KATE CHERRELL talks to “Gremlin”, a Bristol man about his haunted doll named Margaret
Annabelle, Robert the Doll, Chucky, we’re all familiar with the terror brought about by a sinister doll.
Whether that doll be possessed by the spirit of a serial killer, an unnamed demon or a lonely child, the mere image of a toy being used as a sinister catalyst strikes fear into our hearts. In lucrative film franchises, if not in life itself!
There are so-called haunted dolls in museums and travelling tour shows across the world, but what of the unknown haunted dolls?
What if your unassuming neighbour had a collection of possessed porcelain that was known to no one but themselves? And who actually does buy those steady streams of ‘haunted dolls’ on eBay?
Between the museums and paranormal enthusiasts are people like Gremlin in Bristol. His name, as unusual as it may be, is not the most striking thing about him. Nor is his kindness, humour or forked tongue. The most curious of all is his living arrangements, or his roommate at least. Margaret.
Meet Margaret the Haunted Doll
Margaret is a doll. At 12” high, she takes up little space, but has an enormous impact.
I sat down with Gremlin over a terribly British cuppa and learned a little more of his and Margaret’s world.
So, how does one come into possession of a haunted doll?
“This may sound a bit hard to believe, but for a long time, one of my hobbies has been reading Haunted Doll listings on eBay. There’s some thoroughly creative writing on there. Normally, these look like dolls found at a yard sale or in an attic, having been knocked about, grubbied up and listed with a short story. I never bought one, but was often tempted. I would often repost the listings I enjoyed the most to friends, who, I don’t think actually appreciated it as much as I did.”
Yet all changed at the beginning of the year when his online interests became real-life changes.
“In January, a box arrived for me; all tape and cardboard. Inside was a note, telling me the box contained Margaret, a gentle spirit who missed her family, especially her sons and grandsons. The note also said “She scares the shit out of my cats”. But was signed with no name. Beneath the note was a doll in a blue gingham dress and with curly brown hair. I held her up, greeted her with a cheery ‘Hello Margaret! My name is Gremlin, welcome home!’ I gave her a hug and sat her on the sofa with me to watch a documentary about the sea.”
With collectors and paranormal enthusiasts actively seeking haunted dolls, what of those with more flexible or undecided views? Does owning a self-styled haunted doll make one a believer in the bizarre and ghostly?
“I’ve made a conscious effort over the years to choose to believe. I like to think I’m a rational person, but, I also think being a rational person is boring sometimes. So I embrace superstitions, the supernatural and things like that. I say hello to magpies, I give way to cats, I keep my shoes in my chimney, etc.”
Is Margaret really a haunted doll?
But is Margaret truly haunted? Does she summon the legions of Hell and attack visitors with a tiny weapon? Well, not all dolls are quite so Hollywood in their haunting efforts.
‘Sometimes my TV does turn itself off and back on again. This is a new development since she arrived to live with me. Other than that she’s been very well behaved. She’s an amazing conversation piece and has never treated me badly. My housemate is a bit creeped out by her, but she’s never done anything to earn that.’
While Annabelle’s reign of terror left her confined to a locked glass case, Margaret’s home life is rather more relaxed.
‘I move her about. Currently she’s sat beside the tv. Sometimes I have her facing the TV so she can enjoy programs I watch too. I suppose I treat her how I’d like to be treated if circumstances were reversed. Once or twice I’ve taken her with me whilst I cook or garden. I try and keep her warm and remind her that she’s not forgotten.’
Can a haunted doll with no real malevolence still have an impact? Instead of terrifying Gremlin, can Margaret help him?
“She’s positively changed my life.”
‘I’d say she’s positively changed my life. If she misses her family and I’m to be a surrogate family to her, then I imagine she’d be disappointed in me if I didn’t eat right, didn’t brush my teeth, stayed up too late, etc. I make sure to wish her goodnight and good morning, often my first and last words of the day are to her. Even if she’s not a spirit who lives with me, it’s a terrific form of self-care.’
But why did Margaret come to Gremlin? Was it a kindly friend or unexplainable fate, and can a spirit ever truly be owned?
“I’d love to know why she came! To this day I don’t know who sent her to me. As for keeping Margaret, I do plan on keeping her indefinitely, unless it feels natural to move her on or I feel there’s a better home for her.”
With so many dolls and so many spirits to house, what advice can one haunted doll owner give to another?
“Embrace them, love them, be loved by them. Be sure to talk to them, to keep them warm and remembered. I think being forgotten is a big enough fear during life, that it could only get more intense once it’s all over. To have a voice aimed at you, your name spoken, genuine human warmth, even whilst alive makes us happy. To be known. Extend this courtesy to the spirit who lives with you.”
KATE CHERRELL is a PhD candidate at the University of Lincoln specialising in Gothic Literature and Victorian Mediumship. From this, her research has expanded through to 19th death care, celebration and mourning practice. She is also a collector of Victorian death and memorial artefacts and talks widely on these subjects. She holds a keen interest in cemeteries, memorials and supernatural folklore which she explores within her blog www.burialsandbeyond.com. You can also follow her Facebook page.