Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Day Tripper

By Steven J. Westman

MARCH 9, 1998:  A Trip Through the Doll Museum and Shoppe

Call me queer, but I love Barbie. As a boy I spent my weekends playing with my two cousins at our grandparents' house. The two girls had every Barbie, Skipper and Midge out at the time. They also had big Barbie houses and cool Barbie cars and groovy '60s-style clothes. I played alongside them with my best pal, Johnny West, a Western hero pre-cast in a cowboy suit. I was hugely jealous of the multicolor miniskirts and babushkas that Barbie looked so fabulous in. So when my cousins were not around, I would try to slip Johnny into something slinky; he just didn't have the hips.

Thirtysome-odd years later I've grown up--a bit. My house is filled with remnants from my childhood. Two weeks ago, I was wandering through a thrift store and stumbled across an old Johnny West doll. I purchased him for $8. My amazement at finding such a relic inspired me to take a trip down memory lane to The Doll Museum and Shoppe.

This plantation-like building sits at the corner of Constitution and San Mateo, right behind the shocking-pink Empress Shop. You enter through a big white door into the doll shop. The walls are lined with shelves full of dolls and tons of doll paraphernalia. If you're one of those crazy Beanie Baby collectors, their selection is massive. I was especially impressed by the vintage Barbie and Ken outfits they had for sale. The least expensive piece I found was an apres-ski suit for $70. It was handsome, though. After browsing, I decided to head into the museum.

A $4.50 fee at the door and I was in the museum with many glassed cases housing different types of dolls: cloth, china, hard plastic, mainly antique dolls. One case holds a series of presidents' wives. The funny thing is that they are all the same doll, just different dresses and hairdos. These cookie-cutter wives are pretty cool, especially Grace Coolidge and Mamie Eisenhower. Another fascinating display is the Quinte Dolls, dolls fashioned after the tragic Dionne quintuplets that were whisked away from their family to live their lives like circus freaks in Canada. There are news clippings and advertisements alongside that show you what was happening. There are celebrity dolls and the famous Sasha dolls from Switzerland. But the best part was at the end of the trail: Barbie heaven!

There are literally thousands of Barbie dolls here, dating as far back as 1959 when Barbie was born. Parts of the display show the dolls in different locations. She's been everywhere--at the disco, on the ranch, on the slopes, in Switzerland, Mexico and Japan. She's been in the military and even an astronaut. It was the dolls from the '60s that I found the most mesmerizing: cool clothes, dark eye shadow and more attitude than the new Barbies. A lounging Ken doll and his friend, Allen, feature the now-defunct bendable legs from 1964, as they lay on the deck chairs by the Barbie pool. There are Bob Mackie Barbies and Bubble Cut Barbies--a complete sensory overload. It's pretty incredible how one plastic doll has left such an indelible mark on culture.

I exited the museum back through the doll shop. Checking out the prices on the Barbie dolls, I decided these would make great gifts for my friends this year. So I'm making a list and will be back soon.

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