ROWAN COUNTY, KENTUCKY (WDKY-TV)– From the moment you step on the lawn of a home east of Morehead, you may feel you’re being watching.
Eyes peer at you from trees, fence posts, flower beds, even from the sidewalk.
The homeowner will greet you by declaring his title: “I’m very pleased to have been awarded the title of slightly mad scientist.”
Cecil Ison is the lead researcher at The Home for Wayward Babydolls.
“Any doll abandoned, abused, no matter what type of condition they’re in, they’re welcome here to spend out their last days,” he said.
He’s a retired forest ranger and archeologist. In the mid 1980s, Cecil began collecting dolls he found in the woods, and, oddly, there were a lot of them.
“It was just too interesting to look at another side of human behavior and that was the abuse of babydolls.”
He found discarded dolls that had been shot, stabbed, burned and decapitated. He just couldn’t let them lie, saying they were manufactured to be loved. He took them to his office, and upon retirement 15 years ago, brought them home.
Now, with tongue in cheek, he gives tours of his research facilities, along with his wife, Bet, the home’s “executive director.”
One building contains boxed dolls stacked to the ceiling, those that have been donated or have shown up in the mail. Bet labels each box, documenting the contents.
At fenced in area near the road is dubbed “Research Area 14-C.” It’s dedicated to the study of Barbies and “Barbie wannabees.” Cecil has noted that real Barbies stand up to the elements must better than the copycats.
“These are all crime scene victims,” Cecil said.
Bet has even rescued mannequins from closed department stores. They sit on the porch. She changes their clothes with the seasons.
“Normally, we don’t have to decorate much for Halloween,” she said. ” It’s already here.”
In fact, that’s what the dolls are– decorations. Some people might call it folk art.
“I just call it the way we live,” Cecil said.
They have toys where others might place a birdbath or pink flamingo.
“We decorate with what we have and luckily for us, we have lots of babydolls,” Bet said. They also have colorful murals made from hundreds of bottle caps and brightly-painted gourds that line the porch.
They realize some people think it’s creepy to see dolls hanging in trees and plastic heads pegged to fence posts. To the Isons, it’s just watching what nature can create through the natural process of decay.
It’s not easy to describe The Home for Wayward Babydolls. It’s not an official tourist attraction or museum, although it gets lots of visitors… and despite what Cecil tells you, it’s not a real active center for scientific discovery.
“I still dabble in research, but for the most part now, we’re a refuge,” he said.
It’s a curious place where the smile on dolls may last for decades– home sweet home for a man, his wife, and their hundreds of babies.
As Cecil simply says, “I hope it’s a happy place.”
The Home for Wayward Babydolls is a private residence. The best way to see the collection and new additions is to follow it on Facebook.