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Sophienburg’s museum and shop decorated for the holidays

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

The Sophienburg Museum and Archives are decorated for the holidays. The foyer features a doll tree and a Scherenschnitte tree. Two displays in the museum, the General Store and the Cabin have old toys. Christmas memories abound with all of us, but have you thought about toys lately? Probably everyone reading this column could conjure up at least one recollection of a past toy.

Toys for children go back in antiquity. Some toys, such as dolls and marbles, have been found in every ancient culture. These objects had their beginnings as religious idols and auguries. Anthropologists learn much about the culture and economics of ancient civilizations by studying toys.

A few toys were brought from Germany with the settlers. The Sophienburg collection has many toys, but few from those early days.

Locally, the first toys sold commercially came from Amalie Henne who operated Tante Amalie’s Christmas Store (where Gabby B’s Boutique is now) from the 1880s until the early 1900s. Amalie, the sister of hardware store owner Louis Henne, ran the small store across the alley where Henne’s stoves and crockery were sold. Every year for about two weeks it became a toy store. Amalie ordered toys from New York. She would cover the store windows so that no one could look in and then have a grand opening before Christmas. AfterChristmas the store would revert back to kitchen supplies.

My favorite toys were dolls. Do I have any of them? No. Would I like to have them? Yes. When I tell you about my dolls, it won’t take long to figure out why they bit the dust.

The first doll that I can remember was a cloth baby doll with rubber head, arms, and legs. At about three years of age, I developed a strong attachment for this doll, sort of like children do for a blanket. I got her for Christmas and immediately unclothed her. From that time on she never wore anything. I named her Doeppenschmidt, not after the funeral home, but because my dad’s grandmother was a Doeppenschmidt. I liked the sound of it and the name stuck. Anyway, I drug around this unclothed creature until her head was attached only at the back of her neck. Out of fear that Doeppenschmidt was going to still be with me when I started to school, my mother hid her in the garbage can. I threw such a fit when I discovered that Doeppenschmidt was gone, that she was retrieved at midnight.

In the 1930s Shirley Temple movies were all the rage and the dolls came in all sizes. Shirley’s clothes reflected the popular styles. And all the parents wanted their little girls to be like her, so sweet, so thoughtful, and so kind. (Uh-huh).My Shirley doll was immediately unclothed and given a haircut.

My cousin Enid Zipp had a set of five tiny Dionne Quintuplet baby dolls. These little girls became famous after surviving a primitive beginning when they were born at home and kept in an oven in the kitchen for warmth.

In my late elementary years, I received a Princess Elizabeth doll (before she was queen) and my friend Betty Ann Timmermann received one too, so we got together to play dolls. By this time I had already initiated my princess by giving her a haircut and changing her clothes to something much more comfortable. Years later, Betty Ann admitted to me that she was always afraid that her dolls would meet the same fate as mine. The Ancient Greeks believed that destruction was the real root of creativity. I take comfort in that. What do you think?

Weihnachtsmarkt and St. Nick put all of us at the Sophienburg in the mood for Christmas. Why not make a visit to the Museum part of your Christmas celebration?

Research Assistant Dorothy Constable holds a 1900s doll in the General Store exhibit. Note two of the Dionne Quints at the bottom of the tree.