Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Joys of Toys

The Marx Museum in Moundsville is Rock'Em Sock'Em Magnificent



When I was a kid, I never cared about what company made my toys. They could be Mattel or Milton Bradley, Wham-O or whatever. I just wanted them to be fun and cool and not too tedious to put away.

Then a month or so ago, I went to Moundsville, W.Va., and someone told me to be sure to check out the Official Marx Toy Museum. It's located in a bright yellow-and-green storefront, a former grocery story right in downtown Moundsville, and it's simply a world-class collection of toys all made by Louis Marx & Co. I am impressed. It's the Smithsonian of plastic army men and mighty metal trucks! It's the Guggenheim of goofy old wind-ups and vintage dollhouses. It's the Carnegie of Big Wheels and plastic dinosaurs.

A friendly and unassuming guy named Francis Turner and his son Jason are the owners, the curators, the masterminds behind the place. A salesman for a machine shop, Francis started collecting mint-condition toys around 1989 after he bought a few from a friend. By 1992, he had so many Marx products that the Stifel Fine Arts Center at Oglebay Institute in Wheeling asked him to put together a show. Soon he started plotting and planning for his own museum, and by then his son was old enough to help rehab the old building and help figure out the layout of the display cases. They opened the museum in 2001.

"We have no toys that have been repaired," Francis points out. "No toys that have been repainted. Everything is original. We try to have the original box." Of course. Marx started making toys in 1919, and the first cases feature some early, wacky wind-ups, including butter-and-egg salesmen and a jaunty mouse jazz band (see above).

Early Marx wind-ups like the Merry Makers (above) were metal. Later, toys like the Robots and Flintstones were plastic.

Jason says most visitors are amazed. That's because "they're seeing a timeline of toys from the 1920s up to the 1970s." Adds Francis, "About 80 percent of them were made one mile from here in the Glen Dale factory."

That's a nice local connection. In 1934, Louis Marx took over the old Fokker airplane factory beside the Ohio River in the nearby town of Glen Dale, W.Va., and converted it into his largest factory. By the 1950s, he was the most productive toy manufacturer in the world. Time magazine put him on the cover in 1955 and dubbed him "The Toy King." At the height of the post-World War II baby boom, Louis Marx was making many of the best-known toys in the world and creating huge demand for them via TV commercials. He eventually sold the company in 1972, and by 1980, it was out of business. "Now there's nowhere in the world you can go and see this many Marx toys under one roof," Francis tells me.

There's a gift store and 1950s-style café with refreshments and small treats at the front of the place, but most of the space is full of beautiful creations: tiny figures, trains, planes and even a great green-and-gold robot named Big Loo. There is one room full of original prototypes and original art from designers who worked at Glen Dale. There's another room called Dodge City, which is full of cowboys and Wild West playthings, and there are several displays where Johnny West stands proudly as one of the first action figures for boys.

The Marx Co. also specialized in "playsets," collections of tiny figures in various settings from Fort Apache to Cape Canaveral, from medieval castles to the Civil War. I am happy to see a Flintstones set just like the one my Aunt Mary bought for me in the early '60s: Fred and Barney figurines, Wilma and Betty, Dino and a number of little Stone Age houses. Oh, woe, who knows whatever happened to mine?
But seeing those little characters, their cars, their plastic palm trees and their Bedrock world makes me realize what fine works of art they really were, what a terrific toymaker this guy Marx must have been.

The Official Marx Toy Museum is open April through December, Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Adults, $8.50; seniors, $7.50; students, $5; under 6, free. Info: 304/845-6022, MarxToyMuseum.com. Moundsville is about 70 miles from Pittsburgh, 12 miles south of Wheeling, in the northern panhandle of West Virginia. Definitely worth a visit.

Rick Sebak produces, writes and narrates documentaries for WQED tv13, as well as national specials for PBS. His programs are available online or call 800/274-1307.

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Trade Now, Sign Later Approach Could Work Again for Penguins

With the NHL trade deadline looming, the Penguins are increasingly employing more forward-thinking approaches to the acquisition of future stars.

Add Some Culture to Your Life with Swan Lake

If you play your cards right, the beautiful production from Pittsburgh Ballet Theater will dazzle even novices.

The 5 Best Places to People Watch in Pittsburgh

A coffee shop, an iconic landmark, an airport and beyond — these are the best places to practice the art of people watching.

Our Dream Penthouse Used to be a Carpet Warehouse

The building that now houses a $1.05 million dollar penthouse was first used for a much less exciting purpose.

HGTV Renews ‘Restored by the Fords’ Starring Pittsburgh Siblings

The finale showcasing Leanne and Steve Ford airs Tuesday, and the duo already are looking for more local houses to restore for the show’s second season.

Five Fun Facts about Pittsburgh Bridges

With more than 440 bridges in the city to choose from, VisitPITTSBURGH shows off the most interesting bridges within the city in its new Official Visitors Guide.

