On Oct. 13, 1954, the day the beloved statue of Smokey Bear was erected in International Falls, Christine Anderson was an infant, and her brother Keith Anderson was nearly three years old.
They sat posed together with their mother, Ardys Anderson, at the concrete base of the newly installed statue, which was designed by their father, Norman Anderson.
On Wednesday, nearly 65 years later, the siblings once again sat together at the base of Smokey Bear.
“The last time I was here I was six months old,” said Christine Anderson.
Besides the change in height of the Andersons, the only significant differences in the photographs of the siblings and Smokey from 1954 and 2019 are the tall trees now growing behind Smokey, the addition of the Koochiching Museums building and the lack of a former Boise Cascade paper mill building, which can be seen in the 1954 photos from some angles.
The Anderson siblings were back in the Falls this week, after making the trek from the Twin Cities to Koochiching County Museums to deliver original sketches made by their father for the construction of the Smokey Bear statue.
The drawings and photographs were rediscovered after their mother, Ardys Anderson, died last August.
“In going through all of her papers, (the drawings) were in there,” Christine Anderson said, “I knew that she’d had them, I’d seen them before over the years, but I wasn’t inclined to take things and start working through them until she had passed.”
She found plans and mock-ups of the statue, a program from the day of the statue’s installation, and photographs of the family in front of Smokey Bear during the dedication ceremony.
“Because they were originals, I thought let’s see if there’s a home for them,” she said.
The statue designs from Norman Anderson show a familiar Smokey, with only a few differences from the statue today.
It stands at 26-feet tall and was unveiled a little more than 10 years after the original Smokey Bear was invented during World War II as a mascot meant to protect the nation’s lumber resources from fires. He wears his signature Smokey Bear hat and blue jeans, holds his fire-fighting shovel, and is flanked by two bear cubs.
The sketches are upon thin, aging draft paper with the title “Smokey Statue, International Falls, Minnesota” written in the upper left corner. In the right corner are scrawled three options for the placard text below Smokey, all of which are crossed out, in favor of, “Smokey says, prevent forest fires.”
Upon rediscovering the plans, Christine Anderson sent an email to the Koochiching Museums through its website and got responses from Executive Assistant Ashley LaVigne, Director Ed Oerichbauer, and Falls Mayor Bob Anderson.
The quick and enthusiastic response, convinced the Andersons that International Falls was the right place for the materials.
“It was obvious that the museum was very interested in these things, and we decided that we’d take a road trip and come here and pass them on,” Christine Anderson said.
Both siblings now live in the Twin Cities area and Keith Anderson, Christine Anderson and her husband, Randy Manthey, all made the drive.
According to LaVigne, the sketches and photographs will first be digitized, then the originals will be stored in archives and will be able to be viewed upon request. Copies of the originals may be on display from time to time in the museum.
“It’s great that this stuff is going to end up here, we have copies, of course, for ourselves, but it needs to be someplace, and this is the place for it,” said Keith Anderson.
Keith Anderson was particularly interested in the statue plans due to his background in engineering and noted that he was surprised at the complexity of the plans because his father had only an eighth-grade education.
The group was greeted at the museum on Wednesday by Mayor Anderson, who thanked them for their contribution to the area’s history and told them stories of Smokey Bear symbolism within the culture of International Falls.
Mayor Anderson said he remembered when the statue was erected and would have been 11 or 12 years old at the time, but wasn’t sure if he attended the dedication ceremony.
“It’s been a big part of this community for many, many years,” said Mayor Anderson of Smokey Bear.
The Andersons were charmed by the way the city has embraced Smokey, and find it endearing the way the town changes his outfit for the seasons.
They were also surprised about how well preserved the statue looked, given its age, and that Smokey “takes the full brunt of the weather.”
“Smokey looks to be in excellent shape,” Keith Anderson said, “obviously someone is taking good care of him, that’s great.”
“Oh yeah, of course, he doesn’t move around much– not at his age,” Oerichbauer said chuckling.
Smokey Bear was not the only prominent Minnesota statue designed by Norman Anderson, and the Andersons brought a few images of other statues he worked on.
Norman Anderson was responsible for a large statue of a pioneer woman which was built in 1958 in celebration of Minnesota Centennial. The statue originally stood on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds where the Space Tower is currently, and now permanently stands in front of the Ramberg Senior Center building.
He also was responsible for the design of a King Neptune statue, which debuted at the State Fair as a symbol of Duluth’s shipping industry, before being moved to Canal Park in 1959. The 26-foot-tall god of the sea stood at the same height as Smokey and held a ship in his arms. This statue was destroyed by fire in 1963.
Both King Neptune and the pioneer woman were likely constructed with similar materials to Smokey, leaving them all quite susceptible to fire damage. The statues are made from fiberglass and plastic components with a mache-like inside.
Smokey Bear himself has held up over the years but was victim to fire damage in the 1970s, when local vandals lit his rear-end on fire.
The timing for the Andersons’ visit is fitting, because in 2019, the Smokey Bear statue in the Falls turned 65, and in addition to the local anniversary, this year also celebrates the 75th year the fictional bear has been used as an icon for the U.S. Forest Service.
The city celebrated the local Smokey’s 65 anniversary in its Fourth of July festivities earlier this summer.