Objects tell stories. Unfortunately, they cannot tell them on their own, they have to be written down or shared by the people who know the objects best—their owners. In the collections world, we call this “provenance.” This is the backstory on where an object comes from, who owned it, who loved it, basically all the juicy details that cannot be seen on the surface of the object but that imbue it with meaning.
While many of the objects in our collection have been separated from their stories, some have not. One of these storied objects is “Gregory Bear.” Gregory was a gift to the Museum in 2010 from Ursula Marrero. He entered the collection with an adventure story beyond compare.
Gregory’s story begins in the display window of a department store in Riga (present day Latvia). The year was 1939 and Ursula was three years old. She and her family lived in Königsberg, East Prussia (present day Kaliningrad, Russia). Gregory was a Christmas gift that year and was delivered to Ursula after the holiday display was taken down.
As you may guess from the time period, this happy story now takes a turn. In 1944, the Russians invaded Königsberg. Ursula’s mother packed the family’s possessions so that they could escape the city. She had a prized blue leather steamer trunk, which she had used when traveling from her hometown to Königsberg to get married. Believing Gregory Bear to be of no value to the soldiers, Ursula’s mother placed the bear in the trunk hoping this would save the valuable trunk. Despite this careful plan, the trunk was misplaced. The family was sent to a Russian POW camp outside of Danzig for the remainder of the war. They returned to Königsberg in 1946.
In 1948, a post office in Zuhl, part of the Russian occupied East Zone, contacted the family to say the trunk had been marked undeliverable and had sat there through most of the war. Ursula’s mother paid to have the trunk returned. Unfortunately the trunk had been destroyed, but Gregory survived unharmed.
In 1960, the family immigrated to the United States. They traveled on the S.S. Belin, where Gregory was comfortably stowed in a new steamer trunk. The family traveled through New York City and settled outside of Buffalo.
When Gregory first arrived at BCM, he became part of another window display, this time joining a collection of teddy bears from the collection. Due to the “Alphabet of Inspiration” window exhibit, Gregory returned to storage. This summer, he was the guest of honor at our Teddy Bear Picnic, where he continued to delight children, just as Ursula must have been when she and Gregory first met all those years ago.