RIVERTON — Hiding away in the basement of the Riverton Museum is perhaps the creepiest doll in all of Wyoming. Its appearance is so unsettling that even museum employees are visibly reluctant to touch or hold it.
The doll’s name is Amelia. She’s one of those old-fashioned oilcloth dolls with what is still a pretty pink dress embroidered with blue flowers, though the dress is now faded and a bit tattered.
“I’m not a fan of touching the doll,” admitted museum worker Kevin Scannell. “Part of it is her hair. I didn’t know she had human hair before, and that definitely makes it less appealing.”
But Skannel also isn’t a fan of touching the doll’s dishwater-white oilcloth skin.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” he said. The arms and legs “are a puffy, grey mess. They are … disturbing.”
Even more disturbing though is the doll’s face.
While her face paint is still clear, dirt has smudged Amelia’s forehead with strange circular lines that look vaguely occult-like. The nose has fallen off and is just a dirt smudge. And her mouth is ringed with dirt, too.
It’s as if someone took the doll and ground its face into the dirt, and no one ever tried to clean it up.
“The face is just … horrifying,” Scannell said. “I’m just generally uncomfortable seeing or touching any doll. But that one is definitely the worst.”
A Murky History
The history of Riverton’s Amelia doll, and when, exactly, it came to the museum, are a bit murky.
The doll doesn’t have what’s called an “accession” number, a numeral assigned to objects for tracking purposes.
“Without that number, we don’t have a good way to research where she came from,” April Peregoy of the museum told Cowboy State daily. “It’s through that number we could do more research to figure out where something came from.”
The lack of an accession number is not unique to Amelia.
“Riverton Museum has a lot of items that were never accessioned,” Peregoy said. “When they started the museum, you know, I think they just had a lot of local volunteers, and they would just take things and not really do the proper cataloguing process. So, there are quite a few items in the museum that don’t have them.”
Riverton’s resident ghost story hunter, Alma Law, told Cowboy State Daily he doesn’t know the specific estate that donated the doll, nor exactly when it came to the museum.
“The estate that donated her did have other, similar girl items, all from about the early 1900s,” Law said.
The Time Things Got Weird
What Law does have, however, is a chilling ghost story that’s tied to the doll, which he tells at least once a year for the museum’s haunted ghost stories lecture.
It’s the very first story of the presentation, and it really sets the tone for an evening of hair-raising tales that would put even the most hardened soul into the proper Halloween spirit, like it or not.
“Karline (Stetler), the lady who was directing the museum at the time, who is from Shoshoni, would let me know about some of the (ghost) stories, some of the things that had happened to her,” Law said as he began his performance.
One of those things involved Amelia, he said, as he absently stroked the doll’s human hair.
“She was assembling the dolls in a crib downstairs,” Law said. “And she had just been prepping this doll and putting it in its place, and then had kind of folded it up to work on the shawl.”
As she was pulling on the shawl, trying to straighten it up, she heard someone upstairs in the museum, a child’s voice, having a screaming fit of some kind.
“Somebody up here was just throwing a wild one kicking, and she just kept imagining, ‘Oh, those poor parents, they must be so frustrated. It must be so, like embarrassing, to have your kid do that,’” Law said.
The commotion just kept going and going, on and on, until finally Stetler decided to go upstairs and see for herself just what was going on.
The minute she headed upstairs, the wailing and kicking and screaming suddenly stopped. Everything went silent.
When she reached the top of the stairs, she looked around the museum, searching for the family with the noisy, but now silent, child.
No one was there.
So, she walked to the front office to ask what had caused all the ruckus.
Her coworkers were a bit confused by her question, Law said.
“It’s been quiet up here,” she was told by one of them.
“No, like the screaming kid, just a little big ago,” she said.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” the coworker said. “No one has been in today.”
Stetler pinpointed the sounds for her coworkers as coming from an old, deconstructed stairwell.
“The best she could figure out after that was it had to be the owner — the young girl — whose family had contributed the estate that included this doll,” Law said.
Inspiration For English 101
At the time, Law had been using ghost stories to interest his at-risk students in writing. The project turned out to be so fun and successful, his advanced students eventually wanted in on the act, too. That led to the publication of a collection of Fremont County-inspired ghost stories, based on ghost stories Riverton residents know.
The students couldn’t just repeat the same ghost stories, though. They had to research the historical basis behind the stories as much as possible, and then were asked to imagine what made Paul Harvey famous — “the rest of the story.”
Allison Mitchell picked the doll as her project, and it is actually Mitchell who gave the doll its current name, Amelia.
Mitchell’s story about the doll is a work of fiction, extrapolating on what little is known about Amelia, as well as the story Stetler has told Law about the doll.
It’s a creative story, available along with several others, in an anthology for sale at the museum.
In Mitchell’s story, the doll was a Christmas present for a little girl named Sarah, who called her doll Amelia. The doll was a family heirloom, something Sarah had been begging and begging to receive for some time.
That fall, when Sara was outside with her orange tabby, playing with the doll and her best friend, a dark, towering figure snatched Sarah away, dragging her behind the bushes.
She pleaded for her life, calling out for her friend to help her. But her friend was frozen in shock. She couldn’t move — not even to save her friend’s life.
Years later, Sarah’s younger brother, James, gave the doll to Sarah’s best friend as a keepsake.
At first, everything was fine. But then she noticed the doll changing positions. At first, she thought she was just imagining this.
Until that is, she came home one day to find it in a completely new and different location. She also began to find scribbled notes with the words “Help me” written on them in a child’s handwriting.
At that point, she gave the doll back to James, telling him she wanted nothing more to do with the haunted doll.
But, she still, on occasion, caught a fleeting glimpse of the orange tabby cat that had always followed Sarah around in life, now seemingly following her around in death as well.
Museum workers have reported a similar experience, particularly when they are working alone in the basement, where the doll is kept in a crib with other dolls.
The creature is always gone, though, the moment they turn to look for it.
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.