Nostalgia for childhood—whether our own or the idealized version we see in TV shows and movies—is practically its own industry today. Which makes the latest objects to land in the National Museum of American History especially fitting: Thanks to donations from cast and crew members, the museum has added several items from The Wonder Years, the television series that itself mythologized the 1960s, to its permanent collection.
On Tuesday afternoon, several actors from the show—including Fred Savage (who played Kevin Arnold), Jason Hervey (Kevin’s brother, Wayne), and Josh Saviano (friend Paul Pfeiffer)—along with Savage’s mother, Joanne, and costume designer Scilla Andreen contributed various items they collected during the making of the show and have held on to since it ended in 1993. Each made brief remarks about what their involvement in the show meant to them before signing over their memorabilia under the watchful eye of curator Dwight Blocker Bowers.
Among the items that will go on display are Kevin’s favorite New York Jets letterman jacket, a floral two-piece outfit worn by his mother, Norma, in the pilot, and a hippie-ish dress worn by his sister Karen at her wedding, as well as scripts, stacks of Polaroids from the set through the years, and tapes Saviano saved—slightly water-damaged from their time in a Manhattan storage locker that flooded during Hurricane Sandy.
During his remarks, Savage lauded the show for celebrating the “achievements and heroism of everyday life” and credited his mother for holding onto so many artifacts throughout the years, even though he and his siblings teased her about her pack-rat tendencies. Joanne Savage, in turn, thanked the Smithsonian for “turning me overnight from a hoarder into a preserver of national treasures,” and shared an anecdote that served as a great reminder of just how awkward adolescence really is: that during the famous scene of Kevin’s first kiss with his childhood dream girl Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar), both she and McKellar’s mom were on set—along with a crew of about 100. (She also jokingly offered up the jacket her son wore in Little Monsters and a script from The Princess Bride—apparently her garage is the pop culture equivalent of Antiques Roadshow.)
The whole thing had a bit of a surreal, Matryoshka-doll feel as attendees watched the now-adult actors watching clips of their younger selves onscreen, working through the small-scale dramas of an era they were too young to actually live through. Adding yet another layer was the presence of Savage’s and Saviano’s children, likely too little to understand why people are so interested in their parents’ old stuff and definitely too young to relate to either the era The Wonder Years covers or even the more recent decades during which it was filmed. Then again, no one ever said the warm glow of nostalgia requires something as prosaic as real-life experience.
Find Tanya Pai on Twitter at @tanyapai.