Grave of Grizzly Adams
The grave of John Capen Adams (1812-1860) is among many forgotten hundreds in Bay Path Cemetery -- headstones of the long-dead, slowly fading from weather and age. But Adams is remembered, immortalized for a generation as "Grizzly Adams." A movie in 1974, "The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams," then a short-lived TV series that ran for 29 episodes in 1977-78, starred burly, hairy actor Dan Haggerty. Dan's not dead here -- it's the real John "Grizzly" Adams, mythologized as a helpful mountain wild man with grizzly bears for friends. And it's half true.
The Charlton Historical Society, perhaps stirred by growing public interest, installed a stone marker in 1976 labeled "Grizzly Adams" in front of the 1860 gravestone (most cemeteries neglect this important identifying clue to connect obscure real names with popularized nicknames). The original gravestone, with no mention of "Grizzly," is illustrated by a scene of Adams walking side-by-side through the woods with one of his bears.
The real John C. Adams turns out to be more colorful than the family-tamed TV character he inspired. He was a one of America's premier bear hunters, gaining dubious recognition today that he greatly contributed to the extinction of the California grizzly bear. Adams captured some bears alive and sold them to zoos, exhibits, and even for cruel animal fight events. He also worked at times for P.T. Barnum.
Adams had a knack for raising and training bear cubs; one long-time bear companion, raised since cubdom, was named "Benjamin Franklin." Ben accompanied Adams on many forest excursions, sometimes helping to subdue uncooperative wild bears.
Living the kind of rough-and-tumble life you'd expect of a mountain man, Adams was repeatedly injured by animal encounters that left him with cumulative, serious skull damage. Ultimately, a bear claw wound exposed part of his brain, and a subsequent mishap with a biting show monkey is said to have infected the vulnerable head wound and killed him.
His body was shipped back to Charlton for burial.
Note: We noticed some online accounts referring to Adams as "James" Adams; the tombstone with the bear art is clearly marked "John."