and Willy Wonka share space in The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis’s newest permanent exhibit, American POP. The past-and-present pop culture showcase features accessories from big-name celebrities like Lady Gaga and Michael Jackson alongside the Cabbage Patch Kids dolls and iPods of everyday Americans. Nineties kids can reminisce about killing—sorry, nurturing—their Tamagotchis, superhero fans will geek out over a wall of vintage comics taken from the museum’s 14,000-piece Max Simon Comic Book Collection, and everyone will want to flip through a carousel of rotating cowboy boots.
From a 1931 Boy Scouts of America calendar to a 2016 Misty Copeland doll, the museum’s 2,600-square-foot treasure trove spans the decades (and there are 150,000 more items in storage). “We hope what will happen is what I’m seeing happen all around me,” says Children’s Museum director of collections Chris Carron. “Everybody is finding their favorite lunchbox from when they were a kid, or that toy they had, or that thing they wore, and moms and dads and grandparents are sharing those stories with kids, so it really facilitates storytelling and discussion between generations.” It’s easy to get caught up in the more than 300 pop culture treasures, so we asked Carron for a few items not to miss.
- Spock Parka
A shameless Trekkie, Carron jumped at the chance to acquire anything Spock-related, including Leonard Nimoy’s fur-lined parka from the 2009 Star Trek film. American POP also boasts one of 500 Tribbles made famous in a 1967 episode of the TV series, “The Trouble with Tribbles”—one of Carron’s favorites.
- Golden Ticket
Created for the 1971 movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the ticket is one of Carron’s two favorite items from American POP (did we mention he’s a Trekkie?). Whether you’ve seen the 1971 or 2005 movies, or read the Roald Dahl book, the ticket is a nostalgic passport to the world’s most magnificent chocolate factory.
- Taylor Swift Dress
Taylor Swift wore this asymmetrical polka-dot number during her Dancing with the Stars drop-in in 2009. “It’s neat; you can pick out real props and costumes that your favorite stars wore in the exhibit,” Carron says. How tall is Swift? The bottom half of the thigh-skimming dress is as long as the top
- Cowboy Boot Carousel
Sure, everyone knows the museum’s 100-year-old Wishes and Dreams carousel, but now the horses have competition—from cowboy boots. Robert Wild’s daughter offered her Wild West–loving dad’s nearly 100 pairs to the museum after his death. At first, Carron wasn’t sure Wild’s collection would be a good fit for the exhibit, but the carousel of Western footwear soon won him over. “This man had a dry-cleaning rack in his closet full of cowboy boots, and he’d dial up a pair to match his shirts,” Carron says. “I knew we had to replicate this experience for our visitors.” Pushing a palm-sized red button rotates the boots, so you can match your flannel shirt to your rodeo-tested kicks.
- 1952 Play Dentist Set
It lights! It buzzes! It swivels! There are interchangeable drills! This hot-ticket Pressman item from 1952 invites boys and girls to play dentist for a day. “I love this set,” Carron says. “I mean, can you imagine? You know there’s a little brother practicing dentistry on his sister.”
Bonus: Ron Weasley’s Howler
There’s no mistaking that handwriting: Molly Weasley’s irate scrawl covers this burgundy missive, the physical embodiment of being embarrassed by your mom. Ron may have unleashed it on-screen in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in 2002, but rest assured, there’s plenty of vitriol left for visitors to enjoy.
Honorable mention: A Warhol-inspired Campbell’s “Souper” dress; a Michael Jackson fedora; sky-high, 14-inch Lady Gaga heel-less platform shoes; and memorabilia from the museum’s Guinness World Record–recognized, 3,252-piece Kevin Silva Batman collection (including props used on-screen).
Check out American POP 10 a.m.–5 p.m. daily (entrance is included with Children’s Museum admission). https://www.childrensmuseum.org/exhibits/american-pop