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A teddy bear’s picnic

Recently I spotted a teddy bear at a second-hand facility that I felt was quite old. That got me to thinking about teddy bears. Back in the late 1940s or early 1950s I had an old 78 record called “Teddy Bear’s Picnic. I played it on an old Victrola that you had to crank to get the turntable to turn.

My mother found an LP with the same song that she brought over to my children. I am sure there were other songs on it but I do not remember any of them. They loved it as much as I did and listened to it over and over.

When I was teaching kindergarten I thought about that record and designed our 100 day celebration around it. The children were to each bring a teddy bear or another stuffed animal to share on day 100.

I invited a lady I knew who had a large teddy bear collection. She brought some of her choicest specimens to share with the children. She provided the history of teddy bears along with showing the children her earliest teddy bear. The children were fascinated and very polite as they asked her questions. She patiently replied to each question. What a wonderful way to span the generations!

It tuned out that she had an old Steiff teddy bear with some of the earliest moveable appendages. When I traced down the history of teddy bears I came across the Richard Steiff. It turns out there was a discrepancy about the origin of the teddy bear.

For our teddy bear’s picnic I played the record for the class to parade around the room. We then took our teddy bears and walked through the other classrooms. When we got back to our room we prepared lunch. We cut vegetables and fruit to eat with our hot dogs that I cooked on a George Foreman grill. We spread blankets on the floor for our picnic. The children helped themselves to the hot dogs and the fruits and vegetables. I had informed the parents that we would have eaten lunch before we left school that day.

Of course, we did the usual 100 day things looking at collections of the 100 things that each child brought. The day turned out to be very educational and the children had a wonderful time. We were making memory books of kindergarten so we added a page about teddy bears that day as well.

One source credited Morris Mitchom a native with Russian/American ties with the idea of moveable arms and legs for teddy bears. A cartoon had appeared in a newspaper recording the fact that President Teddy Roosevelt had refused to shoot a young bear while on a hunting trip. Mitchom thought the name “teddy’s bear” was a clever one that ought to spur sales.

Meanwhile Steiif from Germany exhibited his toy bear at a Toy Fair in Leipzig. He claimed that his prototype of his bear predated the Mitchom version so he invented the “Teddy bear”. Incidentally neither man has any proof of creating the first teddy bear so it is up to you to decide. Mitchom however was the first to capitalize on the idea of the president naming his bear. The words teddy bear first appeared in print about 1906.

In the 60s Elvis had a hit with his song “Teddy Bear”. The “King” rode that song up the charts popularizing the teddy bear once again. I once saw a poster of Elvis holding three fuzzy teddy bears as he advertised his hit song.

In my growing up years I had a lot of stuffed animals but I did not have a teddy bear. Most of my stuffed animals came as gifts. I remember that grandma and grandpa brought me a fluffy cat from a vacation that they took. That was one of my prized possessions. It was so soft. Every day after I made the bed I put my stuffed animals on my bed. Each night I removed them.

When my mother and I were shopping I saw a teddy bear, a big one, that I really liked. It was brown with a white patch with alphabet letters on the tummy. I pointed it out to her hoping that I might get it for Christmas. She took my hint and I found the teddy bear beneath the tree on Christmas morning. That teddy bear now became part of the bed contingent.

I still had that teddy bear when I married. My mother brought it over so that my children could play with it. She was so anxious to pass it down that she brought it when the children were still very small. Our son had just begun to try to walk. He wanted to carry that thing all over. I put it into the playpen one day just to get it out of the way. Our son used it as a stepping stone to bolt himself up and over the top of the playpen and escape. He did the same thing in his crib. I finally just lowered the side so he could get out when he wanted to.

My husband had a teddy bear when he was young. It got put into the attic though and the n=mice chewed his nose off. I think that may still be around as well.

Teddy bears are still popular today. Youngsters receive them as gifts. Today’s version must not have any pieces that can be removed for safety reasons. I guess in our day youngsters did not dismantle them and try to eat the eyes. Things are so different today. There are laws about everything. You know it is a wonder that any of us ever made it out of childhood without experiencing bodily harm.

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, PA. Contact at hickoryheights1@verizon.net

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