Dangerous Fun at the Napa Valley Museum
By Kathleen Reynolds
Do you have multiple generations of family visiting for the holidays? No matter what the activity, are you afraid someone will be bored? Cheer up: right now, the Napa Valley Museum Yountville is offering a dangerously good time for all ages. It’s true.
In the main upstairs gallery, through February 13, 2022, see the exhibit “Dangerous Games: Treacherous Toys We Loved as Kids.” From the simple “You’ll shoot your eye out” Daisy Red Ryder BB gun to the what-were-they-thinking Atomic Energy Lab with real uranium ore (and a handy Dagwood and Blondie Bumstead comic book that explains how to split the atom), you’ll be amazed and amused at what used to pass for good, clean fun.
Museum Executive Director Laura Rafaty wrote all the hilarious text on the walls as well as the audio tour narration.
“I used to be a humor writer,” says Laura, who’s headed the museum for four plus years. “I’ve always wanted to do this exhibit. We’re planning to make this a touring exhibition and take it to museums all over. We’ve already heard from people in France who are interested.”
“This has been one of our most popular exhibits,” she says and laughs. “There are a lot of happy memories here, even with the burning metal plates and toxic plastic fumes.”
The whole family will enjoy seeing the actual toys and watching the vintage commercials throughout the exhibit. Did moms in the 50s and 60s actually send the kids outside with no warnings other than to come home for dinner?
The mysterious section devoted to the paranormal explores our fascination with supernatural and psychic worlds. There’s a nausea-inducing “self-hypnosis” display, a Kreskin mentalist ESP board game and the ever-popular sleepover party amusement, the Ouija Board.
Some of the iconic items appear innocent enough.
Feminism aside, Suzy Homemaker ovens, irons and vacuums may seem harmless until you realize the first models got red-hot and burned tiny hands. The Cabbage Patch model that could “eat” plastic cookies and push them through its backpack looks fun unless your child’s hair or fingers accidentally made their way into the constantly churning jaw of the doll.
Not surprisingly, government and safety groups took most of the games and kits off the market or carefully altered them so kids couldn’t be harmed. Kids, of course, usually preferred the dangerous versions, which often halted production of the safer alternatives.
Some toys will leave you perplexed as to their function, like the “Swing Wing” helmet whose “fun” probably meant dizziness along with neck injuries.
The kids, along with mom and dad, will enjoy “Back to the Backyard,” with artificial turf that spans the width of the building, complete with lawn chairs. The area includes a safe, hand’s on, version of Lawn Darts, hula hoops, Twister and Nerf basketballs.
Bill Rogers, the “Voice of Disney,” narrates the audio tour.
When you’ve completed your tour of the frightening games, make your way downstairs to the “Kitchen Gizmos & Gadgets from the Kathleen Thompson Hill Culinary Collection.” Food and wine writer and editor Kathleen Thompson Hill showcases some of the 3,000 to 4,000 kitchen utensils she’s collected over the years. For the exhibition she chose gadgets and gizmos you will not see anywhere else, from the first ever ice cream scoop to the Toast-o-Lator Model J from 1948, where a window enables you to watch the bread toast its way through the machine.
“I’ve done demos with the old electric toasters where the chef was afraid to plug them in,” says Kathleen. “So, I plugged them in and half of them actually worked. The next time I was at a demo, they started smoking, and the audience thought it was planned.” She adds with a chuckle, “I don’t plug them in anymore.”
Don’t overlook the “Potato Bomb,” a pewter and steel device, in the shape of a bomb, designed as a stove top potato cooker. “I’m afraid to try it out, actually,” says Kathleen.
In the continuous loop video portion of the kitchen exhibit, Kathleen remembers running around through three counties in 2012, buying up all the Twinkies and cupcakes when Hostess went out of business. “After nine years, pastries that were supposed to be soft, stayed soft. I’m interested in how they’ll be in forty years.”
She says she’s obsessed with collecting kitchen paraphernalia. The bulk of her collection is in storage and includes three boxes of government and manufacturer’s food pamphlets dating back to World War I.
“There weren’t TV commercials or internet to show people how to cook the foods properly or to use the equipment, so pamphlets were written.” She hopes someday to exhibit those and the many recipe cards she’s collected that will also bring back memories.
The Napa Valley Museum Yountville
55 Presidents Circle | Yountville
OPEN Thursday through Sunday
Admission: $15 Adults
$10 Seniors 65+
$5 Ages 6-17
Free for children under 6 and Museum Members.
Audio tour $5.