Posted on Tue, Jul. 13, 2004

 

Visit your childhood superheroes at the Lunch Box Museum




Telegraph Staff Writer

 

You know how it goes. You see your good friends at lunch every day. Superman. Lassie. Rambo. The Dukes of Hazzard. Yogi Bear.

Then things change. You grow up; they drift away; and soon they've disappeared from your life.

But one day you run into them again, at the Lunch Box Museum. They look a bit older; they've got a few dings, maybe even a scratch or two. But they're still colorful, still fun and still in good shape.

Gee, it's good to see them again. There's the Green Hornet, Popeye and Rocky and Bullwinkle. There's Flipper, the Waltons, E.T., Roy and Trigger and the Brady Bunch.

How could you have ever let them get away?

If Allen Woodall, the museum's owner, has a duplicate, he will let you buy back one of your old friends.

"We will sell any duplicate," he said. "We do actually buy, sell and trade. Collectors come here, and kids and their parents."

Woodall says his museum is interactive.

"People can come up here and touch the lunch boxes, pick them up," he said. "I hear the parents say 'I carried this lunch box; this was my lunch box.' "

Woodall has been collecting lunch boxes for more than 20 years. A retired radio broadcasting company executive, he said that as a youngster he enjoyed listening to Dick Tracy and the Green Hornet.

When he spotted a metal Dick Tracy lunch box at a flea market in the early 1980s, he snapped it up. Soon he found a second lunch box: Western star Hopalong Cassidy.

"I just started picking them up; then I discovered other people were picking them up, too," Woodall said. "There's a lot of history in these boxes."

It was several years before his burgeoning collection turned into the Lunch Box Museum; and the museum has occupied several different sites since it opened.

The display includes more than 2,000 metal lunch boxes and 1,700 thermos jugs. He also collects TV trays from the '50s and '60s, which have started catching on as collectibles, he said. And he's also pulled in framed original paintings, the designs for many of the lunch boxes.

In 2001, Woodall retired from radio and bought and renovated a 20,000 square foot building in downtown Columbus. He reopened the space in 2002 as a vast antique mall downstairs, and upstairs the Lunch Box Museum.

The upper floor also houses his new museum, the Museum of Southern Stoneware, featuring a sizeable collection of historic and contemporary potters of the South including several from Crawford County. He's actively seeking more Crawford County potters to include to help round out a history of Southern pottery book he's writing now.

Woodall's lunch boxes in the museum range in price from $10 "into the hundreds," he said. He has others, not on display, worth much more. And he has seen one 1954 Superman version sell at auction for more than $10,000.

Woodall pointed out some of his favorites from the museum collection:

• "Rambo was the last metal lunch box made," he said. "Production stopped after some mothers in Florida said they were dangerous." (Metal lunch boxes were outlawed for school use in 1986 by the Florida Legislature, which termed them "lethal weapons.")

• A Thermette Hot Lunch Box manufactured in California between 1912 and 1920 has a detachable electric cord so food can be heated right in the box.

• A Dutch Cottage box made by Thermos in the late 1950s is "very rare," he said.

Woodall said beginning collectors should check eBay to learn about pricing of various lunch boxes. Flea markets are a good source for finds, but yard sales often yield the best deals.

He and a Virginia collaborator, Sean Brickell, have co-written an encyclopedia and price guide, "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Metal Lunch Boxes," with an updated edition published in 1999.

The Smithsonian Institution purchased 20 of Woodall's lunch boxes and Woodall donated 20 more for "Lunch Box Memories," a Smithsonian exhibit that opened in 2002 and is booked through 2005 in cities nationwide. The show has already run in Atlanta and opened last week in Charlotte, N.C.