By Mark Hallum
When Joe Brostek was approached by Queens Historical Society President Patricia Sherwood about creating a new and unique exhibit, he wanted a theme that would get families talking and interacting.
The result was Toys and Games from the Attic and Beyond, which was recently unveiled at the Kingsland Homestead at 143-35 37th Ave. in Flushing. The exhibit takes some of the most iconic and obscure trinkets and novelties from across the years and puts them on display. Joe Brostek, a QHS trustee as well as the exhibit’s curator, put together the collection from community donations, creating a truly memorable exposition which will connect adult museum-goers to their childhoods and will give children a glimpse at the world of their parents.
From its very beginning, this is an exhibit that encourages viewers to leave their stodgy side at the door. Next to the entrance of the gallery is a sign reading “No-Quiet Zone.”
“At a time when there is so much stress and turmoil in the world and in our lives, I thought it would be refreshing to offer an interlude of pleasant nostalgia with a chance to look back at the toys and games of our youth—and perhaps to bring children to share these wonderful experiences,” Brostek said. “Now that schools have reopened, this can provide a lovely reasonable weekend break. Parents and grandparents can enjoy showing what they used to play with when they were children.”
The main room of the exhibit shows off items many people who grew up in the city will recognize, such as a Spaldeen Ball, which Brostek said he and his peers often used for stick ball in the streets. They would measure distance the ball flew by the number of manhole covers it was smacked across with broomstick.
Many will recognize more recent toy sensations. A Cabbage Patch Kid doll contributed by U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) sits in one of the first display cases of the main room. Other toys may not be as recognizable. One example: a miniature steam engine from the early 20th century. This toy was designed to teach children about mechanics. An alcohol burning flame would be placed under a small water reservoir and the gears would start to turn.
In addition to being able to look at the toys themselves, museum-goers can see how those were marketed. A television set plays a variety of toy commercials from the 60s.
The interactive nature of the exhibit not only tells about the origins of certain games and trinkets, but also challenges the pop culture understanding of the guests. One case dedicated to Star Wars memorabilia questions the public on which item does not belong among the action figures and comics representative of the franchise. Only a true fan of the saga will know the answer.
“I have been to museums which are more like mausoleums with people whispering and almost tiptoeing around,” Brostek said. “I want this to be a happy place. I want people to talk and laugh and take pictures and have fun.”
People can also take a little piece of that fun atmosphere home with them after they’ve gone through the exbibit. Whirligigs and penny whistles, as well as other curios from an earlier time, are available for purchase in the gift shop.
The Kingsland Homestead, a landmarked home built in the late 18th Century and located in Weeping Beech Park, is the official headquarters of the Queens Historical Society and as a historic house in a city park it is a member of the Historic House Trust of New York City. Its rooms are used for exhibitions, a meeting place, and as an archive and library.
The museum can be rented out for private events and admission, according to Brostek, is “a pittance compared to other museums.” That means that adults get in for $5, while seniors and students pay $3. Children under 12 and QHS members get in for free. Museum hours are Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday from 2:30 p.m. to4:30 p.m.
The exhibit will through June 2017.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall