The creepy dolls of Mackin House

photo supplied Mackin House

Gas prices might still be high, but Mackin House is offering cut-rate nightmare fuel with The Uncanny Valley – an online exhibition that looks deeply look into the eyes of the doll.

Resembling either Chucky’s hiding place or the Warrens’ artifacts room, the heritage museum houses a “rich representation of the history of dolls.”

Made of corn husks, clay, bone, plastic and papier mâché, the history of the doll reaches back approximately 6,000 years to Egyptian paddle dolls.


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Made of a flat piece of painted wood to represent the torso, the paddle dolls were topped with thick hair made of beads strung on linen thread, according to the Met Museum. The dolls may have been used as percussion instruments in religious ceremonies, with the doll hair clacking in rhythm to singers and dancers.

From the forests of Germany to the beaches of Malibu

photo supplied Mackin House

Mass production of dolls likely started in Germany in the 1700 as woodworkers crafted dolls on wood lathes. After enduring and evolving for centuries, the tradition faltered after the First World War. However, German doll makers did manage to produce the Bidi Lilli in 1955. Based on particularly racy comic strip, the doll would eventually become the inspiration for (or get ripped off by, depending on your point of view) the Barbie doll.

Reliable Canada

While their dolls were never able to afford a dream house, Reliable Toy Company was nonetheless able to jumpstart toy manufacturing in Canada after setting up shop in Toronto’s garment district in the 1920s.

The company used leftover scraps from the production of bullet tips and oil bottles for the Canadian military to make plastic ships, tanks and toy soldiers, according to the Canadian Museum of History.

Initially, Reliable Toy Company imported German doll heads and stuck them on U.S. doll bodies. However, the company soon started making dolls that came with clothes and were equipped with a voice box, as well as their own version of the Shirley Temple doll.

Reliable also produced a doll celebrating figure skating gold medalist Barbara Ann Scott. The ice skating dolls, which were made until 1954, came with a letter from Scott.

photo supplied Mackin House

Following the success of the Scott dolls, Regal Toy Company later produced a Karen Magnussen figure skater doll in the 1970s.

Real American Hero, no cap

photo supplied Mackin House

The collection at Mackin House also features a G.I. Joe figure with a torso that reads Made in Malaysia, clothing that reads Made in Japan, and a hat that say Made in Canada.

The creep factor

Some dolls appear to be designed to be creepy.

The Charlotte dolls – popular from the Victorian era until the early 1900s – is a ghostly white figure of a young girl with an expression that could be construed as deep regret for failing to listen to her parents.

The dolls were inspired by the poem A Corpse Going to a Ball, in which Charlotte’s mother tells her to wraps blankets around her pretty dress before riding a sled 16 miles through the snow. Charlottes refuses and, as her mother predicted, catches her death of cold.

There are also dolls that have suffered “plastic doll disease,” in which decaying plastic gives the dolls the appearance of having wept rusty brown tears.

“Oddly, the “disease” is contagious, caused by acidic fumes that start to act on other nearby plastic dolls,” according to the Mackin House exhibit.

However, the exhibit generally attributes the creep factor to the uncanny valley effect. The more lifelike the doll is, the more people feel attracted by them, “until they reach a point when they are too lifelike and then we are repulsed by them.”

Visit the online exhibit here. Take the quiz. Look at all the dolls. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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