Tartu Toy Museum uncovers fascinating historical tales of Old Town life

The Tartu Toy Museum
The Tartu Toy Museum Source: Screenshot from ETV

In the run-up to the annual Tartu Heritage Days, which take place in September, the Tartu Toy Museum has discovered some fascinating stories about the day-to-day goings on in the past, both in the museum building itself and the Tartu Old Town streets that surround it. Amongst them, several tales of the escapades of boys living in the museum building and nearby, have emerged.

In years gone by, the area around the Toy Museum on Lutsu tänav in Tartu's Old Town was bustling with life. According to the stories that have recently been uncovered recently by the museum, during the second half of the 20th century, the eight-apartment building was home to a number of prison guards and their children, who never got bored in the streets of the Old Town.

"It was a bit of a different kind of society here (at that time)," said Liis Järv, the museum's curator.

"You ended up having boys, who kind of acted like jerks. They went to all the places they weren't allowed to go to and did all the things they weren't allowed to do. I can't imagine kids today playing like that in a city environment, it was all a bit wild here," said Liis Järv, the museum's curator.

One example of their behavior involved experimenting by setting fire to a sofa in a local garage, which, Järv says, eventually caused the whole garage to burn down.

"The boys fled the scene, of course, but the act was not anonymous. People knew who was responsible, and so (the boys) ended up getting a good beating from the garage owner," said Järv.

The boys were also interested in getting their hands on some of the goods that had been confiscated by local police officers, who were very active at that time. So, they hatched a plan to befriend the dogs that were guarding these goods at night, in order to get access to them.

"The boys had the idea that they could somehow train these dogs to be friendly. So, they went out at night, secretly feeding the dogs under a big metal gate in an attempt to train them. However, we still don't know if this helped them in their plan to get hold of the confiscated goods or not," Järv said.

Old photos have also revealed some of the changes made to the Toy Museum building itself. For example, according to Järv, the place where the museum's toilets currently are, used to be a family bedroom, and, during the last century, a family bathroom was constructed inside one of the fireplaces.

"The fireplace, which we now display is such a medieval gem, however, it had a family bathroom inside it in the 1970s. They didn't know it was inside the mantelpiece, but it was built (at that time)," Järv said.

These are amongst the stories which will be told at the museum during the upcoming Heritage Days tours, which are due to take place on September 15, in Estonian.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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