Kind of Cute, Kind of Creepy: 5 Semi-Disturbing Doll Collections

Featured — By Rachel Greenberg on November 6, 2010 at 8:30 am

Dolls have been around since there have been people. Though humans have been collecting dolls for millennia (fun/creepy fact! The Egyptians buried dolls with their owners in their tombs), some modern doll collections are less fun-for-all-ages and more, dare we say, uncomfortable.

Whether they sprang from societal pressure, a yearning for childhood, or just some bizarre obsession, these five doll collections walk a fine line between sweet and frightening (Ed note: yea, I’d lean towards frightening. Ugh).

1. Awashima Jinja Shrine, Wakayama, Japan

Image: m-louis/Flickr

The Japanese some things more seriously than the rest of the world — KitKat, Hello Kitty, karaoke –  even regular ol’ dolls. Japanese tradition informs us that dolls have souls… and a vengeful ones at that. This rather specific treatment dictates that, instead of just tossing out dolls when they’ve been outgrown or chewed on by the dog, a doll must be given its due and the family must honor the passing in a respectful way. That’s where Awashima Jinja shrine comes in.

Image: enmoto/m-louis/Flickr

Welcome to Awashima Jinja – where dolls go to live out the rest of their “lives”. Built in the 3rd century by the empress Jinmu after a near-death shipwreck experience, the shrine began as a place for women to come pray for woman-y things, and has grown to become an all-encompassing female-items-that-have-a-soul depository. Along with dolls that are ready to be thrown out, the shrine also gives toys, figurines, carvings, and sculptures of all sorts a new home, as well as sewing needles.

Image: emmoto/m-louis/Flickr

On March 3rd, the most sacred day at Awashima Jinja shrine, a doll festival called Nagashi Bina is held. Boats are filled with dolls, having been volunteered up for nautical duty by their owners, in the hopes that the dolls will take their human’s bad luck with them. They float in the open sea, and the dolls slowly fall overboard as the boats rock, taking misfortune with them.

Image: enmoto/Flickr

While visiting the shrine, don’t miss the rather strange side-collection of plaques with women’s underwear attached to them, a fertility custom from the Edo period.

2. Isla de las Munecas, Teshuilo Lake, Mexico

Image: cordelia_persen/Flickr

There’s speculation some of this story is more urban legend than fact, it’s so perfectly creepy we just want to believe it’s true.

Image: Esparta/Flickr

According to the story, Don Julian Santana unexpectedly left his family in the 1950s for a tiny island on Teshuilo Lake in the Xochimilco canals in Mexico. The island was deserted, but Don Julian reported that not long after he moved there, a young girl drowned in the canal next to his island and her spirit began haunting his new home. Quietly, Don Julian began collecting dolls from the garbage dump to give as offerings to the child’s ghost, and he would attach broken, mangled dolls to the trees and buildings around his house for her to “play” with.

Soon after, nearby neighbors offered their own dolls as barter for the fresh produce he grew on his island, allowing the solitary man to amass an incredible collection of unwanted dolls which he attached to any surface he could find.

Image: SkilliShots/Esparta/Flickr

Once the island was discovered by the outside world, visitors began pouring in to see the sight for themselves. Don Julian began charging a small fee for touring is island, and seemed to live a pretty happy life – that is, until 2001 when he mysteriously drowned, reportedly in the same place where the child had fifty years before. CREEPY, am I right?

Image: Esparta/Flickr

Today, the island is maintained by the Santana family, who use the entrance fee from visitors to keep the island up and running. The best way to get there is a two hour trip by trajinera from Cuemanco Pier outside Mexico City. If a jaunt in a ridiculously awesome trajinera doesn’t provide enough visual interest for you, we’ve heard the ride through Xochimico is stunning.

Image: (3)/Flickr

3. Musee Mechanique, San Francisco

Image: Rev Dan Catt/Flickr

Image: Rev Dan Catt/Flickr

Although Edward Galland Zelinsky, proprietor of the Musee Mechanique in San Francisco, might not classify his incredible collection of antique mechanical arcade machines as “dolls”, they are so wonderfully creepy and cool we couldn’t leave them off the list. Zelinsky started collecting mechanized toys in the ’40s when he was just a wee lad and his collection has grown to include almost 300 items, ranging from vintage peep-shows to pianos that play themselves. Our favorite arcade machines are the ones that include surreal, life-like mechanized figures.

Images: Panegyrics of Granovetter/Panegyrics of Granovetter/Panegyrics of Granovetter/Flickr

Many of the devices have roots in San Francisco history, saved from the city’s Playland at the Beach amusement park (closed in 1972) and the 1915 Pan Pacific Exposition. The collection even features some bizarre machines constructed out of toothpicks made by Alcatraz inmates.

4. The Barbie Store, Shanghai

Image: Slade Architecture/Slade Architecture

It’s pretty hard to miss this massive, mega-Barbie store, even nestled amongst the ridiculously flashy buildings of Shanghai. Standing six stories tall, it glows neon pink and cost around 20 million pounds to build. Opened in 2009, the Barbie compound was designed by Slade Architecture to appeal to a decidedly not-just-kids demographic. Along with a mini runway on which ladies can model big-kid Barbie clothes, the store has a day spa,  hair salon, a $15,000 Vera Wang wedding dress sale, and a bar/club called the “Pink Room”, which we can only hope are meant to draw an older, female crowd.

Image: Mr Michael Phams/Mr Michael Phams/Flickr

Image: Mr Michael Phams/Flickr

Many American women adored their Barbie dolls when they were growing up – heck, some even still secretly get weak in the knees for a mini plastic brush and removable high heeled shoes. Despite the impressive design and overwhelming number of items for sale (1,600 products in total), however, this store still seems strangely off-putting. If those massive Barbie heads covered in candy-colored face masks don’t convince you, maybe the the store’s signature pink tunnel escalator will. Here’s the kicker: it reportedly plays the recorded sound of little girls giggling at a low volume.

5. The Doll Museum, The National Shrine of the Cross in the Woods, Indian River, Michigan

There are a lot of “unique” collections out there. Belly button lint, toilet seat art, and toasters are all on the wacky side, but we would definitely nominate Sally Rogalski’s shrine to dolls dressed in habits FTW. Sally began collecting in 1945, and hasn’t stopped since. Her collection consists of over 520 dolls and a 20 mannequins of 217 religious orders.

We’re not the only ones who think this collection is pretty impressive. In 1988 Pope John Paul II blessed Sally, praising her for “helping to promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life through their doll collection”.

We don’t question the Rogalski’s sincerity and passion, though we must admit that seeing a doll better known for shapely dimensions in a nurse habit and suave Ken-ish priests just doesn’t sit quite right (Ed. note: AGREED).

All Images: Sue Peacock/Flickr

I’m sure we’ve missed plenty of cute/creepy doll sites out there – leave ‘em in the comments!

Tags: Awashima Jinja Shrine, Isla de Las Munecas, Japan, Mexico, Michigan, Musee Mechanique, San Francisco, Shanghai, The Barbie Store, The Doll Museum

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