“I think 2020 actually kind of lends itself to creepy dolls, in many ways,” said Kevin Whaley, the history center’s collections manager. “We know that they are not all creepy. Part of their charm is how human-like some of them actually do look. That is both really cool and really creepy at the same time.”
The contest began in 2019 as “an innocent perusal by a volunteer in search of interesting artifacts to post on social media,” according to the history center.
The dolls, some of whom have human hair or are poisonous to handle because of old preserving techniques using arsenic and lead, went viral and gained global attention.
“When the creepy dolls went viral, it became very clear to us that the dolls went beyond our county and beyond our state, even though they represent our local history,” said Christine Rule, history center board president. “I think what they’ve really done is help bring interest and awareness to local museums and what they have in their collections, all over.”
Nine of the center’s dolls have been selected to compete in this year’s contest. History center visitors will not only get to feast on their eyes on the collection, but will also be able to learn more about each doll’s hair-raising history.
“We know who owned them each originally and then how they came to the history center and why they donated them,” Whaley said. “We also know a little bit more about who made the dolls, so that gives us more about what they were made out of and which ones have kind of unique features, like a voice box.”
All of the dolls are part of the history center’s permanent collection, and each has a history with Olmsted County. The nine dolls were also chosen to display a variety of materials and ages to provide an educational opportunity. The final consideration for making it into this year’s contest?
“It’s really important that the doll make your skin crawl,” Rule said. “They are a play toy, so I always just think of them in imaginary play. This is their opportunity to come out and play, so they want to show the best creepiness they can.”
One of this year’s dolls does have a voice box, which used to make a crying sound, and a few have closing eyes.
Between Oct. 14 and 24, official creepy doll contest posts will be made on the history center's Instagram and Facebook pages, where people can vote with their "likes." Voting in the contest ends on Oct. 28 at midnight. The dolls are on display at the history center all month, and admission to the exhibit includes the entire museum.
In addition to viewing the dolls, humans are invited to turn themselves into living creepy dolls as part of a costume contest. Those interested in participating in the pageant will submit a short video of themselves dressed as a creepy doll walking the runway.
On Halloween, which falls on a Saturday this year, the center will host a virtual ceremony to crown the winning doll and announce the winner of the costume contest. The night will also feature a live band and signature cocktails inspired by each doll.
“Viewers can join in by making the drink at home and toasting each doll,” the history center wrote on its creepy doll page. “But it’s the winning doll’s evening to reign supreme.”
The dolls can viewed in person at the History Center of Olmsted County. The center, located at 1195 West Circle Drive SW in Rochester, is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Tickets are $5 for adults and $2 for children.