“Mildred the Bear, the nicest bear that has ever been…”
Note from Elizabeth: Allow me to introduce the author of this post, our newest Morton team member, Allison Wonsick. While not “Tar Heel born,” Allison considers herself “Tar Heel bred” as a resident of Hickory, North Carolina, a UNC-CH alumna, and a current graduate student attending Appalachian State University in Boone. She is interning this summer at Wilson Library in the Photo Archives as well as in the North Carolina Collection Gallery.
When my family and I moved to Hickory in 1996, the first place we visited was Grandfather Mountain. We hiked the trails, explored the museum, saw the animal habitats, crossed the Mile High Swinging Bridge on a blustery day, and even saw snow in April (a shock in any month for a former Floridian)–but the most memorable aspect of the trip were the bears, both as residents of the mountain and as symbols of Grandfather Mountain itself.
Particularly iconic, of course, was legendary Mildred. It was clear then and now that she was special. Working with Hugh’s slide collection and family photographs, I can see the bond between Mildred and Morton (and have heard stories of picnics together with Fig Newtons and grape soda), but always wondered how the relationship began. Just how does one become friends with a bear?
Luckily, finding out more information about Mildred was not difficult. It turns out that Morton wrote her biography a few years after her arrival on the Mountain.
So here is a history of Mildred and the bears that followed in her paw prints, courtesy of former zookeeper Laurie Mitchell Jakobsen in her book, The Animals of Grandfather Mountain (published in 2001 by Parkway Publishers, Inc. of Boone, N.C.), and anecdotal tales I’ve picked up while working with the collection.