Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Marx Toy Museum

Most of us have fond memories of our childhood, and many of those memories center around our favorite toys. West Virginia’s northern panhandle is fortunate to have two museums which focus on toys. One reason why the northern panhandle is associated with toys is because the Marx Toy Company had a large factory in Glen Dale, West Virginia (between Wheeling and Moundsville).

When I was young, there were a number of well-known competitors in the toy market such as Marx, Mattel, Kenner, and Hasbro—but only Marx had a plant in West Virginia. It operated from 1934 to 1980, and employed 2000 workers at its peak.

I wrote about Wheeling’s Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum in the December 2013 issue of Two-Lane Livin’. It was opened in 1998 and is located in a large, two-story former elementary school not far from the Elm Grove exit of Interstate 70.

I recently had the opportunity to visit the smaller Marx Toy Museum in Moundsville. It opened in 2000 and occupies a former grocery store along Second Street in downtown Moundsville. The sole focus of this museum is on former Marx Toys. This single-story building is packed with tricycles, doll houses, trains, toy soldiers, etc.

The museum contains a wide variety of items from all the decades that Marx was in business. It is easy to see that this place is a labor of love for former employees of the company who want the memory of the local plant to live on. It provides a nostalgic look at how American children played over the decades of the 20th century. The museum also has a corner devoted to country music star Brad Paisley and the toys he played with while growing up in Glen Dale.

Although I found an electric train caboose as well as a farm tractor that I remembered owning, apparently I didn’t have a lot of Marx toys myself. However, I was able to find several toys that had been familiar with through others. I never owned “Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots” but I had played it at friends’ homes. “Johnny West” was a western version of GI Joe, but I was never much interested in these male action figures. The “Big Wheel” (and its subsequent variations) was one of the most popular Marx toys, but I had already graduated to bicycles by the time it had come out. I did find one of my sister’s favorite toys—a purple “Dino the Dinosaur” from the old Flintstones cartoon show.

For a small town, Moundsville has several interesting attractions. I’ve toured the old state penitentiary, and it was fascinating during the daytime—but I’m not sure I want to sign up for their night tours at Halloween! The Grave Creek Mound (and its adjacent museum) does an excellent job of telling the story of the Adena Indian moundbuilders. Grand Vue Park (a county park) overlooks Moundsville and has lots to do, including ziplining (I previously wrote about my adventure there). Now I can add the Marx Toy Museum to my list of Moundsville attractions I have visited.

[I wrote this story for the November issue of "Two-Lane Livin'" magazine.]

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