Raggedy Ann: More than a doll

Article Published: Sep. 9, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Raggedy Ann: More than a doll

Raggedy Ann heiress Kit Gruelle autographs a doll for one of her many fans in Blowing Rock this past weekend. This year marks the iconic doll's 95th anniversary.

Photo by Lauren K. Ohnesorge

With her red yarn hair and her triangle nose, she's more than just a doll. She's a memory, and the creator's granddaughter, Kit Gruelle, spent the day in Blowing Rock Saturday promoting nostalgia and hope.

Just ask Barbara Duggan who trekked to Blowing Rock Saturday to get her memories signed.
What started as a gift for her daughter 50 years ago has become (along with her brother, Raggedy Andy), a treasured companion.

"We had the old books about her and the stories," Duggan said with a smile. "She used to imagine when she was a little girl and act out the stories."

But that was then.

In the years that passed, her daughter has become a mother and left the safety of the Duggan home for one of her own. Through it all, Duggan kept custody of the Raggedy twins.

"They sit in a beautiful leather chair in the front room," she said, "and they watch all four seasons."

And it's the next generation, the grandchildren, that screams with delight at the opportunity to play with the dolls.

"Every time they come to visit they talk to them and they hold them," Duggan said.

And, when the grandkids aren't around, the dolls serve as reminders of all the happy memories.

"I love them," Duggan said, clutching the dolls. "It's like having somebody around all the time. They're my children now that mine's gone."

For newly minted great-aunt Kathy Kavanaugh, an autographed doll is the perfect baby gift for a new baby. After all, a giant version of Raggedy Ann is displayed in her home, her own daughter's favorite Christmas gift years ago.

"She was three years old, and the doll was as big as she was," she laughed.

Now, decades later, her baby grand-niece, Kensie, is struggling in the hospital.

"This will, at least, make her parents feel better," Kavanaugh said, smiling softly.

Raggedy Ann, along with offering companionship, offers hope, at least that's what Kavanaugh believed as she made her purchase.

To Kit Gruelle, granddaughter of Raggedy Ann and Andy inventor Johnny Gruelle, it's not a surprise.

"Everybody's got a story," she said.

Gruelle, now a High Country resident ("The Gruelles have always loved the mountains," she said), may have the most stories of all.

"Raggedy Ann was literally everywhere," she said.

From the bookshelves to Halloween costumes, Gruelle, whose red hair serves as a reminder, lived and breathed Raggedy.

And though she didn't know her grandfather, she is proud to continue his legacy in the 95th year of the dolls.

"He just always was able to tap into a real childlike spirit and joy," she said.

To her grandfather, the dolls weren't just a play thing. They were a ticket to imagined worlds.
"He encouraged [kids] to use their imagination and to be out in nature," she said. "Kids have gotten disconnected from nature and from something soft and sweet like a rag doll."

Gruelle, who hopes to come out with a Raggedy Ann gardening book and a cookbook in the near future, continues her grandfather's legacy by promoting the dolls and their 95th anniversary. The dolls, however, aren't the only inspiration.

Gruelle, at 57, is completing her undergraduate degree at Appalachian State University, making her as much of an inspiration as the soft-faced dolls.

"I'm schlepping around in my backpack with all those 20-year-old kids," she laughed.

For Gruelle, who has worked with battered women for nearly 30 years, getting her sociology degree is important, and she encourages others to do the same.

"I say go for it," she said. "The good news is a lot of the experiences I've had in the real world have translated into what I'm studying at Appalachian."

Gruelle signed dolls at Flora Ottimer's Children's Boutique (1179 Main St.) in Blowing Rock and will be back Oct. 2 for more of the same. For information on getting your dolls signed or to find out exactly when Gruelle will be at the store, call (828) 295-9122.

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