Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites

In association with the Smithsonian Institution


From Marbles to Make-Believe: Let’s Play!

red shoes with white laces and straps and a pointed toe with springs attached below the heel and toe areas.

From the whirligigs of the Colonial Era to the video games of the present day, how we play - and what we play with - has changed dramatically.

October 08, 2022 - January 31, 2023

An essential and longstanding human activity, play has helped us develop our imaginations and problem-solving skills since ancient times.  "From Marbles to Make Believe: Let's Play!” explores the history of recreation and play in America and examines design trends and themes in toys and games throughout time. From carefully designed action figures to a collection of dangerous toys, "From Marbles to Make Believe: Let's Play!” will awaken your sense of fun and wonder one toy at a time!

Along with the toys on display, join us for family fun on the first Sunday of every month for Free Sundays at the Museum. A complete list of dates and activities can be found on our Free Sundays page.

Play is an important part of history. From early Moravians playing cards to modern day video games, From Marbles to Make Believe: Let's Play! showcases toys throughout history with the playfulness that they deserve! Not your typical museum visit, enjoy the opportunity to have some fun at multiple museums and historic sites in Bethlehem!

At The Kemerer Museum

tinker toys container on the left with a tinker toy tower made of wooden disks with colorful sticks
four lawn darts, with red and yellow fins, and a
teal gameboy hand held game with black buttons

Play Through Time

Explore the evolution of play through the different materials we’ve used to make toys, and the time periods in which they were popular. Of special interest is a collection of handcrafted dollhouses and a collection of incredibly rare American-made celluloid toys!

Trendy Toys

What was the most popular toy the year you were born? In what year was your favorite toy most popular? Get an up-close look at the most popular playthings of the 1900s!

Parlor and Board Games 

When discussing play, we often focus on the physical, but mental play is just as important! This section will explore the importance of board and parlor games.

Perilous Playtime

Play is meant to be fun, but it can also be dangerous! This section explores a collection of dangerous toys from the 1950s to the 1990s. How close you came to danger may surprise you!

Level up Play

Play has evolved in a short span of time. Whereas Baby Boomers and Gen Xers grew up playing outside, today’s children prefer a more virtual experience. This section explores the shift from outdoor to indoor play.

Play in Other Worlds

In this section, explore the theme of imaginative play! Check out a collection of action figures from a galaxy far, far away and embrace your inner spellcaster with a rousing game of Dungeons and Dragons!

Art as Play

We often think of art and play as being different, but art itself is an element of play. Explore the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts to find playful works of art by regional artists like Nancy Bossert, Janet Rockware, and Barbara Kozero!

At The Moravian Museum

Play Back When

In this section, explore the games that would have been played by the Moravians of historic Bethlehem! Are any of these games still played today? The answer may surprise you!

At The Luckenbach Mill

Art of Play

What does Play mean to artists? Is it experimentation with media? Is it simply trying a new technique? From the whimsical to the wild, the Lehigh Art Alliance' 87th Fall Juried Exhibition will let your creativity and imagination run and play!

Erin Pryor Gill

Inspired daily by the surrounding landscape and historic architecture, Erin Pryor Gill is a fine artist working in pastels, oils, and various printmaking techniques.

Erin majored in painting and printmaking at Alfred University, and received a BFA in Illustration from Rochester Institute of Technology. In addition to studio work, Erin enjoys painting outdoors. Erin is on the board of the Lehigh Art Alliance, and is a signature member of the Pastel Society of New Jersey.

With 28 trees on display across five historic sites, the Trees of Historic Bethlehem display is a time-honored tradition in Bethlehem. This year, in conjunction with our “From Marbles To Make-Believe: Let’s Play!” exhibit, each tree is decorated by members of the Bethlehem Garden Club to reference some of your favorite games, including favorites like Monopoly, The Game of Life, and Trivial Pursuit!

With a Trees of Historic Bethlehem ticket, visitors also have access to "From Marbles To Make-Believe: Let's Play!" and the Christmas Heritage Trail.

