By CANDICE DYER, For the AJC
While most of us downsize, the Cabbage Patch Kids have upgraded to a plush new patch.
BabyLand General Hospital, the Kids’ birthplace in Cleveland, started in an old medical clinic that was converted in 1978 into a toy-land tourist attraction and gift shop where visitors could watch a large, cloth “Mother Cabbage” go into labor and deliver “babies,” which then could be “adopted” in an earnest ceremony.
In November, the institution with its ever-fertile matriarch was transplanted a few miles north to a three-story, 70,000 square-foot Southern-style mansion with 67 columns and 20,000 square feet of wraparound porch. The mansion sits on a 100-acre spread with a panoramic view of the north Georgia mountains – a sweet crib by any standard.
“I was sad at first because I thought I would miss the old hospital,” said Wilma Arrington, an Atlanta collector who was among the first to take an adoption oath at the new location, which plans a grand opening celebration May 8. “But this place is a vast improvement that beautifully maintains the fantasy.”
The peculiar, chubby cheeks of the Cabbage Patch Kids became an iconic face of the 1980s, when riots broke out in toy-store aisles over the Coleco-manufactured toys.
“We designed the new BabyLand as a place for Kids and their families to come together,” said the dolls’ creator Xavier Roberts, who grew up in Cleveland and now lives in Midtown Atlanta. “When you first drive up to this beautiful setting by Mount Yonah, you sense something unique.”
The interior recreates the hospital aesthetic with tiled floors, maternity wards, and a fathers’ waiting room, incorporating the Lilliputian ergonomics of small chairs and low windowsills for children, along with high-tech enhancements in the patch, including mock fireflies, whippoorwill calls and motion-triggered animation.
“Normally we do special effects for rock events like Van Halen concerts, but when we were asked to design a sonogram to go in the Magic Crystal Tree, we couldn’t resist,” said Joe Peavy of Atlanta Soundworks, noting that he used a real sonogram video from YouTube to make the apparatus, which glows pink or blue as a prenatal gender indicator, alongside the I.V. drip of healing “Imagicillin.”
Roberts said he hopes the new hospital will administer a shot in the arm to the local economy.
“This is a rough time for anyone to start something new, but Xavier is committed to investing in the area that nurtured him,” said Margaret McLean, a spokeswoman for the hospital’s parent company, Original Appalachian Artworks, which has an estimated annual revenue of $20 million and employs around 60 full-time workers, with plans to generate more jobs as the hospital develops its multi-purpose conference center and ballroom.
BabyLand, which in its old digs attracted as many as 250,000 visitors a year, also is joining forces with other attractions and hospitality vendors to offer affordable family travel packages and bus tours, with quirky amenities and an emphasis on the homespun. “If you stay at Unicoi Lodge, they’ll provide a cradle if you adopt a baby, and Edelweiss restaurant will give a meal to the new parent,” she said, adding that BabyLand still does not charge for admission. “We’re all working together to bring people to the area to experience the arts and crafts the mountains are famous for.”
As part of this campaign, the Cabbage Patch Kids are getting back to their roots as hand-stitched folk art that combines sculpture and quilting. Adoption fees for the fabric creations, known as “originals,” start at $185. (The manufactured, rubber-headed dolls start at $24.99.)
“Some people have forgotten that each baby is a work of art that transcends the commercialized mass market,” McLean said.
Part of the wonder is that this oddball collectible has outlasted other holiday toy trends, which usually vanish in the blink of Furby’s eye. The Kids still crest the best-seller lists of QVC and the NPD Group and get nods from the TOTYs, the Oscar equivalent for “toys of the year.”
Recently, a Sarah Palin Kid fetched $19,000, and online marketing has created a second wave of popularity in foreign markets. “They’re huge in Australia and South Africa right now,” said McLean, who attributes their longevity to the enduring values they foster.
“It’s not about conventional beauty, like Barbie,” she said. “It goes back to the saying, ‘a face only a mother could love.’ You project your personality on to these faces that might not be perfectly symmetrical, and you learn to accept and love yourself in the process.”
BabyLand General Hospital
For more information visit http://www.cabbagepatchkids.com/
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