Eljas the bear
In the 1920s, some Loimola-based members of the Civil Guard found an orphaned bear cub, which they then donated to General Malmberg, then director of the Civil Guard Officers’ School. The bear cub was bottle-fed in the school kitchen. At night, the bear slept in the kitchen and during the day he followed people around in the school. Once, Eljas spilled a bottle of Lysol in the cleaning closet, which irritated his sensitive nose to the extent that the next night he went to sleep as far away from the foul-smelling liquid as possible.
Eljas, who was allowed to roam free, got used to humans. He received a lot of attention from people of all ages. Soon, he became a local celebrity. The staff’s children played with him. Legend has it that Eljas went begging for sugar from house to house and once climbed too high a tree, so that a caretaker, with the help of some boys, had to go and rescue him. King Haakon VII of Norway visited the Officers’ School in summer 1928 and planted a tree in the yard. Soon after the visit, Eljas manhandled the royal spruce with the result that the tree died. The caretaker fetched a new seedling from the forest, but it was soon damaged, too. Finally, the third “king’s spruce” was allowed to grow in peace.
By summer 1928, Eljas had grown so big that the ladies working in the kitchen were afraid of him. Men would sometimes wrestle with the bear. But not even the strongest of men could pin him down. In summer 1928, the bear was transferred to the Field Artillery Regiment in Hyrylä. However, he became bad-tempered because the conscripts would tease it. As he became distrustful of his new carers he was moved to the Korkeasaari Zoo. There, Eljas enjoyed good care and once again learned to trust people. One of his tricks was to beg for sweets and then unwrap the sweets with great dexterity in his huge paws. Eljas lived peacefully in the Korkeasaari Zoo until he died of old age in the 1950s.
The wooden statue of Eljas the bear was made by an unknown wood sculptor from Tuusula. The statue remained at the Officers’ School until autumn 1944, when Colonel Väinö Forsberg handed it over to carpenter Edwin Weckström, fearing that the Allied Control Commission might associate the bear with either the coat of arms of East Karelia or the Lapua movement, and order it to be destroyed. The Weckström family took care of the statue for 70 years in Kalliomäki, Ristinummi. The statue travelled around the country with the family, ending up back in Weckström’s home. It was then donated to the Battle School Heritage Association. Subsequently, the statue found its way to Puustelli. On the timeline, Eljas can be seen in photograph #68, taken in summer 1928.
References: E-mail interview with Jouko Kaivonurmi, Hakkapeliitta 25/1928, Aitta-lehti 1.12.1929; Linnilä Kai, Utrio Kaari, Kultainen Nuoruus – Elämää Suomessa vuosina 1944–1956; Reminiscences of Tola Toivonen (1918–2018).