People and Places with Pierce: The Bear Town Bears

NEW BERN, N.C. (WNCT) – New Bern, North Carolina is the birthplace of Pepsi and home of the bears, lots and lots of bears. They’ve been a fixture in the city since it was settled.

“The reason why the bear is our mascot is because our sister city is Bern, Switzerland. It’s their mascot, so we adopted it here in New Bern,” explained Michelle Lynn, Assistant Director of the New Bern Riverfront Convention Center.

Bern is the old German word for bear. So, it’s only fitting that New Bern is also known as Bear Town.

Longtime resident Thea Kincaid came up with an idea that would literally put the bears of New Bern on the map.

“I went out to a trade show in Dallas, Texas and saw the horses. And when I came back to New Bern, I said we should do the bears,” explained Kincaid.

That was 2004, but as is sometimes the case in life, the timing just wasn’t right. Fast forward a few years later and the idea finally got the green light.

“We just decided this would be a project that we could do for the 300th celebration here in New Bern. And so we got together, and we put a goal out there, and we put out a call to local artists,” Kincaid said.

In 2008, the Bear Town Bears project was born. 51 bears, including Baron De Graffenried, line the streets of New Bern. The Visitor and Convention Center offers a map so you can find all of them. And for good reason, the bears draw in thousands of visitors every year.

Lynn said, “We have visitors all the time that come here and that is their mission. They want to see every bear. And they’ll call you on the phone, ‘Where is it? This street?'”

From the moment Richard Sawicki, Jr. laid eyes on them, he knew they were something special.

“Today’s my day to run through the town and when I see the bears, I gotta have pictures with them. Walking on the Appalachian Trail I’ve dealt with bears. I just love the figures of the bears,” recalled Sawicki, Jr.

Out of all 51, the Tooth Beary is the very first and holds a special place in Kincaid’s heart.

“This bear holds special meaning to New Bern not only because she was the first bear but it’s community and the community truly embraced this project,” Kincaid mentioned.

From the Tooth Beary to the Flag Bearer decked out in the stars and stripes, the sense of community is beary clear.

“It’s not just something that’s here today, gone tomorrow. These bears are gonna be long lasting,” Kincaid said.

It’s a simple idea that decades from now will likely become a thing of legend in an already legendary town.

Click here to download the Bear Town Bears map or visit the New Bern Riverfront Convention Center in downtown New Bern and pick one up while you’re there! Don’t forget to grab a scavenger hunt while you’re there too!

We’re always looking for your story ideas for People & Places with Pierce. If you have an interesting person or place you’d like to see featured, email Pierce or send him a message on Facebook or Twitter.


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