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A New Interactive Exhibit About Old Toys

Donna Eschenbrenner

Come Play With Us — Early Toys from the Collection will run April 1 until August 20 at Tompkins County History Center

Play is as natural to us as breathing.

We begin playing with our first sight of a parent’s smiling face and wiggling fingers, and keep at it long after we are old enough to become parents and grandparents ourselves. Toys and games enhance our play, making it richer and more complex.

The History Center is opening a new interactive exhibit featuring some of the many historical toys and games from our collections. Modern examples meant for hands-on exploration will accompany the artifacts we are featuring.

Visitors will be encouraged to put together our puzzles and play with Brio trains; a “whizzer” and a wooden acrobat will remind older patrons about growing up in the middle years of the 20th century, and the Cornell Railroad Historical Society will lend us their O-gauge model train layout for us all to enjoy.

Play and toys can be used to educate as well as entertain, and thoughtful educators understand this. Todd Crawford, Boynton Middle School 6th grade teacher gave his students Dinky Town toy cars from the 1940s and ‘50s and asked them to research the model year of the car and relate five facts about each year, and then to portray one of those facts in a diorama.

The result is an interesting display of 3-D history as seen through the prism of bright sixth graders and some common toys. Many of these engaging dioramas will be on display alongside our artifacts.

Accompanying the toys will be several photographs of Ithaca photographer Sol Goldberg from the 1960s. Goldberg was an award-winning photojournalist who documented local life for the Ithaca Journal for many years. The samples in this exhibit will feature his whimsical portrayal of local people in their playful moments.

This exhibit examines the way play has changed — and stayed the same — over the years. It is a celebration of play and childhood, for the child in all of us.

Opening on Gallery Night, April 1, Come Play With Us — Early Toys from the Collection will be on display until August 20. We will feature Game Days on the second Saturday of each month, from noon to 4 p.m., with lots of games for everyone to play. Bring your friends and family and come play with us!

Share your experiences of play with us on twitter using the hashtag #ComePlayWithUs.

Donna Eschenbrenner is the archivist at The History Center in Tompkins County

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