In the small town of Griswold, Iowa, one woman has filled a warehouse with an extraordinary collection of Cabbage Patch Kids. Donna Brown and her family were victims of a house fire in 1985. At the time the Cabbage Patch Kids were capturing America’s fancy far and wide.
“I was collecting dolls and I just collected any doll,” Donna says. “And then my daughter wanted to start the collection again, and I told her, ‘I don’t really want to collect all the other dolls again. So let’s just pick one kind.’ And so she got that little one in the striped suit there, so we decided to collect Cabbage Patch.”
Donna built up her collection through flea markets, thrift stores, garage sales, and gifts from family and friends, as well as through the late night Internet surfing of her husband. They completed the warehouse in 2008, and though he died a couple of years later, Donna has remained wholly devoted to warming the hearts of visitors.
“I joined a newsletter, and my granddaughter puts it on Facebook and stuff, and then we got the signs on the highway, and the word of mouth really,” Donna remarks. “When we first started this, we went around to all the little towns with flyers…we had them in the house. Then we wanted to get them out of the house, so we got a trailer house and filled that up. Then we got another trailer house, and then we decided to make this museum. When we was building this I told my husband, ‘This is not going to be big enough,’ and he said ‘This is going to be big enough.’ It wasn’t.”
Brown was right – donations have come fast and furious.
“We got another car load yesterday,” she says. “Of course I’m known as the Cabbage Patch lady, and anybody that don’t want their Cabbage Patches, they bring them to me.”
The credit for the invention of Cabbage Patch Kids goes to Xavier Roberts, an art student from Georgia, in 1978. He created soft sculptures using the German technique for fabric sculpture and developed an idea for adoptable dolls he’d call “Little People.” They were made for family and friends and exhibited at art shows. He began selling them and in 1982 he entered into a licensing agreement which allowed for a toy replica of the Little People Originals. Those replicas, which are of smaller size and have vinyl heads, became the Cabbage Patch Kids.
There’s a controversy in that Roberts based his creation off that of another doll-maker, Martha Nelson Thomas. But however you view Roberts and the Cabbage Patch Dolls’ cloudy history, it remains indisputable that the dolls skyrocketed to the top of many kids’ Christmas lists, and emerged as one of the most popular toys of the mid-1980s.
If it’s something to do with Cabbage Patch, Donna probably has it: furniture, toys, accessories, buttons, magazines, lunch boxes, and much more. And she has possibly every edition made, from the rarest to the most common.
Perhaps most interestingly is the case of the Snack Time Kids, which debuted in 1996 and were soon recalled. Designed to eat accompanying plastic food, some of the dolls got mouthfuls of human hair and fingers. Donna shows me how they work, but now she’s hesitant to demonstrate them to kids.
“The other day a little boy came in here and put a finger right in its mouth and said ‘I want to know if it will bite me.’ It shocked him. I said ‘You know little kids like you is why they we don’t have them.’ Scared me to death.”
A Cabbage Patch Kid took a ride in a space shuttle; that doll is in a museum, but Donna has created a loving tribute with descriptions and props. Another display celebrates Cabbage Patch Kids as the mascot of the 1992 and 1996 Olympics. There’s a school, too, complete with Cabbage Patch coloring books and a themed bus.
Certain Cabbage Patch Kids developed dots on their skin, known to collectors as “Pox,” and Donna made a nursery for them which includes incubators. She used to think it the dots were mold, but learned it was an aberration possibly due to manufacturing error or storage environments.
She has the washing machine that really works, potty chairs which sound like a real toilet flush, and high chairs that hook onto tables so the dolls can dine with their owners.
“I say I’d like to have one of everything they made, but I don’t know what all they made,” she says. “Anytime it says Cabbage Patch I get it. So we have a lot of duplicates.”
The dolls are in a variety of conditions, depending on where or from whom she obtained them.
“If I got ‘em in the box I never did take them out of the box,” she says. “Xavier…told everybody that had him in boxes to take them out of the boxes because a baby wasn’t born in a box. I’ll never sell them, but later on you don’t know what somebody else is gonna do with them…you always get more if you have them in the box.”
Nowadays, Donna’s regular companions are the Cabbage Patch Kids and her dog. “I was so lonely, and I got him,” she says about her four-legged friend. “He’s grown so attached to me. I’m the only one he knows. The vet said I’ve never seen a dog so close to anybody. He can be a pain…but at least someone’s there moving around, you know?”
A guest book proves how Fantasyland has touched the hearts and sparked the imaginations of people far and wide. There’s not much else to see in Griswold, after all. She’s expecting a tour bus filled with 40 people soon, and we’re sure they’re not there to see the corn.