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Vent Haven: A Shrine for Voices of the Past

Vent Haven curator Lisa Sweasy shows off one of the hundreds of figures collected there.
Miriam Lewin for NPR /
Vent Haven curator Lisa Sweasy shows off one of the hundreds of figures collected there.

Hundreds of ventriloquists from all over the world will soon descend on Fort Mitchell, Ky., for the 30th anniversary International Ventriloquists' ConVENTion. Why Fort Mitchell? It's the home of Vent Haven, a museum devoted to the great figures of ventriloquism -- human and otherwise.

For much of the 20th century, ventriloquism was a huge part of popular culture. Edgar Bergen -- manipulator of Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, and father of Candice -- was the world's most famous "vent." That's the term ventriloquists use to refer to themselves. Johnny Carson was a vent. So were Steve Allen, Don Knotts and Ted Knight, among many others.

Vent Haven is the legacy of William S. (for Shakespeare) Berger, a Cincinnati native who rose through the ranks to become president of a local tile company. He was also an amateur ventriloquist, and a collector of dummies.

The collection wound up in his garage, which is now one of four buildings that house the museum, located on a quiet residential street near the Interstate. Before he died, in 1972, Berger set up a trust to maintain his collection. At that point, there were 500 figures; now, there are over 700.

Children don't get much exposure to ventriloquism these days, so Vent Haven doesn't attract a lot of school groups. Curator Lisa Sweasy says the visitors who enjoy the museum most are senior citizens. For them, Vent Haven is like a fountain of youth.

The Vent Haven Museum of Ventriloquism is open May through September, by appointment.

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Naomi Lewin