If you go down in the woods today,
You'd better go in disguise.
For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain, because,
Today's the day the teddy bears have their picnic.
From "The Teddy Bears' Picnic" by Jimmy Kennedy.
This Saturday, you need not come disguised as a bear, but all humans must be accompanied by at least one bear to enter the Sixth Annual Alexandria Arctophilists Teddy Bear Picnic in Fort Hunt Park in Alexandria.
Under the watchful eye of Congress Bear Percy, a dark-brown teddy and the acknowledged leader of the Alexandria Arctophilists, bears and humans will check in at 11 a.m. and take the Bear School exam. (Previous year's picnic goers may take the graduate exam.)
And then, knowing that bears like to dress up, play games and enjoy good company, the Arctophilists (friends of bears) will offer such events as the paw-penny race, "pass the panda," a bean bag toss for the younger set and balloon rides (bears only).
Last year, about 400 humans and several thousand bears joined in the fun. This year, expecting more participants, the Arctophilists have added more events, because, according to Congress Bear's human, Ann Siegal, "the bears like such things."
The paw-reader will be new. A gypsy bear will determine the bearing of your bear's paw lines upon his/her future.
While enjoying the games, bears will engage in the usual Washington pastimes of seeing and being seen and meeting celebrities. Smokey the Bear will be back, signing autographs and dispensing advice on how to enjoy the woods more safely. He'll be joined by newcomer Scrubby Bear, a protege of the Health and Human Services Department, whose mission is to teach children the importance of handwashing.
The see-and-be-seen aspect has almost a Mardi Gras air to it since many of the bears are quite decked out for the occasion. Many people not only bring entourages of fully dressed bears in assorted sizes, but also compete in the best-dressed bear/human lookalike contest.
All contests are subdivided by age so that under-6, under-13 and over-13 are separated. Last year's over-13 winner was a man-and-bear combination in full civil war regalia. "There are a lot of sport-loving bears," says Siegal, "and many little girls who think that they and their bears look good as bear-ler-inas."
Last year's Best Dressed Celebrity Bear was "Bar-Bear-a" Walters, who may make a guest appearance this year as well.
Bears and humans will line up at 12:45 to parade to the strains of "The Teddy Bears' Picnic," theme song of the event.
Five judges will have a bear of a time deciding who will go home with the prizes donated by local Alexandria merchants for the various categories, which include "Funniest Bear," "Best Handmade Bear" and "Bear You'd Most Like to Hug."
At 1 p.m., the judges will announce their decisions and the rest of the time will be spent congratulating the winners and eating the picnic lunches brought by the humans. "Bears like honey and marmalade sandwiches, although they will probably be polite enough to eat anything that you bring for yourself," advises Siegal.
The Alexandria Arctophilists is a non-profit group "dedicated to spreading the joy and giggles provided by teddy bears."
The group was founded seven years ago by a group of Alexandria men and women who felt, as Siegal says, that "things in Washington are a bit too serious."
The picnic idea developed after Siegal and her husband attended a teddy bear rally on a trip to England. "There were 8,000 staid Britishers standing around with their teddies -- an inspiring sight," says Siegal.
It is important this year for the humans to remember the lunch and drinks because Fort Hunt Park does not permit the sale of anything on its grounds. This means that even the bear cookies usually sold to defray the Arctophilists' expenses will not be available. There is shelter, however, so the picnic will be held even if it rains.
By 2 p.m. there will be tearful teddy good-byes and happy hugs for newly made friends and:
. . . Their mummies and daddies will take them home to bed.
Because they're tired little teddy bears.
TEDDY BEAR PICNIC -- Saturday, 11 to 2, at Fort Hunt Park in Alexandria. Free to all humans accompanied by a teddy bear. For more information, call 549-4783. The park is about three miles north of Mount Vernon, at the intersection of the George Washington Memorial Parkway and Fort Hunt Road.
TEDDY BEAR DAY -- If you can't get enough of teddy bears, this event also holds some promise. It's June 14, 10 a.m. to 4 pm., at the Baltimore Zoo, with games and contests for the serious collector and the light-hearted. Bear accessories and bears of all types can be bought and seen. Free admission until noon. After that $2.50 for adults, $1 children ages two to 11 and senior citizens. For information, call 301/396-7102, ext. 28. The zoo is off exit 7 on the Jones Falls Expressway (I-83).