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Vent Haven | One of a kind museum 

The dummies can’t talk, but their stories speak for themselves

William Shakespeare Berger. A one-of-a-kind museum hidden away on a residential street in Fort Mitchell. And more than 2,200 staring eyes. This is a story about an extraordinary collection that makes up the world’s only museum dedicated to ventriloquism, the man who built it, and the dummies showcased within its walls. All 1,100 of them. 

“W.S. Berger was truly a remarkable man with extraordinary vision for his collection,” says curator Lisa Sweasy. “His commitment to collecting and to the collection’s future are the reason Vent Haven exists today.” 

Although he wasn’t a professional ventriloquist, Berger (1878-1972) had a love of this centuries-old performance art form. He dedicated more than four decades of his life to amassing dummies and ventriloquiana—a word he coined to describe the ephemera and other memorabilia relating to ventriloquial figures. Berger himself is considered to be the world’s first ventriloquarian. 

In 1910, Berger purchased his first dummy, a figure named Tommy Baloney. Twenty years passed before he began collecting in earnest, filling his home with anything and everything related to ventriloquism. Eventually the collection outgrew the house and spilled over into his garage and beyond. The museum, which opened 50 years ago in 1973, comprised several buildings on Berger’s property. 

Two years ago, Vent Haven closed for a massive renovation, reopening in May of 2023 with an entirely new building—one that fits into the character of this quiet, tree-lined neighborhood—and provides the space to show off the dummies and share their stories. 

Photo: Kathy Witt
Photo: Kathy Witt
Photo: Kathy Witt
Photo: Kathy Witt
Photo: Kathy Witt

The museum is now fully accessible, has benches throughout as well as a large and comfortable lobby—something the former, cramped quarters never had. It also has a gorgeous 60-seat theater, named in honor and completed with the help of ventriloquist, stand-up comedian and actor Jeff Dunham. 

“Jeff wanted the theater to be a high-end professional space, so he donated above and beyond his original pledge in order to have it finished to that standard,” says Sweasy. 

Guided tours begin with a look at the era of Edgar Bergen, who introduced the world to beloved puppets Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, and the pre-television figure makers of the 1800s and early 1900s. As visitors move from one gallery to the next, they encounter Lamb Chop’s wardrobe trunk in a display focusing on Peabody-winning ventriloquist, puppeteer and well-loved children’s entertainer Shari Lewis. 

Across the way, retired ventriloquist Jim Teter’s cast of seven presidential puppets sit in chummy camaraderie. The Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford figures suffered damage in 1977 during the Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire in Southgate. Teter had been performing that evening along with headliner—actor, singer and talk show host—John Davidson. (Davidson visited Vent Haven in 2017 and declared himself “blown away” by the collection.) 

Contemporary entertainers, including Dunham and Darci Lynne, whose coterie of puppets include Petunia, Oscar and Edna, are given their due in a gallery that also includes a lineup of soft puppets that will remind many visitors of the Muppets. 

“Depending on the ages of the visitors in the group and their exposure to ventriloquism, most recognize Charlie McCarthy, Jerry Mahoney, Farfel the dog, Lamb Chop, Madame and, of course, Jeff Dunham’s Peanut and Walter,” says Sweasy. 

The curator’s own favorite is a figure named Stoney Broke. 

“He’s a smart looking fellow in a purple jacket and a nice bow tie,” says Sweasy. “When I went to the Kentucky Derby in 2004, I picked Smarty Jones to win because the name reminded me of Stoney Broke. 

“Smarty Jones won, so that sealed the deal for Stoney as my favorite.” 

One of the museum’s newest acquisitions is Elmer, a dummy used by ventriloquist Dale Fair in his ministry work. Each year, the museum adds two to three dozen new items to the collection, whose earliest pieces date back to the Civil War.  

“At some point, everyone will connect with something in the museum,” says Sweasy. 

Visit Susie Swine, Lester Doll, Danny O’ Day, Dunham’s José Jalapeno and the other dummies that make their home at Vent Haven. To schedule a 60-90-minute tour, contact curator Lisa Sweasy at or call (859) 341-0461. Tickets are $15 per person and may be purchased via a link at All tours must be scheduled in advance. 

The 2023 Vent Haven ConVENTion takes place July 12-15 at the Holiday Inn Cincinnati Airport in Erlanger. A full schedule of events includes acts, lecturers and panelists, including Jeff Dunham, Mallory Lewis (daughter of ventriloquist icon Shari Lewis), Jack Williams from “America’s Got Talent” and Jay Johnson—whose many TV and movie credits include “That 70s Show,” “Annabelle’s Wish” and “Soap.” Visit for a schedule of events.  

Vent Haven 

33 West Maple Avenue 

Fort Mitchell, KY 41011 

(859) 341-0461 

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