Bear wrestling

In a new article about the Morton photographs from the Fall 2007 issue of UNC Friends of the Library’s Windows Magazine, entitled “Capturing Seven Decades of Life in North Carolina,” author Ginger Travis compares processing the Morton collection to “wrestling a bear.” I find this particularly funny because for the past few days I have been sorting through images of—you guessed it—BEARS!
Black Bear cub at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Old Well, April 1972One set of negatives caught my attention early on—a series featuring an adorable black bear cub up to hijinks at various North Carolina landmarks (Biltmore, the State Capitol, the NC Botanical Gardens, Orton Plantation, etc.). Since these film rolls were cut up and scattered throughout the collection, with no identification, I was a bit mystified as to their context. Did Hugh Morton just toss a cub in the car and drive around the state so he could take pictures of it? If so, um. . . why?
Black Bear cub at the Bodie Island Lighthouse, NC, April 1972Then, the other day, I came across some of the bear cub negatives in an envelope labeled “Negatives–Zoo Trip with Little Bear–4-72,” in Morton’s hand. So, I’m guessing that Grandfather Mountain gave this bear cub to the North Carolina Zoo in April 1972, and these photos were taken on the (somewhat circuitous) trip to deposit him/her there. Can anyone confirm or deny that? Were the images used in some sort of promotional campaign?
Black Bear cub with stone lion at Biltmore House, Asheville, NC, April 1972

7 thoughts on “Bear wrestling”

  1. Greetings! Being a alumni and long-time support of UNC and specifically, the UNC Libraries, I am indebted to you for your dedication and service, your diligence and perseverance and perhaps most of all your love for our Libraries. This is especially evident in this recent addition of the Hugh Morton Photographs. What an awesome blessing to our Library, our State and its people! I certainly don’t envy you the task that lies ahead. I do, however, have great faith in you all and will continue to pray God’s blessing and favor upon you as you are indeed a true blessing to us all!

  2. This bear cub was named “Hobo” because he traveled the state drumming up support for the bond issue that financed the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro.
    Grandfather Mountain’s PR Director, Dick Barkley, spent a few weeks on the road with Hobo taking him to all of the major TV markets where he appeared on local morning or mid-day news/talk shows. Mr. Morton was the front man who appeared with Hobo and explained why viewers should vote for the bond issue, but Barkley did the hard work of wrangling a 4-5 month old bear cub.
    Hobo traveled in a box similar to a pet carrier. I remember that they stayed at our house in Wilmington one night. I don’t know if Dick snuck the bear into hotels in other cities on other nights. Regardless, you will probably find a photo of Hobo at the Battleship and another dipping his toes in the Atlantic ocean to testify to his visit to the port city.
    The year of the bond issue was a year when no cubs were born on Grandfather Mountain, so Hobo was purchased from a bear broker. Because he did not have any of Mildred’s DNA, Hobo was raised to be “the man” around Grandfather Mountain and went on to sire cubs with Maxi and others.

  3. I found another Morton picture of Little Hobo at the Old Well in Steven Stolpen’s 1978 book, “Chapel Hill: A Pictorial History.” The image is on page 147.

  4. I have to admit that I have a big fear of bears…and it’s all down to a film I saw about two years ago with Alec Baldwin.
    He crash lands in the wood and then is chased all the way home by a bear who has eaten his friend in a really violent way and now loves the taste of human blood.
    Can’t remember the name but it was rather scary and gave me nightmares.

  5. Baby bears look like Labrador puppies when they are born (with bear feet and heads; their eyes open at about 40 days) but they feel like velvet covered wire when you pick them up. By the time they are the age Hobo was when he toured North Carolina they are still like wire, but wire with needle sharp teeth and claws. And what I shall never forget is the shrill crying that went on and on and on. The nature of the beast wanting comfort. Infinitely worse than a human baby.
    Hobo must have been bottle fed at least some of the time on his travels. Dick Barkley was a martyr in my opinion. And a very good sport.

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