The Teddy Bear Museum of the Sierra opens Friday with more than 250 antique and modern-day bears on display in Oakhurst, Calif., at the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park, where the real bears live. The museum's bear count comes from private collectors who also are card-carrying members of the Mountain Bear Fan Club.
"Four of us became radical collectors," museum founder and club creator Toni Lagunoff said Wednesday. She said the group often talked about opening a museum for the 5,000 bears they have between them, but it wasn't until Jean Eaton, one of their own, died in December that they made it a reality to honor her.
The current display features English-made bears, miniature bears, patriotic bears and an explanation of how teddy bears got started (yes, you'll learn about the Teddy Roosevelt link). In addition to bears by German toymaker Steiff and others, the museum also showcases bear-o-bilia such as carved bears, teddy-bear-themed artwork and books.
The museum also shows a documentary about the softer side of the bear world. It's a BBC program about Good Bears of the World, which donates stuffed toys to children who have been traumatized by anything from domestic violence to natural disasters. Lagunoff's club has sent the organization thousands of bears.