BabyLand General Hospital
If you're a student of early 1980s culture, you know the Cabbage Patch Kids: fat-faced, open-armed, darlings of a doll-smitten America. They still mesmerize a legion of loyal fans and collectors, now reaching its third generation. For them, a visit to BabyLand General Hospital isn't an option; it's a sacred pilgrimage.
BabyLand is the place where Cabbage Patch Kids are "born." It's in the hometown of the Kids' creator, Xavier Roberts, who first opened BabyLand hospital in an old medical clinic. The new BabyLand facility is vastly larger.
BabyLand II occupies a 70,000-square-foot building on 650 acres of land. It presents itself as a real hospital and the Kids as real babies. Staffers walk the floor dressed as doctors, nurses, and orderlies. Most carry one of the pudgy Kids as if giving them comfort or a burping.
There's a nursery filled with "Preemies" in incubators and "Lullaby Babies" in cribs, with piped-in sounds of cooing infants. Blue and pink rooms separate babies by gender. A glass-fronted Recovery Room allows prospective parents to see newborns measured and weighed (under the watchful gaze of a giant stork, for parents preferring less anatomical revelation). Other rooms are set aside for purchasers to sign "adoption papers" for their new doll.
To an outsider, it's other-worldly and creepy. But give the Cabbage Patch credit. Cults usually hide their most peculiar practices; BabyLand invites everyone in, and you can take as many pictures as you want.
The doors of perception, however, are rigorously guarded. We carelessly called the Cabbage Patch Kids "dolls" at BabyLand and were instantly corrected by a doctor. "They're babies!" he said, excusing himself to supervise a birth at the Magic Crystal Tree.
The Kids born at BabyLand hospital aren't the ones that you see in toy stores, which are vinyl knockoffs mass-produced in factories. BabyLand dolls are individually made, stitched from cloth by hand right in town, before they pop out of BabyLand's cabbage patch. "Works of art," they're called at BabyLand, and priced accordingly.
Turns out there's plenty of green in Xavier's cabbages. In the Fathers' Waiting Room of BabyLand some of the earliest kids are displayed: "Webster George" is valued at $6,000; "Dexter" at $15,000; "Wade" at $37,000. Collectors understand that only Cabbage Patch Kids from this particular Cabbage Patch have investment growth potential. They are among BabyLand's best customers.
As for the whole birth thing -- it's the reason that BabyLand exists, and the high point of any visit. A nurse announces over a loudspeaker: "Cabbage dilation, all staff on standby!" and a small crowd gathers around the Magic Crystal Tree. Beneath it are glowing, color-shifting rocks and tubby dolls with their heads sticking out of cabbages (a darker-leafed variety than seen in the old BabyLand. More nutritious, less fun?). Some babies are rigged to motion sensors and rise to the whir of hydraulics, revealing their tiny bibs and rompers. How much cute can you take?
The doctor listens through a stethoscope, injects some "Imagicillin" into a cabbage, then yanks out a nude doll in a halo of camera flashes. It's a girl! The doll is turned over to show its Xavier Roberts signature "birthmark" and the cabbage-crazed crowd chooses a name suggested by a little girl in the front row. Michelle!
The doctor announces: "Let's give Michelle a big hand; it's her birthday!" Then it's off to the Recovery Room, where the little girl lobbies her parents to adopt the newborn bundle of love.
It doesn't end there. BabyLand provides a "Bath Camp," where Cabbage Patch parents send their dolls to be soaked and scrubbed, and a "surgery" where damaged dolls are repaired. Rips and burns are common afflictions that are treated, but BabyLand has no plans to add an operating amphitheater for the doll-ghoul public.
The entire BabyLand experience is a booster for happy breeding and best-case parenthood. As we were leaving, we passed a young mother leading her daughter into the depths of BabyLand. "Look at the babies!" the mom exclaimed. "I want to hold one, Mommy! I want to hold one!" cried the girl.
The power of the Patch is strong.