23 February 2009

The Bear Facts

On May 4th, 1950 a carelessly discarded cigarette started the Los Tablos blaze which led to the Capitan Gap Fire in the Lincoln National Forest in southern New Mexico, ultimately consuming 17,ooo acres in the Capitan Mountains.

70 mile an hour winds made it impossible to control the blaze, trapping 19 fire-fighters and countless animals. The men managed to survive the blaze and expressed the opinion, "now we know how a piece of toast feels".

From this fire, a fire crew emerged with a badly singed bear cub who they found clinging to a burnt pine tree. His buttocks and feet had been seriously burned.

He was named Hotfoot Teddy.

His injuries were tended to but it was Game Warden Ray Bell who flew with Hotfoot Teddy to Santa Fe to seek additional treatment. It was here the story was picked up by the national news.

Warden Bell and Hotfoot Teddys lives were about to change.

But first.... flash back to 1944. World War 2 is raging across Europe and the Pacific.

America at war.

Timber is badly needed for the war effort and a campaign is started by the United States Forest Service to educate people about the dangers of forest fires. At this time colorful posters were created by the Ad Council informing the public on the dangers of forest fires.

Walt Disney had just released BAMBI and had allowed the forest service to use characters from the film for the use of fire prevention. Bambi was only on loan to the government for a year after which time, a new symbol was needed.

Sticking with the popular animal theme, a bear was chosen.

His name was inspired by "Smoky" Joe Martin, a New York Fire Department hero who shrugged off burns and blindness in a 1922 rescue effort.
The character would officially be called Smokey Bear [not Smokey the bear].

Above is the very first poster with the new mascot of the forest service. It was created by Albert Staehle and debuted in 1944. The poster below is still in use today. It was created by Rudolph Wendelin.

The 'Smokey' campaign was so successful that in 1952 Congress passed a bill into law governing the commercialization of the name and image. In 195o when the Hotfoot Teddy story broke nationally, it was decided by the National Forest Service to re-name him Smokey Bear. He became an instant celebrity.

The new Smokey and Game Warden Bell were featured in LIFE magazine cementing Smokey's star status. Soon after, Smokey was flown to the National Zoo in Washington D.C. where he lived for 26 years. Upon his death on November 9th, 1976, Smokey's remains were flown back to Capitan, New Mexico and buried in what is now called Smokey Bear Historical Park.

It was on this past weekend I set out to find the resting place of Smokey Bear and pay my respects.

Should your journey start out in Albuquerque, head south on I-25. Just past Socorro take NM 380 south to Capitan, NM. On your right side you will see the Smokey Bear Historic Park.
The park has a visitor's center. Admission is $2 Start out by watching the short film on Smokey's Life.

There is alot of Smokey memorabilia and material from over the years.

Take the walk in the gardens.

It is here where you will find Smokey's grave.

Rest in peace, Smokey.

[right click to read tombstone]

Due to the vast amount of mail Smokey was receiving, in 1964 Smokey was given his own zip code: 20252

I'm out.



UP NEXT: Murder in a Small Town.

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