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Secret lives of dolls in St. Petersburg Museum of History’s Creepatorium

Dozens of dolls have been unearthed to haunt the museum.

With Halloween on the horizon, the St. Petersburg Museum of History has transformed its Odditorium into a Creepatorium, bringing in dozens of dolls that have been in storage since the 1950s and ’60s.

It’s a clever way to add a macabre vibe to the room, since so many people find dolls creepy. There’s even a term for the fear of dolls: pediophobia. Movies like Annabelle, The Conjuring and Child’s Play imagine a terrifying world in which dolls become possessed by the ghosts of people who have been murdered and are seeking revenge.

So in the spirit of Halloween, we imagined the inner lives of the Creepatorium dolls.

By day, the dolls sit silently on shelves draped with old lace and cobwebs, eerily staring at visitors who marvel at the two-headed calf, two-headed chicken and Egyptian mummy also in the room.

Signs written in spooky fonts posted on the shelves warn: “Beware of Annabelle’s Curse ... Do Not Touch the Dolls!”

But come nightfall, after the museum has closed, the room comes alive. A phonograph starts playing a warbly, haunting tune from a dusty old record. The death mask of William Shakespeare drones a passage from Macbeth.

The St. Petersburg Museum of History has a display of creepy dolls and other scary Halloween items in their Creepatorium, Friday, October 16, 2020. Here is a death mask of William Shakespeare.
The St. Petersburg Museum of History has a display of creepy dolls and other scary Halloween items in their Creepatorium, Friday, October 16, 2020. Here is a death mask of William Shakespeare. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

"The time has been

That, when the brains were out, the man would die,

And there an end. But now they rise again

With twenty mortal murders on their crowns

And push us from our stools."

The light in the mummy’s display case flickers on. Its inhabitant, a 3,000-year-old Egyptian woman, sits up and starts moaning.

A mummy is on display at The St. Petersburg Museum of History, Friday, October 16, 2020. The museum has a display of creepy dolls and other scary Halloween items in their Creepatorium.
A mummy is on display at The St. Petersburg Museum of History, Friday, October 16, 2020. The museum has a display of creepy dolls and other scary Halloween items in their Creepatorium. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

Annabelle, the doll with the mousy brown braids, starts wailing from her carriage, which has begun to slowly wheel across the room. We imagine Annabelle was a real girl who died of the Spanish Flu in 1918; her ghost occupied her own beloved doll.

The necklace she used to wear that says “don’t kiss me" is locked away in a nearby vitrine. It’s an actual accessory mothers put on their babies during that pandemic.

But we imagine Annabelle died because people didn’t heed the necklace’s message and touched her. Her curse will reign down on anyone who touches the dolls, bringing a scourge of bad luck.

The St. Petersburg Museum of History has a display of creepy dolls and other scary Halloween items in their Creepatorium, Friday, October 16, 2020.
The St. Petersburg Museum of History has a display of creepy dolls and other scary Halloween items in their Creepatorium, Friday, October 16, 2020. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

A grotesque clown doll, maybe named Kaptain Krazy, shrieks with maniacal laughter and dances around. We imagine that he was a real carnival clown who killed children, murdered by an angry mob of parents.

“Vengeance will be mine," he cackles. “I’m finding a way out of here to get my revenge. Who’s with me?”

The St. Petersburg Museum of History has a display of creepy dolls and other scary Halloween items in their Creepatorium, Friday, October 16, 2020.
The St. Petersburg Museum of History has a display of creepy dolls and other scary Halloween items in their Creepatorium, Friday, October 16, 2020. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

Winifred, a large doll with uneven, crazed eyes, draws two smaller dolls closer to her.

“We’re not going anywhere,” she hisses. The dolls, Olive and Penelope, huddle together, frightened.

Maybe Winifred was a little girl who was killed by her deranged mother. She took the form of a doll that a mother, Olive, bought for her daughter, Penelope. In a fit of jealousy over their loving relationship, Winifred put a curse on them that turned them into dolls. She’s now their captor for eternity.

The St. Petersburg Museum of History has a display of creepy dolls and other scary Halloween items in their Creepatorium, Friday, October 16, 2020.
The St. Petersburg Museum of History has a display of creepy dolls and other scary Halloween items in their Creepatorium, Friday, October 16, 2020. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

“You don’t want to go out there,” said Esther, who sits stunned in the corner, clutching her own little doll.

The St. Petersburg Museum of History has a display of creepy dolls and other scary Halloween items in their Creepatorium, Friday, October 16, 2020.
The St. Petersburg Museum of History has a display of creepy dolls and other scary Halloween items in their Creepatorium, Friday, October 16, 2020. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

“I went out last night. It’s real bad. There’s a pandemic killing thousands of people. But they keep going out in big groups. We’re much safer in here.”

Teddy, a little boy doll wearing tweeds and a silver amulet around his neck, hugs cross-eyed Baby Susie and a dead-eyed jester doll. Pokie and Barry, two stuffed bears, cower under the shelves.

The St. Petersburg Museum of History has a display of creepy dolls and other scary Halloween items in their Creepatorium, Friday, October 16, 2020.
The St. Petersburg Museum of History has a display of creepy dolls and other scary Halloween items in their Creepatorium, Friday, October 16, 2020. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

“Agreed” said Norma, a voluptuous doll with a cracked face, perhaps due to her corset being pulled so tight. “We’re staying put, where it’s safe. That goes for you, too, Kaptain Krazy. Especially because we’re protected by Annabelle’s curse!”

The St. Petersburg Museum of History has a display of creepy dolls and other scary Halloween items in their Creepatorium, Friday, October 16, 2020.
The St. Petersburg Museum of History has a display of creepy dolls and other scary Halloween items in their Creepatorium, Friday, October 16, 2020. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

“Do not touch the dolls. Do not touch the dolls," the group chants over and over in unison, as the sun begins to come up on another day at the Creepatorium.

If you go

The Creepatorium will be on display at the St. Petersburg Museum of History through early November. $15, $12 seniors, $9 military/veterans/teachers/students/youth ages 7-17, free for children 6 and younger. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday. 335 Second Ave. NE. 727-894-1052. spmoh.com.

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