In a crowded room at Vent Haven Museum, hundreds of tiny, shiny faces stare straight ahead, their eyes wide and their mouths most often curved into a smile. They appear happy and ready to chat. Many wear suits or even formal attire.

Sitting among them, a small, crudely carved, bodiless head appears out of place. Ruland doesn’t look like his ventriloquist dummy counterparts, but his slot jaw makes him a member of an elite collection. His story proves that each piece of the Vent Haven collection is more than meets the eye.

Ruland was a tool of survival as much as entertainment. The figure was created by Erich Everty, a German soldier who carved the figure with a pocketknife while he was being held in a Russian POW camp. during World War II Everty performed for fellow inmates to keep spirits high and for the kitchen staff to get extra scraps of food.

Every dummy in the museum’s collection has a story. Some are profound, like Ruland’s, others more lighthearted. Vent Haven Museum is the only ventriloquist museum in the world. Tucked away in a residential neighborhood of Ft. Mitchell, only a small sign near the road gives any indication to the wonder that is housed in three small buildings on the property. Once inside, it is impossible to miss the charm that comes with hundreds of little faces crowded into the small rooms.

Inside the buildings, nearly 1,000 dummies sit on display. Some are faces and stories many of us already know like Edgar Bergen’s sidekick Charlie McCarthy, a dummy with his own radio show from 1937-1955; Farfel the Dog from the 1950s Nestle commercials; and the more modern collection of Jeff Dunham including Peanut and Walter.

Some, like Cecil Wigglenose and the eight additional rare McElroy figures in the collection, are famous only to collectors and vent enthusiasts. Others aren’t known by many but share similarly incredible stories. And each was made to entertain.

“We are unique. There is no other place like us in the world. We get all kinds of visitors and each demographic has a different reaction,” says Anne Roberts, a long-time volunteer and one-time curator of the museum.

The collection started as a labor of love for W.S. Berger, a Cincinnati businessman with a passion for all things vent. Originally kept in his home, the dummies filled one bedroom, then another, then a third before he sold his car and renovated his garage into a showroom.

As the collection grew, he built a second building, and eventually a third to hold the then 500 dummies and related memorabilia. In 1973, the museum was incorporated, officially turning his private collection in a business open for visitors.

“It was a hobby that got out of control,” says Roberts. “This is a place that has to be seen to be believed. It is a place full of stories.”

Though not a professional ventriloquist, Berger was a major fan of the art form and through correspondence became friends with every leading ventriloquist during his lifetime. Connecting fans of ventriloquism remains a goal of the museum today, which hosts an annual conVENTion that attracts 500-700 ventriloquists ranging from amateur to professional.

It was at the 1975 convention when a young Jeff Dunham first experienced Vent Haven. He has returned every year since. For the last 30-plus years, he has also served on the Vent Haven Board of Advisors, a who’s who of vent talent that includes Willie Tyler, Jay Johnson, Dan Horn and Bob Rumba.

“As someone who has dedicated literally every moment of his working hours to the single profession of being a performing ventriloquist, W.S. Berger and his Vent Haven are, to me, jewels to be appreciated and treasured. His story began humbly and continues wonderfully to this day,” Dunham says.

Berger died in 1972 but his collection has continued to grow. Each year, the museum accepts donations of new dummies and other vent ephemera. Some are donated by well-known performers, like Dunham. Others are given by lesser-known performers, recovered from garage sales and saved from the trash. Between 20 to 30 dummies are donated each year, with the most recent ones placed in a special display. Vent Haven welcomes them all, happy to include them for their art form. Today, nearly 1,000 dummies; 7,000 pictures, playbills, scripts, videos and audio recordings; a library of hundreds of books; and a personal correspondence archive of more than 200,000 letters have filled the museum beyond capacity.

In the more than 40 years since its opening, the collection has doubled in size, but the square footage of space has remained the same. Additionally, the museum is only partially handicapped accessible and lacks restroom facilities.

A capital campaign, with a goal of raising $1 million, was kicked off in July 2017 to remedy this situation. The funds will be used to build a new, larger building on the property that can be used to better meet the museum’s mission to preserve the existing collection, educate the public on the art of ventriloquism and continue acquiring ventriloquial figures and memorabilia.

Thanks to a $200,000 pledge from the Drees Homes Foundation, they have surpassed the halfway point.

“We are overwhelmed by the generosity of the Drees Homes Foundation,” director and curator Lisa Sweasy says. “This is the largest single gift the museum has received, and we are very grateful for this show of support for us and our mission.”

The museum is open seasonally, May through September, by appointment only. All tours are guided and last approximately one hour. Requested admission donation is $10 per person.

Guests can get some hands-on interaction with some dummies, learning how differently designed models are operated as well as a little lesson in vent speak, which includes not only learning to talk without moving your lips, but also modifying the way some words are said to allow for the sounds that cannot be made with your mouth closed.


To schedule a tour, call 859-341-0461. For information about the museum, visit its website at venthaven.org 

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