Retro Charlotte

Mildred the Bear of Grandfather Mountain

“Terry Sanford, president of Duke University and former governor of North Carolina, takes a scholarly look at some educated bears at Grandfather Mountain N.C. He watches Mildred perform her new trick of guzzling a soft drink--or maybe Old Granddad--while daughter Mini watches from atop a welcome sign.” 1970
“Terry Sanford, president of Duke University and former governor of North Carolina, takes a scholarly look at some educated bears at Grandfather Mountain N.C. He watches Mildred perform her new trick of guzzling a soft drink--or maybe Old Granddad--while daughter Mini watches from atop a welcome sign.” 1970 AP Wirephoto

Countless people visited Grandfather Mountain over the years, and Mildred the Bear was a huge draw. Mildred was bit of a ham, as you’ll see in the photos. She gave birth to many cubs, too ... I bet she was a good mama.

Mildred passed away in 1993 and Observer reporter Bruce Henderson wrote about her legacy:

“Mildred the Bear, for 25 years the gentle symbol of Grandfather Mountain, was found dead, apparently of old age, in her den Friday. On the previous three days, Mildred hadn't ventured outside, said spokesman Harris Prevost. Friday morning, caretakers found her dead at age 26. Grandfather Mountain owner Hugh Morton and others buried her on the mountain at 3 p.m. Friday. The flag flew at half-staff.

"‘She was just synonymous with the mountain,’ Prevost said. About 5 million tourists visited Grandfather during her quarter-century there. She was a favorite of Morton, a longtime professional photographer. The familiar billboard images of Mildred were drawn from his photographs. Over the years, Mildred posed with baseball great Ted Williams, Sen. Terry Sanford, Atlantic Coast Conference football coaches and British royalty. Morton ‘was not afraid to take anybody in to have their picture taken with Mildred,’ Prevost said. Born at the Atlanta Zoo, she and and a male bear were bought for release into the wild at Grandfather, a wildlife preserve. But unknown to Morton, Mildred had been virtually raised in the zoo office by a secretary. At Grandfather, the male took off. Mildred wandered down the mountain into Linville, where she peeked into windows and sat on front porches. Grandfather officials got her back and in 1973, built a 3-acre habitat complete with pool and natural dens among the boulders. Over the years, she gave birth to nine cubs and adopted three more. The Mildred the Bear Habitats now include 11 other bears. In 1990, sculptor Johnpaul Harris cast her image in bronze. The statues of Mildred and her cubs stand in the lobby of Grandfather's nature museum.”

You’ll see many Hugh Morton photos in the slideshow. Before his death in 2006 he said he wanted “to be remembered as the guardian of Grandfather Mountain".

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