CLEVELAND - They threw a big birthday party Saturday in the Cabbage Patch.
Lovers of the Cabbage Patch Kids of all ages marked the puffy-faced dolls' 25th anniversary in Cleveland at an event outside BabyLand General Hospital with cake, rides, giveaways and an appearance by the man who started it all.
Cabbage Patch Kids creator Xavier Roberts was treated like a rock star as he strode into the crowd mid-day in black suit, sunglasses and fedora, amiably posing for picture after picture with dozens of fans clutching his dolls.
He called the large, overflow turnout "surprising" and "a little overwhelming."
"It makes you feel kind of humble, the fact that it's been 25 years, and now you're seeing a whole new generation of kids," said Roberts, who was 28 years old when he licensed his original "Little People" fabric sculpture designs for mass production under the Cabbage Patch Kids moniker in 1983. "It's just fun seeing their faces, especially the kids' faces."
On Saturday, Kallie Middlebrooks, age 8, "adopted" an infant boy at BabyLand, the name Mason Avery on his birth certificate and Roberts' stylized signature stamped on his fanny.
"I love him," she said. Kallie's mom, 33-year-old Ashley Middlebrooks, owned a pair of original Little People in the early 1980s when she was a girl.
Explaining their appeal, Middlebrooks said: "All little girls want to be mommies."
Ashley Middlebrooks' mother, Janice Parker, called the gathering of Cabbage Patch Kids enthusiasts "amazing."
"It's something that little girls and little boys need," she said. "And grandmothers, too."
Some have taken their love of the dolls to extremes. Super-collectors Bob and Eileen Cancilla flew in this week from Bellmont, Calif., to make their regular pilgrimage to the birthplace of the Cabbage Patch Kids.
They own 1,700 of them, believed to be the largest collection in the world. They bought their first doll in 1984 at a San Francisco Neiman Marcus store where Roberts was appearing.
"Of all the dolls my wife collects, these are the ones I like," Bob Cancilla said.
Cancilla said he enjoys the fantasy aspects inherit in the dolls. He recently compiled a birthday photo album of one of his many "kids."
"I like the uniqueness of their faces, and the way you can squeeze them," Cancilla said.
Cancilla, a 66-year-old director of security for a community college, believes the dolls are regaining popularity as the original owners have children of their own.
"What we're seeing is it starting over with the second generation," Cancilla said. "It's a resurgence of the 1980s."
In 1985, Anna Becnel of Flowery Branch couldn't find a Cabbage Patch Kid for her daughter anywhere. She and her husband finally hit paydirt - not in Georgia, or even the United States, but in England.
"They were so scarce," she said. Now her 4-year-old granddaughter has one of the approximately 115 million Cabbage Patch Kids produced.
Collector's club member Tomoko Kawakami and her husband came from Los Angeles to join the festivities, including a special Friday night dinner for the dolls' biggest devotees.
"I only own one," she said. Her husband, she joked, has "too many."
Cleveland City Council member Rush Mauney said the impact that the city has seen from the Cabbage Patch Kids goes beyond the economic boost.
"There's the psychological impact," he said. "People are proud that Cleveland is home of the Cabbage Patch Kids. When you're traveling and tell people you're from Cleveland, that tagline, ‘home of the Cabbage Patch Kids' always goes with it."
He said the massive turnout - estimated at well in excess of 1,000 people - showed the continued viability of the Cabbage Patch Kids industry.
"I've seen a lot of excitement here today that takes me back 25 or 30 years ago," Mauney said.