The Babyland General Gazette

I came up with about a dozen possible names for this newsletter before settling on Night Water. One of them was The Babyland General Gazette. Babyland General Hospital, if you didn’t already know, is where Cabbage Patch Kids are both literally and metaphorically born. It is the Mecca for Cabbage Patch Kids fans, located in a “Southern Style home” (i.e. plantation) in Cleveland, Georgia. When they say that a picture is worth a thousand words, they're talking about this masterpiece from the official Cabbage Patch Kids website:

Babyland General is the flagship store for Cabbage Patch Kids, the once-very-popular brand of baby dolls that inspired both a series of riots across America in 1983 and the 1996 Arnold Schwarzenegger film Jingle All the Way. While the dolls, to my knowledge, no longer spark riots, they do still have plenty of rabid fans—the hospital saw about 250,000 visitors every year, pre-COVID.

I first came across Babyland General Hospital while researching roadside attractions for an old job. I was immediately fascinated and haunted by what I saw. The employees of Babyland General cosplay as medical professionals. The centerpiece of the hospital is Mother Cabbage, a twelve-foot tall artificial tree from which all Cabbage Patch Kids are supposedly born, and from which a lucky few hand-sewn cabbage children are actually born. I encourage you to read Angela Garbes’ essay “The BabyLand Diaries,” which compares the theatrics at Babyland to actual human birth:

The nurse pulls out a pelvimeter, an actual stainless-steel, gynecological instrument that resembles the silver electronic claws used to pick up toys at arcades. “We want to make sure [Mother Cabbage] has dilated a full ten leaves apart,” she explains.

This well-orchestrated birthing show appears to be largely unchanged since the 1980s. The New York Times described how a Babyland doctor “looked under the leaves with a penlight and told the crowd that the mother cabbage had dilated to four leaves open and was about to deliver" at the—get this—second Babyland General Hospital location on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, which has since closed.

The conceit extends to—bizarrely and insensitively—premature children. Cabbage Patch “Preemies” were affected by an early frost (“remember, they’re cabbage… but also not?” writes Melanie Hamlett) and are three inches shorter than your standard Cabbage Patch doll. They have their own small diapers and clothing lines, and at Babyland General, they live in their own incubator room in glass cases with holes for human kids to reach in and touch the dolls.

All of this is to say, Babyland General Hospital is a uniquely horrific place that I would someday love to visit and actually see, with my own eyes, Mother Cabbage giving birth. I’m honestly surprised that more people don’t talk about—it is, like the G.W. Zoo before Tiger King—a place ripe for some kind of documentary or podcast or horror video game. (If you are very rich and would like to fund my six-part limited series podcast on Babyland General Hospital, please do get in touch.)

In the primordial soup of my notes on this newsletter, I played around with including some of my favorite elements from my local alt-weekly growing up—back page ads! horoscopes! mediocre comics!—before I reined myself in. But what better place for a newspaper to come from than Babyland General Hospital, an alternative reality unto itself? The aforementioned New York Times piece ends with this kicker:

''I like [Babyland General],’’ said Nurse Gina, ''because you can come in here and get completely away from New York, the world, --.''

''The planet,'' said an onlooker, completing her sentence.

I don’t think this newsletter will quite succeed in teleporting you to another planet, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.