WQED Event to Celebrate Mister Rogers Forever Stamp

USPS will dedicate a new forever stamp to Fred Rogers and celebrate with a party in March.

Mothers Know Best for This Pittsburgh Couple

For Cady Walter and Jared Heningin, happily ever after may never have happened if their mothers hadn’t acted as matchmakers.

Peters Township Native Wins Silver Medal in Speed Skating

After swine flu kept him from competing in Sochi in 2014, short track speed skater John-Henry Krueger finally won a spot on the podium at the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.

Perspectives: A Better Life

A former Pittsburgh television reporter recounts the lessons taught to him by his grandfather who spent more than four decades as a Pullman Porter.

Pittsburgh MultiStories: Phipps Legacy – The Fulton Building

With its distinctive seven-story archway, the Fulton Building (now the Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel) remains a beloved Pittsburgh landmark.

Kick Back and Relax with a Baby Sloth

For $150 you can book an up-close hang out session with Vivien the two-toed sloth.

Jack Kerouac: Manager of the Pittsburgh Plymouths

In a league of his own making, the famous writer cast himself as the skipper of a (fantasy) Pittsburgh ball club.

Bucking the Trend: Gallagher’s Groovy Growing

Megan Gallagher is part of a small cadre of young farmers bucking demographic trends.

Meet the Woman bringing Dignity and Diversity to Twitter

As Twitter's vice president of intersectionality, culture and diversity, Candi Castleberry Singleton, who splits her time between Pittsburgh and San Francisco, works tirelessly to bring inclusion and respect to companies.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Five Fun Facts about Pittsburgh Bridges

Five Fun Facts about Pittsburgh Bridges

With more than 440 bridges in the city to choose from, VisitPITTSBURGH shows off the most interesting bridges within the city in its new Official Visitors Guide.

Comments

WQED Event to Celebrate Mister Rogers Forever Stamp

WQED Event to Celebrate Mister Rogers Forever Stamp

USPS will dedicate a new forever stamp to Fred Rogers and celebrate with a party in March.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
First Look: Poulet Bleu in Lawrenceville

First Look: Poulet Bleu in Lawrenceville

PM dining critic Hal B. Klein takes a look at the new Richard DeShantz restaurant ... and he has the scoop on what's next from the energetic restaurateur.

Comments

Avenue B is Closing

Avenue B is Closing

The Shadyside restaurant ends its 8-plus year run in a few weeks.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 5 Best Places to People Watch in Pittsburgh

The 5 Best Places to People Watch in Pittsburgh

A coffee shop, an iconic landmark, an airport and beyond — these are the best places to practice the art of people watching.

Comments

Sweet Ideas: Our Favorites for Valentine's Day

Sweet Ideas: Our Favorites for Valentine's Day

Where to eat, where to go, what to buy –– some of our favorites to make your Valentine's celebration memorable.

Comments


Add Some Culture to Your Life with Swan Lake

Add Some Culture to Your Life with Swan Lake

If you play your cards right, the beautiful production from Pittsburgh Ballet Theater will dazzle even novices.

Comments

After Dark Hall of Fame: Stage AE

After Dark Hall of Fame: Stage AE

The North Shore concert hotspot is the latest inductee in the After Dark Hall of Fame.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Trade Now, Sign Later Approach Could Work Again for Penguins

Trade Now, Sign Later Approach Could Work Again for Penguins

With the NHL trade deadline looming, the Penguins are increasingly employing more forward-thinking approaches to the acquisition of future stars.

Comments

The Quest is No Less Recognizable Even if Team USA Is Not

The Quest is No Less Recognizable Even if Team USA Is Not

They’re still playing hockey at the Winter Olympics, but without NHL players. Which means the guys doing the playing are relative nobodies. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Black Panther is Marvel's Best Film

Black Panther is Marvel's Best Film

Reviews of "Black Panther" and "Early Man," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments

At Last, We're Freed from Fifty Shades

At Last, We're Freed from Fifty Shades

Reviews of "Fifty Shades Freed" and "The Cloverfield Paradox," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Mothers Know Best for This Pittsburgh Couple

Mothers Know Best for This Pittsburgh Couple

For Cady Walter and Jared Heningin, happily ever after may never have happened if their mothers hadn’t acted as matchmakers.

Comments

Cookie Table Contest: And the Winner Is ...

Cookie Table Contest: And the Winner Is ...

We introduce the winner and the runners up for our biannual cookie table contest.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Our Dream Penthouse Used to be a Carpet Warehouse

Our Dream Penthouse Used to be a Carpet Warehouse

The building that now houses a $1.05 million dollar penthouse was first used for a much less exciting purpose.

Comments

HGTV Renews ‘Restored by the Fords’ Starring Pittsburgh Siblings

HGTV Renews ‘Restored by the Fords’ Starring Pittsburgh Siblings

The finale showcasing Leanne and Steve Ford airs Tuesday, and the duo already are looking for more local houses to restore for the show’s second season.

Comments