For reasons which I have never understood, my father’s nickname is “Tooge.” As long as I can remember, people have asked me, “What’s a Tooge?” Well, a Tooge is a Tooge. The way Tigger is a Tigger. So, Imaginunchkins are Imaginunchkins. But that doesn’t explain much, does it? Be patient then, and I’ll make it as short as possible:
In the early years of the Great Depression, there lived in Sycamore Shadows a young man whom everyone considered a goof. He was lazy, didn’t apply himself in school, excelled at no athletics, never caught many fish, and always seemed to thinking of one thing when he should have been thinking of another. He wasn’t handsome and he wasn’t ugly. No one disliked him but he had few, if any close friends; he was simply too remote and spent most of his waking hours daydreaming. And dreaming he did, much to the consternation of his parents, his family, and his teachers, none of whom saw any value in his fantasies. Although his given name was Henry, everyone knew him as “Dreamy.” “Dreamy” Rêvasser.
One day in October (a month in which many great ideas are born) when Dreamy had just entered manhood, he was daydreaming as usual and thought of something. It was a small idea. It wasn’t fancy or complicated. But it grew inside Dreamy until it became a big idea, and a big thing too, not just in Sycamore Shadows but all over the country. He thought of a ball, roughly the size of a quarter, neither too mushy or too hard, with no arms, no mouth, and no eyes; only two little feet covered in leather shoes. He decided to name them Imaginunchkins.
Cultural historians with more insight than me have failed to adequately explain certain national trends. There is something intangibly appealing about certain characters that defies easy explanation and classification. , Mickey Mouse is a good example. Perhaps the Imaginunchkins belonged in the same category. In short, soon after their creation in 1931, they became a national phenomenon. The following several years saw the introduction of Imaginunchkin comics, Imaginunchkin toys, and a plethora of other products ranging from men’s shirts to soap to candy. It seemed as if the country could not get enough of them. While never eclipsing the popularity of Mickey Mouse and, in later years, Donald Duck, they were a ubiquitous cultural force of their own.
After the entrance of the United States into World War II in December 1941, Dreamy enlisted and was with the first Americans sent to fight in Europe. He died on the beach at Normandy in July 1944, one month after the invasion, of a sunstroke while sunbathing. Without their creator, the imaginuchkins faded as quickly as they had arisen, a minor and ultimately unimportant victim of the horror of the Second World War. There are historians who believe that had Dreamy lived and his creations evolved with the expanding optimism of the late forties and early fifties, they would have remained as popular as Mickey Mouse, but historians are wont to speculate about what others simply accept.
You may remember the passing of Harold Clump early last year; at the garage sale held by his wife, Elizabeth, I was surprised to discover several boxes of Imaginunchkin memorabilia among her late husband’s effects. How it came to be in the possession of Mr. Clump not even his widow knows, having been unaware of their existence. She graciously donated the three boxes to the Sycamore Shadows Museum and though Abigail and I have yet to catalog the contents of even one box, the find has already proven to be a treasure trove of information and documentation of a twentieth-century phenomenon. In addition to various toys and imaginunchkin products, there are also records, sketches, comics, books, and notes, many in the hand of the Dreamy, as well as newspaper clippings, and numerous other items. It is my intention to post photos and informative articles periodically and eventually dedicate a portion of this website to what local residents fondly refer to as “our ‘unchkins.”
REFERENCES USED IN THIS ARTICLE
Collins, Arthur. Imagine This: the History of an Early Twentieth-century Idea. NY 1969, Harker Bros.
This scholarly work by a professor of popular culture at Nebraska State University is the standard reference on Imaginunchkins and their impact. Though somewhat dated, it is still useful. I recommend it to anyone interested in pursuing, in detail, the history of our town’s proudest moment.
“Sycamore Shadows’ Own Imaginunchkins Enjoying Regional Fame,” The Evening Shade, April 12, 1930, Sycamore Shadows, OH.
“Local Resident Remembers Dreamy.” The Evening Shade, January 31, 1979, Sycamore Shadows, OH.