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  • Writer's pictureCheré Dastugue Coen

1st Ho-Hos not created by Hostess

Rose O'Neil started the popular Kewpie Doll craze but her dolls of different colors failed to excite the public.

kewpie dolls
Kewpie Dolls

People know Rose O’Neill for her famous Kewpie Dolls, created at the beginning of the Twentieth Century and more popular at the time than Mickey Mouse.

The multi-talented O’Neill was so much more — a novelist, regular illustrator with magazines such as Ladies Home Journal and Good Housekeeping, suffragette and America’s first female cartoonist. Her Kewpie Dolls began as illustrations in periodicals, then were established as dolls when the public demanded them.

After all that success O’Neill created another figure, that of the Ho-Ho, something akin to a laughing Buddha. Like her Kewpie dolls, they came in different shades of skin, much like humans. She was a woman ahead of her time, in that regard, creating dolls for both white and African American children.

The Ho-Hos didn’t make it with the public, however, and O’Neill abandoned the idea.

You can see examples of these cute, laughing figures at Bonniebrook, O’Neill’s reconstructed home built on the original foundation outside of Branson; the house burned in 1947. From April through October, the Bonniebrook Historical Society offers tours of the home with some of O’Neill’s furnishings, plus a museum showcasing the life of this amazing but little-known artist, writer and activist. And her Ho-Hos.

Rose's Origins

O’Neill grew up in a creative house, seeped in literature and art from a father who was better at selling books on the Nebraska prairie than farming. She won a drawing contest at 14, then began selling her work. Her mother sold the family cow to get Rose to New York where, with the help of the Sisters of St. Regis, she started a career selling illustrations to periodicals such as Colliers, Life and Harpers. O’Neill went on to publish four novels, champion women’s right to vote and was American’s first female cartoonist. But what O’Neill is most known for are her Kewpie Dolls.

Rose died penniless in 1944 at the age of 69, but according to the Historical Society, "she had made nearly 5,500 drawings, innumerable paintings both in oil and watercolor; she was a sculptor, suffragist, inventor, businesswoman, philosopher, poet, novelist, children’s book author, and even a musician. As the website so proudly proclaims, "There is no mistaking that she lived an extraordinarily rich and productive life."

A few other Branson attractions besides entertainment

O’Neill is one of several aspects of Branson that most people don’t expect when visiting the town most popular for its heartland-style variety shows. For those who love the outdoors, there's plenty to enjoy.

Take the massive Table Rock Lake, for instance, where great boating adventures and fishing are found, but also diving lessons for every age level at Indian Point Dive Center.

The Showboat Branson Belle sails the lake with high-class entertainment during its two-hour dinner cruise. Another boating option is the Lake Queen paddlewheeler on Lake Taneycomo by downtown Branson, which pulls deep water from the Table Rock dam at an average 48 degrees. At the water’s edge at Branson Landing is the nightly fountain show, which combines fire, water and music.

Still a favorite among visitors and one of the best amusement parks in the nation is Silver Dollar City, which offers shaded paths, numerous Ozark crafters demonstrating their wares, dining options and several first-class entertainment venues. The wooden roller coaster Outlaw Run named by as one of the 12 biggest game-changers in the history of theme park attractions is as much fun as the park’s other coasters. In addition, there’s the attraction that started it all. Marble Cave, first discovered by Osage Indians then developed into a tourist destination in 1894, still delights visitors with its massive descent and water features, although now they call it Marvel Cave because it’s not made of marble after all.

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