CARLISLE — Visitors to the Kentucky Doll and Toy Museum can see "old friends" they hadn't seen since their childhoods.
Curator Jan Taylor, 67, explained that there is a reference book titled I Had That Doll! That's a frequent exclamation in the museum, which opened in 2007 and now has 400 to 500 dolls as well as vintage toys.
"It doesn't matter how old the people are. They come in here and say 'Oh, I had that doll!'" Taylor said.
The retired teacher can personally claim that phrase, too, because the museum started with her collection of about 50 dolls. Taylor picked up one made by a company called Arranbee (pronounced R&B). A cherubic face gazes from beneath a thick shock of brown hair, and a red rabbit is sewn onto the right leg of blue denim bib overalls. The 1954 doll resembles a boy, but Taylor said she considered her a girl and might have even called her "Pamela."
"I remember when I got her for Christmas, she smelled like baby powder," Taylor said. You can't smell it any more."
But that emotional connection is what Taylor hopes to rekindle in people when they enter the museum in Carlisle, the Nicholas County seat of 2,000 people about an hour north of Lexington.
Taylor's dolls were initially on display at Café on Main, a reservation-only restaurant in Carlisle operated by her husband, Ed. One of their good customers is Dr. Phillip Tibbs, chairman of the University of Kentucky's Department of Neurosurgery.
Tibbs noticed how the dolls took up more and more space in the cafe, and one day he asked, "How would you like to have a doll museum?"
Tibbs and his wife, Trudy, had bought a brick building on Main Street with a cast-iron façade, and they thought it could be used to bring tourists to Carlisle. In previous incarnations, the building had housed a restaurant, a confectionery and an accounting and law office. (The confectionery was owned by the grandparents of Lexington lawyer Gatewood Galbraith, a Carlisle native who died in January.)
Michael Tibbs, Phillip Tibbs' brother, renovated the building, and the museum opened in October 2007. It draws 400 to 600 visitors a year (the museum is closed in January and February). The Tibbses pay for the utilities, and the $2 admission helps the museum pay its telephone bill.
Many dolls were donated by people in the community and surrounding counties, Taylor said.
"People would come and say, 'I've never known what to do with these. I didn't want to throw them away. I didn't want to give them to Goodwill. And I would love it if they could be in the museum.' And so in the beginning, we just took everything that came our way," Taylor said.
"But then we realized that we needed to be more particular about what we took. So now when people make contributions to the museum, they basically come with a disclaimer that we can do whatever we need to do with them," she said.
"So we sell some. We have accepted some to give away because we have a program where a school gives out coupons to girls on their birthdays, and the kids bring in their coupons and they can pick out a doll that they want. That's allowed me to accept dolls that aren't museum material but that would be nice for children to begin collecting or playing with."
The museum's collection includes a variety of dolls from the 19th and 20th centuries. There is a Shirley Temple doll from the 1930s, and the museum also has other, later versions of Shirley Temple dolls.
The Tibbses contributed a collection of dolls that represents the 1937 coronation of King George VI (the stuttering monarch portrayed in the Oscar-winning movie The King's Speech) after his brother, Edward, abdicated the throne for an American woman named Wallis Simpson. King Edward and Simpson are among the figures portrayed, as is then-Princess Elizabeth, who is now queen of England.
The museum also has a variety of other toys, including a collection of die-cast fire trucks, Steiff bears and vintage bicycles.
"One of the challenges of being a doll and toy museum is convincing people that there are things here of interest to everybody," Taylor said. "I understand that everybody doesn't like dolls. But there are things in the museum that will attract you, charm you and teach you."