Aug. 1—The signed photo has hung on the wall of the gift shop at California Living Museum for close to two decades.
The image captured by now-retired Californian photographer Casey Christie on June 9, 2000 shows two young boys, their delighted faces pressed up against the window of a new "grotto-style" bear exhibit, and opposite the boys, a California black bear named Digger has his face pressed up against the opposite side of the Plexiglas.
The expressions on the boys' faces? Priceless. But can the magic be repeated?
"We want to re-create that photo," said CALM Zoo Manager Lana Fain.
"It's kind of a where-are-they-now," said CALM Director Meg Maitland.
And therein lies the problem. Where exactly are they?
Two decades after the shot was taken, zoo officials are asking for help in reaching the two boys (now men?) who were identified in the photo caption as Zack Elliott and J.J. Thomas.
The search is on, Fain said. She's already put out feelers on the zoo's website. But so far ... no bites.
"It would be so much fun," the zoo manager said.
Imagine the boys, now handsome young men, coming back to CALM all these years later, Maitland said. Did they learn something at CALM? Did the educational experience affect them as older children and adults?
"It's a cold case," she said. "We're looking for these kids and we can't find them."
Of course, the "kids" are probably now pushing 30 if they haven't already reached the big three-O.
How have they changed? Do they remember that day at CALM when they had a close encounter of the bear kind?
Did they see Casey's photo in The Californian the day after their visit to CALM? Did a relative cut it out and glue it into a scrapbook?
Were Zack and J.J. friends, or did they just happen to be in the same place at the same time?
This reporter also was there that June day. And Zack and J.J. were among some 300 children and adults who gathered to witness the grand opening of the new enclosure for Digger and Dart, the bears who arrived at CALM as orphaned cubs nearly four years before.
Greg Sanders, the zoo's director at the time, told The Californian that the $350,000 grotto was "as good as any black bear enclosure in California."
Digger and Dart have long since passed — bears live 30-35 years in captivity — but the beloved siblings have been replaced with Cinnamon and Louie.
One of them will surely be glad to pose with Zack and J.J. should the young men be available.
A little peanut butter spread on the inside of the window may help.
Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.