Friday October 9th, 2015 6:35AM

Cleveland's Cabbage Patch Kids turn 25

By The Associated Press
UNDATED - A passel of Cabbage Patch Kids sit on Margaret Allen's brown leather couch in her Florence, Ala., home like they've lounged there all their life.

Brown-eyed, toilet-trained pretzel-eating dolls seem to listen to Allen as she talks about her attachment to them.

She can't understand why anyone would think they are less than adorable.

``I just thought they were cute dolls,'' she said. ``Everyone else thought they were ugly.''

Allen is just one Cabbage Patch fan in the Shoals who dotes on her dolls and the memories they hold.

Starting this week, BabyLand General Hospital in Cleveland, home of Cabbage Patch, will celebrate the pop culture giant's 25th birthday - and is, at the same time, marking its 30th birthday.

The appeal of Cabbage Patch Kids lies in their ties to families, said Margaret McLean, director of communications at Cabbage Patch headquarters.

``I think it is that Cabbage Patch Kids have become a part of people's families,'' she said. ``When a whole family gets together to try and find a Cabbage Patch Kid for Christmas, they're all working together and sacrificing a lot. They become family history.''

McLean, who owns ``maybe a couple of shelves'' of the dolls, said she thinks they have held their own through toy trends and gaming technology because they encourage imagination. Children can take their dolls to the moon or to a foreign country in their mind.

``How exciting is it to plan to do things with your Cabbage Patch Kid?'' she said.

Tyla Hudspeth, 25, of Florence did just that. She took her dolls for rides on the four-wheeler and lawn mower.

``It's something about the simplicity of just a baby doll,'' she said.

``Every little girl is born with the need to simulate what their moms do and take care of babies,'' she said. ``Babies never go out of style.''

Allen fell for the smiling, cherub-cheeked dolls when her daughters were kids in the '80s.

``From then on, we just took on Cabbage Patch Kids. I just fell in love with them,'' said the ESL instructor for Florence schools.

``I guess they are just so realistic for the mothers of the children who they were buying them for. They were so realistic to us,'' said Donna Ricks of Tuscumbia, Ala.

She bought a doll with purple glasses because her daughter wore purple glasses.

Allen's favorite doll isn't a collector's edition. Allen's prized doll, Becky Sadie, peers from hand-painted brown eyes on a dirt-smudged face. Allen treasures the original handmade doll because it belonged to her mother and sister, now deceased.

Becky Sadie wears Mississippi State maroon-and-white to honor Allen's daughter's alma mater, to the dismay of Allen's co-workers.

After SEC game weekends, ``I don't say a word,'' Allen said, laughing. ``I just bring the doll in (to work). Of course the Alabama and Auburn fans say 'get that doll out of here.' ``

Each time Hudspeth and her mother bought a Cabbage Patch, they would fill out forms for doll name suggestions. A few years later when she gave her cousin a doll for her birthday, there were two Tylas in the room after her cousin unwrapped the gift.

``We thought it was just strange, but it had to be from us sending the names in,'' Hudspeth said.

Cleveland native Xavier Roberts debuted the first Cabbage Patches in the early '80s at local stores. The handmade dolls were a hit and soon mass production began.

McLean, appearing on Sunday's Northeast Georgia This Week on WDUN NEWS TALK 550 and SPORTS RADIO 1240 THE TICKET, said Roberts was an art student at Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland when he conceived of the idea of the predecessor to the Cabbage Patch Kids - the Little People - soft-sculptured dolls, about 22 inches tall, which he made by hand.

McLean says the demand for the dolls, however, soon exceeded Roberts' ability to produce them.

"As he started going to art shows and different places, they began to become very popular."

So, in 1982, he struck a deal with Coleco for the mass-production of the dolls and their name was changed to Cabbage Patch Kids. They were the "must have" item at Christmas in 1983. McLean says hand-stitched dolls are still available, but only at BabyLand General.

"We call them the original hand-stitched babies and we are actually the only place that you can adopt an original Cabbage Patch Kid," McLean said. She says each doll, even those that are mass-produced, is still an "individual," with his or her own "personalities" and traits and name.

Throughout their history, the Cabbage Patch Kids have been into space, in 1985, aboard a NASA shuttle; named the official mascot of the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team; and chosen for an appearance on a U.S. Postage Stamp in 1999.

At BabyLand General Hospital, dolls are treated with simultaneous seriousness and humor. Premature babies are placed in incubators after they are birthed from their mother cabbages, aided by doctors and LPNs (``licensed patch nurses'').

Construction for a new BabyLand General Hospital is set be complete next spring, according to McLean, who says it will be located off U.S. 129 just a couple of miles from where Babyland is currently located, on Underwood Street in Cleveland, in buildings that once housed an actual hospital. The 70,000-square foot building will house a retail store, archives and more.

The dolls have a whole community devoted to them, but self discovery is one of their unexpected lessons, McLean said.

``It's so rewarding, and it's like they learn to love the Cabbage Patch Kid and in loving their Cabbage Patch Kid, they learn to love themselves and the capacity to love other people.''

More than 100 million "adoptions" have occurred since 1978 - and some of the very first Little People are reportedly worth up to $20,000 each to collectors.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the Cabbage Patch Kids and the 30th anniversary of Babyland General, a special birthday party is planned in Cleveland at BabyLand General Sept. 20. On Tuesday, the occasions will be marked in New York City at the Toys R Us at Times Square. (For more information on each event, see the link below.)

('s Ken Stanford contributed to this story.)


On the Net. Babyland General.
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