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New exhibit just wants you to play
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‘Toys! An Exhibit That’s Just For Fun’

Where: Northeast Georgia History Center, 322 Academy St., Gainesville

When: Through March; history center hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturdays

How much: $5 adults, $4 seniors, $3 students ages 6-18, free for children younger than 6; free for members

More info: 770-297-5900

Everyone can remember their favorite toy growing up.

Some kids collected toy soldiers and tin forts. Others had dolls with porcelain faces and springy curls. And some kids had cars they would race down the sidewalk.

Those warm childhood memories are what Northeast Georgia History Center Managing Director Glen Kyle is going for with the center’s latest exhibit, "Toys! An Exhibit That’s Just For Fun."

The way Kyle sees it, the period of time that would be a "heyday" for toys is whenever you were young enough to play with them.

"Everyone who thinks of the heyday of toys thinks back to their childhood. That’s what they relate to," said Kyle, standing amid lithographed tin cars, a Cabbage Patch Kid, a miniature piano and a Millennium Falcon from "Star Wars."

"When people talk about history it’s not so much about here (points to his head) but here (points to his heart). That’s why history to a large extent is living memory, and beyond that it becomes history. It becomes something you have to read about."

But for anyone who won’t remember playing with wind-up toys from the 1940s — or, even a wood and metal train from the 1890s, the oldest toy in the collection — this is the chance to see what they were like.

One point Kyle made about the exhibit, though, is that it became an exhibit specifically of 20th-century toys, mainly because manufactured toys just weren’t available in this area prior to that time. Plus, most toys in the 1800s, and earlier, were simple ones made by hand — dolls made from corn husks or a ball for playing outside.

"Especially in this area, store-bought or manufactured toys were very, very, very rare," he said. "Boys’ toys were usually playing games outside, and girls’ were a little more sitting still. And the making it was as much part of the fun as playing with it was. Native American toys, exact same thing, made with organic materials, cloth, things like that."

After calls were made to members of the museum, Kyle acquired an extensive selection of toys spanning nearly 100 years from which to choose for the exhibit. Because of the number of toys loaned, he said he plans to rotate new ones in every so often.

For now, visitors can see Kyle’s favorite Teddy bear perched on a chair near a few doll friends, some metal and plastic race cars, some colorful biwing planes and a staple of 1980s-era toys, including Corvette Barbie. (Author’s note: I had one, and endlessly played with her.)

But that’s not all — because, Kyle said, an exhibit about toys wouldn’t be complete without the chance to actually pull them out and play with them; there is one section of the exhibit dedicated to just that. Kids (and adults) can play with a modern train, blocks, soldiers and even have a tea party, all while surrounded by toys their parents, grandparents or even great-grandparents played with, too.

"Every time we put an exhibit up, we want folks to come away from it with something," Kyle said.

"What we want them to come away from this is to walk in here and look and say, ‘Oh, I had one of those,’ and just think back to when they had one."

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