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Childhood Nostalgia Finds A New Home At Matheson History Museum

Forgotten childhood toys are brought back to life with a new exhibit at Matheson History Museum.

From Nov. 9 to Dec. 23, the Gainesville museum will host the "Florida Boys & Girls & Their Toys" exhibit. The exhibit features a concise history of toys in Florida and how they’ve changed over time, such as the transition from wooden blocks and pet rocks to toy cars and dolls.

“Changes in our toys reflect interesting changes in our culture,” said Rebecca Fitzsimmons, curator and archivist at the Matheson History Museum.

The exhibit features 30 framed photographs, a table-top puppet theatre and vintage toys on display. The exhibit was brought in by the Museum of Florida History Traveling Exhibition Program (TREX). It was last shown in Tampa over the summer at the Safety Harbor Museum of Natural History.

“I’d make the point that toys still occupy an important place in our lives,” said Fitzsimmons. “That’s why this exhibit is here. To show a connection to the past.”

The photos in the exhibit aim to tell a visual story about how lifestyles and photography in Florida have changed over the years.

“It’s easy to think of the past as this far-removed time,” said Fitzsimmons. “But when you look at the photos, it’s a way of humanizing history. To me that’s an incredibly important thing. It’s like magic.”

Nearly all of the photographs showcased in the exhibit are also available online through the Florida Memory Project website, which is the central repository for the archives and records of the state.

Most of the vintage toys showcased in the exhibit are on loan from local residents. One of the donors, a retired professor and agricultural engineer, credits her lifelong passion for engineering to her early experiences playing with Tonka trucks and Lincoln Logs.

“We’re excited to host the exhibit, and so far the reception has been positive,” said Fitzsimmons. “It’s nice to see that we’re attracting an audience of all ages.”

Aside from the archives of photographs and vintage toys behind display cases, the main space of the museum features actual toys for kids to play with, such as rocking horses and dolls. There’s also a TV set up to play toy commercials dating back to the 1950s.

“It’s just a nice retrospective view,” said museum volunteer Kaitlyn Hof-Mahoney. “It’s something everyone can identify with. From grandparents who come to the exhibit to their grandkids they bring with them.”

More information about the exhibit is available at the Matheson History Museum website.

Justin is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.