View the virtual Trees Exhibit and Putz Trail which features Trees of Historic
Bethlehem of the Past, and Putz displays from across the region.

Funding by the Bealer-Greene Christmas Endowment

Events & Programs

From Marbles to Make Believe: Let's Play!  programs are supported in part by the Helen and Maurice Jones Fund for Adult Programming and the Helen and Maurice Jones Fund for Children's Programming.

Is it in the Cards? Early Moravians and Card Games

Kicking off our fun-filled Day of Play, learn more about the early Moravians of Bethlehem and their views towards play with the help of a costumed guide! This demonstration will be available from 11:00 AM- 12:00 PM at the Moravian Museum of Bethlehem. Afterwards, be sure to join us at our first annual Lehigh Valley Antique Treasure Show on the lawn behind the Gemeinhaus!

Curious about the carnival glass vase you got from your great Aunt? How about the cast iron firetruck you found in your basement?

On Saturday, October 8th, join us for an HBMS-style Antiques Treasure Show! Starting at 12:00PM, local appraisers will be on-hand to examine your treasures and share their knowledge. From 12:00PM-1:30PM, you will be able to get quick appraisals from our panel of appraisers. From 1:30PM-3:00PM, the appraisers will perform an in-depth examination of 20 items that were submitted to them in advance at a cost of $30 per item. Spectators are also welcome! All guests will be able to explore our newest special exhibit, From Marbles to Make Believe: Let’s Play!

To get a personal, in-depth written appraisal by one of the appraisers, please contact us at [email protected] or (610)-882-0450 by Friday, September 30th. In-depth appraisals will be available to the first 20 requestees.

Antique Treasure Show save the date Saturday October 8, with three teacups

Opening Reception

The opening reception for From Marbles to Make Believe: Let's Play! will occur on Thursday, October 13th from 6:00 -8:00 PM at the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts. Take a Curator-led tour with Brett Peters, and enjoy toy demonstrations, the game parlor, and light refreshments! While you're here, check out our new mural and hear from artist Kathi Ember! Admission is free for HBMS members, and $10 for non-members. Visit HistoricBethlehem.org to reserve your ticket and learn more about site hours, admission, and upcoming programs for all ages.  

Shoeless Joe, the Babe, and the Highly Unlikely 1918 Bethlehem Steel League

Created in 1917 to entertain its workforce, the Bethlehem Steel Baseball League’s rosters were initially filled by factory workers, but in 1918, Bethlehem Steel executives hired professional scouts and managers to recruit big-time talent like Babe Ruth, Eddie Plank, and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson! On Thursday, October 20th, learn more about the highly unlikely 1918 Bethlehem Steel League from baseball expert Geoff Gehman!

Geoff Gehman is a former pitcher who wrote about arts and sports for The Morning Call from 1984 to 2009. He is the author of five books, including the memoir "The Kingdom of the Kid: Growing Up in the Long-Lost Hamptons," which contains a chapter about Carl Yastrzemski, the Boston Red Sox hall of famer. He lives in a South Side building built as a mansion by a Bethlehem Steel mogul.

Other Things You Might Like

Historic Site Rentals

Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites offers the most unique settings for an unforgettable event.

With unsurpassed charm and elegance, our sites can accommodate as few as 10 and as many as 250 people for weddings, dinner parties, family reunions, corporate receptions, team-building activities, and more.

From the pastoral homestead of Colonial statesman James Burnside to the one-of-a-kind decorative arts destination for discerning guests, Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites offers a range of venues that will not only make a perfect backdrop for your event but introduce your guests to Bethlehem's rich heritage.

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Historic Bethlehem Partnership, Inc. is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Registration and financial information about Historic Bethlehem Partnership, Inc. may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling toll-free, within Pennsylvania, 1-800-732-0999, or on the web at www.dos.state.pa.us. Registration does not imply endorsement.