I used to work as a candy striper at the Cabbage Patch…

…and haven’t been able to eat cole slaw since. Here’s an old story from Atlanta magazine. The Patch is still green, I’m happy to report.

May 2010

Special Delivery

The Cabbage Patch Kids plant new roots.
By Candice Dyer

This crib is plush, in every sense of the word.

BabyLand General Hospital, a fantastical tourist attraction where the original Cabbage Patch Kids are “delivered” and await “adoption,” will hold a grand opening celebration for its luxurious new headquarters in Cleveland, about ninety minutes northeast of Atlanta, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on May 8.

There will be carnival rides and entertainment, yes. But the real event will transpire when LPNs (Licensed Patch Nurses) introduce a new, handcrafted edition of the collectible “babies,” and creator Xavier Roberts holds his first mass signing since 2004. (His signature scrawled across a doll’s tiny buttock ratchets up its market value.) The gnomelike Appalachian artist, known for his ten-gallon cowboy hat, has become increasingly Salinger-like in recent years, so collectors are buzzing about this public appearance like the “Bunny Bees” (lesser-known Patch offspring) that pollinate the Patch.

>> See a Cabbage Patch Kid being born at BabyLand

While most of us are downscaling, the Kids have upgraded to a sprawling, three-story Southern mansion with sixty-seven Greek columns and 20,000 square feet of wraparound porch. It sits on a 650-acre spread with a panoramic view of the North Georgia mountains, about three miles up a country road from the original location: an old downtown medical clinic. The new interior re-creates that hospital aesthetic with tiled floors, maternity wards, and a fathers’ waiting room, incorporating Lilliputian ergonomics for children along with high-tech enhancements such as motion-triggered animatronics and a sonogram to scan the womb of “Mother Cabbage.”

Joe Peavey of Atlanta Soundworks, the company that designed the sonogram, notes that a real sonogram video from YouTube inspired the apparatus, which glows pink or blue as a prenatal gender indicator alongside the I.V. drip of healing “Imagicillin.”

Roberts, who grew up in Cleveland and now lives in Atlanta, hopes the attraction will administer a similar shot in the arm to the local economy. “We have owned the land for many years, and our new building was planned before the downturn,” says his spokeswoman, Margaret McLean. “By going forward with our building, we made a commitment to our future and to the region. Xavier wants to invest in the area that nurtured him.”

Besides, unlike other toy trends that vanished in the blink of a Furby’s eye, the Cabbage Patch Kids have weathered many seasonal frosts since they first appeared as “Little People” in 1978. Their chubby cheeks were a symbol of the 1980s, when parents brawled in the department store aisles over the Coleco-manufactured versions, and today they top QVC bestseller lists and earn nods as Toy of the Year. Original Appalachian Artworks, the Kids’ parent company, plans to create more jobs as BabyLand develops a conference center and a ballroom that’s already booking weddings and proms.

Busloads of bemused spectators—as many as 250,000 a year—visit BabyLand to cheer on the ever-fertile Mother Cabbage, who goes into labor after “dilating seven leaves apart.” So far, the Patch has produced more than 120 million Kids, at an average of one “birth” every 6.6 seconds—enough that, if congregated in one place, they would constitute the eleventh-most-populous country in the world.

Now the dolls are enjoying another wave of popularity in online adoptions. “They’re especially big in South Africa,
Australia, the U.K., and Japan,” says McLean, who attributes their longevity to the values they foster.

“It’s not about conventional beauty, like Barbie,” she says. “It goes back to the saying, ‘a face only a mother could love.’ You project your personality onto these faces that might not be perfectly symmetrical, and you learn to accept and love yourself in the process.”

Photo by Original Appalachian Artworks