2006.08.16 Destruction of Elvis’s bear sparks bad childhood memories

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

Did you hear that Elvis Presley’s teddy bear was destroyed by a guard dog at a British museum? “Big deal,” you might think, except this particular teddy was valued at $75,000, or as they say in France, 59,000 euros.

The bear in question was Mabel, a 97-year-old toy made by Germany’s Steiff company. Since it was over 25 years old when Elvis was born, it most likely was purchased by Presley later in life as a collectable rather than being a childhood toy. Old Steiff bears are valuable in their own right, then add a premium for the Elvis connection and you have a $75,000 bear.

The bear was purchased at a Memphis auction by England’s Sir Benjamin Slade and was set to be part of a display at Wookey Hole Caves (don’t you love that name?), a museum in Somerset. A guard was said to be petting the toy when a guard dog named Barney went berserk, attacking Mabel and several other stuffed toys awaiting the construction of a display case.

Mabel was beheaded and disemboweled of her stuffing in the attack by Barney, formerly a model guard dog for over six years. Sir Benjamin was said to be “not very pleased at all” by the attack. And I know just how he feels. About 40 years ago, my own beloved childhood teddy bear, creatively named “Teddy,” was also beheaded in a savage assault.

Teddy was a gift from my Aunts Sue and Liz at the time of my birth. Standing about one foot tall on his hind legs, he was made of some sort of foam rubber-like substance with a white, smooth finish. The name “Gerber” is stamped on his back, not that surprising for a baby toy.

 The tip of his nose is gone and a bit of the covering of his hind paws is also missing, perhaps the work of an impatient baby waiting for his next meal. But that’s nothing compared to the damage inflicted by my brother.

Since Teddy was so sturdily made, he easily survived my babyhood and made it into my toddler years in fine condition. This finally caused something to snap in my older brother, Ron.

My jealous brother always made fun of Teddy, especially of the happy smile molded into Teddy’s cheerful face. He probably couldn’t stand the fact that I still had Teddy while his own stuffed Rin Tin Tin dog was decaying in the attic.

One day when I was perhaps five years old (the trauma has erased most of the memories), he said something about getting the smile off Teddy’s face. He grabbed Teddy and headed for the garage. I was too small to stop him from getting a hand saw and decapitating Teddy right in front of me.

The repressed memories of most of this episode prevent me from remembering what punishment was handed out to my brother, but the fact that he’s still alive means it wasn’t severe enough. Especially since he found it so hard to show remorse for his deed.

Some 25 or 30 years after the attack, I received a phone call from Ron. He had apparently been bragging about the crime to a friend, one who had taken some psychology classes. She rebuked him severely, telling him how traumatic it must have been for me and forced him to call me right then to apologize so she could hear him do it. I doubt that he really meant it, but it was some measure of revenge that she made him call, anyway.

Or maybe Teddy is the best revenge. With his head securely glued back on, he has survived 40 years or more after the attack with no other problems, except for the terrible scars around his neck. He now stands in a place of honor on top of my bookcase. And since my brother doesn’t have my street address, Teddy is now safe from Ron.

I’ve tried to find a bear like him in many toy price guides and on the Internet, but never had any luck. I’ve never even seen one for sale on eBay. I’m starting to wonder if he’s some really rare Gerber test bear that would be worth tons of money like Mabel, except for those saw marks on his head.

I guess that would be another reason to curse my brother’s name, but unlike poor Sir Slade, I still have Teddy, even with his scars, so that’s not bad. Besides, at this point, I’d never sell him so his lack of value to others doesn’t matter. Anyway, thanks for bearing (ouch!) with me. I feel much better now.

    – Aug. 16, 2006

 

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