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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Mild-mannered museum hosts action figure haven


BY SCOTT RAINS STAFF WRITER SRAINS@LAWTON-CONSTITUTION.COM
PAULS VALLEY — Tucked in the downtown district of this mild-mannered mid-Oklahoma town resides the Hall of Justice, the Batcave, the dream bedroom for 35-year toy collectors, and the fantastic fantasy of children everywhere.

“This is a fun place that brings in fun people,” curator Della Wilson said. The Toy and Action Figure Museum houses an extensive collection of action figures and toys with displays and items attractive to patrons of all ages.

The museum was conceived in 2000 at the Chamber of Commerce’s Vision 2010 planning sessions, Wilson said. It was a combination of organizations and the Main Street program which brought the idea into reality, she said. Local artist, toy designer and collector Kevin Stark helped the planners design and gather items for the museum. Stark designed most of the first edition Simpson’s toys which are on display.

At the museum’s grand opening in October 2005 dignitaries came from all over, Wilson said. “Captain Planet was here for the ribbon cutting,” she said.

“Our mission is to educate and excite visitors with a comprehensive collection of classic pop culture toys, with an emphasis on the social and historic evolution of the action figure,” Dean Wall, docent said.

During a tour of the museum, Wall points to the collection of framed pictures of the Justice League of America. Though lifelike from afar, upon closer inspection one finds the pictures to be paintings by renowned comic book cover painter Alex Ross.

Inside the entryway are the Hall of Fame inductees. Wall said each year the museum is inducting different toys into the collection. The original honorees — the original 12-inch GI Joe and Todd McFarlane, for his Spawn collection — are in glass display cases showing the evolution of the toys.

Next, visitors may take a look at the original artwork collection in the Oklahoma Cartoonist’s Hall of Fame. Cartoons of Oklahoma-born favorites Allie Oop, Dick Tracy and others adorn the wall near the honored works on display.

Another touch from the Stark collection is the museum’s Cave Full of Bat Stuff, Wall said. In a section towards the back of the museum, the bat cave houses a collection of Batman memorabilia, toys, pictures, suits and just about anything else someone batty about the dark knight could wish to see. The bat cave is the only room in the building where food and drinks are allowed and can be rented for birthday parties and celebrations, he said.

Being around so many displays that are for viewing and not touching, young visitors may find the urge to play too great a temptation. The museum has interactive stations where children may have some “hands-on” fun, Wall said. The first is the Mega Bloks and Lego Construction Room. Above the entryway is a largescale Raphael of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles standing guard. “Mega Bloks donated him,” Wall said.

The final hands-on section is Alien Playland. Costumes are available for visitors, who put on their best cape and pretend to be super — even if the giant boulders on hand to be hurled are actually bean bag chairs.

“Since opening, we’ve had visitors from 28 states and six countries,” Wilson said. “We hit 10,000 visitors in our first six months.”