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Lyle Zapato

Oscar III, Mountain-Climbing Octopus

Lyle Zapato | 2011-05-28.8810 LMT | Cephalopods | Cascadia | Field Trips

Cascadia's beloved musician, businessman, and punny raconteur, Ivar Haglund, was well-known, both locally and internationally, for his publicity stunts promoting his aquarium and seafood restaurant. Here's a stunt I had not heard of before:

In 1947, Ivar organized an expedition to scale the newly discovered Mount Miller -- starting from the top! Mount Miller, you see, is underwater, part of the Gulf of Alaska Seamount Province. His expedition team consisted of one brave octopus, Oscar III, who was to be dropped from a boat over the seamount, attached to a two-mile line. Oscar's mission: bring back deep-sea edelweiss to prove he had scaled to the base.

From an April 4th United Press story (reprinted in The Portsmouth Times, p. 6):


Underwater 'Mountain' Subject Of Novel Trip

SEATTLE, April 4—A mountain-climbing octopus, Oscar III, and his trainer, Ivar Haglund, were en route today to "climb" the mountain-infested waters of the Alaskan gulf.

The 11,350-foot underwater "Mt." Miller was their destination.

Discovery of giant submarine peaks 900 miles northwest of Seattle by the U. S. coast and geodetic survey, is responsible for Mr. Haglund's latest stunt.

"Man still has not invented a diving suit to withstand the terrific pressures involved," said Mr. Haglund. So the actual climbing will be done by a "scientifically trained octopus".

According to the balding aquarium-owner, Oscar's greatest hazard in scaling Mt. Miller is that he must start from the top and "climb" down.

The incentive for Oscar—and proof that he reaches the base of Mt. Miller—will be his favorite dish, sea-edelweiss, which grows at great depths.

When the expedition glides over the peak of Mt. Miller Oscar will be dropped overboard leashed to a two-mile wire.

If he comes back with a sprig of sea-edelweiss clutched in any one of his arms—it's likely even Mr. Haglund will eat it.

The next day brought news of Oscar's success (UP story from Toledo Blade, April 5, p. 3):

Oscar (Octopus) Free To Dine On Edelweiss At Sea Bottom

SEATTLE, Wash., April 5 (UP)—Oscar, III, a "mountain climbing" octopus, proved today there are advantages to starting at the top and working down—at least for octopi.

Oscar was a free octopus today, gulping edelweiss seaweed somewhere near the base of Seamount Miller, two miles below the surface of the Alaskan Gulf. He apparently planned to stay there after wriggling free from a two-mile leash which connected him with the upper world.

His trainer, Ivar Haglund, Seattle aquarium owner, decided to see how Oscar would do on a downward mountain climbing after the US. Coast and Geodetic Survey reported the discovery of a submarine range of mountains 900 miles northwest of Seattle.

Oscar was weighed and dropped in the water yesterday near the top of "Mount Miller." He pulled himself down to the base.

"I know he made it," cried Mr. Haglund waving a piece of seaweed. "This is genuine sea edelweiss, a favorite dish of octopi, and it grows only at great depths. Besides, we played out two miles of the leash. That would take him to the bottom."

As his name implies, Oscar III was not the first octopus named Oscar that Ivar enlisted for his promotions. Oscar and Olivia Octopus were popular residents of his aquarium, about whom Ivar would tell stories and sing songs for kids.

In 1946, Ivar held a wrestling match between Oscar (or possibly, considering the short lifespan of octopuses, an Oscar) and former heavyweight boxer "Two-Ton" Tony Galento. The press ate it up, especially when it was reported that Oscar died shortly after. In 1949, Ivar announced a rematch with Oscar's "son", Oscar II (from the Free Lance-Star, p. 8):

Galento To Fight Another Octopus; Last One Died

SEATTLE, March 11 (AP)—Oscar the octopus is preparing an eight-fisted welcome for two-ton Tony Galento.

Ivar Haglund, Oscar's manager, says his pet octopus will fight the Brooklyn bartender March 18.

Tony kayoed a Hagland octopus, also named Oscar, in a previous battle staged in a tank of salt water here Aug. 5, 1946. Haglund insists his octopus was fouled below the waterline in that fight.

"He fought fair, even if he did confuse the referee by dropping to four or five knees," Haglund said. "He never struck a fishy blow. Tony, fighting bare-knuckled, fouled us. Oscar died two days later."

"Even the referee said the whole thing smelt."

This match was canceled due to protest by animal welfare groups. (For those upset by cephalopod cruelty, rest assured that, like professional human wrestling and unlike real octopus wrestling, the first match was staged. Oscar actually died of natural causes before the fight. Galento fought Oscar's corpse, surreptitiously animated by Ivar. Presumably Oscar II also died naturally, prompting the call for another staged match.)

End of post.