In the 1930s and 40s, long before the days of IPods, camera phones, Nintendo
systems, and even pet rocks and hula hoops, children passed the time fooling
around with model trains, metal pump tops, wind-up cars, and Buck Rogers
Playtime had never been so good.
Westchester Township History Museum Curator Jane Walsh-Brown and retired
Duneland educator Dan Keilman ginned up the idea of presenting “It’s a Jim
Dandy Christmas: Toys from the 1930s and 40s” for the museum’s annual
The exhibit, which opened last week, will be running free of charge at the
museum until the end of January.
Walsh-Brown said the toys, although somewhat simple, made a significant
impact on youth at the time as a way to cope through the anxieties
associated with that time period.
“These are toys that saw kids through the Great Depression and World War
II,” she said.
The Jim Dandy title came to Walsh-Brown after recently rereading the book To
Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee where the character Scout uses the term
growing up in the 1930s. Walsh-Brown found out the term was popular after a
race horse named Jim Dandy unexpectedly won the Triple Crown in 1930. The
phrase, she said, literally means “exceptionally good of its kind.”
Keilman, who is the predominant “loaner” for the exhibit, thought it would
be neat to share some of his favorite and rare items and games from his
childhood days in Dyer.
Originally donating the objects to a museum in Dyer, Keilman lent a batch of
board games long forgotten such as Flash Quiz, one of the original board
games that required the use of batteries designed to imitate the tasks and
skills of an electrician.
Also in the set is Keilman’s miniature Rambler pinball game, a Cargoes game
where the player would face the dangers of storms and sea creatures on the
high sea while carrying the all-important piece of luggage, and a “Mystic
Tray” which mimicked the classic Ouija Board game. Instead of utilizing its
“spiritual” powers, Keilman used the device as a way to learn his ABCs.
A few more remnants of Keilman’s toy chest sit in the museum’s vertical
display cases. There’s the “Trick Sticks: The New Get-Me-Up Game,” a wind-up
rooster, a red-wind up car, a metal airplane which Keilman referred to as
“Uncle Paul’s plane” to honor his relative in the Air Force, and a Dick
Tracy camera from the popular 1940s comic strip that used actual film.
“My parents didn’t have enough money to buy a real camera so they decided to
buy me this instead. I wouldn’t say they were world-class pictures though,”
said Keilman. “The chicken, we were only allowed to have out during Easter.
Western fans might get a kick out of the outfitted, tan-skinned Lone Ranger
Doll from 1940 which belonged to Keilman and a 1949 Hopalong Cassidy Mug,
property of Marianne Davison.
Buck Rogers and
“Lieutenant” Herb Read
Museum visitors can also find sitting next to Rita Newman’s model toy of a
Greyhound Line Tour Bus a few out-of-this-world marvels from the 1934
Century of Progress in Chicago.
Westchester Twp. resident and Save the Dunes member Herb Read had two uncles
involved in the production and advertising of the Buck Rogers stage show
based on the popular comic strip. Although not appearing on stage, audience
members paying close attention to the dialogue heard mentioning of the feats
of space “Lieutenant Herb Read.”
Read lent two of the disintegrator guns from that Century of Progress show
as well as an exact model of the 1932 Graham “Blue Streak” car and paper
Mache toy soldiers from the 1920s.
“They’re guards still dressed in World War 1 uniforms because at that time
the uniforms hadn’t changed yet,” said Walsh-Brown.
Those who remember the dollhouse designs of the time can admire handiwork of
Walsh-Brown’s grandfather who constructed the dollhouse out of an orange
crate in 1949. The furniture inside came from Dolores Glawe Iwan and her
sister Carla Glawe Callahan whose step-grandfather carved the miniature
cabinets, chairs, and bureaus from wooden cheese boxes.
Your Eye Out, Kid!
Visitors to the exhibit won’t be able to find Ralphie’s coveted Red Ryder
Range Model Air Rifle, unfortunately, but they will be able to find the “old
man’s special award” sitting upon an end table in the Christmas display.
The display pays homage to 1983 film “A Christmas Story” set in 1930s
Northwest Indiana which has gained popularity from its frequent airings on
The film, based on the writings of Hammond native Jean Shepherd, contains a
noteworthy scene where the father wins a lamp in the likeness of a lady’s
leg appareled in fishnet stockings, a “major award” as it is called in the
film. A replica of the lamp was purchased and will used by the Westchester
Public Library once the exhibit closes.
Those interested in seeing the film can do so by checking it out the DVD and
CD book from the library, Walsh-Brown said.
The museum will also have a drawing for a “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” shirt,
carrying the popular BB gun block phrase from the film. Entry for the
drawing is free to museum visitors and the winner will be announced at the
museum on Thursday, Dec. 23.
Although sans the movie’s BB gun, the display contains a Winchester BB gun
circa 1935 compliments of Read, who still has both of his eyes. The gun sits
along the tracks of Read’s Lionel Train model pulled by a #260 locomotive
with crane car and caboose. The actual train reportedly was one of the first
trains that relied on fuel rather than wood burning to power it.
The train circles other toys that would be found on Christmas morning in the
1930s like a Mickey Mouse Rocking Toy, a clown plush, and a nine pin bowling
set loaned by Keilman.
Keilman also furnished a 1940 Santa Claus suit he wore in a third grade
school play and a Santa mask of his father’s who played Santa for
Davison supplied alphabet blocks and a JoAnne Baby Doll from 1932. A Jane
Withers doll, who was at that time the “mean girl foil” to sweet-tempered
child star Shirley Temple according to Walsh-Brown, belong to Newman.
Others who contributed to the exhibit were Joan Costello, Nancy Hokanson,
Eva Hopkins, Pat Mitchell, and Walsh-Brown herself.
See The Toys, Do
Last-minute shoppers can get gift ideas by visiting the Museum’s store.
Walsh-Brown said two new items are available in the museum store featuring
the artwork of Dunes photographer Dan Bruhn.
The store also carries for purchase the recently-released Diana of the
Dunes: The True Story of Alice Gray book by Janet Zenke Edwards.
The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Walsh-Brown said the museum will be closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day,
New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day.
On through January is the History of Burns Harbor Exhibit. Next Walsh-Brown
said she plans to open “New and Noteworthy”, an exhibit that will show off
some of the most unusual items the museum has collected over the past years.