If it weren’t for the glass case, the numerous warning signs on the outside, and the fellow telling you to in no way to taunt or touch the doll, it would look like a mint late 60’s Raggedy Ann.

Talky Tina was Twilight Zone’s version of “Chatty Cathy”, a Mattel doll with a small record player inside. You pulled the string, and a somewhat mournful voice would say a random phrase from a list of about a dozen. (Her minor keyed tones were due to a slight glitch in the flywheel that powered the turntable.) Talky Tina, on the other hand, was possessed of a demon, or at least an AI capable of learning about her environment, which happened to include an abusive family. Somewhat predictably, the father’s response to her went from annoyed to dollicidal, while his wife, Annabelle, belittles him and sleeps around. Finally, he kills himself, while Tina remains unscathed. Of course.

Now, we might have it back a step. Fifty years ago, there was a whole culture of Innocence: just as clowns were symbolic of all that was sweet and good and kind, all dolls were either babies or companions. Raggedy Ann was THE doll, Barbie was an exotic outlier. Nowadays, even companion dolls have to have T&A, or at least a “sassy” (read sexy) look…Raggedy Ann now looks like, well, someone from another century, being a cheery soft toy, whose only threat comes from a pair of toddler-unsafe eyes. Suffice it to say that in terms of cognitive dissonance, an evil Raggedy Ann is up there with a homicidal Pierrot.
The R. Ann called Annabelle began life as a gift to “a nursing student” from her mother who bought it at “a hobby shop”, vaguely around 1970. No names are given, nor even what shop. Given that hobby shops of the period tended towards model railroads and other masculine-flavored pursuits, such as tin soldiers and sand table gaming, this already sounds a little off. Anyway, she soon displayed poltergeist-like behavior, changing positions, appearing in rooms that had hitherto been locked, and leaving little notes (on parchment, no less!), giving her name as “Annabelle”, and claiming (at first) to be a little dead girl. However, her pranks became steadily darker, and The Warrens were called in. Despite a thorough exorcism, the doll refused to change her ways, and so, she was put into safe containment.

From the Fifties onward, working out of a house in Monroe, CT, the husband-and-wife team Ed and Lorraine Warren acted as ghost-hunters general. Armed with holy water (they were both devout Catholics), Ed’s probing mind and great strength, and Lorraine’s compassion and sensitivity, the saintly pair heroically fought ghosts and demons, bringing frauds to light, but bringing comfort and peace to countless afflicted souls, both in this world, and beyond. To respond to the growing clamor of a fascinated public, they established the very first Occult Museum adjoining their home, chock full of cursed and haunted objects.

In it, Annabelle reigns supreme. Interred in a glass-fronted box surmounted by a cross, and decorated by a Rider-Waite tarot card of the Devil, she presides over a room filled with voodoo dolls, the supposed coffin of a vampire, and, somewhat undercutting the mood, off-the-shelf Halloween decorations and books like the Simon Necronomicon and an AD&D manual. While viewing Her, the guide is quick to tell you the tale of the young man who taunted the doll, asking her to do Her worst, and was killed while motorcycling home. So there!

Skeptics who have worked with them have given another story. Only rarely would they be “guided” to hauntings, or even engaged by worried parties. Instead, they’d be tipped off by friends in journalism to the haunting du jour, where they’d gatecrash on the family, and use their celebrity status to ringmaster the event, giving fulsome accounts of what they’d observed to the press, and give orders as to what measures should be taken, often decreeing practices, such as all-night vigils and exorcisms, that would render ordinary life impossible. Far from trying to ferret out the truth from vague and often conflicting accounts, they simply took whichever details that seemed most lurid and sensational as fact, and far from trying to understand what might be a delicate situation, Ed would openly counsel the afflicted to embellish their stories to maximize the amount of money they might be able to get from the public. Genuine attempts to question, or winnow fact from fiction were met with weepy rebukes from Lorraine, putdowns of “atheists”, and even bullying behavior from Ed, who made a point of talking about his stint in the Navy as proof of his tough, no-nonsense nature.

He died in 2009, leaving his wife and son to carry on the flame. Since then, Lorraine has faded from view, and the Occult Museum shut its doors, reportedly because of a “zoning violation”. Still, every Halloween, Annabelle and a few other choice exhibits are brought out as part of a ceremonial dinner at a local restaurant, where costumed revelers (prize for best costume!) can see and be titillated by the Warren’s son’s storytelling. The story has received a further round of muddling through a series of movies, where she is portrayed, not by a cheery-looking soft toy, but by a ventriloquist’s dummy. Even the Sacred Rianna’s version is made of dirty plastic.

My take? As a card-carrying mystic and imaginative person, my emotions are torn: she looks exactly like my own R. Ann back home, minus the obvious dirt and scuffing of actually being used as well, a doll, and my wanting to believe in some kind of ghosts. On the other hand, I find the whole affair ludicrous: yes, yes, we’d like to protect peoples’ privacy, but if Annabelle’s story is actually true, there must be some kudos (and probably a good deal of money) in being That Nurse or knowing That Motorcyclist. (Certainly a newspaper clipping should be in order?) Given that I spent a good deal of my teenaged life as a drama queen trying desperately to get possessed, with bell, book, and candle, I strongly doubt that I would get anything more than a flareup of my dust allergy if I were to be so bold as to tramp off to Monroe and have my way with her. (That, and threats by her owner and possible legal action.) Doubtlessly, she has had her scoffers nonetheless.
What came of these? They probably inexplicably “lost contact” with the Warrens, which frees them to get a another year’s worth of suckers....for $175 a head.

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