Vint Haven Museum in Kentucky

In Northern Kentucky, you’ll find the only museum in the world dedicated to ventriloquism. The Vent Haven Museum in Fort Mitchell recently moved to a new home and provides a unique experience to learn more about this art form.

Located just a ten-minute drive south of Cincinnati, Ohio, or a twenty-minute drive from Greater Cincinnatii-Northern Kentucky International Airport, this museum was established fifty years ago and has been enjoyed by locals and convention participants (it hosts the annual museum and convention). And visitors alike.

The Greater Cincinnati area is rich in museums and a stop here is a truly unique experience.

They share that even if you are new to this art, this conference, run by professionals, is a welcoming place to learn and enjoy the art of ventriloquism. The next conference is in July 2024.

Costumes and dolls used by Darcy Lynn. Photography by Mary Casey Stork
Costumes and dolls used by Darcy Lynn. Photography by Mary Casey Stork

The museum

The new digs (opening in May 2023) allow the collection to shine, and the dolls are carefully placed in chronological order while providing space for special exhibitions.

In 1895, when he was just 17 years old, W.S. began working in the mailroom at the Cambridge Tile Company In Cincinnati, in 1947, he retired as president of the company.

The collection began when W.S. purchased his first figure, Tommy Pallone, in 1910. At first, he kept the figurines at his home in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, but the collection grew rapidly in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1947, he renovated his garage to house the dolls, In 1962, he built a second building.

Berger died in 1972, and by then he had arranged to share his collection as a museum, and that continues today as this beloved non-profit celebrates its new home. Inside the museum there is a tribute to Berger. And the name “Vint Haven”? Well, Berger wanted it to be a haven for ventriloquist dolls, a retirement home, if you will.

The stands display dozens of examples. Photography by Mary Casey Stork
The stands display dozens of examples. Photography by Mary Casey Stork

While some people may find these dolls creepy, each has its own story, and many of them are adorable. An example of this is dolls that survived a shipwreck that killed their owner and his child, only to be washed ashore in their box several days later. Well, hopefully not, but don’t stay in this corner for too long unless you want to find out.

The early models are interesting: carved from wood or made from papier-mâché and are simple by modern standards, simple but effective. These were staples of the vaudeville era and continue to entertain thanks to their contemporaries.

With nearly 1,200 models in the collection, there’s something that will resonate with you, from creations by Jeff Dunham, Shari Lewis Lamb Chop, and Charlie McCarthy to Edgar Bergen, and Lester Willie Tyler. Darci Lynne, host of the famous “America’s Got Talent” show, will also display fashions and dolls.

You’ll also enjoy learning about the extremely talented ventriloquist dummy makers who bring these creations to life, including the McElroy brothers from nearby Harrison, Ohio.

Through several exhibitions, you will be guided through this collection and learn about the skills used in creativity and performance. Tours generally last 60-90 minutes.

Ventriloquist comedian and actor Jeff Dunham has been a longtime supporter of the museum. He serves on their board of advisors and donated funds to establish their theater. The show dedicated to him includes his famous characters including Walter and Peanuts.

Even if you’re not a fan of this museum, as the only museum dedicated to ventriloquism in the world, it’s worth a visit. Of particular interest is the section known as the Ovary Room, where an entire wall of seated dolls can be seen. At the end of the tour, you can try manipulating the puppet yourself.

The museum does not accept walk-in admissions, and tours are limited to ten people, but it is easy to get a timed ticket on its website. Check in advance for seasonal hours.

Get lucky inside the Lucky Cat Museum. Photography by Mary Casey Stork
Get lucky inside the Lucky Cat Museum. Photography by Mary Casey Stork
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More fun museums nearby

If unique museums are on your travel list, be sure to also visit the American Sign Museum and Lucky Cat Museum while you’re in the area.

The American Sign Museum in Cincinnati is a gem of a collection of lovingly curated (and often restored) signs from all walks of life. Many locals will recognize signs from businesses that have closed, and everyone will recognize the bigger names, like McDonald’s.

As businesses go out of business or signs are replaced with more modern ones, the Sign Museum steps in and saves them from the landfill. The result is a very attractive museum with multiple galleries dedicated to all types of signs.

Shari Louis lamb chop. Photography by Mary Casey Stork
Shari Louis lamb chop. Photography by Mary Casey Stork

Founder Tod Swormstedt has led the mission for decades to preserve and preserve signs, and the collection represents more than 100 years of signs and is the largest collection in the United States.

Inside the museum, you’ll also find Neonworks of Cincinnati, the only full-time local neon sign shop, a bookstore (by appointment), and a gift shop.

Cincinnati’s Lucky Cat Museum brings smiles to many cat lovers at Essex Studios in the Walnut Hills neighborhood. Their whimsical collection brings smiles to non-cat lovers too. Who can resist hundreds of brightly colored cats raising a paw in your honor? I’m referring to you. Welcome. They seem to be saying: “Join us and get lucky.”

Collector, curator, and cat lady extraordinaire, Misha Robertson is the mastermind behind the Lucky Cat Museum which was founded in 2012 and has been growing ever since. So far there are more than 2000 models in its collection. The museum also has a small gift shop. Open by appointment and during Essex Studios Art Tours.

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