FORTVILLE — If you had the time, you could spend a week inside Dolly Mama’s Museum of Dolls and Toys in Fortville cataloguing and examining the thousands of items that call the museum home.
Owner and curator Phyllis Baskerville knows the story behind every piece in her collection, whether it’s a doll or a game or bit of Hollywood memorabilia or war-related material. But health issues and the demands of the museum that have increasingly strained Baskerville have led her to a difficult and heartbreaking decision: closing down the museum.
“I’ve got the will, but I don’t have the power,” Baskerville said. “I just can’t do it. I wish I could but I can’t.”
The 86-year-old isn’t giving tours of her collection any more, and the future of the Dolly Mama Museum is uncertain. She has been in contact with the Indiana State Museum and representatives from Conner Prairie who have both expressed interest in parts of her collection. But Baskerville is hesitant, since they would probably disassemble the collection.
“Everybody wants to pick and choose,” she said.
Now, she is holding onto the hope that someone will step up and purchase the museum from her and keep it running, just like she did.
“That would be my heart’s desire,” Baskerville said. “My hopes for it were that someone could take it over and have the passion for it I did.”
Her museum and its thousands of dolls, toys and collectibles hold a lot of meaning for Baskerville, and she has always been a stickler for getting the best. There is just one rule that holds true for all the pieces in her collection: each item must be in pristine condition.
“There was never any junk in this museum,” Baskerville said. “Everything works.”
And that’s been her motto since she opened up the museum 10 years ago. She purchased the former First Pentecostal Church in Fortville in 1999 after having spent just a few short years building her collection.
“I bought what I could afford,” Baskerville said. “I get a kick when I find something. I just have an eye for stuff you don’t see very often.”
Baskerville spent several years retired in Florida with her husband Bob. He was sick for almost nine years, and during that time, she tried to shield her children from how ill their father really was. He fought a losing battle with Alzheimer’s disease and passed away Sept. 6, 2000.
At her home in Florida, Baskerville had a small collection of dolls. At the time, it was only enough to fill a corner of the house. With her daughters Tammy and Tara, Baskerville began collecting more.
“Before long, I had three-fourths of my kitchen full,” she said. “Then I thought ‘I’ll just open a museum.’”
She moved back to Hancock County and opened the Dolly Mama. Since 2001, she’s had visitors from Canada, Mexico, Hawaii, Germany, England, Denmark and almost every state in the United States. The museum has acted as a hidden treasure in Fortville.
“I’ve always thought it was interesting that some people don’t even know it’s here,” Baskerville said.
Shutting the doors on the Dolly Mama after investing so much time into the museum was a difficult decision for Baskerville, but it is the right time. She said she wants to deal with the museum’s future before leaving a mess for her children.
Collecting the dolls, games and toys proved to be more than just a hobby for Baskerville. After her husband passed away 12 years ago, she found comfort in finding and buying the collectibles for her museum.
“It was therapy for me,” Baskerville said. “I really think it saved my life.”
The Dolly Mama Museum might be closed down, but Baskerville looks back on her journey with a smile. With her keen eye for merchandise and a strong passion for the museum, the 86-year-old said she was proud of the Dolly Mama.
“I’m knocking on 90,” she said. “I’ve done pretty good.”