Ralphie: “No, no! I want an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!”
Santa Claus: “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.”
This iconic scene from A Christmas Story—Ralphie blurting out to the department store Santa that what he really, really wanted for Christmas was a BB gun—maintains icon status because it is universally relatable. There are toys that kids wish for with such passion that they can think of nothing else and cannot be dissuaded from with logic or reason. Shooting your eye out is a small price to pay for that coveted air rifle.
We all have that one toy that we wanted with every fiber of our being—that one toy that elicits a swelling of longing, nostalgia, and possessiveness. My sister and I recently reunited with our neighbors from childhood and spent a few pleasant hours reminiscing about growing up together in the late 70s and early 80s. The four of us were constantly in and out of each other’s houses and playrooms. The nature of my job at The Strong led me to reflect on the toys each household brought to the table and on the toys that had me wishing they were mine.
Our neighbor Charlie not only had the Millennium Falcon, but he had the Millennium Falcon next to his bed that was in a loft in his room. He climbed a ladder to his bed! A ladder! I cannot stress enough how awesome this was. I think he even had a bean bag chair up there—the epitome of 80s luxury decor. I was never allowed to touch the Millennium Falcon, which worked out okay, given my fear of climbing ladders.
Charlie’s sister Lindsay had the Barbie Town House with an elevator. An elevator! She also had the Weebles Tree House with the basket elevator. A basket elevator! Now that I think about it, Charlie also had the Death Star Space Station, complete with the trash compactor, garbage monster, and—you guessed it—an elevator. Charlie’s Castle Grayskull had a ladder and an elevator. Clearly ladders and elevators were a source of wonder to me as a child.
Means of vertical travel were not the only thing that impressed me in case you were thinking that I was myopic in my obsessions. Tricia up the street had a dollhouse that made sounds. Sounds! A phone ringing! A rainstorm! Also, and you might need to sit down for this one: it had lights that worked. Electricity! My favorite thing to do was to turn out the lights in the room, turn on the lights in the dollhouse, and press the rainstorm button. Magical!
Visitors to The Strong will gasp and point to toys on display and say one of two things: “I had that toy!” or “I always wanted that toy!” What toy does that for you? What toy—by sight or by sound—stops you in your tracks? Browse the Trade Catalogs in our Digital Collections and see what catches your eye. In that moment of recognition, we become kids again, with all the joy and longing rushing back, ready to play. Magical.
Article by Beth Merkle, Director of Libraries at The Strong National Museum of Play.