Lincoln, NH: Clark's Trading Post
In the ring, a six-foot seven-inch, 440-pound black bear named Pemi stands up like a man and tosses a basketball through a hoop. Pemi’s mate, Echo, a 340-pound female, has just finished her act, riding around the ring on a Segway, raising the flag, and dancing.
With them is a pixie-like blonde woman and a big, gruff, red-headed man wearing an Australian bush hat. Outside the ring, Victoria paces in her pen, rattling the gate. She can’t wait for showtime.
One of thousands of acts that have taken place over the past 60 years in this roadside ring in Lincoln, New Hampshire, is underway at Clark’s Trading Post, a place where generations of bears have worked alongside generations of Clarks. The blonde woman and the red-headed man are brother and sister, Maureen and Murray A. Clark, the third generation to raise bears here and the second to train and perform with them.
Founded in 1928, Ed Clark’s Eskimo Sled Dog Ranch gradually morphed from souvenirs and canines to bear acts. The Clarks, it could be said, are perhaps the most ingenious entrepreneurs ever to stake a claim in the White Mountains, substantially influencing the growth of the tourist industry in that region. And, further, it should be said that when you say “the Clarks,” you’re talking about not only the direct descendants of the founders, Edward P. and Florence M. Clark, and their two sons, Ed and Murray, but their offshoots as well: in all, a family the size of a small town, each of whom has shared in the growth of this family empire. But in recent years, only the elder Murray, his daughter Maureen, and his son Murray A. have performed with the bears.
One day last fall, after the Post had closed for the season and the three bears were preparing for hibernation, the Clarks stopped to tell us about their years here. Talking with these three is like talking to one person. They finish one another’s sentences, which run together as smoothly as the waters of the Pemigewasset River that tumbles behind their legendary Trading Post. Today, this roadside attraction has evolved into an entertainment resort that features not only trained-bear shows but a facsimile 19th-century village, an authentic wood-fired steam train that takes visitors chugging through the countryside, a museum of the family’s own treasures, even a Segway ride. This old-timey place has a history firmly rooted in New Hampshire’s soil.
In 1949, when Murray was 22, he and his older brother began performing with two of the family’s female bears, Ebony and Midnight. Murray stopped performing in 2003, but he has never retired. He’s 82 now–you can still see the bear man in him–and he sits beside the ring, quietly watching Maureen, 50, and Murray A., 40, do things that he taught them and some that he didn’t. He watches every show and still works around the Post, meeting the public and setting up props.
Both Maureen and Murray A. have worked with the bears in one way or another since they were children. Maureen toddled around with her baby bottle alongside the cubs as they drank from their bottles, which made for good snapshots. Since the cubs are raised in the Clarks’ homes, their family albums are full of such images. “You haven’t lived until you’ve raised bear cubs in your kitchen,” Murray the elder often says. “Down come the curtains, off comes the tablecloth, over goes the milk pitcher …”
The cubs ambled around the house and occasionally went for rides in the car. “A bear cub has little rounded ears, small dark eyes, needle-sharp teeth and claws, and the shortest temper on record,” adds Murray A.