COLUMBUS, Ga. (CIRCA) — A Georgia man has put together the world's largest collection of lunchboxes, and chances are the one you carried to the cafeteria is in there.
There's something special about a lunchbox that can take you back in time. Nostalgia can be triggered by the way the metal feels on some old-school boxes or the way it sounds when a plastic box snaps shut. Even the characters featured on the front evoke memories. The whole experience of touching and seeing an old lunchbox instantly makes you feel like a kid again, sitting in the cafeteria with a sandwich and a juice box. So, the Lunch Box Museum in Columbus, Georgia, feels like a fountain of youth come to life.
"It's so unique. It's a memory. You're walking down memory lane here," explained Allen Woodall, the curator of the museum. He's been transporting people back to their childhood for decades through this collection, which is tucked away in the back of an antique market in this rural town about two hours south of Atlanta.
"When they actually see the box that they remember having back in school," Woodall told Circa, "their face just lights up."
It's like time traveling making a visit to the Lunch Box Museum. Every era of television and movies is on display. More recent stars like Hannah Montana and Buzz Lightyear occupy the same shelves as legends like the Hulk, Hulk Hogan and Dick Tracy. These lunchboxes, Woodall says, were launched as marketing tools for the most popular shows and films. Powerful companies quickly embraced the ability to get their product into homes and schools during the daily lunch period.
And these treasures that reflect brand marketing go way back. The museum has some of the most rare boxes ever made, including a 1954 box that shows Superman etched into metal. A Mickey Mouse lunch kit from 1935 sits behind the glass in a locked case. And just down the row is what Woodall considers a holy grail: a Toppie the Elephant lunchbox that was a giveaway from a grocery chain in the '50s. Of 14 that potentially exist on the planet, Woodall has not one, but two. Visitors can't actually touch those rare lunchboxes. The others are on display to be touched and even purchased — but only if they can find a duplicate on the shelves.
There are now thousands of lunchboxes in the collection, which started as a promise. Back in 1985, Woodall bought approximately 700 boxes from a friend who had passed away. He promised the man's widow he would write a book about the collection and open a museum. In 1990, the Lunch Box Museum was opened to the public. "The rest is history," he said.
And it really is history, American history that is broken down to a series of squares that each capture a moment in time. The Smithsonian even raided Woodall's collection at one point early on, carefully choosing an iconic few to display in a slightly more prominent location. Others have taken notice, too. Architectural Digest featured the museum in a feature titled "13 Fascinating Museums You Didn't Know Existed."
But for Woodall, it's not just about collecting, as he's done all his life. This museum is about sharing. His legacy is about opening up a single room in a rural town to connect people to a time and place they never knew they could visit again: the past.
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