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The tale of Morrisey and the Three Bears

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Heads are bound to roll when Patrick Morrisey becomes West Virginia's attorney general in January, but it now appears some of Darrell McGraw's most popular staff members will get to keep their jobs.

Political adviser Scott Will said Morrisey currently has no plans to remove the stuffed black bears from outside the attorney general's office.

"We will not rush to judgment on this critical issue of whether to keep the bears," Will wrote in an email earlier this week. "We may even decide to hold off deciding until we finish our first 100 days in office. Getting this decision right is that important."

The three bears came to live outside McGraw's office in 2001, but the display originally started with just one bear outside former Secretary of State Ken Hechler's office.

When Hechler took office in January 1985, he already had a collection of art depicting the state fish, the state tree and the state flower.

"Since the black bear is the state animal, I wanted to obtain a black bear or two to keep in the entrance to my office," he said.

He called up the state Department of Natural Resources. Employees there had killed an ornery black bear in Clay County a few years before when it was caught robbing people's beehives.

The animal was already at the taxidermist's shop, so Hechler called up the owner and made arrangements to purchase it, according to a Daily Mail story at the time.

He parked the bear outside his Capitol office, where it quickly became a popular stop for passing constituents. Members of the public often would stop by his office, to be photographed not with the secretary of state, but with his pet bear.

Hechler added another bear to the collection in 1994.

The original bear was looking a little scraggly after many encounters with visiting school children, so the secretary decided to have it restored and get another one. It's unclear where this second bear came from.

Three years later, Hechler used the bears for a tongue-in-cheek statement on the Second Amendment. He placed a rifle in each animal's paws and hung a yellow sign around one's neck. It read, "We support the right to arm bears."

After announcing he would not seek re-election in 2000, Hechler began hunting for a new home for his bears. His only requirement was the new owner must continue to display the "arm bears" sign.

According to a Daily Mail story from the time, he received more than 30 offers from around the state to adopt the creatures.

It was Attorney General Darrell McGraw's offer that won over Hechler.

He said McGraw had always expressed interest in the bears, and the attorney general promised to keep them outside his own Capitol office so they would remain on public display. In return, Hechler eased his requirement on the sign.

When Hechler left office in January 2001, the bears were wheeled down the Capitol's West Wing, through the Rotunda, and into an alcove outside McGraw's office.

A third bear joined the family some time after the display arrived in the East Wing. This one is smaller than the first two, but strikes a much more ferocious pose with its teeth bared and one paw raised, ready to strike.

It hasn't scared anyone off, however.

"You'll see people down there taking pictures all the time," said Capitol tour guide Mary Ann Long.

Although the bears are not on the official tour, Long said she takes groups past the animals if they request it.

Tour guide Grace Welch said the bears are especially popular with students, who like to stop on their way to the state Supreme Court chambers.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or Follow him at


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