A strange, sad, and beautiful place that has slipped into the legends of North Carolina once existed off of I-95 near Halifax. The Yogi Bear Graveyard was a field filled with fiberglass statues of Yogi Bear, Boo Boo, Cindy Bear, and the ever-vigilant Ranger Smith that had been left to slowly fall apart beside an abandoned truck stop. The site attracted many visitors who would climb over the chain-link fence around what came to be known as The Yogi Bear Graveyard to wander among the fading statues. The story of how they got there is a tale of a tradition of family road trips and a different time in the story of North Carolina.
The statues were originally from the Yogi Bear Honey-Fried Chicken chain of restaurants, which was spread across the southeast from the late Sixties through the Seventies. The statues stood outside of the restaurants, hoping to attract the attention of children in passing cars who would be excited enough to persuade their parents that this was the perfect time to pull of the road and Yogi Bear's Honey-Fried Chicken was exactly what they were in the mood to eat. The statues were produced for the franchise by American Fiberglass, once the king of roadside signs and statues, responsible for many of the Shoney's Big Boy statues, giant muffler men, and Sinclair dinosaurs that once decorated the American roadsides.
The Honey-Fried Chicken franchises gradually shut down, but the statues from those stores were bought up by the owner of another Yogi Bear themed business, a Jellystone Park Campground located in Halifax. The statues graced the campground and its miniature golf course until that business, too, met its end.
When the campground closed, the statues were left in a field beside the Lakewood Truck stop, which was at one time the largest truck stop along all of America's East Coast. But eventually that truck stop also closed, and all that was left was the sad spectacle of memories of family road trips lying exposed the to the wind and the rain.
But fittingly enough with its origins in multiple vanished tourist attractions, the field of abandoned statues eventually became a tourist attraction itself. As word spread of this strange spectacle, road trippers from across the state and beyond would seek out this field for a chance to see the sadly beautiful spectacle and connect with memories of a time when family road trips took longer, when the road held promise and excitement, and when business owners went all out to make sure that theirs was the one place on the long road from New York to Florida that everyone had to stop at.
But even that, too, has vanished. The land the Lakewood Truck stop stood on was bought by new owners in 2008, the statues removed, and the sleek, beautiful Mid-Century Modern architecture of the Lakewood building fell to the wrecking ball.
But there's still a chance to connect with this part of North Carolina's past. Several of the statues were rescued and now stand outside a private residence in Rocky Mount. There is also one Yogi Bear's Honey Fried Chicken Restaurant still operating in Hartsville, S.C., and even though they don't have statues they do have a beautiful vintage Yogi Bear sign and chicken that's so good it really is worth the trip to from anywhere in North Carolina.
The last remaining Yogi Bear Honey Fried Chicken restaurant in Hartsville, SC
There's also the hope of rebirth for Yogi and company. When American Fiberglass closed, many of its molds, including the ones used to make the statues for Yogi Bear's Honey Fried Chicken, were bought by a company located in Bladenboro. So these wonderful statues that are a joyous part of our history may spring up again along the American roadsides, made right here in North Carolina.