Beloved dolls with Indiana roots displayed at library

Thursday, June 16, 2016
Ivy Jacobs photos Attending a recent program about the connection of Raggedy Ann to Indiana at the Brazil Public Library, Stacey Burkey, of Bloomington, and Maria Hess, Brazil, are cousins who shared the dolls made by their family members Phyliss Hess and Lois Holmes.

The secret behind beloved rag dolls Raggedy Ann and her brother Andy is that they have Indiana roots.

Local residents, and a couple people visiting from out of town, gathered with their favorite rag dolls to learn more about the creator of the famous duo, Johnny Gruelle, at the Brazil Public Library last week.

"Many people don't know Raggedy Ann has roots here in Indiana," librarian Brenda Tiefel said during the presentation. "There's a lot of arguing over the origins of Raggedy Ann. It's still debated today whether it was in Indianapolis, downtown Cleveland, Ohio, or rural Connecticut."

Maria Hess, Brazil, brought along an unique set of Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, which showed children of all ethnicities received them as gifts in the more than 100 years the iconic doll has been around. Ivy Jacobs photo

Gruelle's wife Myrtle cleared up the history almost a 100 years ago when she said her husband retrieved a long-forgotten, homemade rag doll from the attic of his parents' Indianapolis home, believing it would make for a good story one day.

"But," Tiefel said. "They still debate it on the internet today, probably because he was born in Arcola, Illinois. The Raggedy Ann and Andy Festival was held there and there is also a museum dedicated to the legacy of the rag dolls in the town."

Gruelle, who was a talented artist and writer of children's books, lived in Indianapolis at the time when he created Raggedy Ann in 1915. He introduced her to the public along with a series of illustrated books in 1918. Another book about Raggedy Andy, dressed in a sailor suit and cap, followed in Ann's successful footprints in 1920.

Merry Miller Moon checks her two rag dolls for the iconic symbols that prove the dolls were made by Non-Breakable Toy Company 100 years ago or by Hasbro today; two button eyes (painted on now), a triangle nose and either a cardboard heart inside or one embroidered on the chest that reads "I Love You" along with a stamp signifying when manufactured. Ivy Jacobs photo

Tiefel said more than 75,000 handmade dolls were made and sold from 1918-1926 by the Non-Breakable Toy Company. That number doesn't include the handmade toys crafted from scraps of material people kept in rag bags.

"At that time, people kept everything and reused it, Nothing went to waste," she said. "Things were different back then."

During the dolls' existence they have appeared in various forms ranging from books to comic strips and on to television cartoons/movies. Their likeness have appeared as stickers to encourage voting, been on lunch boxes and children's furniture. Patterns for homemakers to make their own rag dolls in the images of Ann and Andy have been around since the 1940s, and there are many more patterns to make complete child/adult costumes, including the shaggy hair.

Marilyn Trout brought a basket of her various rag dolls that decorate her home year-round. Ivy Jacobs photo

There has even been a stage production on Broadway in 1986 of "Raggedy Ann."

In 2012 the duo were revamped by Hasbro as plush dolls.

"The Barbie doll has done and been everything in her 57 years," Tiefel said. "Raggedy Ann, not quite so much, but, for a simple rag doll, she's done a lot through the years."

Unable to choose which doll from her collection to bring, Anne Sanders, Brazil, brought a porcelain trinket box featuring the sister and brother duo on top and had several toys inside the box to add to the display. Ivy Jacobs photo

According to Tiefel's research, Gruelle's inspiration was watching his daughter Marcella play with her dolls.

"His daughter died after being vaccinated with the small pox vaccination, and that is apparently why Raggedy Ann has become associated with the anti-vaccination protest. That is something that I didn't know, and it shocked me."

Anne Sanders, who brought her daughter Kay McCloud visiting from Raleigh, NC., brought a porcelain trinket box featuring the sister and brother on top. A basket of various rag dolls was shared by Marilyn Trout, who said it was interesting to find out the history behind her beloved collectibles.

Librarian Brenda Tiefel shared the history of Raggedy Ann with the crowd at the Brazil Public Library recently. In her hand is the doll she recently made from a pattern that took 17 hours to complete. Ivy Jacobs photo

As the residents continued to share their personal stories connected with Raggedy Ann, her brother Andy and the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees, the stories were filled with genuine warmth and sincerity.

"I had two Raggedy Ann dolls when I was a child," Merry Miller Moon said about the two rag dolls she shared with the group. "By the time I was a teenager they were in pieces. I played with them until they fell apart. So about 10 years ago, I looked online and bought these to replace the ones I lost."

Stacey Burkey, of Bloomington, and Maria Hess, Brazil, are cousins who shared the dolls made by their family members Phyliss Hess and Lois Holmes.

Ivy Jacobs photo

"They were handmade with love," Burkey said about the dolls she played with as a child. "Everything was hand sewn."

Tiefel, who spent approximately 17-hours making her own Raggedy Ann doll this past weekend, agreed that a lot of love goes into making a doll, which is why the dolls were precious to so many children.

"If you were given a Raggedy Ann doll - a rag doll made from scraps of clothing like pieces of someone's pajama's or your party dress hand sewn by your mother or grandmother - it was special," Tiefel said. "When you got one, you knew you were loved."

Ivy Jacobs photo

To learn more about the Raggedy Ann and Andy Museum, log onto

Log onto the Brazil Public Library's Facebook page to learn more about upcoming programs.

Ivy Jacobs photo
Ivy Jacobs photo
Ivy Jacobs photo
View 2 comments
Note: The nature of the Internet makes it impractical for our staff to review every comment. Please note that those who post comments on this website may do so using a screen name, which may or may not reflect a website user's actual name. Readers should be careful not to assign comments to real people who may have names similar to screen names. Refrain from obscenity in your comments, and to keep discussions civil, don't say anything in a way your grandmother would be ashamed to read.
  • This looked like a great presentation !! Hopefully the Library will sponsor more. But please advertise more! I must have missed this in the paper.

    -- Posted by Berniesmom on Sat, Jun 18, 2016, at 5:57 PM
  • Times is good at that, not giving enough time. Maybe they don't get enough time their self.

    -- Posted by smallguysmalltown on Sat, Jun 18, 2016, at 6:06 PM
Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: