By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"We have received several communications...relating to a highly controversial website on which this local B&B and its owners are featured," wrote Pendergast in the August 21, 2003, signed editorial, referring specifically to Bear by directing readers to the adjacent letters page. Pendergast quoted "one correspondent" who informed him about the existence of an ad on Glimpse.com that was "promoting the gay lifestyle in Winnsboro, Texas." According to Pendergast, who says he saw the "almost bestial" ad with his own eyes, it featured Carmichael and Bear inviting gay men to participate in sexual activity with the couple there at the Hubbell House. Pendergast went on to cite "another reader" who contacted him, expressing his or her concern that "these 2 [sic] proprietors of a local bed & breakfast certainly make a public statement of a despicable lifestyle that is antithetical to the values of most Winnsboro residents."
The editorial, which published Glimpse.com's Web address but warned against actually visiting it, said that the site contained photos of Bear and Carmichael in front of the Hubbell House's historical marker and "contained such vivid descriptions of homosexual acts that they cannot be printed in a family newspaper." Because the ad has since been removed, it's unclear whether Pendergast was talking about the site as a whole or the supposed Hubbell House ad itself. The Web site, wrote Pendergast, was "simply repulsive."
Trouble was, Carmichael says he and Bear had never placed a personal ad or even a photo on Glimpse, and that they only found out about its existence from a friend who'd been in the local gossip loop. When Pendergast published the editorial, Carmichael says he and Bear were trying to contact Glimpse to have the ad removed.
In a remarkable leap of logic, Pendergast connected Bear's appeal for a city tourism Web site with the Glimpse.com ad, saying "anything like this disgusting Internet display" would never be sponsored with city tax money. "Paul called [Glimpse] and said, 'Hey, we're businesspeople in this real small town,'" Carmichael says. "'You've got to get that off there.'" Mortified, Carmichael says it was weeks before he could bring himself to leave the B&B to go to the grocery store. "It was that embarrassing. I had been a fine, upstanding citizen for over 40 years."
The photograph on the gay dating site was the same one featured on the Hubbell House's independent Web site that guests would use to make reservations. Because of that, Carmichael suspects that the ad may have been posted as a cruel joke. Whatever its origin, Carmichael vehemently denies he or Bear had anything to do with it. Pendergast remains unapologetic to this day, even acknowledging that he never made any attempt to contact Bear or Carmichael at the time he published his editorial. How could a career journalist do such a sloppy job of vetting the facts? Pendergast, who claims the editorial had "nothing to do personally with Mr. Bear," said it all hinges on his belief that Bear might use the city's money to invite "people to our town to engage in [homosexual acts]."
"If he's trying to get taxpayer money to support this kind of trash," Pendergast said, "then everybody in town ought to know about it."
With the unwelcome publicity came a wave of harassment.
"We were having people drive by and yelling obscenities while we had guests here," says Carmichael. "We had people putting dead chickens in our mailbox and throwing dead animals up in our yard," such as a skunk.
The news traveled all the way to UT Tyler, where Bear was now unintentionally out of the closet. "There was a couple of times somebody would shout 'Faggot!' down the hallway," says Carmichael, who watched Bear shut down emotionally. "It was really devastating to him." Bear's delicate psyche fell apart under the pressure. He made a trip to the Winnsboro News office and went on a tirade, calling Pendergast an "evil man," according to the news editor at the time, Lou Antonelli.
Not everyone in town knew about the editorial, but it seemed that way to Bear. Though many residents had stopped reading the News because of Pendergast's attitude, Bear was inconsolable. "Paul actually snapped," Carmichael says. Less than a month after Pendergast's editorial was published, "Paul got in the car and just left." For two weeks, Bear used Carmichael's credit cards to gamble his way to Ohio and back. When he was finally able to contact Bear, Carmichael begged him to come home, even though Bear's absence from school had gotten him kicked out of the nursing program. Carmichael told him they could work to repay the $60,000 in credit card charges and lost tuition. On October 5, 2003, Bear returned to Winnsboro and his life at the Hubbell House.
The couple worked with the Tyler nursing program and got Bear re-enrolled on a probationary basis. "We tried to get our life back as best we could," says Carmichael, who asked Bear to promise to pay back his debt when he graduated from school. Carmichael believed the disappearance was a one-time thing, the product of the incredible stress Bear felt from the editorial coupled with his intense schoolwork. If only he'd known about Bear's mental illness, he might have been prepared.