There’s only one museum dedicated to the art of ventriloquism, and it is located in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, in Kenton County. It was founded by William Shakespeare Berger in 1963.
“W.S. Berger initially started calling this Vent Haven because a haven is a place of rest, and vent is short for ventriloquist,” explains Tom Ladshaw, a board member of Vent Haven. “It was a place where ventriloquists could come and hang out, where they could leave their dummies when they were gone, and they would always have a place here.”
Though not a professional ventriloquist himself, Berger was a devoted collector.
“He just had a love for the art form,” says board member and curator Lisa Sweasy. “He began collecting in 1910, and very actively collected for about 40 years and amassed a collection of about 500 dummies and puppets by the time he died in 1972.”
Vent Haven has items dating as far back as the mid-1800s all the way up to modern day ventriloquists like comedian Jeff Dunham and “America’s Got Talent” winner Darcy Lynne Farmer. One of the most well-known puppets is Farfel the dog from the mid-20th century Nestle TV ads.
“Many people remember Jimmy Nelsen from when he was the spokesman for Nestle chocolate. They remember the dog, Farfel,” says Ladshaw. “We have Jimmy Nelsen’s stunt Farfel. In those commercials, he did some crazy stuff: He would ski off a slope. He was in a racecar. He did all kinds of crazy things, so Nelsen had a stunt Farfel built.”
“As I’ve learned about the individual pieces and been here for hundreds of acquisitions, I’ve really grown to be connected to the collection,” says Sweasy. “I feel very protective of it. I really have a lot of respect and regard for both the people who have made the dummies as well as all of the ventriloquists who use them.
“With each tour, I don’t know why the visitors are here,” Sweasy continues. “I don’t know if they’re going to know the names in ventriloquism or if they’re just here because we’re a unique museum. They come in with preconceived notions sometimes, but without exception, after being here for about an hour, tourists will say, ‘I had no idea it would be this cool.’”
This segment is part of Kentucky Life #2521, which originally aired on July 25, 2020. Watch the full episode.