Northern Kentucky museum is a retirement home for dummies

Spirit of the Bluegrass

FORT MITCHELL, Ky. (FOX 56)–  In a quiet neighborhood in Fort Mitchell, you’ll find a retirement home. Vent Haven may look small, but there are nearly one thousand retirees here– mostly blockheads. It’s the world’s only museum dedicated to the art of ventriloquism.

The museum houses the collection of William Shakespeare Berger, a businessman who dabbled in ventriloquism and began collecting dummies in the 1930s. Soon, they filled his home, his garage and a shed.

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Throwing your voice was an extremely popular form of entertainment during the vaudeville era and Berger pulled a lot of strings to collect some of the most famous fake faces of his time– Charlie McCarthy, Knucklehead Smiff and Jerry Mahoney, Lambchop and Farfel The Dog.

Curator Lisa Sweasy said the museum appeals to visitors of all ages.  “Luckily, there’s a vent for every generation. Often, they come down the driveway thinking they don’t know any vents. Then they’ll see a photo of Sherri Lewis or Darci Lynn Farmer or Jeff Dunham or Edger Bergen and say, ‘Oh yeah, I do know them.’ Then that’s what I focus on in that tour.”

The founder died in 1972, but the collection has only grown larger.

The museum doesn’t buy dummies. They have all been donated to live out their days here in the lap of luxury. More than 20 dummies have already been added in 2019.

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 Sweasy knows a lot of people wouldn’t want her job. They’ve seen too many scary movies about dummies coming to life.

“It is a lot of eyeballs,” she admits. It’s one of  those things you get used to and then you’re fine. They’re not going to move or anything. They’re just wood or paper mache.”

If someone is scared, she shows them a very friendly-looking group first,  funny animals or objects made of foam and fabric.

“There’s nothing scary about a talking traffic cone or furry bear,” she said.

It’s a museum where you look, but don’t touch. Sweasy knows it would be tempting to pick up a dummy and make it talk, but Berger say that as disrespectful to the original artists.

“Each of these dummies has a voice and a personality and a vent worked to develop that,” she said. “The operator isn’t here and so we do not attempt to be that operator.”

These are fragile pieces of entertainment history.. some of them dating back to the Civil War. But you have to believe if these characters could speak for themselves,  they’d love it that people still remember them when they were full of life.

Sweasy said”If you’re looking to do something that is unique and you can’t do anywhere else, Vent Haven is your place to see.”

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Vent Haven is open from May through the end of September. Reservations are required, except on free Open House days. There will be one on June 13, 2021.  Click here for more information.

The museum is in the middle of a campaign to raise $900,000 to build a larger exhibit hall that could be open year-round. It’s more than halfway to that goal, with plans to begin construction in 2021.

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