Long before kids asked Santa for fidget spinners, LEGOs, and lightsabers, they woke on Christmas morning to find paper dolls, wooden trucks, and ice skates under the tree.
Toys and amusements from the 19th and 20th centuries were spread around the Monroe House this past Saturday during a special December tour offered by the Oberlin Heritage Center.
For much of its history, the 151-year-old museum was a family home with clusters of children playing dominoes and dressing up baby dolls in the parlor room.
The brick house became the longtime home of James Monroe in the 1870s. Many of his social gatherings were religious in nature, and the family gathered in the parlor to sing hymns, read from the Bible, and recite poetry they had memorized for the occasion.
We stopped near a book from 1884 opened to black and white illustrations. It did not belong to the Monroe family, but is similar to what kids in the Victorian Era would have had, said collections manager Maren McKee. Featuring wholesome stories for kids to read on Sundays, the illustrations were paired with educational anecdotes and lessons on morals.
McKee flicked a switch and filled the parlor with the mellifluous tones of a piano. Fully-restored with an ivory keyboard, the instrument is similar to what Julie Monroe played while teaching her children to sing.
Sitting on a blue and gold couch was Theodore, a German teddy bear that belonged to Stella Mallory, who grew up here in Oberlin. Next to it sat a doll in original 1850s clothing that possibly belonged to a friend of the Monroes.
A silky top hat belonging to Henry King, the sixth president of Oberlin College, was used by his family to play a made-up game called “Dwarf Show.”
Games such as dominoes, chess, backgammon, and charades were popular with both adults and children in the 1800s and are still played today.
Laurence Siddall, who lived in the Monroe House in the 1930s, remembers the radio being the most common form of entertainment, McKee said. In the evening, he and his brothers liked to listen to comedian Jack Benney and a ventriloquist named Edgar Bergen.
Siddall also remembers rollerskating down the hill on Morgan Street with his friends.
Scattered among the collection are aged photos and hands-on toys for people to try, such as a stereoscope, marble slide, whirligig, Jacob’s ladder, cup and ball, and quoits, which is a ring toss game.
“I think this tour is really good for multiple generations to take at the same time,” McKee said, while pulling and releasing the cord of the whirligig. “It provides a good opportunity for conversation between parents and their children or grandparents and their grandchildren. It’s definitely the kind of exhibit that I think will bring up a lot of memories for people.”
Most of the artifacts on display were donated by people in town. The exhibit will be up through the month of December and tours can be scheduled by calling the Oberlin Heritage Center.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.
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