Babyland on Fifth at Christmas 2001
In search of the fabled New York location of the Cabbage Patch Kids store
Once upon a time at 475 5th Avenue, across from Bryant Park and the flagship branch of the New York Public Library, there lived a magical cabbage patch that, like clockwork, gave birth to a brand new Cabbage Patch Kid every twenty minutes or so.
It was actually the second magical cabbage patch. Longtime Night Water readers will know that I am obsessed with Babyland General Hospital, the fake hospital in Georgia where Cabbage Patch Kids are literally born. Not content to be merely a company store, Babyland General creates a fantasy world out of the maternity ward. The staff are dressed as doctors and nurses, and you don’t buy the dolls—you adopt them.
I have no personal nostalgia for the Cabbage Patch Kids. After finding the store in a roadside attractions directory, I was fascinated by just how odd it was: a store cosplaying as a hospital, with lore that interweaves both magical, sexless birth and the cold realities of modern medicine. But in creating a world for children and adults alike out of a retail store, Babyland General is not all that different from immersive Disney theme parks like Star Wars: Galaxy Edge, or Harry Potter World. The only real difference is that the Cabbage Patch Kids don’t have a billion dollar cinematic universe.1
At the height of Cabbage Patch Kids mania in the 1980s, the company opened a second hospital in New York. Babyland on Fifth is now, like many of the most legendary New York institutions, closed. As the store primarily existed before the rise of the user-generated internet, the digital trail of breadcrumbs ends pretty quickly. There is a digitized version of a 1985 New York Times article on the location2 as well as a handful of photos and a few eBay listings for store memorabilia.
Google surfaces two photos of the store from Pinterest, but neither upload includes much useful information—one caption reads “Babyland on Fifth circa mid 1980’s - Fifth Ave that is in NYC of course.” Luckily, a reverse image search brought me to the original source: galenfrysinger.com.
The page, simply titled “New York City at Christmas 2001,” features 20 photos from a winter trip to New York in the months after 9/11. There’s a photo of a makeshift memorial to firefighters killed in the attack, as well as Rockefeller Center, Carnegie Hall, FAO Schwarz, Trump Plaza, a poster for Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in The Producers, and Babyland on Fifth.
The first photo shows the Babyland storefront from outside, largely obfuscated by window shoppers. The second takes us inside the store, to the cabbage patch delivery room overseen by medical staff.
This is just one page of photos. There are many more spread across the site, covering trips to Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and even Antarctica. All of them were taken by Dr. Galen Frysinger, a retired scientist turned travel photographer currently living in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Dr. Frysinger has a vast system of websites covering his life—everything from his academic research to his work years to his list of personal computers he’s owned, starting with an Apple II in 1980. He has traveled to over 180 countries, written over 60 scientific papers, and uploaded over 200,000 photos of his travels to the internet.3
So naturally, when I reached out to him, I wanted to ask about Babyland on Fifth.
I found an email address on galenfrysinger.com back in May, when I first saw these photos, but when I reached out, I received an error: “This email could not be delivered.” I found a Galen Frysinger on Facebook, and tried to reach out there as well, with no reply. And so for a while, I gave up. But as Christmas—and the twenty year anniversary of these photos—approached, I knew I had to try again. Luckily, this time, I found a new site, dedicated to preserving Dr. and Mrs. Frysinger’s work in the event that they did not make it through the COVID-19 pandemic, with a new contact page. This time, the email was delivered.
Dr. Frysinger told me that his visit to Babyland on Fifth was largely incidental. The Frysingers were in town on a Thanksgiving weekend, having flown in from Milwaukee to see a few Broadway shows. “We were walking in New York and sat on a wall resting outside the Public Library,” he wrote to me last week. “Across the street we saw an advertisement for Baby Land General.” Galen’s wife had received a Cabbage Patch Kid doll as an engagement shower gift, and they were curious. “We watched a birth, from under the cabbage leaves. Watched a couple do an adoption. Then we walked on.”
Dr. Frysinger and his wife have over 20 Cabbage Patch Kids, some adopted, and others from the secondary market. Mrs. Frysinger, a retired first grade teacher, would use the dolls in her classroom to tell stories, and “needed many costumes.” They often found dresses, shoes, and coats for the dolls on sale at local craft shows. Their last doll, “Taylor,” was adopted at Babyland General in Georgia many years after their New York trip.
New York City at Christmas 2021. You can no longer walk into Babyland on Fifth for a quick afternoon birth, and Cabbage Patch Kids are largely a forgotten cultural phenomenon. The dolls are still sold, yes, but you couldn’t imagine a near riot over them at a shopping mall taking place today. But I find myself delighted by Dr. Frysinger’s account precisely because of the everyday nature of it. Just an afternoon in New York in the weeks before Christmas, happening upon the birth of a popular doll and then walking on. The only reason we know about it at all is because of two photographs, enduring footprints in the sands of time.
Full of delightful details, such as a doll enthusiast pointing out a human baby in a stroller and going, “Oh look, a real.” Apparently it was more common to see a Cabbage Patch Kid in a stroller at Babyland.
He also supported Bernie Sanders’ bid for president in 2016—truly, a man after my own heart.