  If you desire I can share some details with you concerning the signs' innards that only someone who had worked on it (such as myself) would know.  If you desire other information, please let me know.

So now you know!

8/6/06
Jane Tolbert Kinzle in Ohio (56)

There is a nice black and white photo of Arctic Bear in Albany in 1951. It appears from the text that the Georgia Archives may have more history, photos, etc.:

Cite as

  Vanishing Georgia, Georgia Division of Archives and History, Office of Secretary of State.

Usage note

  Contact repository re: reproduction and usage.

Held by

  Georgia Archives, 5800 Jonesboro Road, Morrow, GA 30260


8/7/06
FRED HANCOCK (54)

EMILY JEAN AND BILLY McAFEE STORE THE "ARCTIC BEAR" SIGN IN A WAREHOUSE ON THEIR FARM. YOU MAY KNOW THIS. IF NOT YOU CAN REACH BILLY AT 229-436-2461.

 8/7/06
Betty Logan (49)

Where will these ornaments be available?  The Easter Seal Society in Albany did therapy on my face when I had Bells Palsy 46 years ago.  They charged something like $3 a visit (we had no physical therapist in Albany at that time) and didn't charge anyone who couldn't pay.  I was amazed.  Then our daughter, Linda, worked for the Easter Seal Society in Little Rock for about a year as a recreational therapist.  I would like to buy one or more of the ornaments. 

8/18/06
Ted Cahill (55)
Dear Mrs. Herrington:
                                                                                Ever at your command and always eager to miss no chance to do your bidding.  I lept at the opportunity to provide you with my invaluable assistance Re; THE ARCTIC BEAR!!!
                                                                                As you may or may not know at one time in my stellar career I was gainfully employed at said establishment much to the delight of one Mr. Norton Johnston Prop.
 
                                                                                Being the clever young man that I am I immediately sought his assistance.  After several calls wherein I mentioned pictures, pamphlets, news clippings and at least once I'm sure - Easter Seals.  We got together yesterday.  During one of my calls he told me he had gotten rid of a lot of stuff but he thought he might have some things of interest.  He also mentioned that he had lent out some things that he did not get back.  I think he would have let me have some things without any qualms.
 
                                                                                But when I got there with your letter (email) in hand and read him the applicable paragraph, he said it had already been taken care of that day.  He showed me a one page history and a drawing of the Christmas Tree ornament.  He said he was sorry I had come all that way out to his house.  That if he had known what I wanted he would have told me.  Oh well.  Still it was good to see him again, and even if only momentarily to relieve old times.  He said he is 85 now and with one exception I have not seen him in over 50 years.  I was a grammar school kid when I met him.
 
                                                                            No one can tell you more about The Arctic Bear than he can.
 
 
8/19/06
PAT (HANCOCK) HAMBY - CLASS OF '52

TO SHARE A MEMORY:

AS A TEENAGER, MANY VISITS WERE MADE TO THE ARCTIC BEAR, ESPECIALLY WHEN MY MOTHER, SISTERS AND I WERE ON THE WAY TO VISIT AUNT MARIE AND UNCLE DURWARD TISON WHO LIVED ON WHITNEY AVE.  ALSO, WHILE ON DATES AND WITH FRIENDS, I VISITED THE ARCTIC BEAR.

WE STOPPED AT ARCTIC BEAR FOR THAT DELICIOUS ICE CREAM.

AS A CASE MANAGER FOR 24 YEARS IN WORKERS' COMP SYSTEM, I HAVE A SPECIAL MEMORY OF A CLIENT WHOSE FAMILY OWNED THE ARCTIC BEAR, LIKELY AMONG OTHER OWNERS OVER THE YEARS..

I HAD THE OPPORTUNITY OF A RELATIONSHIP WITH MY CLIENT'S  BROTHERS WHO WERE WONDERFUL TO DEAL WITH ON THE CLIENT'S BEHALF. OF COURSE, FOR PROFESSIONAL ETHICS REASONS, I CANNOT GIVE NAMES.

