Our fascination with haunted dolls

Of all the ghosts, ghouls and goblins that grace the pages of horror novels, the haunted doll is probably responsible for more sleepless
nights among readers than any other object. They haunt our dreams, our closets, our attics and even the basement. There probably isn’t a single house in America that doesn’t have at least one old doll stuffed away in a box or sitting on a shelf in a closet, its eyes staring blankly into the darkness.

When I was little I was sure there was a monster living under my bed. It was so real that I even thought I could hear it breathing in the middle of the night. When I finally worked up the courage to look I found out, to my relief, that there was nothing there. But almost every closet in my house had some sort of old doll sitting on the top shelf. It seemed that my mother and grandmother never met a doll they didn’t like and felt the need to give all of them a home. Some of the dolls had hand-made dresses, long hair and glass eyes. And that’s what always did it for me – the eyes.  Nothing is more frightening to an eight year old kid than the eyes of a doll staring back at him from a dark closet.

Photo by Heidi Sue Hittle

Who hasn’t climbed into the attic in search of a box of junk only to find a creepy doll sitting in the corner? My wife still talks about when she was a little girl and her mother sent her to the attic to get the box of Christmas decorations for their tree. Going into the attic was bad enough, but what she saw when she got there scared the living daylights out of her. When she clicked on the attic light the first thing she saw was one of her older sister’s dolls sitting on top of a box just a few feet away. She swears to this day that the doll’s head moved when she turned on the light. At that instant she forgot all about the box of decorations and climbed as fast as she could back down the ladder, never to go in the attic again. When she told her mother about it she only replied, “did you put it back in the box?” What..? Put it back in the box? Exactly how did it get out of the box in the first place?

Photo by Heidi Sue Hittle

Ghosts in the house are one thing. Most of us have at least one dead relative wandering around the house who refuses to move on to the hereafter. Sometimes they make noises in the middle of the night but we just dismiss it. But a doll standing in the doorway of your bedroom late at night, or one sitting on a dresser that turns its head when you walk into the room is the stuff of nightmares. Horror novelists know this, and waste no time exploiting our fear of haunted dolls, often portraying them as nothing more than receptacles of the souls of the dead.

So the next time you’re rummaging around in the attic or in the closet of the back bedroom and you come across a creepy doll, just throw it away. I dare you. Just remember, throwing it away might not do any good. The doll may just return later that night to stand by the foot of your bed, its eyes aglow with the anger of being tossed aside.

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