I spend a fair amount of time in Rochester, NY and the surrounding areas. It’s about a 3.5 hour drive from Albany and is the home of my good pal and sorority sister Alex, who is often my partner in crime for some of my sports excursions (much to the annoyance of her son, who doesn’t always get to tag along with us). Rochester turns out to be a good midway point to several baseball stadiums – from there we’ve made the trip to Cleveland and Toronto and are headed to Pittsburgh Labor Day weekend. Staying in Rochester makes going to Bills games a whole lot easier than when I used to make the roundtrip in the same day; when the Field of Dreams game was played at Frontier Field, there wasn’t much doubt that I’d be there as well.
So for a city that I don’t live all that close to and that isn’t a thriving metropolis the way that NYC or Boston is, I usually know what’s going on in Flower City. I may have never had a “garbage plate,” but I know where to get one (that would be Nick Tahou’s). It therefore came as something of a surprise to me to be reading Grantland and discover that there was a Toy Hall of Fame located in the National Museum of Play in Rochester. Thanks to Rembert Browne’s hilarious post about his stop there, I knew that this was a place that I had to check out. It was totally up my alley as it was filled with pop culture goodness. I hadn’t even finished reading the article when I sent Alex a link to the story with the message “You’ve been holding out on me.” For all the times that she has lamented that there is nothing to do in Rochester, here she was sitting on a pot of gold!
It turns out that she was of course well aware of its existence, but as a mother of two she viewed the museum as much less tantalizing prospect than I did. It’s one thing to be able to breeze through, looking at exhibits, with no responsibility for any other little human in the place; it is quite another to spend an afternoon surrounded by screaming children and pretend to be interested in watching your offspring play with the same stuff that they’ve played with many times before. As a Museum of Play veteran, she asked me if I was really sure that I wanted to go; this wasn’t a place that a lot of 30 something year old women with no kids would enjoy. But I’m not most people, so I reiterated my desire to check this place out the next time that I came to visit. So when I rolled into town in early August to attend the PGA Championship, we rounded up her two kids (plus two more) and made our way to the Museum of Play/Toy Hall of Fame.
I have to admit that as we pulled into the parking lot I was a little apprehensive; I like kids, but a lot of them in one place can be a little overwhelming. I was hoping that I hadn’t overestimated my tolerance for a lot of little ones who would understandably be very excited and running around. It was the Museum of Play, after all, so I had to expect that there would be some rambunctious kids. Thankfully, we played the situation just right – the Museum is open late on Friday and Saturdays, so we got there in the late afternoon when most people were headed home for dinner. While there were still families there, it was a manageable number and the kids that were there were on the more subdued side. Screaming and yelling was at a minimum and it was easy to move around. The kids were mostly concentrated in the play areas, which worked out well since I was more interested in the exhibits. We all peacefully coexisted.
I have to say, this was a pretty cool place if you were a kid. There were all sorts of fun things to do: playhouses and trains to hang out in, a carousel to ride, games to play and even a replica of a Wegman’s supermarket to “shop” in (the greatest supermarket ever, which sadly isn’t in Albany). They even had a Sesame Street set to play on, which stirred some long repressed resentment about the fact that I never went to Sesame Place as a kid. I can hold a grudge like Mussolini.
This was all fine and good, but it is no longer socially acceptable for me to be hanging out with Big Bird. I needed to find the stuff that was geared toward my demographic and would create a sense of nostalgia. It wasn’t until I saw this that I knew that this was indeed a place for me as well:
A Peyton Manning jack-in-the-box? It took all the self-control I have not to bust open that display case, grab that treasure and make a run for the car.
From then on it was one awesome thing after another. There was Barbie running for president and the Ashley the Attorney doll
A Jackie Robinson action figure
She-Ra, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, PowerPuff Girls, Transformers and Yoda – all in the same display! I tried not to get upset when a little girl referenced these as “antique toys.”
