RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
There are some childhood symbols that really sit on the line between adorable and terrifying. I'm thinking about clowns, Furbys, but dolls - they're in their own camp, right? I mean, spooky eyes that seem to move, the porcelain pallor. They're not all Chucky, but, man, some of them just don't seem quite right. Listener Anne McLaughlin grew up with a cabinet full of dolls - a pretty dancer doll, a set of wooden nesting dolls, but...
ANNE MCLAUGHLIN: One of the dolls in the cabinet was absolutely terrifying; a very tall, thin doll. And her face was not a doll face. It was a grown woman. So she didn't have big eyes. She didn't have a smile. She had tiny little eyes. And she always looked like she stepped right out of one of those New Orleans ghost stories.
MARTIN: This creepy lady doll was also a music box. She stood there on this stand spinning slowly around to music. The doll gave Anne the creeps. So one night when she was around 10 years old, Anne thought...
MCLAUGHLIN: I'm going to take her out of the cabinet just to prove that I'm not scared of this doll, even though I was very scared of the doll.
MARTIN: So she wound her up, left her on the bedside table and walked away. Suddenly, there was a crash.
MCLAUGHLIN: And I turned around, and right when I turned around, she had just walked to the side of the bedside table and fallen to the floor with a big crash. And I went and slept with my parents.
MARTIN: The next morning, Anne crept back into her bedroom and placed the doll back inside the cabinet.
MCLAUGHLIN: And I was really sure to put her in the cabinet facing away from the doors so that she couldn't watch me.
MARTIN: That's one woman's story, but it turns out many of our listeners have their own haunted doll memories. Surprised? Don't be. Haunted dolls are big business on sites like eBay and Etsy. Jak Hutchcraft wrote about this phenomenon for Vice. He told me he stumbled upon the trade one night when he was surfing around the everything else section of eBay.
JAK HUTCHCRAFT: There was an advert for something, which was a sadistic, perverted, haunted doll.
HUTCHCRAFT: It was this little, like, menacing-looking sort of troll.
MARTIN: Intrigued, he noted that the bids kept going up and that there were 10 people in the running. And that doll that looked like a possessed little troll ultimately sold for over a thousand pounds. Jak did some reporting trying to understand why anyone would want to own a haunted doll, let alone pay for one.
HUTCHCRAFT: Some people want to connect solely with the spirit. And the other one is some people by them just for the doll 'cause they're doll collectors and the spirited aspect of it is just a secondary thing, which I thought was baffling really because I can look past the ghost as long as it's a cute doll.
MARTIN: Jak met with a woman who's a pretty big deal in the world of possessed dolls. And he found he kind of liked her. He did start out as a skeptic, but ultimately came to appreciate this seemingly bizarre subculture. But when it comes to owning his very own haunted doll...
HUTCHCRAFT: I thought about it. But the thing is the more it went on, this took over my life for about a year nearly...
MARTIN: Oh, wow.
HUTCHCRAFT: ...Because I was on all of these forums trying to establish relationships with people. And then I started to think will my brain trick me into thinking it is haunted or something will happen when I get it. And to be honest, I didn't have the money to fork out. And I was a little bit scared if I'm honest with you. (Laughter) After all of this, Mr. skeptical, I became a little bit weary of it all. Can you believe it?
MARTIN: That's Jak Hutchcraft. He wrote about collectors of haunted dolls for the online journal Vice. And remember Anne McLaughlin? Many years later, she got the courage to take that spooky doll out of the cabinet again. And she found that upon closer examination, there was an imbalance in the music box that probably caused the doll to fall to the floor that day. But I got to admit, I like the story better when the doll was possessed.
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