Maine Toy Museum Is Really For Grownups

The small town of Waldoboro, Maine, boasts two attractions: Moody's Diner, reputed to be one of the oldest in the country, and the Toy Museum. But it's not really for kids. Founded in 1996 by John Fawcett, an artist and former University of Connecticut art teacher, it is a monument to Betty Boop, Donald, Mickey, the Lone Ranger and all of the artifacts of a kiddie culture only adults remember.

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The small town of Waldoboro, Maine, boasts two attractions: Moody's Diner, reputed to be one of the oldest in the country, and the Toy Museum. It was founded in 1996 by John Fawcett. Karen Michel paid the museum's founder a visit as she wrapped up her summer vacation.

KAREN MICHEL, BYLINE: The sign says world class museum enjoyed by adults, a Maine vacation delight - open.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

JOHN FAWCETT, JR.: When I say for adults, I tell people, they say, oh, I'm going to come back and bring the kids. I said think about it. Because a lot of times, they'll bring the kid in and kid'll be dragging them out in 10 minutes 'cause they don't know who the Lone Ranger is, they don't know Roy Rogers is, they don't know who Gene Autry is. They don't even know Peanuts.

MICHEL: But if you do know Betty Boop or Mickey, Donald, the Lone Ranger or any of the radio or TV cowboys of yore, then this is the place to revel in your childhood, as Roland and Barbara Parent were doing.

BARBARA PARENT: He'd love to have something like this. And he's pushing me out of the house.

ROLAND PARENT: No, I'm not.

PARENT: I have to keep an eye on him otherwise he would have something like this.

MICHEL: He had a chance: you enter the museum through the gift shop. After all, what's a museum without a gift shop? You pay your $5 and then...

JR.: Well, this is the Lone Ranger's parade saddle. It has Lone Ranger on the pummel. So, this is something, say, would have been on the Rose Parade and either Clayton Moore or some other actor dressed as the Lone Ranger would be riding in it. This is Gene Autry's rodeo saddle.

MICHEL: And it says right on it Gene Autry's rodeo.

JR.: Gene Autry's rodeo. All the cowboys had their own rodeo.

MICHEL: Fawcett bought the saddles on eBay, where he gets a lot of stuff , and there is a lot of stuff - not only on the walls and leaning against them, but around door frames, on the ceiling, on the stairs; early cowboy and Disney movie posters - one with Zsa Zsa Gabor - a different kind of toy - games, kid-sized musical instruments, and some surprises.

JR.: It's a bomb.

MICHEL: A bomb with Donald Duck on it.

JR.: And up here we've got, this is the first Disney military image done for Floyd Bennett Airfield in New York City. You've got Donald on a goose with a trident and a bomb and the Statue of Liberty in the background. And that's the symbol that are on airplanes that shoot King Kong off the building in 1933 film, which is the best film ever made as far as I'm concerned.

MICHEL: Fawcett's also big into Betty Boop.

JR.: On the left, there is Betty Boop's dog Bimbo. That's where the term from. When you called Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan a bimbo, it's coming from Betty Boop's dog.

MICHEL: John Fawcett likes to be with his stuff so much that he's even got a bed upstairs, just across from a TV showing old black and white "Lone Ranger" serials.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Here beyond the reach of law and order, might was right. The best shot was the best man.

MICHEL: Fawcett's not alone in his obsession. For years he's competed with Mel Birnkrant, another collector, also in his mid-70s, who lives in Beacon, New York in a home that's like a stone castle - kind of Knights of the Roundtable meets everything Mickey.

MEL BIRNKRANT: I try to convey the feeling I used to feel looking at Christmas windows when I was a kid, a sense of just ethereal wonderment. And it's all real. That's the incredible thing about it. Everything there is older than I am, which is kind of awesome. As you get older and older, it does too. So, even though you start out not collecting antiques, as you become one, they become one too.

MICHEL: Birnkrant's collection was featured in Life magazine in 1968. It was much smaller then. And he got a postcard from John Fawcett, then a professor at the University of Connecticut.

BIRNKRANT: We became pen pals, and that was it. We started collecting together. We were in competition but it was friendly competition, to be the first one to get and discover some great thing. And then we would write the other one and we would draw it. So, I would send him a drawing of the thing I just got. He'd send me a drawing of the thing he just got. And the minute we got a second one, we steered it right to the other guy. So, while we were competing, we were also cooperating with one another. So, our friendship and our collections grew together.

MICHEL: When Fawcett moved to Maine and opened his museum, Birnkrant thought about opening one himself.

BIRNKRANT: I mean, come on, he was making sense out of what would be a senseless preoccupation, the amassing of all this stuff. And here he is, he found some rhyme or reason to it. Oh, I think it was fabulous. I would like to do the same. No, I wouldn't. Actually, I wouldn't. I have no appetite for people trooping in and gawking around and having to be up for the occasion.

MICHEL: He needn't worry. In the three hours I was in Fawcett's toy museum, other than the couple who'd arrived just before I did and left not so long after, there were no other visitors. Just like Mel Birnkrant, John Fawcett could enjoy his collection by himself. For NPR News, I'm Karen Michel.

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