It’s hidden in plain sight on busy Grand Avenue in Portland in an unmarked, windowless, locked building. To gain entry you must knock, wait, and the door will be opened (when I visited, by a woman who returned to an unseen corner after speaking her only words: “Set your umbrella down—no, not there,” (the dirty worn carpet). “There.” (The dirty worn linoleum.)
The silent cramped foyer smells musty and is lined with display cases packed with shadowy objects. Enter the first brightly lit showroom on the left and be overwhelmed by cases and cases and cases of…toys.
F.E. Kidd, whose family owned an auto parts business, began his collection over 35 years ago with an interest in toy cars. His enthusiasm for toys grew to include nearly every type manufactured from 1869 to 1939, with a focus on mechanical banks.
To look at every item in every case you’d be there for a month, and I could barely take it for thirty minutes. Each case holds ever more jarring juxtapositions of toys which were probably innocent when they were created, but by today’s child protection standards, are downright sinister.
Steel yourself for an un-PC look at America’s past, reflected in the toys and games of the period: offensive Black Americana; toys depicting dental torture, misogyny, and animal cruelty; and games (were they really meant for children?) used for political satire and controversial social commentary.
Those interested in manufacturing will be fascinated by the wooden, lead and brass patterns and sandcast molds and patent models Kidd has rescued over the years. (The American toy industry experienced a boom during WWI when European toys ceased to be exported; by WWII the United States was the leading producer of toys.)
There are trains and planes and automobiles, soulless dolls and disembodied heads, army men in the throes of bloody battle, a very sketchy Santa, and, adding to the creep factor, a queer but marvelous assortment of padlocks. Shockingly, only a fraction of Kidd’s collection is on display. God knows what else he has in storage.
I got out of there as fast as I could. I’m sure the museum is far livelier when filled with tour groups of school kids but can’t see how much the very young could appreciate a sophisticated collection like this, behind glass. I look forward to visiting again but next time I’ll bring someone to hold my hand.