‘Twas the night before Christmas, and in Clement Moore’s famous rhyme, “visions of sugar plums” danced in children’s heads.
Although kids in the 1800s may have dreamed only of getting a piece of candy in their stocking, today’s tots usually fantasize about the gazillions of toys they might find underneath the tree on Christmas morning. Anticipation is part of the fun.
Fortunately, the Kansas City area has four unique venues where you can get your “toy fix” all year long. And the toys offered are not the latest newfangled gadgets but old-fashioned playthings like dolls, teddy bears and marbles. No batteries required, as these childhood treasures are powered solely by imagination.
The Toy and Miniature Museum of Kansas City, 5235 Oak St., is a 38-room house that boasts the largest collection of nostalgic toys, fine-scale miniatures and marbles in the Midwest. Located on the University of Missouri—Kansas City campus just a few blocks south of the Country Club Plaza, this wonderland contains such exquisite gems as a 1:12–scale miniature early 17th century Flemish harpsichord, featuring functioning ebony and ivory keys!
Teddy bears are not given short shrift here, either. Lovers of classic character Winnie the Pooh will delight in seeing Christopher Robin’s whole menagerie on display.
You can explore entire miniature worlds in the rooms filled with doll houses containing tiny versions of decorative artifacts from eras past and present.
Finding (not losing) your marbles
When he was a kindergartner, Bruce Breslow wanted to be an asparagus farmer when he grew up. He claims he still does. Meanwhile, he’s been making marbles at his company, Moon Marble Co., in Bonner Springs for the past 16 years.
His shop (listed as one of the “8 Wonders of Kansas Commerce” by the Kansas Sampler Foundation and also cited in Rand McNally’s “Best of the Road” in USA Today) is not just a treasure trove of marbles, old-fashioned penny candy, and traditional toys and games, but it’s an actual workshop where you can see marbles being made. Breslow’s glassblowing demonstrations attract visitors from as far away as Hong Kong.
If you’re into “retro” stuff, this is your paradise. You can find such timeless goodies as Slinky Dogs, Felix the Cat clocks and a wide variety of Betty Boop merchandise.
Paging Dr. Connie
Connie Harrell is a well-respected surgeon in Shawnee who performs delicate operations daily. She is adept at handling transplants and grafts. Her facility has such a stellar reputation that patients come not only from the Kansas City area but from around the country.
Harrell and her medical staff wear scrub suits decorated with cartoon characters, just like the ones nurses sport in pediatric wards. However, Harrell’s patients are usually quite a bit smaller than the kids in most hospitals — they’re dolls.
Although some of the dolls at the Doll Cradle’s doll hospital wait a while for treatment, Harrell performs emergency surgery when the doll is a child’s “lovey” that the child sleeps with nightly. She asks the parents to bring the doll in early in the morning as soon as the child wakes up, then makes sure to have the repairs completed by nightfall so the parents can pick up the “patient” before their child goes to bed that night. Harrell doesn’t want to deprive anyone from snuggling with their favorite “security doll.”
The Doll Cradle’s ambulance, where kids can lay their dolls on the gurneys inside while the siren blares and the lights flash, is much in demand for parades and festivals.
Of special interest to Jayhawk fans, The Doll Cradle stocks (along with dolls and other old-time toys for sale) handmade Kansas University clothing, sized to fit American Girl and other 18” dolls. (There’s also a selection of Kansas State and University of Missouri attire.)
The shop/hospital also hosts “after the birthday party” events, where favors are given out and a doll specialist is available to answer all doll questions.
Oh you beautiful dolls
Not well known outside the doll collecting world but certainly worth a visit is the United Federation of Doll Clubs’ doll museum, located near the Kansas City airport. UFDC is a nonprofit organization fostering research, education, collecting and appreciating dolls.
Stroll through the glass cases in this small museum and you’ll see an amazing array of dolls, some of them depicting celebrities like Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields and even Marie Osmond. Vintage dolls, like Kewpie, hark back to an earlier, simpler time.
Remember the closing lyrics of the “Toyland” song, “Once you pass its borders, you can never return again”? Thankfully, in the Kansas City area, that’s just not the case. Nostalgic Baby Boomers (anyone looking for a sled called “Rosebud”?) can easily find their long-lost toys.
Happy daytripping and merry Christmas!