As It Happens

Creepy doll found in basement freezer leads to new museum in Ontario

Ben Hatcher, co-curator of the new Creepy Doll Museum in Peterborough, Ont., wants people to appreciate scary-to-some dolls and stop thinking they belong in a garbage bin.

Ben Hatcher and Kathryn Bahun have been collecting dolls for the last 3 years

A family portrait of the creepy dolls on display at a new museum in Peterborough, Ont. (Photos Unlimited Peterborough/Submitted by Ben Hatcher)


Have you ever opened up a closet and come face-to-face with a terrifying doll? One with chipped paint, an eye that won't open and a hauntingly cheerful grin?

A new exhibit being hosted at The Theatre on King this week in Peterborough, Ont., is dedicated to celebrating those kinds of dolls.

Co-curator Ben Hatcher spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about The Creepy Doll Museum ahead of its timely opening just before Halloween.

Here is part of their conversation.

Ben, why would you want to have a museum of creepy dolls?

Well, my co-curator Kathryn Bahun and I have been collecting them for about three years now with a goal of creating some fun event somewhere down the line. And this summer we realized we have enough to do something, and if we're going to do anything we probably should just get on it.

And living in Peterborough, there's a really big creative community. So we were able to tap into a lot of local authors who wrote the biography for the dolls that will be in the exhibit. A lot of local tradespeople volunteered their time to create some props and enclosures for some of the dolls.

And Kathryn is a seamstress, so she wanted another fun project where she made matching outfits for the curators — so she and I, and some of the dolls.

Kathryn Bahun, left, and Ben Hatcher are curators of the Creepy Dolls Museum. (Photos Unlimited Peterborough)

Of course, but it doesn't explain why you would want to collect creepy dolls.

Mostly because we like how people's reactions to them are always different. Some people find them really frightening, other people, not really myself, but my co-curator finds them endearing and comforting.

But for the most part people just seem to be really curious about them and are interested in the stories if they have them or where they came from and all that sort of stuff.

At some level all dolls are kind of creepy aren't they? Kind of like clowns.

I would agree, yeah. Their stare, their blink-less eyes and their glass-like skin definitely creep me out, that's for sure.

Clowns are creepy. Old dolls are creepy. So what's better than a creepy clown doll? (Anna Eidt/Submitted by Ben Hatcher)

Where did you find them?

We like to say at the museum that we don't find the dolls, but they find us. But in actual fact most of them came from garage sales and flea markets sort of in the Peterborough, Kawartha area.

And we also did get a big swath of them later in the summer. There's a local well-known doll collector in town who was looking to downsize. So she reached out to us and we were able to secure a number of very bizarre looking dolls from her. So that was very helpful.

There was one that we bought this summer, and as I was paying her the 50 cents or whatever it was, the woman at the garage sale said, "The last two owners of this doll have disappeared!" So we thought that this was a pretty good addition to our collection.

Yikes. What's your creepiest doll in your collection?

That doll's name would be Jasmine Doyle. And when I moved into Peterborough there is a deep freeze in the basement. And she was actually in the deep freeze when we moved in.

She's the one that we use for a lot of our promotional materials which is quite recognizable. … So she, I think, would be the one that you would not want to wake up and have it in your room.

Most dolls at the Creepy Dolls Museum have a name and backstory. This is one of Ben Hatcher's favourites, Jasmine Doyle. (Anna Eidt/Submitted by Ben Hatcher)

What's another creepy doll in the collection?

Not necessarily creepy, but a fan favourite is Marmalade McFadden. She has one eye permanently closed and she always she looks like she's suffering from the worst hangover of her life.

We have some postcards that we'll be selling in the Creepy Doll Museum gift shop. That's the one that people seem to be drawn to.

The doll named Marmelade McFadden has a permanently closed eye, and looks like she's getting over a terrible hangover, says Ben Hatcher. (Anna Eidt/Submitted by Ben Hatcher)

How are people reacting to them?

Lots of positive feedback. So people are all you know a little bit spooked out, but I'd say the number one reaction is just pure curiosity.

How do kids react?

My co-curator has two children. One of them loves the dolls and plays with them and you know drags them around everywhere. The other one loves them a little bit less.

Some kids, I think, would not really enjoy their presence, while others sort of appreciate the humour and what we're trying to do with it.

Are some of them completely spooked by them?

Yes. My nephew was staying with us this summer when we got a big collection of them and he was very spooked. So I had to make sure I locked them up in a cabinet if he was going to continue to sleep over.

You store these in your house? Do you have closets full of creepy dolls?

My partner doesn't really allow them to be seen. So I keep them locked up.

Kathryn stores hers out in the open in her kitchen, in her living room, all over the place, which she says sometimes causes problems when she brings dates home for dinner.

Written by Jonathan Ore. Interview with Ben Hatcher produced by Rachel Levy-McLaughlin. Q&A edited for length and clarity.