Investigating the antique doll phenomenon

Gina Marcil’s doll collection in her Rhode Island home. Photo by Mina Rose Maurnais.

By Mina Rose Maurnais

An online internet search for antique dolls brings up thousands of results.

The sound of a petticoat and bustle rustling. An image almost clear yet defined. It goes away—the apparition.

Sometimes it returns to roam around familiar territory only this time it is an antique shop attached to an antique doll.

“I assume it’s because most dolls and toys belong to children and if they die young I would think the spirit is not at rest,” said Michele Denning, an antique dealer also at the Cambridge Antique Market.

Haunting in Cambridge 

That is the case at Cambridge Antique Market. It used to be the W. L. Lockhart Co. Casket Factory in the 1850s, according to David Cohen the manager at Cambridge Antique Market.

The factory used to be on Bridge Street. Since then, the street name has changed to Monsignor O’Brien Highway. The company was started by William L. Lockhart who was born in 1827 and his father Daniel Lockhart., both from Novia Scotia, Canada.

The W.L. Lockhart Co. Casket Company back in 1890. Photo By the Cambridge Historical Commission.

The casket factory was very successful and expanded over seven buildings. There was also a factory on Staniford Street, according to Cohen.

“Maybe the concentration of coffins invited spirits to haunt the building,” written on an Instagram post from the Cambridge Historical Commission.

The antique shop is a four-story building plus a basement. The shop has over 150 dealers each with their unique style and specialization competing with one another.

“This used to be a casket factory. Who knows how many people got hurt here,” said Denning.

Denning claims to have had two encounters with ghosts at the antique store. She saw either an echo of a spirit or an actual spirit coming out of the second-floor bathroom. The other spirit she heard but did not see.

“Embrace the spirits. You have to make peace with them,” said Denning, when speaking about whether she was afraid.

Denning is one of the few employees at Cambridge Antique Market who believes in ghosts and has encountered ghosts at the shop. There used to be a former employee who also believed in the paranormal. Denning and he used to speak about the paranormal regularly. He left the shop. He lives a private life, according to Denning. She also believes most haunted activity happens on the third floor.

“There’s a greater percentage of really old stuff like Victorian,” said Lisa McQuilkin also an antique dealer and full-time employee at the antique shop. There are also some antiques from all over the world in booths 41 and 141, according to McQuilkin.

Bob, an antique dealer and a full-time employee at the antique shop, who doesn’t want to give out his last name, has not seen any ghosts at the shop. However, he confessed to throwing away antiques if he gets a bad feeling about them even after he already purchased them.

Creepy Dolls May be Haunted

Denning mentioned that sometimes antiques are brought into the store which give her bad feelings. She remembers one time someone left a very scary antique doll at the front door. The owners did not leave a note they just left her there. The next day the employees were surprised to see her greeting them at the entrance. Denning, especially, felt uneasy.

“The other day something was left here that gave me the creeps,” said Denning when referring to another doll at the store.

Next to the vintage Christmas booth, she shares with other employees is a booth called the Invisible Gallery owned by David Wolin another antique dealer.

The item Denning pointed to was a raggedy doll inside a case.

“I would say it is a 19th-century African American toy doll,” said Wolin, when asked whether it is a voodoo doll.

Wolin said the doll looks the way it looks because of racism during the 19th century if it is the doll of a child of slavery. However, he does not know too much about the doll. He bought the doll in New York from a collector who didn’t know a lot about the doll.

“It shows the universality of like the child’s experience that all kids want to play with dolls and some kids had beautiful porcelain dolls that cost a lot of money and other kids had dolls that were handmade out of scraps of fabric and bits of straw,” said Wolin when asked about the materials of the doll.

The 19th-century African American toy doll from the Invisible Gallery at the Cambridge Antique Market. Photo By Mina Rose Maurnais.

Wolin has never experienced the paranormal.

