Casper the Friendly Ghost posed in a living room cabinet lined with daisy wallpaper. Nearby, a floor-model television set ran a loop of 1960s toy commercials.
Sharon Smith grinned as she looked at the doll, one of hundreds of “artifacts” that are part of TOYS of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, a free exhibit at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis that runs through Jan. 22, 2017.
“My favorite doll growing up was the Casper doll that talked,” she said. A curator at the museum, Sharon thought about the doll over the decades — she had lost track of hers as a kid of the 1960s. “Seeing him up close and personal” as an adult did more than make her smile.
“You go right back to the memories,” she said. And, she knows she’s not alone in how the exhibit will make people harken back to younger years.
Across the 1960s-era living room with its sofa and matching end table was another cabinet, housing a family of Barbie dolls. Up on a shelf were “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” figurines. Around the corner, the three-dimensional board game Mouse Trap was set up on a table.
“I think we’ll see a lot of people commenting, ‘I had one of those’ or ‘I remember that,’” said Sharon, who graduated from high school in the mid-1970s. “It takes you back. ‘I remember how we played with that at Grandma’s house.’”
Created by the Minnesota History Museum, the exhibit gives the toys meaning beyond being playthings by placing them in three living rooms, each created for its decade. Sit on the furniture, take a look around and enjoy the TV commercials that enticed kids and inevitably made parents buy toys of that era.
The 1950s room has a tan Naugahyde cowboy couch, cocktail table and matching chairs with wagon wheels as legs. Look up and you’ll see a wooden rocking horse from The Lone Ranger mounted on the wall. Hopalong Cassidy gets his own bric-a-brac shelf. Chatty Cathy sits in a corner display case, next to a black baby doll made by the B. Wright Toy Co. in the late 1950s. Beatrice Wright Brewington was an African-American female entrepreneur and educator who realized the need for natural-looking dolls for children of color.
Around the corner from the 1960s living room is the psychedelically decorated 1970s hangout for Bert and Ernie dolls from “Sesame Street.” Admire the gold crushed velvet sofa, but make sure to check out the Pet Rock, Evel Knievel stunt cycle, Holly Hobbie dolls and Playskool’s McDonald’s restaurant set.
Nearby is a cool display of monsters, superheroes and villains, from Dracula and Werewolf paint-and assemble-yourself kits to a rare 6-inch-tall scaly green creature called Son of Garloo to action figure (never call him a doll) G.I. Joe.
At the back of the exhibit is a backyard “outdoor play” display surrounded by a white picket fence and filled with fun stuff, from a 1976 Schwinn Sting-Ray bike — complete with banana seat and high handlebars — to outlawed lawn Jarts and a 1960s Mustang 15 skateboard.
To make some of the toys of yesterday connect with kids (of all ages) today, the exhibit also has “multi-generational play space,” said Sharon.
Race a pair of Slinkys down a set of stairs. Test you wits in a trivia game where four can play at a big-screen console. Toss Nerf balls and whirl a Hula-Hoop. Mr. Potato Head, Gumby and a Barrel of Monkey are waiting for you and the Simon Says electronic game is a trickster.
Don’t miss the wall of drawers filled with all kinds of plastic toys kids can assemble or use to inhabit a big wooden dollhouse.
That’s what Marilyn and Bob Bennett, of St. Louis, were exploring at the front of the exhibit.
“I like the trivia game and I saw a metal dollhouse that was like one I had,” said Marilyn as she picked up a Dressy Bessy doll. “I remember these.”
Bob smiled when he said he’d seen a set of Lincoln Logs during their walk around the exhibit.
“I got those one year for Christmas.”
At a glance
Here’s what you should know about TOYS of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s:
- What: Exhibit of more than 250 toys in living room settings, plus a hands-on play area for kids of all ages
- When: Through Jan. 22, 2017. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
- Where: Missouri History Museum, Lindell and DeBaliviere in Forest Park, St. Louis
- Admission: Free to museum and exhibit
- Information: 314-746-4599 and mohistory.org/toys