17. The museum dedicated to dummies
The Vent Haven Museum in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, a suburb of Cincinnati, calls itself, “The World’s Only Museum Dedicated to Ventriloquism”. As with many of the museums listed here, it began with a personal collection of artifacts, in this case, ventriloquist’s dummies. Interestingly, the collector, William Shakespeare Berger, did not perform as a professional ventriloquist. That did not stop him from serving as the President of the International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists for many years, as well as the publisher of a monthly magazine called The Oracle. The magazine was widely read by both amateur and professional ventriloquists. Berger arranged for his collection to be supported by a charitable foundation upon his death, which continues to support the Vent Haven Museum, now open to the public, though by appointment only. Curated tours allow the public to learn the history of ventriloquism and its stars.
Nearly 1,000 mute ventriloquist’s dummies stare out of wooden, glass, or plastic eyes at their visitors as the latter learns of their history and that of the art itself. Some of them date back to the late 19th century. Nearly all were donated by their former user, and none are used to display the ventriloquist’s art. By arrangements of the museum’s charter, the dummies are destined to remain voiceless forever, as their “voice” came from the person who donated them. While Lamb Chop (voiced by Shari Lewis) is present, the famed Charlie McCarthy (voiced by Edgar Bergen) is a replica. Some of the dummies may be handled, to allow visitors to see how they were manipulated but the overwhelming majority are off-limits to visitors. The museum also supports an annual Vent Haven International Ventriloquist Convention, with visitors from all over the world.