National Toy Hall of Fame in Salem may seem like child's play,
but try telling that to Mr. Potato Head.
you get in, there are the achingly familiar objectsteddy bears,
marbles, Crayola crayons, Play-Doh containers, Etch A Sketch screens,
Frisbees, Erector Sets, Tinker Toys, Legos, Barbie dolls, Monopoly
games. Things youre used to seeing scattered on a playroom
floor or stuffed in the back of closetshere theyre on
shelves in tall glass display cases, carefully lit and arranged.
It looks like the worlds most fastidious garage sale. But
this is, indeed, the fledgling National Toy Hall of Fame in Salem,
in the 9-year-old A.C. Gilberts Discovery Village, a childrens
museum on the shady banks of the Willamette River, the hall was
the brainchild of former executive director Ed Sobey as a way to
acknowledge toys as learning tools. The first class of inductees
to the hallthose Babe Ruths and Ty Cobbs of playthingswere
announced in October of last year. Naturally, there was controversy.
Students from nearby Willamette University learned that Mr. Potato
Head and Barbies friend Ken were not included. Outraged at
the oversight, they staged a good-natured "protest," and
some students dressed up as their slighted heroes.
might be upset again," sighs Pamela Vorachek, the Discovery
Villages new executive director. "Ken and Mr. Potato
Head didnt make the next class either."
might make it someday of courseMr. Potato Head was not caught
gambling on Candyland games or anything. Its just that the
13 people who comprise the selection committeethe First Lady
of Oregon, educators, toy company ownershave so many toys
to choose from and so few restrictions. The idea, Vorachek says,
is to honor toys that have demonstrated long-lasting and widespread
appeal"Who hasnt touched a Crayola crayon?"
she says. And toys that can be used to create other toys clearly
have an edge with the selection committee. But, beyond that, anything
second classLincoln Logs, the Hula Hoop, Duncan Yo-Yos, View-Master,
roller skates, and the Radio Flyer red wagonwill be formally
inducted in November. Ken will have to sit back and continue to
wait. Perhaps he can take comfort in the fact that G.I. Joe hasnt
made the cut yet either.
course, anyone can nominate any toy through the Hall of Fames
Web site or during a visit, and the list of potential Hall of Fame
toys is formidable and sometimes silly. "Baby blankets"
have been nominatedtheyre more obsession than plaything,
really. But there is potential argument in almost every possible
inductee. Is Chatty Cathy more worthy than Rock Em Sock Em
Robots? What about Mouse Trap versus chess? If the bicycle gets
in, why not the tricycle?
is potential argument in almost every possible inductee.
surprisingly, the Hall of Fame appeals more to seniors and aging
baby boomers. But this is not a huge problemthe rest of the
facility is made for kids.
brightly painted, Queen Anne-style houses make up the "Discovery
Village." The backs of the houses open on a large playground
with a two-story high spiral slide and a massive climbing structure
("The Worlds Largest Erector Set") and huge sandbox.
Inside the houses are the Hall of Fame, a gift shop, a glass beehive
crawling with busy insects, and the museum itselfwhich meanders
from bright room to bright roomfull of puzzles and fun house
mirrors and historical murals and things to touch and see and smell.
would be just fine with Alfred Carlton Gilbert, the museums
namesake and inspiration. Gilbert, who grew up in Salem, won the
pole vaulting gold medal at the 1908 Olympics, and graduated from
Yale medical school. Yet he dedicated his adult life to helping
children learn through play. He started by marketing a childs
magic set and his best known invention was the Erector Set. When
he died in 1964, he held more than 150 patents. His exceptional
life is documented in a small room at the museum, which includes
old photographs, athletic medals, and toys. Still, as in the Hall
of Fame, young visitors arent much interested in old artifacts
behind glass. There are too many other things to do, touch, play
bubble roomwhere kids can make giant soap bubblesincludes
a contraption where a child can stand on a platform and pull a rope,
engulfing the rope-puller in a bubble tube. Gravity, if not the
inevitable shriek of delight, quickly breaks the soap film. Another
room has dress-up clothes from around the world. Yet another has
a fancy puppet show stage.
the idea behind all of the exhibits is for kids to learn something,
whether they know it or not. Signs on the walls ask encouraging,
earnest, teacher-type questions: "Which square is bigger?"
(an old optical illusion trick painted on the walls), or "Why
are the shadows different colors?" And though they may be learning,
it may not seem obvious. Kids pay as much attention to the signs
as they would a big steaming bowl of spinach. They simply rush on
to find something to pound or climb or hear or paint or wear.
of course, dont even take time to read a small sign in the
A.C. Gilbert room: "A.C.s personal philosophy of life
was that any undertaking, whether business, sport or hobby, should
be fun." Which is only fitting in this place.
A.C. Gilberts Discovery Village
is located at 116 Marion Street N.E. in Salem. Phone (503) 371-3631.