Calvin and Ruby Black owned a gift shop populated by 80 life-sized dolls in the Mojave Desert.
There's an old two-foot-tall doll in my aunt’s closet. I happened to discover it one day, while I was reaching for a blanket. Her striking red cheeks, and angry stare scared me half to death. Of course, everyone laughed at me for being afraid of a dumb doll, but I swear I feel like that thing is always staring at me when I visit. I know I'm not the only one who finds dolls creepy. There are tons of other people out there who share my fear for the lifeless toys. The proof of this is the success behind movies like the Chucky series and Annabelle. So, I really don’t understand how some people love them so much, like that couple in Yermo, California, who owned 80 handcrafted three-foot-tall dolls.
If you drove 8 miles east of Barstow in the Mojave Desert, you would've come across Possum Trot And Fantasy Doll Show, a gift shop that housed multiple wooden dolls made by their owner. From a distance, it seemed as if the house, in the middle of nowhere, was packed with people. However, as visitors got closer, it became clear that none of those individuals was alive: they were simply wooden dolls staring back at them.
The idea for the doll house's design came from Calvin and Ruby Black, a married couple that had moved from Georgia to the desert in 1933. Calvin wanted to attract tourists and local residents to his gift shop. When he was younger, he had worked at circuses, carnivals, and the puppetry industry, where he learned ventriloquism. Later, he decided to build a stage, a train, and 80 wooden dolls, which were connected to windmills and grinds that created the illusion of movement.
He put the dolls everywhere: on the roof, the balcony, the porch, and inside the house, but it didn’t have the impact he was expecting. Nonetheless, the unusual attraction located on Ghost Town Rd. did spark the curiosity of tourists and made them stop to check it out. There was even a documentary about the place released in 1977. In the film, Calvin had passed away already, so Ruby was the one interviewed. She welcomes film directors Allie Light and Irving Saraf and invites them to go in to provide some background information on the house. “My husband carved the dolls. Their bodies are made out of redwood, and their noses and arms and feet and legs are made out of sugar pine,” Ruby says.
Ruby passed away years later, but since they had no children or any other known relative to care for the dolls that they'd loved as their own children, Possum Trot became a creepy abandoned house where nobody dared to walk in. The signs painted in blood-red still read things like: “Beautiful dolls of the desert wastelands.¨
In 2007, a doll named “Gypsy Wheel” was sold for $82,000 USD at an auction. Turns out Calvin’s work became very valuable, and it’s considered by art collectors as folk art. Museums like The Museum of American Folk Art have displayed some of these dolls as artworks and antiques. I still think they are creepy, though, and I wish I never have to go anywhere near them. Now, we can't forget that Calvin’s intentions were only to bring more customers to his gift shop, rather than sell his precious dolls. In fact, he feared someone would steal them, and he wanted them to be burned when he died, but Ruby didn’t do it, so after she died, they became an investor’s property and an important piece of California's art history.