09 August 2006

Smokey Bear

While living near Washington DC in the late 60s, one of my favourite things to do was to visit the National Zoo. Admission was free and thus it was a regualr activity when my father was still visiting my brother and I on weekends. The exhibit which we loved to see the most was Smokey Bear.

For those who don't know the story of Smokey Bear, he was a Black Bear cub who was rescued after being burned in a forest fire in New Mexico in May of 1950. He received burns on his paws and hind legs after scurrying up a tree to escape the flames. The burns were treated by veterinarian Ed Smith and the cub was cared for by New Mexico Game Warden Ray Bell and his wife and daughter. Soon after Smokey was adopted by the U.S. Forest Service as its mascot for forest fire prevention and was later moved to the National Zoo.

The Forest Service decided to use a bear for their fire safety mascot and chose the name to be Smokey Bear, after “Smokey” Joe Martin, who had been the Assistant Chief of the New York City Fire Department. On August 9, 1944, the first poster of Smokey Bear was produced, drawn by Albert Staehle.

I feel very privileged to have seen first hand this cultural icon of Americana. Smokey died in 1976 and is buried in Capitan, New Mexico at the Smokey Bear National Park.

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