Thirty Years in the Cabbage Patch

Local folks share memories about Cabbage Patch Kids, a phenomenon that’s lasted 30 years

Photo by Scott Holstein
Thirty Years in the Cabbage PatchA Generation Reminisces About the Chubby-Faced Toy Fad

By Rosanne Dunkelberger and Travis Timmons

While pet rocks and Tickle Me Elmos have faded into toy fad memory, the Cabbage Patch Kids still are going strong, with the first babies “born” in the original Babyland General Hospital now approaching middle age. This year, the chubby-faced dolls with ridiculous names such as Abigyle Lizethor and Deanna Savanah turn 30.

To celebrate the anniversary year, creator Xavier Roberts is opening a bigger and better Babyland General Hospital on a 96-acre site only miles away from the original hospital in the North Georgia town of Cleveland, where the original dolls are handmade and available for “adoption.”

The dolls originally were handcrafted and expensive. Later, the Kids were mass-produced with vinyl faces, the price dropped considerably and their popularity exploded – culminating in the infamous Christmas season of 1983. That year, parents mobbed toy stores to get their hands on the season’s hottest commodity. A Cabbage Patch Kid was on the cover of Newsweek magazine, and stories abounded of crazed parents fighting off each other to get a doll.

A humorous 2007 Geico commercial follows the life of “Ben Winkler,” a Kid who succumbed to the travails of childhood stardom only to rehabilitate himself with an appearance on “Dancing with the Stars.”

Tallahassee-based writer Virginia Newman tells of a friend who “swears by this story” that happened at the height of Cabbage Patch mania: “She went into McDonald’s one day and saw people wheeling and dealing in a section of the store,” Newman said. “She thought that maybe drug deals were going down, as people were coming and going and money seemed to be changing hands. She tried to unobtrusively edge forward to see, so she could call the authorities, only to find out that these were folks buying and selling Cabbage Patch dolls.”

Several other local residents have their own fond Cabbage Patch memories, and many of them spoke of having trading cards from a gross-out spinoff – the Garbage Pail Kids – tucked away in the attic with other childhood keepsakes.

Rowland Publishing Traffic Coordinator Rebecca Calabrese reminisced that she and her sisters discovered the vinyl faces on them became squishy and moldable when left in the sun. “You can stick them in the freezer to keep the shape,” Calabrese laughed.

“I was a senior in high school when Cabbage Patch dolls were the ‘in’ thing,” said Edie Ousley, Public Affairs Director for the Florida Home Builders Association. “I remember how excited I was – even at 18 – to get one of those ridiculous-looking dolls as a Christmas gift.

I can laugh hysterically about it now, but back then, I was rockin’ on cloud nine.”

Coin collector Mark Mathosian tells of buying his wife a Cabbage Patch doll about nine years ago: “A day or so after I bought the doll, an article came out in the newspaper that
reported the doll was being recalled because the doll was eating kids’ hair,” he said. “The doll became an immediate collectible worth much more than a normal Cabbage Patch Kid. I think the doll, unopened and in its original box, is in the garage.”

A new mother now living in Columbus, Ga., Tallahassee native Amelia Valencic McCabe still has Darlene Arlene, the Cabbage Patch doll she got for Christmas when she was 7 years old. Just like the Kids, McCabe is 30 now, and she plans to pass Darlene on to her infant daughter, Carson Rose.

“I still really love my doll, I think because she came at the right time to make a lifelong connection and spark imaginative play,” McCabe said. “I think she also represents a time that so many people from my generation are reaching for as we have our own children and start our own families. For me, it is a reminder that I played and did not have 800 channels of cable and video games and all the things that are shoved upon kids today. I cannot wait to pass Darlene on to my daughter and to take her to Babyland to get a Cabbie of her very own.”

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