Try 1 month for 99¢

Some time ago, a teddy bear found his way to an open field north of Kemmerer filled with purple wildflowers.

Some time later, another bear appeared next to the first. Then another and another.

Soon there was a pile of stuffed animals, and the people who lived in town called it Teddy Bear Corner.

It began as a memorial to a young girl who died on the spot, said some.

No, said others. It started when a child got lost, and someone put a bear there hoping the child would see it and find his or her way home.

It was a car accident.

It was many accidents.

It was left as a gift.

It started in wagon-train times.

All guesses.

As to why the corner exists, truly, "I don't know if anyone knows," said Judy Julian of Kemmerer's Fossil Country Museum.

Only this is certain: Bears have congregated there for at least seven decades.

Right now, at least 100 collect in a pile 25 miles north of Kemmerer, a town of 2,650 known for its flagship J.C. Penney store. To find it, visitors take Highway 233 and keep going 5 more miles when the road turns to dirt.

The animals lie on top of a 4-by-4-foot concrete slab. Wire ties a dozen others to a 4-foot wooden post.

There are bears, puppies, monkeys, tigers, an orca whale and a yellow minion from the 2010 animated movie "Despicable Me."

A once-red Elmo has faded to the same dusty brown as the ground. A stuffed snowman grows mold on his face. A blue teddy lost his head and stuffing. The ground is swallowing a white rabbit, whose feet are buried in dirt.

Their fur feels coarse and heavy from rain and snow.

No record of Teddy Bear Corner's past exists at the Kemmerer museum, the courthouse, the Wyoming State Archives, the Wyoming Department of Transportation, the Scenic Byways and Backways Program or the Western History Center in Casper.

A book recommended by the State Historical Society contains not a single reference to the corner.

At Lincoln County Road and Bridge, which maintains County Road 305 where the corner is, a man named Matt McCloud remembers visiting once a year as a kid. His dad, now in his 70s, went when he was small, too.

He doesn't know why it's there.

"All I know is dad said, ‘Get your old stuffed animals, we're headed up the creek.'"

McCloud brings his daughters there today. He said hunters sometimes meet there for a beer at the end of the day, the corner the only landmark for miles.

"It's been there since Moby Dick was a minnow," he said.

At the Kemmerer library, a woman named Renee Floyd has never seen any materials on the corner come across her desk. Nothing about an accident or death or a lost child.

"No," she said. "None of that's true."

Floyd has her own story.

Some time ago, a teddy bear must have fallen out of a truck near an open field north of Kemmerer.

Some time later, someone else came by, picked up the bear and moved it to the side of the road. Another bear appeared next to the first. Then another and another.

"I believe it's nothing more interesting than that," Floyd said.

Andrea Graham, a folklife specialist at the University of Wyoming, has studied things like this.

The stories surrounding Teddy Bear Corner fit with those that appear in traditional folk culture: a child who dies, a marker erected on the site.

"The idea of having a place to remember somebody is in all sorts of traditions," she said. "It makes sense that people would pick that up as the story, whether it's true or not."

Legends that involve the loss of a child are more common because the stories are tragic. There is a power to, and a need for, a romantic narrative.

Get home and garden tips sent to your email inbox

"People will make up a story if there isn't one," she said. "People have to explain things."

But perhaps at Teddy Bear Corner, there is a real explanation.

Alice Sears has a story.

Some time ago, in the early 1990s, Sears ran the Chamber of Commerce in town.

She wanted to know more about the corner because she lived near there, on land her husband's family had ranched since the 1870s, before Wyoming was Wyoming.

She asked a woman in her 80s named Lola Martin.

Some time before that, Martin told her, in the mid-1930s, she went for a drive on the dirt road north of Kemmerer.

Near an open field she found a teddy bear, picked it up and tied it to a fence post, hoping whoever lost it would come back and find it.

Another bear appeared next to the first. Then another and another.

Soon there was a pile of stuffed animals, and the people who lived in town created all sorts of stories.

But it was Martin, Sears said Martin told her, who started it.

"Whether that is the truth or not," Sears said, "that is all I know."

The story cannot be checked. Martin has since died.

What Sears does know is that about a decade ago, some kids ran off the road and took out the fence post. Ranch hands poured cement and erected a wooden post so Teddy Bear Corner would always be there.

Some time from now, another visitor will bring a bear to the corner. Then someone else will come along and add one. Then another and another.

And the bears will sit there, no one really knowing why, smiling their stitched smiles and rotting in the sun.

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Reach features reporter Margaret Matray at 307-266-0535 or margaret.matray@trib.com.

 

2
0
2
0
1

Load comments