Family Fun


Ohio museum display features more than 1,000 dolls

Ohio museum display features more than 1,000 dolls
Posted at 1:34 PM, Apr 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-08 13:34:18-04

CANAL WINCHESTER, Ohio -- Growing up in rural Kansas, Henrietta Pfeifer didn't own any dolls, let alone dress them in pretty clothes and host tea parties.

"We couldn't afford any," said Pfeifer, a self-described farm girl. "We played with cats and dogs."

Pfeifer has more than made up for lost time: Nowadays, the 81-year-old Canal Winchester resident owns thousands of dolls.

Her oldest one -- a Virgin Mary-esque cage doll (referring to its stand) -- dates to the 1700s. Her most expensive ($17,000) is a 19th-century Andre Thullier bisque girl from France.

She has the original version of Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls (1918), the No. 1 Barbie (1959) and the original stuffed Mickey Mouse (1930s).

She owns dolls depicting the Kennedys, John Glenn and a safari-going Teddy Roosevelt, plus Madame Alexander versions of "Gone With the Wind" characters and the famous Dionne quintuplets.

Her collection includes contemporary dolls, too: She just bought a Moana toy, which joins the 2018 American Girl Doll of the Year and the ever-popular Anna and Elsa from "Frozen."

Starting Wednesday, these and other items will be displayed when the Mid-Ohio Historical Museum (aka the Doll & Toy Museum) opens for the season after its annual three-month hiatus.

New displays -- including one centered on the Civil War and another featuring papier-mache "Three Little Pigs" puppets -- will join enduring favorites such as Star Wars figurines, a massive handcrafted circus set and a Barbie room.

This year marks the 35th that Pfeifer has welcomed the public to view her private collection (plus a few loaned pieces), which has grown from a half-dozen dolls to one filling a 6,000-square-foot building constructed on the family's property as an office for her husband, a onetime oil-and-gas executive who died in August.

"I'd be like, 'Herb, I need more space,'" she said of her husband, whom she credited for allowing her special place. "Every year, I collected a new set of dolls. Herb got kicked out (of the office) in 1991."

The museum is one of Canal Winchester's hidden gems, said Karen Stiles, director of the city's tourism bureau, Destination Canal Winchester. In fact, she said, many of the city's own residents don't know about the site, which sits back off Winchester Pike near Gender Road.

Stiles toured the museum -- either Pfeifer or a knowledgeable volunteer leads the talks -- several years ago.

"It's a fun step back into history, and it brings out the child in us," Stiles said. "I thought it would just be dolls, but I didn't know that there would be teddy bears and other toys like that. Even for a person not into dolls, it can be enjoyable."

Longtime volunteer Sharon Marion, who mends "patients" in the museum's doll hospital, marvels at Pfeifer's dedication.

The museum charges just $3 for admission, she said, and makes money through doll repairs, appraisals and sales of donated dolls not rare enough to display.

"It's been funded by herself and her husband," said Marion, also of Canal Winchester. "My son passed away shortly after I started here nine years ago, and part of my grief had been being here and keeping busy."

Upper Arlington resident Louise Pence has relied on the museum for appraisals, repairs and tours since 2000, when she inherited some dolls from her mother-in-law.

Pfeifer's knowledge and passion rubbed off on her, said Pence, who has become an avid collector.

"I've learned a lot," she said. "My interest in dolls is from the point of social history. At one point, a girl played with it and loved it."

That notion isn't lost on Pfeifer, who meticulously cares for and positions each piece.

"I was just amazed by the wide variety she has," Pence continued. "We can name some, like the Cabbage Patch dolls, but there are so many and they're all so different."

Pfeifer's museum is rooted in a 1981 trip to Florida, where she visited a small doll museum. Upon returning to Ohio, she said, she bought a few dolls at an antique show at Eastland Mall.

"I thought: 'Oh, Lord, what have I done? My husband is going to kill me.'"

Knowing little about the dolls, she started doing some research and, during that process, began to think, "If I don't know anything, probably a lot of other people don't know, either."

And so the museum was born.

While leading tours at the venue, Pfeifer recites a host of facts:

  • Barbie was modeled after Bild Lilli, a German fashion doll.
  • China dolls are dated by their hair.
  • Dolls of Hope from China are made from pear trees.

"I could tell you a half an hour on everything in here," said Pfeifer, who as a former teacher enjoys the museum's educational aspects.

"I like dolls for their historical significance."