Heart-shaped box


The Quincy Paper Box building at Third and Vermont will be the home for the Quincy Children's Museum. Photo by Brittany Boll

Winter is coming. And it’s not just the Game of Thrones world that fears it.

Mothers, fathers, childcare givers alike, across the Midwest fear the cold that is coming. With temperatures freezing, so does our option to tell the kids to “just go outside and play,” at least for long periods of time. The cries of malaise consume our cozy hibernation. Board games are boring. Nothing is on Netflix. You find yourself allowing your kid to view the same talentless YouTube star repeatedly like a broken record. It becomes your theme song to the winter blues. But not a good one. Insanity sets in. A mother can only handle so many Charli D’Amelio dances. Even the kids yearn for something more. As parents, we must break the cycle.

Turn off that cooped-up kids’ song. Children have a lot of energy, and they need to run, run, run. Lucky for you, there is a golden ticket out of this nightmare.

The Peanuts Gang or the Nutcracker?

This winter, the Quincy Children’s Museum is providing parents with more opportunities to kick those winter blues brought on by boredom.

On Friday, November 11, the museum will move their interactive satellite display, “Into the Arctic” from the Quincy Public Library to a site donated by the Quincy Town Center. The display will be located across from Kirlin’s Hallmark Store provides room to add a second interactive exhibit which features a sock skating ring. The 384 square foot skating rink is on loan from the Kidzeum of Health and Science in Springfield. Both exhibits, along with a couple of other newly acquired interactive features provide children with a winter wonderland experience without the subzero windchill biting your face. 

Here’s our team performing The Nutcracker…sort of.

The QCM not only provides interactive exhibits to explore, but a socialization factor as well. We tend to forget the importance human interactions have on our health. In a world ruled by phones, along with post COVID shutdown social effects, the ability to communicate in person has become difficult.

For someone raising an only child, park play interactions have been pertinent in the development of social skills. During the winter months when it was too cold to play in the park, my daughter and I would spend a lot of time at the former Quincy Mall. Really, they had it all… including heat in the commons. A pretzel from Auntie Annes and some Pepsi Play Place time was this mom’s go-to on those dark winter days.

Now that the mall has been rebranded to The Quincy Town Center, it seems they need a new slogan. My mind is singing a Bring It On type cheer. Something like: ‘Brrrrr cha cha we’re in the Town Centerrrr.’

Ok, still working on that. In the meantime, go step “Into the Arctic” to get your Yamaguchi on.

Video from Amy Peters.

The Quincy Children’s Museum satellite exhibit will be on display between November 11 to December 23 during the hours of 10am-12pm and 4pm-7pm Monday-Friday and 12-5pm on Saturday and Sunday. Despite the vacant storefronts in the Town Center, pretzels and the play place are still options you can add to your winter play itinerary. Hopefully, these novelties hold strong, at least until the Children’s Museum opens its doors to the community and parents no longer must live in fear of the winter.

The opening of those doors of the Children’s Museum has recently turned from dream to reality with the organization’s formal announcement on their location.

The Quincy Paper Box building at 230 N. Third will be the site of the new museum’s home. The building, built in 1890, was formally a factory that produced shoe boxes, candy boxes, and the well-known Valentine heart-shaped boxes. Local urban legend has led some to believe that the heart shaped box originated in Quincy, within the Paper Box building. However according to Google, it was introduced by Richard Cadbury in 1861, long before his bunnies started laying eggs and the Quincy Paper Box Company started the production of their heart shaped boxes. 

Don Weinberg owned the building until he died in 2016, leaving it to his sister Gingie Holzgrafe and family. Weinberg was known in the community to be a collector, to put it lightly. It is said that the difference between a collector and a hoarder is that a collector has room to store everything. The Paper Box building was just one of Weinberg’s many buildings that served as his treasure chests. The three-story building was packed to the hole in the roof with his stuff making it a paradise of mystery, kind of like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Wonka was a madman. Weinberg was eccentric. His friends said that he hated authority, most of his neighbors, and squirrels. He liked old stuff and cool things. 

The magic of his factory building lives on as the Holzgrafe family made the generous donation of the building along with a significant financial contribution to the QCM. Weinberg’s collection was a challenge for the QCM team to clear out, but the efforts proved to be rewarding as they found pieces to display throughout the future museum, including a thirty-foot wooden boat. Mystery, history and adventure still flood the building and plans for its permanent purpose are moving right along with a new captain.

In this story, our Charlie was in charge long before the factory site plans. People might say Amy Peters is a little crazy herself, wanting to put a children’s museum inside a rotting warehouse, however, most look at her for what she really is and that is a visionary. 

I met with Amy, the founder and director of the Quincy Children’s Museum in her office setting which is in the office of Dr. Doug Wentura, a local dentist. Dr. Wentura is her dad.  Though the dentist office was closed at the time, I still felt like I was doing something I shouldn’t be doing when I arrived at our interview bearing chocolate frosty’s from Wendy’s. Candy drinks while discussing a museum for children seemed only fitting. Just two moms enjoying some kid-free chocolate shakes, not worrying about cavities. Don’t tell the dentist. 

Amy Peters is building something special.

