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Grave of Grizzly Adams marker.

Grave of Grizzly Adams

Field review by the editors.

Charlton, Massachusetts

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 is not the man who's 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.

Detail of the 1860 gravestone of John Adams.

The real John C. Adams turns out to be less cuddly than the family-tamed TV character he inspired. He hunted bears, including grizzly bears, in California (as well as a lot of other animals, but, hey, it was the mid-19th century). Adams captured some bears alive and sold them to zoos and exhibits. 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. Yes, you read that right: rugged frontiersman Grizzly Adams was killed by a monkey.

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."

Also see: Men Vs. Bears

Grave of Grizzly Adams

Bay Path Cemetery

Muggett Hill Rd, Charlton, MA
From US Hwy 20 turn south onto Hwy 31/N. Main St. The Bay Path Cemetery is on the east side, just past Muggett Hill Rd. Grizzly's grave is in the center of the graveyard, toward the back.
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