In 1983, the Baby Boomers took to rioting over Cabbage Path Kids: nylon dolls with plastic heads, yarn hair, and adoption papers with names like Norine Marietta, Chauncey Nolan, and Sheldon Rex. My 15-inch talcum powder-scented “Preemie” was named Celeste Blossom. The result of an early frost on the Cabbage Patch, Preemies were premature baby versions of the dolls, smaller and mostly bald, with tiny Manchu queue tufts of yarn.
“They’re one of a kind,” sang Coleco’s ad, “They’re Cabbage Patch Kids Preemies, you can give them all of your love!”
Preemie Designer Clothes: Old-Fashioned Girl
Little People Pals:
This was all to come back in 1981, when the man whose signature would become familiar to millions of children posed with Butch, Baby Sweetie, Baby Buddy, Bunny, Tuffie, and Curly Locks. Xavier Roberts made his Little People Pals at a converted a turn-of-the-century medical clinic he called Babyland General Hospital in Cleveland, Georgia.
Married advertising executives Roger Schlaifer and Suzanne Nance* wrote the toy’s creation myth. The Little People Pals became the Cabbage Patch Kids. The kids were grown in a patch of cabbage blossoms, asexually pollinated when “bunnybees” (bee-rabbit hybrids) sprinkled them with magic crystals. In 1982, Schlaifer, Nance & Co. arranged for Coleco Industries to begin mass-producing the dolls in Amsterdam, New York.
Random computer applications ensured that every Cabbage Patch Kid remained unique, with varied names, hair, clothes, freckles, and eye colours. Stamps of Xavier Roberts’ signature adorned the left cheek of every doll’s bottom, like Michelangelo’s signature carved into the sash across the Virgin’s chest in the Pietà.
The Cabbage Patch Kids were the most successful new doll in the history of the toy industry. Three million had been sold by 1984. Cabbage Patch Kids cost $30.00, but went for three times as much on the black market. In 1985, a Cabbage Patch Kid named Christopher Xavier travelled to outer space on NASA’s Discovery. New dolls were constantly being introduced; Show Ponies, which came in their own stables; Cabbage Patch Kids Young Astronauts in rocket-shaped boxes; Cabbage Patch Cornsilk Kids with silky Barbie hair.**
The dolls ostensibly weren’t purchased: they were adopted. Coleco mailed a card on the doll’s first birthday. Cabbage Patch Kids travelled with their young owners in baby slings and fold-up umbrella strollers. No generation had been as exalted as the children growing up in the 1980s. Parents who had been whipped with wooden spoons and sent to bed without dinner slept on pavements and stampeded through department stores to acquire Cabbage Patch Kids in time for Christmas.
Eventually, the fever subsided. Once carefully strapped into custom-made car seats and treated as real by entire families, Cabbage Patch Kids were left at home, discarded, defiled. Oozing cotton, they languished in cupboards and under beds, their yarn hair greying with dust. Coleco filed for protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code in 1988.
Biodegradation occurs over the course of centuries. Landfills are not giant composters, wrote the authors of Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage, “Rather, they are vast mummifiers.” Mankind has not seen the last of little Gustave Brandon, Carla Adrianna, and Ginevra Ruth.
Babyland General Hospital:
Cabbage Patch Kids were never out of production. Hasbro took over from Coleco in 1988, then Mattel (1994-2003), and, briefly, Toys ‘R’ Us Kids. Play Along Toys have had the concession since 2004. A wholly owned division of Jakks Pacific, Inc., Play Along Toys manufactures the dolls at Foshan Nanhai Changyang Toys & Gifts Factory, in Guangdong, China.
Xavier Robert’s company Original Appalachian Artworks Inc. retained ownership of the Cabbage Patch Kids concept. Babyland General Hospital stayed open. Original Handstitched Cabbage Patch Kids are still made in Cleveland, Georgia. “Roberts has remained loyal to his hometown” wrote Sharon M. Scott in Toys and American Culture: An Encyclopaedia, “And has contributed greatly to the community where he was raised.”
