Kentucky’s Home for Wayward Babydolls

by Jenn Shockley |

A Kentucky couple offers refuge for abandoned dolls and mannequins at their unique roadside attraction.

Anyone traveling through Elliottville, Kentucky, just east of Morehead, might be alarmed to see doll heads mounted on a fence. They’ll definitely look twice at the collection of dolls hanging from a barn. Closer inspection reveals dolls dangling from tree branches, perched on chairs, atop blocks of wood and hidden among plants. There are also uniquely dressed mannequins under a lean-to, by a small building and sitting under a tree.
 

Though the scene might resemble something from a horror movie, there’s no need to be afraid. You’ve simply happened upon a magical place known as the Home for Wayward Babydolls.

Have you ever wondered what happens to all the disregarded dolls and mannequins over the decades? Babydolls that are lost, cast aside for newer models or forgotten due to some tragic event don’t end up at the “Land of Misfit Toys.” Rather, at least in Kentucky, many are taken in by Cecil Ison, a retired forest ranger and archeologist, along with Bet Ison, his creative bride, who’ve constructed this sanctuary for all dolls to go at the end of their days.

 

Cecil began working for the forest department in the mid 1980s. He’d sometimes find disregarded dolls while out in the field, and would display them in the woods near the forestry office. He would also catalog said doll with a picture, description, location found and his thoughts on or knowledge of the doll’s demise. He acquired quite a collection during his years of service. Upon his retirement, forestry officials insisted that Cecil find a new home for his collection, and that was the beginning of the Home for Abandoned Babydolls.

Over time, the couple accepted the fact they’d been deemed keepers of abandoned babydolls.

As time passed and word of his collection grew, Cecil and his wife began finding babydolls left near their home and along the roadside. They found babydolls left in their mailbox and other strange places. Sometimes a doll would just appear. Even local thrift stores would send unwanted dolls their way. Over time, the couple accepted the fact they’d been deemed keepers of abandoned babydolls and Cecil delved further into his “research.”

 

Cecil deems himself a “forensic anthropomorphologist,” a.k.a. a studier of babydolls. He collects and displays dolls as a scientific study of the decomposition of the dolls. Bet is fonder of the mannequins. She enjoys dressing them up and giving them a whole new look. Together, they have created a unique haven, harboring some playful treasures from decades ago. The mannequins are also salvaged, and would otherwise likely be resting among the heaps of trash in landfills without rescue.

Today, the Home for Wayward Babydolls gets its babies in many ways and from many sources. Drowned dolls are often found during lake and river cleanups. Others are found broken, dirty and overall forgotten at parks. Hunters find them in the woods, students find them at local hang outs and still more dolls are found lying disregarded in trash or dumpsters.

 

Cecil and Bet welcome each new addition to their home. They do ask that any abandoned babydolls donated come with a picture, a location where they were found — including GPS coordinates, if possible — and a letter with the doll’s DOF (date of finding) and any other relevant information. The letter should also include permission to include the babydoll in the exhibition and in any future publications.

Visitors are welcome, as long as they follow the rules. Cecil and Bet do not expect phone calls in advance, but they do require the courtesy of a car horn upon arrival. They’ll come out and greet you if they’re home. Once on site, you are welcome to take pictures of the dolls, mannequins and bottle-cap sculptures (the dragon is Bet’s current favorite). Permission is requested prior to actually utilizing the images, however. Donations are accepted, as doll experimentation isn’t yet recognized as a renowned science worthy of grants.

 

The Home for Wayward Babydolls is well worth checking out if you happen to enjoy unique, with a tinge of creepy places. Rest assured, you won’t find another place like it.

 

All images courtesy of the Home for Wayward Babydolls.
 
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