There’s an instant mood-lifter in town, for the young, the old, and every age in between. Toys of the 50s, 60s, and 70s is on display at the Virginia Historical Society, and trust me, you won’t want to miss it.
I cannot tell a lie – much to my surprise, my kids weren’t too excited to go when I announced it. “It’s toys – TOYS!” I said. “Inside cases. Sounds boring,” they retorted. Fortunately, I had an ace in the hole to get them in the car – the promise of a stop by the new Gelati Celesti a few blocks down from VHS. When we arrived at VHS, the kids couldn’t help but take a trip through the large gift shop, situated right by the entrance, which was fine by me since it’s one of my favorites in RVA. With quite a few of the items from Toys available for purchase, I couldn’t resist letting them each pick out a $5 or under item – a metal yo-yo for my 10-year-old, and a pair of crazy straw eye glasses for my 8-year-old. Just outside the gift shop in the main atrium is the world’s largest Slinky, created especially for VHS for Toys by local artist Allen Jessee, of MCS Design & Production, Inc.
After making our way to the second floor, we were surprised to see how expansive the exhibit is (we easily could have spent much longer than the hour we did allowed). Our first stop was at this iconic Peanuts setting for a photo opp, and from there, we checked out the first display, Matchbox vs. Hot Wheels: You are what you drive. Next was a visit to a 1960s living room replica, complete with a telephone from that time, and an old-timey television, playing the toy commercials from that decade. A few toys from that era sat on the coffee table, for playing with, not just for looking at, much to my sons’ delight. Living rooms from the 50s and 70s were also a big hit, and the questionable décor in the 70s room was not lost on even the youngest one (“What were people thinking back then??”).
As we passed display after display, the kids and I were amazed how many brands and toys are still around today – a true testament to the fact that electronics haven’t completely killed real toys. All around, visitors of all ages were overheard reminiscing with glee: “Oh how I loved this, my Easy Bake Oven!” and, “I remember these – Clackers!” Grandparents with their grandkids, friends of all ages out for a stroll down memory lane, and younger parents with their kids, who may not remember the originals, but still enjoy games and brands like Twister, Nerf, and LEGO, delighted in forgetting their troubles and sharing their happiest of memories from childhood. I even got teary-eyed a few times as I flashed back to my childhood days in Cambridge, Maryland, with my beloved Mrs. Beasley and Holly Hobbie dolls, both present in the exhibit.
Displayed throughout Toys are the stories from the kids who played with them, the grown-ups who bought them, the child-rearing experts who judged them, and the people who invented them. The changing social and political landscapes of the times are examined and shown to have been reflected through toys, although we didn’t realize it at the time. As the household roles evolved, so did the toys, and when Magnavox introduced the first home video game console in 1972, the living room and the use of the home television set would be forever changed.
The kids spent some time at the modern-day big screen, playing a 4-player interactive Toys Trivia game. Toward the back of the exhibit, we all loved the Slinky race, two Slinkys perched at the top of a staircase, ready for battle. The backyard and garage replicas were among my favorites, with an area for kids to toss Nerf balls, Hula-Hoop, and play games like Simon, Hungry, Hungry, Hippos, and Twister.
VHS did families the ultimate favor by making this exhibit free for kids under 18 (thank you!), and just $10 for the rest of us, but I still predict that this exhibit will do for VHS family memberships what Picasso did for VMFA’s. You’ll want to go back to Toys again and again and take all of your visiting relatives this summer, so why not invest the $85 for a family membership.
This amazing exhibit is produced by the Minnesota History Center and is on display at the Virginia Historical Society through September 4. Visit VHS for details.