Peters said she started the concept of the Quincy Children’s Museum back in 2019, after attempting to be a stay-at-home mom for about a week.  At the time she was a mother of three (now five), but felt she just needed to be working on a project outside the home. In the past, Amy worked with children as a social worker.  She is the type of person that thrives being busy. After designing a logo on her phone, she took to Facebook with a survey asking the community if we thought that we needed a children’s museum. Within a week, 627 people responded with almost all the responses being positive.

One person said that they didn’t want their tax money going to it and another told her we need to worry about filling the potholes. When putting the name “Quincy” in front of anything, disenfranchised citizens automatically think that their tax money is being used for it. Rightfully so, as Quincians have been taxed upside-down for other peoples’ visions in the past.

However, this is not the case. This vision is being completely financed by donation and grants. Eventually, Peters had to put a name and face behind it so that the community didn’t think she was the city of Quincy or just some crazy lady.  I mean, she still might be a little crazy taking all of this on – but it’s the good crazy. Three years later after a lot of time and hard work, the Quincy Children’s Museum is an official non-for-profit organization.  The organization is made up of twelve board members, two employees, and a lot of hard-working volunteers. QCM is funded by generous donors, a list of which can be found here.

This baby really is taking a village. 

Now the mother behind it needs $10 million more dollars to open its doors. This is kind of the running joke she has with people when they ask her when the doors are going to open. A harsh truth with a little humor helps the medicine go down but nonetheless, QCM has a clear plan and financial goals. You will find Amy and the QCM trailer is everywhere. She totes different exhibits and activities around from school events to community parties in hopes that their consistent presence assists in raising awareness and of course money.

The inspiration behind it all is rather simple.

“It’s the kiddos,” Peters said. “By nature, I love my kids. I love working with kids. I had a good childhood. As an adult, I’ve worked with children that don’t have those same experiences. They don’t have the means to just go down to the magic house. And those kind of childhood experiences are important. So, I think being able to have that (QCM) here and being able to reach as many kids as possible to give those opportunities are the reasons why we’ve done all of this.”

She goes from I to we often, always accrediting the team that shares her dream.

Amy shared fond memories of her childhood with me which included many trips to the St. Louis Magic House and the Science Center. Her favorite childhood pastime was creek stomping with her brothers, neighbors and cousins, which is the inspiration for her favorite part of the design. She shared with me an inside peek into the top-secret plans for the museum. I swore on my frosty I wouldn’t disclose anything other than the plan for an outdoor creek that winds around the side of the building. The creek’s design looks like it’s going to be the coolest water feature this side of the Mississippi. 

A big motive behind this driving force is the actual drive to places like St. Louis for the Magic House experience. Packing the kids up and driving the two plus hours to get there is a chore. Any childrearing person can agree that most children do not easily cooperate, and car trips can make anyone cranky. Hence, there really is a calling to have this kind of high-level participatory museum experience in the backyard of our own community. A special something for locals to enjoy and a true attraction for tourists to visit. It’s the golden ticket for everyone.

Amy and her husband, Jake Peters, are the parents to five beautiful children, Maggie (9), Cooper (7), Elodie (5), Jersey (2 -soon to be 3 on Christmas), and Finley (1). Busy is an understatement. But again, this is how she thrives. Amy is a 2010 QHS graduate who went on to complete her undergrad at Western University, a Master of Social Work at Mizzou, and a professional educator license from the University of Illinois. When she is not working, she finds joy just simply spending time with her family at their house out in the country. 

The Peters family.

On the west side of Quincy, where my family lives, the Paper Box building stands like an old sentinel.  I have often looked at it with the curiosity of a child.  Walking past it on some random afternoon while a truck idles out front, and the warped front doors hang open in wait for whoever is inside.  Years ago, it would have been Donnie, bringing new treasures inside.  In recent years, it’s been others bringing those same treasures out. 

An antique popcorn machine, a cotton gin, a block and tackle, old Fresnel glass from a lighthouse lamp, and many other artifacts boxed up, carried out, sold to other people around the world that will love them the way Donnie must have at some weekend estate sale.  The building draws you in.  It makes you want to slip in through an unlocked window and discover something that will lead to a great adventure.  An adventure that is starting anew. 

Construction has started, walls have been torn down, and Amy wrote a very large and very painful check for the roof, or what was left of it, to be replaced.  Because this one is worth hanging onto.  It’s got great bones; dimensional timbers thicker than modern lumber create floors spanning a brick and steel façade that would have been standing long after you or me with little outside intervention.  And that old landmark of the Quincy downtown, just like the items that once filled it, has been found, picked up and dusted off, and become hallowed ground for this great new adventure.  One who’s core values are curiosity, connection, creativity, and discovery. 

As I stand outside the building to take the pictures for my article, I feel that same call to adventure.  It’s getting cold, and the sky is streaked with red and purple as the sun sets just behind me.  I play music in my earbuds and try and take in the whole scene.  The song is Heart Shaped Box, and the band is Nirvana.  In Buddhism, Nirvana is the state of perfect understanding that allows the individual to break free from the cycle of reincarnation that is the cause of all human suffering.  But all I can think about is second chances.  A new legacy for Amy and Donnie, a new life for the Paper Box building, and a new adventure for the whole Q-munity.  

If you want to improve your karma and contribute to the Quincy Children’s Museum, here is the link to donate.

Brittany Boll writes and hosts for Muddy River News. Along with being a wife and mom, she serves Quincy’s finest at Spring Street Bar and other spots on demand.

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