Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Happy Birthday to Smokey the Bear
Smokey's debut was on August 9, 1944. His name was inspired by "Smokey" Joe Martin, a New York City Fire Department hero who suffered burns and blindness during a bold 1922 rescue. His name was originally just Smokey Bear until a popular song by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins added the word 'the' for the song's rhythm.
I was going to make this post about the cartoon character, but my research found this article about the 'first living' Smokey.
The living symbol of Smokey
The living symbol of Smokey Bear was an American black bear cub who in the spring of 1950 was caught in the Capitan Gap fire, a wildfire that burned 17,000 acres in the Lincoln National Forest, in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico. Smokey had climbed a tree to escape the blaze, but his paws and hind legs had been burned. According to some stories, he was rescued by a game warden after the fire, but according to the New Mexico State Forestry Division, it was actually a group of soldiers from Fort Bliss, Texas, who had come to help fight the fire, that discovered the bear cub and brought him back to the camp.
At first he was called "Hotfoot Teddy," but he was later renamed Smokey, after the mascot. There are conflicting stories regarding the individual or individuals who first helped nurse the cub after the fire. According to the New York Times obituary for Homer C. Pickens, then Assistant Director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, he kept the cub at his home for awhile, trying to nurse him back to health. According to other records, including a story in Life Magazine, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Ranger Ray Bell took him to Santa Fe, where he, his wife Ruth, and their children, Don and Judy, cared for the cub. The story was picked up by the national news services and Smokey became a celebrity. Soon after, Smokey was flown in a Piper Cub airplane to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.. A special room was prepared for him at the St. Louis zoo for an overnight fuel stop during the trip, and when he arrived at the National Zoo, several hundred spectators, including members of the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, photographers, and media were there to welcome him to his new home.
Smokey Bear lived at the National Zoo for 26 years. During that time he received millions of visitors as well as so many letters addressed to him (up to 13,000 a week)that the United States Postal Service finally gave him his own unique zip code. He developed a love for peanut butter sandwiches, in addition to his daily diet of bluefish and trout.
Upon his death on November 9, 1976, Smokey's remains were returned by the government to Capitan, New Mexico, and buried at what is now the Smokey Bear Historical Park. The plaque at his grave reads, "This is the resting place of the first living Smokey Bear...the living symbol of wildfire prevention and wildlife conservation."
Remember... Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires
Dan Emplit WBFD