From trains to dolls and Lincoln Logs to Star Wars, these institutions specialize in the agents of play.
It took just over a year for the Berkshire Museum to fill a 4,500-square-foot exhibit with every fun inanimate object you can imagine. The result is the museum's traveling exhibition, entitled Kid Stuff. Wooly Willy, Magic Rocks, Lincoln Logs, and Raggedy Ann dolls all make an appearance, as do a life-size Barbie Dream House backdrop and G.I. Joe cutout. The collection is arranged by toy type and is divided into 10 sections, from Go to Your Room (Magic 8 Ball, Silly Putty) to It's My Turn (Twister, Go to the Head of the Class). Everyone's favorites are covered. 39 South St. (State Rte. 7), Pittsfield, Mass., 413/443-7171, berkshiremuseum.org, $8, exhibit returns to Berkshire Museum July 1 through Labor Day, future traveling dates TBA.
Geppi's Entertainment Museum
Located in the original office of the B&O Railroad, Geppi's Entertainment Museum showcases not just toys but 230 years of pop culture. With some 8,000 toys and collectibles, the museum presents its exhibits by era, from the 1770s to the 1980s. Highlights include Brownies character figurines from the late-1800s, a first edition Barbie doll, a Beatles yellow submarine toy, a Monkees lunch box, and an Ike and Tina Turner tour poster. 301 W. Camden St., Baltimore, Md., 410/625-7060, geppismuseum.com, $10.
The Star Toys Museum
A few weeks before Thomas Atkinson's 13th birthday, Star Wars changed his life. Seventeen years later, Atkinson opened his home to visitors, so all can witness his impressive collection of all things Star Wars. The Star Toys Museum occupies the first floor of Atkinson's home and comprises more than 12,000 items, like the original 1977 set of Kenner figurines that includes Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and R2-D2, as well as magazines, apparel, cards, memorabilia, and the ever-popular six-foot-long Millennium Falcon Extraordinaire, which was used in an advertising display in 1997. Tours are available by appointment only. 811 Camp Meade Rd., Linthicum, Md., 410/859-1261, startoysmuseum.org, free, (donations accepted).
Strong National Museum of Play
Inside the 282,000-square-foot Strong National Museum of Play, families can enter scenes from a gigantic pop-up book, go face-to-face with underwater creatures, and interact with hundreds of butterflies inside the glass-enclosed Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden. But what about more traditional agents of play? The National Toy Hall of Fame currently houses 36 inductees, including Mr. Potato Head, the Easy-Bake Oven, and Play-Doh. A committee comprised of prominent figures in kid-dom, such as Cheryl Henson, president of The Jim Henson Foundation, and Mike Berenstain, coauthor and co-illustrator of The Berenstain Bears books, choose from 12 finalists and induct new toys annually. But the Hall of Fame is only a portion of what the Strong museum has to offer. A math adventure exhibit based on the PBS series Cyberchase starts June 2. One Manhattan Sq., Rochester, N.Y., 585/263-2700, museumofplay.org, $9; Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden $3.
National Toy Train Museum
The 30,000 members of the Train Collectors Association donated the over 5,000 toy trains, buildings, signals, and tracks that make up the National Toy Train Museum. Five operating train layouts, which range in size from 200 to 900 square feet, include intricate details such as tunnels through hills, a queue of passengers waiting to board, bridges, churches, ducks, and dogs. Guests can interact with the layouts by pushing buttons that toot the train's whistle or light up a signal that makes the trains stop. Along with the TCA's Toy Train Reference Library, which includes a train-centric collection of books, films, and magazines, the museum has a gallery full of old and rare trains, the oldest dating from the 1840s. 300 Paradise Ln., Strasburg, Pa., 717/687-8976, nttmuseum.org, $5.
Enchanted World Doll Museum
For girls (large or small) who have had enough of train displays, the Enchanted World Doll Museum should satisfy the dream of becoming a princess. Visitors enter the English-style castle (complete with moat) via a drawbridge and are surrounded by just over 5,000 dolls. The dolls are grouped by categories such as country of origin, time period, maker, and type. All are arranged in 345 dioramas, many created to showcase the traditions, activities, and fashions of the dolls' time periods. Early and notable dolls in the collection include cornhusk dolls, a 500-year-old doll found in a tomb in Mexico, and a Civil War-era doll that was used to pass messages on the Underground Railroad. 615 N. Main St., Mitchell, S.D., 605/996-9896, enchantedworlddollmuseum.com, $5.
Kruger Street Toy & Train Museum
Over the course of 40 years, the Miller family of Wheeling, W.Va., accumulated old toys and trains, and in 1998 the family opened a museum full of their finds in order to help revitalize their small town. Located in a restored Victorian schoolhouse, the Kruger Street Toy & Train Museum spreads out over 24,000 square feet and displays around 20,000 items. Along with three operating train layouts, there are original Ben-Hur and The Untouchables play sets, rare examples of a 1942 Marx 3/16th ramp car, an entire wall of shelves devoted to toy soldiers and other figurines, Rock'em Sock'em Robots, and a Green Machine. 144 Kruger St., Wheeling, W.Va., 877/242-8133, toyandtrain.com, $8.
The Official Marx Toy Museum
During the 1950s, Marx Toys was one of the largest U.S. toy manufacturers. Time magazine named company founder Louis Marx "America's toy king" and put him on a 1955 cover. Now, just a mile and a half away from the site of the former Marx Toy Factory in Glen Dale, W.Va., The Official Marx Toy Museum in Moundsville, W.Va., presents a complete history of the popular toy company. The collection focuses on the 1920s through the 1980s and consists of dozens of different Marx play sets, including a life-size version of a Western town, metal wind-up toys, trains, dollhouses, and the all-time kid favorite--the Big Wheel. 915 Second St., Moundsville, W.Va., 304/845-6022, marxtoymuseum.com, $6.50.