janet wyman Coleman

A clothesline in Rhode Island, September, 1993

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The Teddy Bear Invasion

COURTESY CARL W. HAFFENREFFER


     The In September, 1993, a tugboat pulled a barge away from a dock in New Jersey. barge carried metal containers, packed with cardboard boxes. Inside, thousands of teddy bears lay side by side--small bears as white as marshmallows and larger ones the color of cinnamon. Each bear wore a blue and red sweater with a diamond pattern on the front.

    The bears were on their way to department stores in New England in time for the Christmas shopping season. As they passed the tip of Long Island, black clouds appeared on the horizon. There was a flash of lightning, a crack, and a low rumble. Waves jostled the tug and washed over the deck of the barge. The chains holding the metal containers squealed like pigs. 

    A twelve-foot wave smashed into the barge and rolled over the deck. Chains snapped, and thirty-one containers slid into the ocean. As the containers sank, their lids came off. THe cardboard boxes inside rose to the surface and bobbed like apples.

    Soon the cardboard softened and sank, leaving thousands of teddy bears behind. They rode the waves, up the front and down the back. They twirled, crisscrossed, and bumped heads. Some stared at the grizzly sky, others at the seaweed far below. As the storm moved out to sea, the slick of bears made its way toward the shores of a small town in Rhode Island.

    Waves crashed onto the beach and slid backward. Each one left dozens of bears on the sand. People arrived from near and far to see the furry castaways. They brought large garbage bags, filled them with soggy bears, and carried them home.

    The bears swirled in washing machines, thumped in dryers, and hung by their ears from clotheslines. When they were dry, they were wrapped in Christmas paper and hidden in closets, or mailed to friends and grandparents far away. Many of the bears were donated to homeless shelters and day-care centers.

    Everyone in town kept at least one teddy bear. Today, they sit on mantlepieces and television sets, next to the cash register at the local garage, and near the teller at the bank. Occasionally, a stranger will ask, “Why do you have a teddy bear?
    The answer is always the same: “The Teddy Bear Invasion! Haven’t you heard of the Teddy Bear Invasion?”