THESE ARE PRECIOUS MEMORIES.

GOD BLESS YOU FOR WHAT YOU DO FOR ALBANY HIGH TIMES.

10/9/2006
Lynne Garrison Johnson Class of 1982

Dear Beverly:

I LOVED the Arctic Bear, and wish they'd franchised it before they closed (when I was about eight or ten).  I'd have made sure there was one on every corner (even in Charlotte) and we'd be eating soft-serve daily.

What I'm dying to hear about is the Pig & Whistle, which my parents never admitted to going to, but swore existed somewhere near the site of Sonic on Slappey (if THAT'S even still there - I never know from one visit to the next).  Apparently a lot of high school went down there, but I never see it on your fantastic website.

Lynne Garrison Johnson ('82) (daughter of Nancy and David Garrison)

10/9/2006
Lynne Garrison Johnson ('82)

Dear Beverly:

The Arctic Bear was definitely between Dawson & Broad.  I thought the Pig & Whistle was closer to where the Sonic is now.  I may be gravely mistaken.

I'll be in Albany this weekend, so I'll have plenty of time to find out where the Pig  & Whistle was and what it was all about.  I think there's a Myra & Warren story there as well, if my second-hand memory isn't sufficient.

All I know is when I was young, shady kids hung out in the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly, sat on the hoods of cars, and cruised up and down Slappey.  Perhaps the Pig & Whistle (suspiciously similar) wasn't an actual establishment, but some sort of code for cruising, which I was never allowed to do.
 

08/31/2009
Patricia Cochran Mehlberg ('60)

I just got around to reading the page on the Arctic Bear.  I was in the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Squadron which started my freshman year in 1955.  We met once a week at the airport, and after most meetings a large but varying group of us stopped at the Arctic Bear for icecream.  The camaraderie was precious, and I would love to get in touch with other cadets.  I remained a cadet until I turned 18 and was no longer eligible.  Thank you so much for all your hard work getting us reconnected.
 
09/09/09
John Boesch ('57)
 
In the late 40s and early 50s, my Dad was partners with Mr. Ralph Allison in the Purina Dealership located on Oglethorpe, in one of the quonset buildings in the row of three (I think) that starts right behind the Arctic Bear.  Last time I drove by, you cold still faintly see the Purina "Checkerboard" on the front of the building.
 
We were still living at Bonnie Brae (now Cypress Pond Plantation) on Pretoria Road.  For various reasons, often I would be at "the store" after school, rather than on the school bus.
 
I would almost always "manufacture" some task to earn some money.  Then, I would slip out the back, down the alley, over to the Arctic Bear and get an ice cream cone.  This charade peaked in the 5th grade when I was at Highland, which was just one street over.  I was able to get to the store almost every afternoon after school, and work my "scam."  I thought I was so clever.  Only years later did I discover that, not only did my Dad know what I was doing, everybody who worked there knew.
 
After I went off to school in the mid-50s, I was seldom back in Albany.  On one particular visit, years later, it was devastating to drive by the corner of what we used to call "Sloppy" Drive (as it was before it was paved) and Oglethorpe and discover the Arctic Bear was gone.
 
So, what a shot of nostalgia I got when I arrived for the 50th Reunion of the Class of '57 and saw the Arctic Bear sign parked out front.  The painting underscores all those memories.  
 
09/12/09
Eugene (Pee Wee) Crossan ('52)

Re the Arctic Bear:  while still in Albany High, I worked there.  Dotti Reeves ('55) lived nearby and would come to the Arctic Bear to see me, I think, actually we did make good ice cream and chili dogs.  In 1953, I left the Bear, Dorothy and Albany to enter the U. S. Coast Guard.

 

... feel free to send your memories!

albanyhightimes@aol.com  

    

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