As It Happens

Toy with a 'menacing side glance' crowned creepiest doll of 2021

The worn toy from the 1920s has been voted 2021’s creepiest doll at the History Center of Olmsted County in Rochester, Minn. 

‘It's like throwing you shade,’ says curator of the museum that houses Gagool and her horrifying friends

A Minnesota history museum just crowned this horrifying toy, whose name is Gagool, the creepiest doll of 2021. ( History Center of Olmsted County)

On a creepiness scale of one to 10, Gagool the doll is an 11, says the director of the Minnesota museum that houses her.

The terrifying toy from the 1920s has been voted 2021's creepiest doll in a contest by the History Center of Olmsted County in Rochester, Minn. 

"This doll is that creepy, because at first glance, it's lovable and innocuous," Wayne Gannaway, the museum's executive director, told As It Happens host Carol Off.  

"But if you look at it in the particular light, it has a menacing side glance."

The doll in the attic

Gagool — named by the museum staff — is a fabric doll, whose drawn-on "pug nose" and "little pursed mouth" have faded over time into a sinister sneer.

"It's like throwing you shade," Gannaway said. "It's either ready to give you a nice snuggly hug, or it's ready to, like, pull the ladder out from under you and as you go toppling down the stairs."

Before she made her way to the History Center in 1976, Gagool spent her days haunting a local farmhouse attic. 

But in her prime, she was the childhood toy of a local woman named Marilyn Bierbaum Frost, who was born in 1928 in Viola Township, Olmsted County, Minn. 

"Marilyn was descended from one of the original settlers of Viola. Her family farmed there for a very long time from the 1850s," Gannaway said.

When her husband died in the 1970s, she cleaned out her attic and donated her old wares, including Gagool.

"Every doll is an artifact of someone's life, and that's really the important lesson here we want people to understand," Gannaway said. "And I think this is what makes them a little unnerving after years go by."

Some of Gagool's challengers in the creepy doll contest include Miss Abyss, left, Cloudy Eye, centre, and T-Rex, right. (History Center of Olmsted County)

And when it comes to unnerving dolls, Gagool has plenty of company. After all, the History Center has enough of them in its collection to start a contest.

"One of our volunteers was exploring our collections, looking to put something interesting on social media, and she came upon several boxes of dolls," Gannaway said.

"As her and the curator were going through them, they thought, wow, you know, there's something a little off, something a little unnerving about these dolls. And so they decided to then put them up on social media to see what people thought."

Gagool's competitors for the creepy crown were T-Rex, a baby doll with a cracked face; Lady Corn Husk, made from the dried leaves of a corn cob; Lizzie Boren, named after the alleged axe murderer; Prof. Moriarty, an alarmingly jaunty porcelain figurine with a tricorn hat; Miss Havisham, the fearsome fancy lady; Cloudy Eye, whose left eye reflects a milky void, Miss Aouda, a poseable China doll with a devious grin; and Miss Abyss, whose eyes stare into the darkest depths of your soul.  

"There's been just this fascination with things that were once, you know, so important to someone and then over a period of time, age catches up with them and suddenly they become unnerving and scary," Gannaway said. 

"It's that sort of contradiction, I think that really people really gravitate towards."


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Sarah Jackson. 

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