LITTLE OTIS LEE sprang from a cabbage and approached a young boy named Xavier Roberts. Xavier was playing in the woods near his home in North Georgia. Otis was no ordinary boy, but rather a magical boy sprung forth from magic crystal dust spread over a cabbage patch. And he wasn’t the only orphaned child from the cabbage patch. He had friends like Barry Fritz, Yvonne Millie and Roddy Cyrano. They all frolicked in their magical land but didn’t have a home of their own.
Otis and Xavier smiled at each other. They shook hands. They became fast friends. And Xavier decided to create a special place where all the cabbage patch kids and babies could live until someone adopted them and took them to loving homes of their own. And that is the story about how Cabbage Patch Kids and BabyLand General Hospital were created.
WHERE THE MAGIC BEGAN
There’s some truth in that mythical magic crystal dust. Xavier Roberts, from Cleveland, Georgia, may not have actually met a child born in a cabbage patch, but he did create Cabbage Patch Kids dolls. As a 21-year-old art student in 1976, Roberts first developed the idea of Cabbage Patch Kids. In
1978, a handmade doll he created named Dexter won a first-place ribbon for sculpture at the Osceola Art Show. Gathering five school friends and incorporating Original Appalachian Artworks, which made the popular and also handmade Little People dolls, Robert began creating his Cabbage Patch Kids, finding buyers were more than happy to pay adoption fees for one of his hand-signed originals.
The dolls were a hit. With each doll, the buyer got a birth certificate and official adoption papers, and dolls individually named and accompanied by a matching name tag. Orders poured in. Unable to keep up with demand, Roberts signed a contract with the toy manufacturer Coleco in 1982 to begin mass production. Although dolls received plastic heads rather than soft ones, the concept was still the same, and Cabbage Patch Kids were launched into worldwide fame.
An instant phenomenon, families fought in stores to find dolls, selling at $40, and waitlists for a new doll took months as Coleco struggled to keep up with demand. The Cabbage Patch Kids craze hit its zenith in 1983 when almost 3 million of them were adopted. They became the most successful new doll introduction in the toy industry’s history, earning a feature spot on the cover of Newsweek magazine. Sales were out of this world. In fact, in 1985, a Cabbage Patch Kid, Christopher Xavier, left this world for space as a passenger on the U.S. Space Shuttle.
Since then, the milestones have piled up. In 1992, they were the official mascot of the U.S. Olympic Team and traveled to Barcelona. Cabbage Patch Kids were stars in stop-action animated specials in 1995. In 2000, the Cabbage Patch Kids were honored with a U.S. postage stamp. Last year, the Cabbage Patch Kid was nearly enshrined in the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, New York (maybe next year). Today, more than 130 million Cabbage Patch dolls have been born in the North Georgia cabbage patch, where magical Bunnybees continue to spread their magic dust.
A CABBAGE PATCH FOLLOWING
BabyLand General Hospital in Cleveland is now a 70,000-square-foot palace standing on 650 acres of land resplendent with gardens for all things Cabbage Patch. It features a Magic Crystal Tree where guests can watch a “live” delivery of a Cabbage Patch Kid, and there are certified nurses to help with the birthing process. Officials are on hand, ready to help families eager to adopt a Cabbage Patch Kid or Baby. Adoption papers are signed in little offices near the main entryway, and there’s spaces for birthday parties, weddings and anniversaries, with families returning with their dolls year after year to celebrate.
Cabbage Patch Kid aficionados are devout. There are collectors and then there are collectors. Denise Marie Seibel, an escrow officer and licensed title insurance agent, is one of the latter. “For our wedding anniversary, we went to the original site of BabyLand,” she says. “My husband surprised me. We watched the live birth of a Hispanic preemie, Dillon Christopher … We continue to visit BabyLand on our trips to Georgia.” Julie Miley, a 63-year-old living in Colorado, finally was able to visit BabyLand in 2010. “I felt like I was in a wonderland! …
It felt so magical to walk around and see all those amazing babies!”
Seibel explains why BabyLand is such a special place. “I feel strongly that dolls are more than just playthings,” she says. “They teach us so much more. Cabbage Patch Kids have been a part of our family since the beginning. I cherish mine and have a small patch of my own.”
Dillon Kramer, who resides in Tampa, Florida, concurs. “I have met some of the best people of my life through Cabbage Patch [collectors’ clubs]. I have created lifelong friendships … We truly embody the spirit of Cabbage Patch Kids.”
That spirit is clear at Babyland: “Cabbage Patch Kids and Babies come in many sizes, color combinations, and adoption fees. Each one is looking for someone to love, just like you!”
Just like you, and me, and everyone.
“As long as Cabbage Patch Kids and BabyLand are around,” Kramer says, “the child that lives within us all is free.”
But the love for Cabbage Patch Kids isn’t reserved for collectors. Voted one of the Top 10 Toylands by the Travel Channel, BabyLand General Hospital has been a rite of passage for many children of North Georgia and beyond. While visitors may come from around the globe, having a magical destination in our own backyards is a gift. The White County attraction is free and open daily, with no pressure on adopting a Kid. Here, parents and real-life children can witness more than a toy factory but a place so whimsical it could rival a trip to Disney or an American Girl Flagship.
Self-guided tours allow visitors to spend as much time at the hospital—where staff are dressed as nurses—as one likes during open hours practically every day of the year. (It’s closed for Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.)
For anyone looking to adopt, 17- Babies and 20-inch Kids, uniquely dressed and styled so that each one is as individual as a real-life kid, are available for $80 and $90, respectively. Adoptive parents can find Exclusive Kids in the schoolhouse, on a school bus, at the playground or treehouse. These are not pre-packaged dolls but literally dolls one can seek and interact with before choosing to take one home. These also allow parents to customize the birth certificate and create a name and birthdate of their choosing.
For those choosing to adopt a packaged toy of either soft-sculpted, vinyl or a combination, adoption fees range from under $10 to $60. These dolls harken back to the early days and come with a pre-made birth certificate and adoption papers.
Original hand-stitched Cabbage Patch Kids are also available, all born at BabyLand General, with adoption fees beginning at $260 and no two ever exactly alike. These also have customizable names and birthdates. No matter how you select, Kids and Babies have different eye colors, genders, hair color, skin tones and sizes so one can find a doll closely resembling themselves or completely opposite.
Of course, there is more than just dolls for sale and visitors can find all the gear necessary to bring home a little one, including bassinets, bath sets, clothing, shoes and toys.
However, the highlight of every visit is when the Babyland General nurse proclaims that a new baby will be born by the magical mama cabbage. All guests are invited to watch in wonder (and even help name the new little one) who is then whisked to the nursery for his or her first checkup, before bestowed to some adoring new mama or papa.
Visitors to BabyLand can also enjoy the expansive grounds. Roberts created gardens as a tribute to his late mother and its 18th-Century English Garden vibe features azaleas, irises, lilies and more with the North Georgia Mountains as a backdrop. Grab a rocking chair and enjoy the mountain breezes, take a seat beneath a shady dogwood or Japanese Maple tree, or cool off at the nearby stream. All visitors are welcome to enjoy the land, again, at no charge. It’s just part of the magic that is BabyLand General and one all North Georgia residents should experience at least once.
BABYLAND GENERAL HOSPITAL
300 N.O.K. Drive, Cleveland, Georgia