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The Neuweiler Bears
By Michelle Liss ’04
Do you jump every time you walk past the polar bears in the John E. Trainer Biology Museum in the Shankweiler building? Are you a former biology student who has used the polar bears to play practical jokes on faculty members? Perhaps you are even unaware that Muhlenberg College has two enormous polar bears right here on campus. Whichever category you fall into, you probably don’t know much about these bears, who have been on campus for 30 years.
The bears were owned by Allentonian Phillip Neuweiler, whose name you may recognize; he inherited the Neuweiler Brewery from his father, Carl Neuweiler. An avid sportsman, Phillip owned a number of taxidermy pieces from his hunting expeditions. Among them were the two enormous polar bears.
Known as the “Neuweiler Bears,” the two were donated to Muhlenberg in the 1970s. Patrick Brennen ’67, a friend of the Neuweiler family, remembers the acquisition of the bears.
“One of my father’s old classmates, Dr. John Trainer - who was then head of the biology department - approached my father and asked if Phil would donate the bears and some of the other animals to Muhlenberg College,” says Brennen. “So my father approached Phil Neuweiler and he liked the idea.” The rest, as they say, is history.
The polar bears were brought to Muhlenberg separately; the first bear to join the ‘Berg family was the bear that is standing up. Neuweiler, who enjoyed traveling on exotic hunting trips with a large entourage of people, killed the bear himself near Point Hope, Alaska, in 1959. At 2,000 lbs., it was thought to be the second-largest polar bear in the world and the largest polar bear ever to be mounted. The bear spent several years at Neuweiler’s hunting cabin in Pike County, Pa., before its donation to the Trainer Museum.
The second polar bear, mounted on all fours, was brought to Muhlenberg in 1977. This time, Brennen went with his father and a few others to the Neuweiler hunting cabin to retrieve the second bear. They made the journey with a large truck and a box built by Muhlenberg staff members. “Did you ever see ‘Bonanza’ on television?” asks Brennen. “Well, the hunting cabin up there looked just like the Ponderosa.” Brennen recalled seeing the cabin for the first time, filled with game trophies and our second polar bear, shot by Neuweiler in Herendeen Bay, Alaska, in 1970.
After his death, Neuweiler’s family published “Big Game Trails in the Far North,” a collection of his journals and hunting stories. In a journal entry recalling his return to Pennsylvania with the polar bear, Neuweiler wrote, “When we landed a lot of people had already heard of the bear. All the guides, pilots, hunters, CAA people and game wardens came to see the bear.”
A local icon, Phillip Neuweiler managed to gather quite a collection of game trophies in his time – but Muhlenberg houses two of the most impressive. In fact, most of the Trainer Museum’s pieces, as well as those hanging in the Shankweiler stairwell, were given to the College by the Neuweiler family. So next time you pass by in fear, or in wonder, stop and take a look at these magnificent biological specimens that we have here at the ’Berg.
The Trainer Museum, opened in 1975 on the third floor of Shankweiler, is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday when the College is open.
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