Shine: Playing with Dolls at The Toy Museum

What if you didn’t have to put your toys in storage when you became an adult? What if you could always play dress-up and use your imagination to dream fascinating new worlds? Marlene Hochman gets to do all of those things and more as the founder and director of The Toy Museum of NY.

Marlene is kind enough to rent the museum space to my group, The Writers’ Salon. I can’t think of a more inspirational place for writers to gather than surrounded by lovable and nostalgic toys. There are Raggedy Ann and Andy, Mr. Potato Head and Cabbage Patch dolls to take us back to a time when perhaps we were freer to be our most creative selves. Marlene started The Toy Museum in 1999 with her own dolls.  Since then, people have donated toys and dolls to grow the collection to over 5,000.

The museum is a small space in the community center of St. Ann’s Church in Brooklyn Heights, but she has made the most of every square inch, adding just the right decorations and paint to make the kids feel they’ve entered a wonderland. When the school groups come, they sit on the floor all nestled together and Marlene starts the show, The Adventures of Queen Marlene. Sometimes the older ones are hesitant to participate because they’re too cool, but before you know it, they’re enraptured also. They’re raising their hands to be helpers and answering questions as Marlene takes them through the history of toys. And when Queen Marlene’s naughty “doll” Raggedy, played by an actress, accidentally breaks one of the fragile porcelain dolls, the kids are the first to sell Raggedy out. They absolutely cannot keep Raggedy’s secret and blurt it to Queen Marlene as soon as she returns onstage. They always tell.

The kids are so excited and engaged because Marlene is excited and engaged. She’s passionate about introducing them to these toys that she loves so much. Laughter and song fill the room. There isn’t a much better reward than bringing joy to children from the joy that’s within you.  It’s a continuous cycle of fulfillment.

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A few questions with Marlene Hochman of The Toy Museum

When did your interest in toys begin?
In 1997, I wrote a few books on dolls and was looking for more information about antique dolls. I realized there was no museum of toys in New York City.

How did you get the idea to start The Toy Museum?  
There was a need for information, and there was no museum specifically focused on toys. It was a crazy idea, but I was willing to work hard to try and create an educational museum for the children of New York.

How many kids come to the museum? 
About 7,000 annually
 How many dolls are in the collection?  
We have about 5,000 toys in the collection and about 100 large and miniature dolls.
 
How do you get the dolls? 
Everything in the collection has been donated.

Where there any obstacles in getting The Toy Museum up and running? 
Yes, many, including space, money and help.


Do you have a particularly memorable experience with the kids that you’d like to share? 

One kid said that he hoped when he was older he could live here at the museum.  Another child told me it was the best day of her life.

What do you hope the kids (and parents/teachers) take away from their visit?
I hope they leave thinking it was a magical experience.

Do you have a favorite toy? 
Yes! China-head dolls from the 1880s.
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Did you play with a Slinky when you were a kid? Maybe you still do. (I’m not judging!) Here’s a short video of Marlene talking about how the Slinky came to be! What were some of your favorite toys growing up? 

Read past stories on SHINE here.

If you or anyone you know should be featured in SHINE, please let me know: contact  {at}   jacquelincangro  DOT   com.

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12 comments

    1. It really is. I mean, how could a writer, not be inspired at a Toy Museum. Marlene is so creative! Thanks for stopping by Jennie.

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