In 2010, Xavier Roberts cut the ribbon at the dedication of a new Babyland General Hospital, an antebellum mansion on 650 acres in the North Georgia Mountains.
“I’ve gotten to meet a lot of (the collectors) over the years, so it really is like a family when you really get to see them and catch up with them, and see what they’ve done, and see the grand-kids,” he told the Gainesville Times.
Admission to Babyland General Hospital is free. Prototype Little People Pals are mounted in the lobby. Cabbage Patch Kids are displayed in a variety of dioramas; a schoolhouse, an elaborate pink nursery, rows of incubators and cribs stuffed with Cabbage Patch Newborn Babies.
Mother Cabbage goes into labour every hour. Cabbage Patch Kids are delivered by staff dressed in physician scrubs or nurse uniforms with starched white caps. The Licensed Patch Nurse administers “Imagicillin” and urges Mother Cabbage to push. At the conclusion of the Birthing Ceremony, the LPN shows off Xavier Robert’s signature.
A variety of dolls are for sale. Children can place orders specifying gender, hair and eye colour, and choose the doll’s names. Exclusive Babyland General kids with vinyl heads cost $69.00 to adopt. Original kids with soft-sculpture heads go for $295.00.
Magic Crystal Valley
Pat Prosey didn’t buy her first Cabbage Patch Kid until 1985, when the fad was winding down.
“I walked into an antique store,” she told Anderson Cooper, “And there was this Cabbage Patch Kid and I thought: ‘Wow.’ It was a girl, and her name was Meg. I thought, ‘I’d just like to get one,’ and see what the whole shebang was about. Then my girlfriend called me, and said one of the department stores had gotten a big shipment in, and did I want one. And I said: ‘You know what, get me a boy’.”
Pat and her husband Joe Prosey own over 5,000 Cabbage Patch Kids. The Proseys built a 6,000 square foot climate-controlled building to house their collection. They have also built a small amusement park called Magic Crystal Valley in their backyard.
Private tours are available to all Cabbage Patch Kids collectors free of charge. In 2008, the Magic Crystal Valley hosted a signing party for Xavier Roberts and his Original Appalachian Artworks staff.
Kevin, the boy Pat acquired in 1985, is the Proseys’ favourite. Kevin has been personally autographed by Xavier Roberts and appeared with them on Anderson dressed in a tuxedo. The Proseys brought Kevin when they visited their daughter Vicky in California. “He got his picture taken on the Walk of Fame. I just kept walking like I didn’t know who they were.”
“In the Cabbage Patch world, most all the collectors, the big time collectors, have a special Cabbage Patch Kid that they love, and carry with them, just like we do Kevin,” Joe said. “And they all have their own personality, and, we’ve found out over the years, they all have their own voice. It’s just a fun thing to do.”
The Proseys and their fellow enthusiasts are gentle, whimsical people. In their Magic Crystal Valley, Cabbage Patch Kids ride on swings, a motorized train, and in a pulley-operated balloon that lifts them thirty feet above Leonardtown, Maryland.
‘This is a unique little fantasy world, that you can walk out of everyday life, and come into,’ Joe said, ‘No harm done, no foul, and have a good time.’
*In 1985, the licensing company Schlaifer Nance & Co commissioned Andy Warhol to do portraits of the Cabbage Patch Kids. Two years later, the estate of Andy Warhol signed an agreement granting SNC exclusive rights to his name and works. In 1990, SNC filed suit against the Warhol Estate alleging tortious conduct and breach of licensing agreement. A concise and fascinating overview of their decade-long court battle can be found in Soup Can or Can of Worms? Legal Issues Arising from the Warhol Estate by Carol E. Heckman. It was originally published by New York State Bar Association Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Journal, Summer 2009, Volume 20.
** “They have their own brush they can hold… And they always loved to be loved, a lot!” the Cabbage Patch Cornsilk Kids commercials enthused, as–in order to demonstrate the bounciness of their shiny ringlets– two dolls were pulled in a wagon with such force the bespectacled blond doll lost its glasses.