I bought this sheet music many years ago not because I liked or even knew the song but because the artwork charmed and surprised me. The fact that one of the song’s composers bore the name A. F. Frankenstein added an extra glint of amusement.
But cuddly California bear was always the star of the show. Sometimes I’d put the sheet music on my piano simply because I liked to see him. A bear giving a bear hug… to California!
I have a few of these items, single sheets whose unusual cover art or details have tickled me. For a couple of years, that’s what this music was: a curiosity, a charm. At some point one of my friends who worked at a local PBS station shared an article about “I Love You California” being the official song of the Golden State. So I learned a bit of trivia. But that was it. The Frankenstein in question had been director of the Orpheum Theater’s orchestra. The song was from the year 1913, and it had sure sounded old-fashioned the few times I’d played it on the piano.
Then one winter evening I went out to dinner with my friend Nancy Stokes’s family. We were celebrating her brother’s birthday, and there were a few gifts to open, including a small box, about five inches by three inches — a gift from Nancy herself. Her brother unwrapped this present, and inside was a beautiful, delicate, golden-brown Christmas ornament. It was a blown-glass version of the California bear!! Sign and all.
I sat there, startled, speechless. What the — ?! Here was a figure that had always seemed a random tidbit from the distant past. But out of nowhere it had appeared in Christmas ornament form, dusted with glitter and even more adorable than the original illustration.
It turned out that SF Mercantile had created an entire line of merchandise adorned with images of this endearing bear: tote bags, coffee mugs, playing cards, luggage tags, and holiday decorations. And California bear had endeared himself to my friend Nancy, though at the time she’d had no idea of his musical lineage.
Within a day of that dinner, I had placed an order for my own California bear ornament. Look at him. Isn’t he sweet and cozy and magical and friendly? At Christmas, California bear is (of course!) one of my favorite decorations on the tree.
I love you, California bear!
Where to find it: Digitized vintage piano/vocal sheet music for “I Love You California” by F.B. Silverwood and A.F. Frankenstein, available for purchase as a digital download on sheetmusicplus.com. Miller Music Corporation (now public domain) edition available for digital download via DigitalCommons@UMaine. Find vintage sheet music for "I Love You California" on eBay and abebooks. Purchase California Bear-themed souvenirs, decorations, and apparel from SF Mercantile.