Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
It’s the bear.
Find guys of a certain age or older, and the common thread in their memories of Chicago’s fabled outdoors show is people wrestling Victor the bear.
At America’s Outdoor Show at the end of January, I watched all the kids and families coming in and wondered what communal memory would stick.
There’s a side of me that seriously doubts we have communal memories to the same extent we once did, in the days when there were three TV networks and one Chicago outdoors show.
Of course, the blizzard of 2011 made me rethink that. Maybe it is only crises that give us communal memories now.
Making memories changes.
I can’t imagine there again being a setting where members of the public are allowed to wrestle a bear. But that defined memories from the outdoors show at the old Amphitheatre on South Halsted. A few lucky or dumb ones actually wrestled Victor on the stage.
Among the many Chicago outdoors adventures Ken ‘‘The Lakefront Lip’’ Schneider experienced was being picked to wrestle the bear one year. He had his German butt thoroughly whupped by Victor. But nearly everybody did.
‘‘It was a great feeling,’’ Schneider said last week.
It was a featured event at the show, big enough that an unknown audience member took some photos and sent them — as in mailed them — to Schneider, who saved them.
When I asked for photos, a lot of memories came back to people. Mike Skwira recalled that actor John Bromfield (‘‘The Sheriff of Cochise’’) emceed the show. And that Victor drank a Coke when he was done.
We had better, too.
What makes the outdoors somewhat different is that we stand on others.
You don’t just wander off into the woods and learn to hunt deer; somebody mentors you. You don’t just walk out on the Montrose horseshoe and begin catching perch; somebody shows you how and when.
I felt like I was having an epiphany while waiting for the legendary Al Lindner to reveal his greatest secret in 20 years for catching walleye at America’s Outdoor Show.
First off, Lindner is a throwback to the glory days of outdoors shows, when they drew as many as 200,000 people. Second, like the glory days, I counted roughly 300 people curled around America’s lake to hear Lindner’s spiel.
Among them were faithful reader Bill Popowski and his 10-month-old son, Jacob. The Streamwood man said he thought the big secret was jigging Rapalas.
He was right. Lindner’s open-water trick was using Nos. 5, 7 or 9 jigging Rapalas (color didn’t matter) on monofilament line and giving the lures action with big sweeps, then letting the lures fall back. That’s the Reader’s Digest version.
I have a feeling that Popowski has one for his memory bank. And his son probably will, too, just from having the story repeated.
But I think the true connections to memory-makers were being made in Chauncey Niziol’s space.
There was this big alligator from Jim Nesci’s ‘‘Cold Blooded Creatures’’ show. People couldn’t resist touching and looking at it. Now that’s an odd enough thing to stick in memories, to define an experience as a communal one.
If I had any question about that, they were answered when the photos of people clustered around the alligator, posted by Steve Fiorio, popped up when I opened my Facebook page.
Nothing says communal memory quite like Facebook.
Even if making those memories in the outdoors evolves.