Gen Xers, There’s a Museum Exhibit Celebrating Your Childhood

published Aug 20, 2023
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Gen Xers are the last generation to grow up without widespread access to the internet and social media, and it’s understandable why you might low-key yearn for those simpler times. If you’re part of the age bracket born between the mid-to-late 1960s and the early 1980s and you’re looking to relive your youth just a little bit, make a trip this summer to visit the Illinois State Museum in Springfield. There’s a Growing Up X exhibit chock-full of analog treasures on display, and yes, you can even use a real rotary phone again once you’re there.

Museum visitors can browse a curated collection of items including cassette tapes, jukeboxes, and Teddy Ruxpin toys, and the exhibit is interactive, so you can bring friends or even your kids and reminisce about the way things were while plopping down on a floral sofa and popping in a VHS tape or two.

Along with cultural touchpoints aplenty, the museum will hearken back to the experiences of youth growing up in the shadow of the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the AIDS crisis, which will serve as a stark reminder of both how far things have come and how much progress still needs to be made.

“Generation X has for a long time been overlooked so we wanted to explore the toys, technology, and culture of it because now they’re in their 40s and 50s,” ISM Curator of History Erika Holst told the State Journal-Register. “Tech has changed and social norms have changed so we wanted people to be able to look back, reflect on how they were raised, and feel seen.”

To adequately represent the varied lived experiences of Gen Xers (all sans social media), the museum surveyed 1,000 respondents, snagging a slew of photographs and loaned objects from the time to display. “I think the biggest thing that came out of the feedback was that Generation X was left on their own a lot as kids. It was a time when a lot more moms were joining the workforce and there was also a spike in divorces and no child care, so no one was home after school,” Holst told the outlet. “You’d give a 7 year old the house key to let themselves in and see them in a couple of hours. They didn’t need other people to entertain them, and they were kind of pragmatic so that really shaped the defining characteristic of the generation.”

Curators hope the exhibit will spark conversations between Gen Xers and their boomer parents and children alike. “We’ve seen a lot of Gen X parents bring their young child and say this is what a video game was like when I was growing up,” Holst said. “Then we’ve had Gen Xers come in with their boomer parents and have really good conversations saying ‘Oh, now I understand what it was like when you raised me, what you were going through and why you made the choices you did.’”

The exhibit runs through September 4th, and admission to the museum is free.