A ton of Star Wars figures, most of whom I didn’t recognize
From there it was on to the actual Toy Hall of Fame, where some old favorites have been inducted. There was Play-doh
…and Mr. Potato Head…….
and LEGOs (and we all know how I love LEGOs).
Around the corner was an entire section dedicated to board games and puzzles. I was in heaven!
Roots was a board game? That seems like an awkward way to spend an evening.
The Watergate Scandal game – where even when you win, you lose
Rock’em Sock’em Robots, Elvis, Jaws AND Barrel of Monkeys? This is an embarrassment of riches!
I’ve played this game and it is as hilarious and depressing as you would expect.
I actually have this version of Clue; I inherited it and never upgraded to a newer edition.
Yay! More Jackie Robinson!
Who knew Parcheesi was this old?
District Messenger Boy is definitely an old school game.
J.R. would be proud.
It’s a little disconcerting how many games are about getting rich. Also, suck it Trump.
How did I not know that THIS existed?
I have no idea what this is all about, but this is the craziest thing in the display.
Correction – THIS is the craziest thing. And yet I really want it.
I’m curious who the audience was for this puzzle.
From here, it was on to the dolls. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this wall o’brides and the message that it sent little girls.
I was more impressed with the collection of international Barbies
Hey look – Barbie and Ken as both The Addams Family and Mulder and Scully
I’m not surprised that the only NKOTB doll I could find was Joe, because he is the best
Ha! This doll reminded me of Anchorman
I almost missed that it was right in front of dolls of William and Kate – this exhibit was current!
There was a display that had toys grouped by decade and I admit that I had a wave of nostalgia looking at the toys from the 80s. I spent more time than I should have playing Pac-Man on the Atari that was set up
I actually had that Strawberry Shortcake gazebo that is behind Ronald Reagan
There was a whole arcade of classic video games to play. I wasted a few tokens on Donkey Kong Jr., which I realized that I didn’t actually know how to play. It was embarrassing how poorly I did. I wandered around the arcade looking for some way to redeem myself. And then, like the holy grail, this appeared to me:
Now, here’s something that you may not know about me – I LOVE pinball. If a see a pinball machine anywhere, I am compelled to play it. I would have a pinball machine in my home if it was financially viable. I have no idea what draws me to this game, but I could spend all day just pulling the little lever to launch the ball and flip those paddles. I’m no Pinball Wizard, but I’m not terrible either. So I knew that this is where the rest of my tokens would wind up. I had one really good game and when I looked up I realized that there were a bunch of people around me watching me play. This could be because little kids had never actually seen a pinball machine before or because they were curious what the old lady was up to. Or they could have been waiting for a chance to play, which was too bad because I wasn’t moving until all my tokens were gone. Those kids had a whole museum to play in – to paraphrase The Goonies, this was MY time.
I eventually used up all my tokens and, sensing that the kids were getting restless and were hungry, begrudgingly walked away from the machine. While the kids finished up their dinner, we made a quick detour through the comic book super hero exhibit. It wasn’t anything all that earth shattering, but I had to check it out.
I was surprised to find out that one of the creators of Captain America was from Rochester; this was a fact I thought I would have heard before.
We made a quick pass through The Berenstain Bears section (and debated their “smugness”) and collected the kids. After a quick ride on the carousel, which I declined, my adventure in the Museum of Play had come to an end. It was actually a much more fun encounter than I expected; I got to see a lot of cool stuff and was reminded of a lot of toys that I had coveted as a child (and might still covet a little as an adult). The general emptiness of the place definitely contributed to an enjoyable overall experience. I can only imagine what that place is like when it is at full capacity. If you are in the Rochester area, it is worth a trip – definitely if you have kids, but even if you don’t I still think it would be a fun little stop. Thanks to Alex, Danny and Olivia for accompanying me on the journey. And if you’ll excuse me, I need to go price some pinball machines on eBay. 🙂