Treasure Scout on the loose

Posted on October 13, 2012


This year’s holiday exhibit at the Elk Rapids Historical Museum is Treasures from the Toy Chest, and I am the Treasure Scout.  Linda Pillsbury drew me a map.  Linda knows everyone in Elk Rapids, and her mother knows their mothers.  By the time we’re through you will be dazzled.  Last week, for example, I went over to the Hubbells to talk to Rosanne (or Zan Butler as everyone called her when she was playing in Grandma Butler’s yard on Traverse Street).  This is the very house where she grew up.

Today she is a very grownup lady with great-grandchildren and a contented husband who clearly adores her.  Back then she was a little girl with just one heart’s desire: the most beautiful baby doll in the world.  Zan was about six or seven.  It was right around 1939 or 40.

The doll was in Dahlquist’s dime store in Elk Rapids, way up on the top shelf.  She was in a big pink box with a pink silk lining and a cover that flipped open.  This would have been about October or November and I would go into the dime store almost every day to look at her.

Zan and her mother walked along Traverse Street with the autumn leaves crunching under their shoes, then over a block to River Street.  As they rustled along, they discussed important matters.

I begged my mom to tell Santa that if he would bring this doll I would not ask for anything else and I would be very good.  My mom said she cost a lot of money—I think it was about $7 or $8—and she didn’t think Santa would bring her as there were so many little girls that would like her.  I think about the third week in December she was no longer on the shelf, and I was so disappointed.  I was sure Santa took her for someone else.

Oh dear.  Well, money was scarce in Elk Rapids in the 1930s.  The iron works and the chemical plant were closed.  Mrs. Butler was a teacher, and Mr. Butler sold medical supplies, but still . . .

There was another doll up on the shelf, a lady doll with lots of clothes fastened up in the lid of her box.  My girlfriend liked her and wanted her mom and dad to buy her, but I didn’t want any other doll.

Oh well oh well. Zan was not a whiner. Each year her mother would give each of the children one of her old stockings to hang on a chair. Santa would, as advertised, fill all the stockings with care. An orange, some candy, perhaps a toy. Zan looked forward to whatever Santa would bring. The great day dawned. Zan’s sister and brother, who were six and seven years older, watched their little sister’s face with great anticipation. There were the stockings, lumpy with delights. And there, on the seat of the chair, was the most beautiful baby doll in the world.

And 73 years later she is still well and truly loved. To be continued.

If you are from Around Here you might like to have all the details of the 2012 holiday exhibit.  You might even like to be a part of it all.  Here is your Engraved Invitation:

When you ask people to tell you what they liked to do when they were little they will say something like, “Oh, you know, the usual” or “Well, we didn’t really have toys then . . . .” If you are patient, their eyes will get that faraway look and they will say, “There was this one thing I remember.” The next thing you know you’re rummaging through boxes in the attic or pulling out photo albums or laughing together at stories of homemade sleds or giving a doll a haircut or finally beating your brother at checkers.

We’ve been asking that question around town, and now we know stories about a Buck Rogers spaceship and a tiny chair carved from a corncob and handkerchief mice and Little Golden Books. We’ve been collecting dolls and dollhouses and tractors and trucks and Viewmasters and vintage stereoscopic cards. We found a cache of 1940s-50s toys in their original boxes in a 70-year-old family store. We found tea sets and marbles, little red wagons and Cracker Jack toys in our own archives. We’re learning how to make birchbark horses and do magic tricks.

We can hardly wait to share Treasures from the Toy Chest, this year’s holiday exhibit at the Elk Rapids Historical Museum. It will open on November 30, 2012, with a sneak preview for volunteers on November 29.  The programs will continue throughout December and into the first week in January.

Bring the whole family. There will be games to play and things to make and cookies to eat. We will tell stories and sing songs and show you wonderful things you had forgotten. You will be surprised and delighted. You will say Look at that! I had one of those! Or you will say, What is that? And we will tell you.

The best part is that we are still collecting stories and other treasures. If you have some you’d like to share, please get in touch.