Smokey Bear was a real bear cub, originally called "Hotfoot," who was found by firefighters in 1950, badly injured after a fire in Lincoln National Forest. He was renamed Smokey, and came to represent the character that had been created during WWII to help educate campers on the dangers and destructive force of forest fires. Although he lived in the National Zoo in DC (alongside Ham the Astrochimp!), he was brought back to, and buried in Capitan, NM when he died in 1976.
Of course I'd heard of Smokey Bear, but I'd never realized that he'd been modeled after a real bear. Ever since I visited my first pet cemetery, I've been eager to see as many not-exactly-traditional cemeteries and graves as I can—I was delighted to be able to add Smokey to that list. His grave is marked by a carved wooden bear cub and plaque, along a wooded path that includes statues, handpainted signs, beautiful flowers and at least one praying mantis (although I can't guarantee that last one will stick around).
The park is such a good kitschy roadside stop—including a squished penny machine and fully-stocked gift shop that was maddeningly closed. The entire (very small) town of Capitan is very proud of its hometown hero—there's a Smokey motel, restaurant and even grocery store. Even if I'm forever disappointed to not be able to add a Smokey squished penny to my collection, I am glad we got to pay our respects to such an iconic figure.