NYFS logo    tagline
 Pinto Guira making guiramaking a mandalaplaying mandolin
 

SEE INSIDE
Voices Fall-Winter 2009:
Click on the cover for the Table of Contents. Read the Good Spirits column, “Tiny Feet on the Stairs” by Libby Tucker.
JOIN the New York Folklore Society today to receive Voices.


Voices FW2009

Support the New York Folklore Society

Volume 35
Fall-Winter
2009
Voices

Tiny Feet on the Stairs by Libby Tucker

Two years ago, while preparing to teach my fall Folklore of the Supernatural class, I looked up “haunted dolls” on eBay. A folklorist friend of mine had warned me never to order a haunted doll, even at a good price. “I’d never have one of those things in my house!” my friend had told me. Like the central character of the Grimms’ tale “The Youth Who Wanted to Learn What Fear Is,” I could not resist the temptation to order a haunted doll. What harm could possibly come from this simple transaction?

Right away, I discovered an eBay ad placed by a Utah woman who had obtained three haunted dolls from an old house in Indiana. Her ad explained that the dolls had stolen family members’ prized possessions, slammed doors, turned televisions on and off, and made rocking chairs rock by themselves. At night, she said, the dolls’ owners heard eerie footsteps on the stairs. She seemed eager to sell the dolls quickly.

The dolls in the attached photo looked pretty and pleasant, with smiling faces, old-fashioned dresses, and white shoes. Two had dark hair; the third had red hair. I did not want a doll that looked like me, so I ordered the red-haired doll. Less than a week later, I found a box with a U t a h postmark under my mail slot. I tore the box open and removed the doll from her box. Her smile looked exactly as it had in the eBay ad, but her hair color was different: not red but blonde, almost exactly the shade of my own hair. I had ordered a twin without meaning to do so. Doll

I named my haunted doll Tina, after “Talky Tina” on the 1963 “Living Doll” episode of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. If you have seen that episode, you may remember the line, “My name is Talky Tina, and I’m going to kill you!” A little girl receives Talky Tina as a gift, then discovers that the doll has strong feelings and homicidal tendencies. This plot follows the sequence of the American “China Doll” legend. My book Children’s Folklore: A Handbook includes a variant of this legend in which the doll kills a canary, a cat, and finally the husband of the woman who purchased her.

Being an old hand at children’s folklore, I did not worry about Tina. Some of my students, however, seemed scared. “You aren’t going to bring that doll to class again, are you?” a male student in the front row asked at the end of the Folklore of the Supernatural class session during which I had introduced the group to Tina. “It’s not that I’m scared,” he explained. “She just creeps me out a little. Hey, did you notice that the doll looks just like you?” Another male student asked my permission to examine Tina with a spectral energy measuring instrument that he had built himself. After checking her energy from head to toe, he told me, “I’m not sure if she’s haunted. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.” I agreed to tell him if anything unusual took place in the office while the doll was there.

A few odd things did happen. Our secretary lost her favorite water bottle and, while alone in the building, heard conversations in a nearby room. Two printers and the fax machine malfunctioned, and doors slammed shut. Machines do break, of course; things get lost, people hear peculiar sounds, and doors slam. Tina sat on my desk, smiling her enigmatic smile.

How can we explain people’s fascination with haunted dolls and other haunted objects sold on eBay? In her essay “The Commodification of Belief” in Haunting Experiences: Ghosts in Contemporary Folklore (2007), Diane Goldstein explains that ghosts have become valuable commodities. Ghost tours, ads for haunted hotels, and other monetary transactions build on preexisting beliefs and narratives. The fact that people buy and sell ghostly materials takes nothing away from these materials’ value for folklore researchers, which is considerable.

Someday I may order another doll or two from eBay to do a longer study of haunted dolls. Would Tina welcome some haunted companions? I’m not sure that she would, and I wonder how wise it would be to antagonize any haunted doll. Do I hear tiny feet on the stairs? I’ll keep you posted. If anyone has a haunted doll story to share, I would love to hear it.
Good Spirits



 









Photo of Libby Tucker Libby Tucker teaches folklore at Binghamton University. Her book, Haunted Halls: Ghostlore of American College Campuses (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007), investigates college ghost stories. Her most recent book is Children’s Folklore: A Handbook (Westport: Greenwood, 2008).



Being an old hand at children’s folklore, I did not worry about Tina. Some of my students, however, seemed scared. “You aren’t going to bring that doll to class again, are you?” a male student in the front row asked at the end of the Folklore of the Supernatural class session during which I had introduced the group to Tina.



This column appeared in Voices Vol. 35, Fall-Winter 2009. Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society. To become a subscriber, join the New York Folklore Society today.

TO PURCHASE A BACK ISSUE of Voices, visit our online book store.


TO PURCHASE A SINGLE ARTICLE from Voices, use the form below:


Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore
PURCHASE A SINGLE ARTICLE

To order a single article, please enter volume number, issue (“fall-winter” or “spring-summer”), and title of the article you wish and click on an order button below to purchase through Paypal or with your credit card. We will send you a PDF of the article via e-mail upon receipt of your order.

ITEM #603
Single Article $3.00
Volume No. & Issue
Title


Member Price  $2.00
Volume No. & Issue
Title




NEW YORK FOLKLORE SOCIETY ♦ 129 Jay Street ♦ Schenectady, NY 12305 ♦ 518.346.7008 ♦ Fax 518.346.6617 ♦ nyfs@nyfolklore.org