“It’s a weird question, because the salesman in me, you think, well do you want it to be haunted or do they not want it to be haunted? There’s no yes or wrong answer to that because if you say, ‘Yes,’ they may say, ‘Oh I will never buy a haunted antique,’ or, if you say, ‘No,’ they might say, ‘Oh I was looking for a haunted antique,’ and you’d say, ‘Oh, well here’s a haunted antique.’”

Despite testimony from some employees, according to Sara Colen, she has never seen any ghosts in the building. She does not believe in them.

None of the full-time employees know whether buyers have returned items because they were haunted. However, Denning does not doubt the building is haunted. She suspects dolls are personal items high on the list of haunted objects. One of her friends owns a clown that is apparently spooky.

The Haunted Clown Doll Spooking Rhode Island

Gina Marcil has been an antique dealer for 20 years and recently became a paranormal investigator. Prior to her current job with Amazon, she waitressed for 22 years while selling antiques. She is from Springfield, Massachusetts but is now based in Cranston, Rhode Island.

As a child, her mother who liked eclectic things used to take her to garage sales and flea markets. In 2002, when Marcil got her own apartment, she began buying antiques to fill her home. That’s when it all really began.

Marcil specializes in the 30s,40s, and 50s kitchenware, Victorian items, and dolls. Several rooms in her home contain antique dolls. In her kitchen, she has carnival prize dolls from the 1930s and 1940s, which kids use to win in carnivals.

She added a very unique doll to her collection in November 2020. She bought a clown doll from her friend’s online auction. Anthony Waz sold her the doll through his estate sale company, Reliable Estate Service LLC. Marcil named her Clowny.

Clowny with her teddy bear and EMF meter. Photo by Mina Rose Maurnais.

No one bid on Clowny, so Marcil was able to buy her for under $5. She drove four hours to get Clowny from the auction company. Clowny is from the 1930s and according to Marcil, she is worth more than $200. She’s handmade and comes from Connecticut. Other than basic information, Marcil does not know anything about who owned Clowny. She tried asking Anthony about Clowny’s origins, but he doesn’t know a lot about her history.

“He doesn’t believe in spirits, and he doesn’t know where she came from,” said Marcil when referring to Waz.

Waz was contacted for a response.

“I don’t have a lot of history on the clown, unfortunately. It was left over after an estate sale. It was too creepy to leave behind. So, it made its way back to my warehouse with a pile of clothing,” said Waz.

The first time Marcil knew Clowny was haunted she was video chatting with a “cute guy.” It was in March 2021 when “stuff started getting weird,” according to Marcil. A black anomaly went by the screen. Ted Ilsley her “cute friend” saw it too. The figure went by the screen again. The black flashes were recorded in a video. They continued to talk and then Ilsley told Marcil he saw white flashes behind her, according to Marcil. She couldn’t see anything. Jokingly, she turned around and asked her dolls, “Ok, is someone trying to talk to us?” She turned to Clowny, and the flashes started going nuts. She began asking Clowny questions and the doll started answering by flashing behind her to her friend. Ilsley got his iPad to record what was happening.

She has never seen an apparition in her home only strange figures on her phone screen.

“They manipulate the energy in phones,” said Marcil.

Marcil doesn’t want to give Clowny away because she doesn’t want to make her mad.

Gina Marcil sitting with Clowny in her home. Photo by Mina Rose Maurnais.

“Well, she’s so cute,” added Marcil while laughing and looking at Clowny when describing why she wants to keep her.

She eventually got a paranormal investigator, Nicolas Robert Grossmann, to help her figure out what was going on. Grossmann claims there is a spirit attached to Clowny. She’s a little girl, her name is Sara, and she drowned.

Marcil bought an EMF meter for Clowny. On her YouTube channel called “Clown Town Paranormal,” there are many videos showing the EMF meter going off while next to Clowny.

Despite her belief in the paranormal and testimony from some of her friends, Marcil admits mentally she has good days and bad days.

“As weird as it sounds, Clowny saved me,” said Marcil.

About Mina Maurnais 3 Articles
Mina is a graduate student studying journalism at Emerson College. She is also a creative writer, poet, photographer, and film aficionado. Mina loves traveling and is interested in international journalism.