Teddy bears are picnicking in Alexandria this Saturday.
Those cuddly, button-nosed, stuffed animals of love are so popular among certain residents that Mayor Charles E. Beatley has declared May 6-11 "Teddy Bear Week in Alexandria."
In honor of the occasion, more than 100 bears, including some celebrity types like Zsa Zsa Gabear and Scarlett O'Beara, will climb down from collectors' shelves and bedroom pillows and attend the fifth annual Teddy Bear Picnic.
"It's strictly for the bears," said Gerda Whitman, one of the seven members of Alexandria Arctophilist (Bear-Lovers) Society. "There will be prizes for the best-dressed bear, the funniest bear, the bear that looks most like his owner . . . . "
Any human showing up without a huggable cub will be charged $2,973.43 admission. The arctophilists, who sponsor Saturday's picnic scheduled at Fort Ward Park between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., take their teddy bears seriously.
"Teddy bears are the third most collected item in the United States, following only stamps and dolls," said Marie M. Gordon, an active arctophilist and a manager for an Alexandria plumbing and heating company. "And they are becoming more popular all the time. Who can resist them? They're the best huggers."
Dan Leigh, the owner of the Bachelor II Dolls, Bears and Collectibles shop in Old Town, says his teddy bear sales doubled last year. Teddy bears wearing double-breasted suits and satin gowns, measuring three inches and three feet, costing anywhere from $1 to $525, fill Leigh's King Street shop. "We're selling about three bears for every doll now," Leigh said. "They're really becoming popular."
"I love bears, always have," said 79-year-old Lorna G. Hall of Leonardtown, Md., who bought a $34.95 miniature mink teddy bear in Alexandria this week. "I have 30 bears at home, and each of them has a different expression. They are so much fun."
"A little love, a lot of heart, fur and thread," is how Lorri Pardo, an Alexandria teddy bear maker, says she sews her cuddly animals. Pardo, 28, a former bookkeeper and pharmaceutical technician, says she quit that job to expand a childhood hobby. Explaining how, nowadays, most teddy bears are stuffed with polyester fill instead of sawdust, Pardo said: "They're getting fluffier all the time."
Named after President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt in 1902 after he supposedly refused to shoot a bear cub while hunting in Mississippi, the teddy bear has long been a favorite childhood toy. But now, arctophilists say, more adults are proclaiming their attachment to teddy bears.
"Our lives are so hectic that everybody needs some security at home," said Sarah Yourshaw, a member of the Alexandria bear group and an indexer for the American Psychological Association. "My kids are about to go off to college, so I'm going to people my home with bears."
Beatley, who signed an official proclamation honoring the teddy bear that "appeals to the child in each of us," said Monday: "There are too many things in City Hall that are deadly serious, and we need something to loosen up that tight feeling."
A brown teddy bear with a perfect red-white-and-blue ribbon tucked under its chin sat on the chair next to Beatley as the mayor lauded the fur-covered cubs.
Nobody knows for sure how many teddy bears there are in the world, but Barbara J. Wolters, the editor of the Teddy Tribune, a monthly newsletter for teddy bear collectors that is published in St. Paul, said there are millions. She said, "Bear in mind that nearly everyone has one in their closet."