HILL CITY, S.D. – As a child growing up in foster care in Minnesota, Jackie Miley never had the quintessential childhood toy: the teddy bear.
The 63-year-old resident of Hill City, S.D., has made up for that – and then some. With 7,790 different teddy bears, Miley holds the Guinness World Record for largest teddy bear collection.
Her collection resides in a small home along Main Street in Hill City, a town of fewer than 800 people in western South Dakota’s Black Hills. Teddy Bear Town is filled to the brim with every bear imaginable – Beanie Babies, the talking Teddy Ruxpin and porcelain bears. Visitors can admire the collection and buy souvenirs at a teddy bear-themed gift shop.
I’m referring to it as a house of memories. I’ve got people’s very first bears. I’ve got bears in memories of people who passed away ... It brings back childhood memories to a lot of them, Miley said of the visitors.
Miley’s path to teddy bear fame wasn’t planned. She arrived in Hill City more than a decade ago to work as a live-in desk clerk at a Super 8 hotel with her first and only teddy bear, Grandma Jackie, a bear she had made at a Build-A-Bear store two years prior. Her collection slowly grew as she traveled to thrift stores in Rapid City and bought the bears that stood out to her.
One day someone pointed out to me, Do you know you have more bears than people we have here in town?’ she said.
Turns out, that wasn’t quite true: According to the Chamber of Commerce, her collection didn’t yet match the 780 residents in Hill City.
So, she set a goal. A few months later, she had more than 1,000 teddy bears, then 2,000 and then 3,000.
People started coming to see the bears at the hotel – bearing bears. Several visitors asked if she had contacted the Guinness World Records about her collection. In 2005, she sent in an itemized list, numbering 3,610 bears, and was told she had the largest teddy bear collection.
I was ecstatic. I mean, I just shook, she said of the first record.
Since then, the collection has grown as people from all 50 states and 20 countries send her teddy bears, and she’s appeared in the Guinness World Record book three times.
Miley partnered with Victor Alexander, who owns the hotel, to move the collection to a quaint house across the street that was built in 1895. There are so many bears that only about 4,000 can be displayed at Teddy Bear Town, Alexander said. The rest are stored in a nearby building, but he hopes to build on to the home soon so that as many as 20,000 bears can be easily displayed.