Each year, there’s that one big toy that causes parents to schlep from store to store, stand in long lines, and sometimes, break into fistfights.
Usually, the toy comes and goes.
But there’s something different about the Cabbage Patch Kid, which is still drawing fans decades after its release.
“Everybody had them,” says Shannon Burress-Buynak, who first got her doll in 1984 (disclosure: she’s also my sister). “And that was the talk. Whether you were a boy or you were a girl, you had to have a Cabbage Patch Kid, and it had to look like you.”
The family story goes our dad finally found a last few Cabbage Patch Kids just before Christmas. In what sounds like a sketchy, back-room deal, he paid “some guy” a 300 percent premium for the dolls, named Carolina Jacobina (my sister’s), and Wiley Ervin (mine).
Fast forward 30 years, and Mother Cabbage Patch is still pushing out little boy and girl dolls at Babyland General Hospital in Cleveland, Georgia. Picture a green cabbage patch the size of an amusement park carousel with a nurse stationed in its middle, pulling out naked, newborn dolls.
Babyland General is a 70,000 sq ft. replica of an antebellum mansion nestled in the North Georgia Mountains, about 90 miles from Atlanta. It’s part-museum, part-endless retail store. And it’s a far cry from the humble beginnings where Xavier Roberts first created “Little People” in the late ‘70s.
By 1982, the name changed to Cabbage Patch Kids, says Margaret McClain, director of corporate communications at Babyland General. And for the next few years, they were the standard by which toys were judged.
“The demand was not expected,” McClain says of the early-80’s hype. “Sometimes you just don’t anticipate what was going to happen.”
Unlike most popular toys, sales remained strong for decades. In 2010, Time Magazine named the Cabbage Patch to its Top-10 Toy Crazes of all time. Now, a new generation of parents is introducing their children to the phenomenon.
“I was [4 years old], and I was very excited,” says Emily Horas. “It had blond hair and blue eyes, like me.”
She’s brought her son Cody to Babyland to adopt his first doll, Alissa Marie.
So what is it about the Cabbage Patch that still resonates with kids?
“It’s kind of a classic baby doll. Except it’s not. It’s different,” says Chris Bensch, Chief Curator for the Strong Museum in Rochester, New York. The museum is also home to the National Toy Hall of Fame. Bensch says the Cabbage Patch Doll’s adoption papers, custom hair and eye colors, and unusual names distinguish it. So much so, the Cabbage Patch was a finalist for inclusion to the hall of fame in 2010.
It didn’t win.
“I have every confidence that Cabbage Patch Kids will eventually get in,” Bensch says. “It just wasn’t their year in 2010.”
What won that year? The Game of Life and playing cards.
But at least the dolls didn’t compete in 2005, the year the inimitable cardboard box won.