Little Bitz – Al Capp in Amesbury
Outspoken cartoonist and humorist Al Capp (Alfred Gerald Caplin, 1909-1979) was born in New Haven, Conn., but spent much of his life in Amesbury, thanks to the love of his life, Catherine Wingate Cameron, whom he’d met while attending art school in Boston. The two married in 1932, and although Capp spent a couple of years in New York City, assisting fellow artist Ham Fisher on the comic strip “Joe Palooka,” it was in Amesbury where he and Catherine eventually settled with their three children.
It also was where he worked on his popular satirical comic strip “Li’l Abner,” which ran in major newspapers from 1934 to 1977. The Capp home, located on an expanse of land that’s part of both Amesbury and South Hampton, N.H., is still owned by Capp’s daughter Julie Ann Cairol and her husband. “Li’l’ Abner” was one of the largest comic strip franchises of its time, as popular as the artist himself. Capp, who lost one of his legs in a trolley accident at age 9, actively supported disabled veterans and children living as amputees. As time went on, he was an oft-heard and sometimes controversial voice on the political landscape, speaking out against a growing opposition to the Vietnam War, of which he was a proponent.
Capp not only hosted multiple television specials, but was on radio and TV regularly, and appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson in 1964. In 2010, Amesbury honored Capp with a grand mural commemorating his 100th birthday. Jon Mooers, the local artist who painted the mural and spearheaded the effort to recognize Capp, worked closely with Cairol to recreate in exacting detail Capp’s artistic style via the life-size comic strip now housed inside the archway that leads from the Upper Millyard to Market Square in downtown Amesbury.