INDIAN RIVER – I’m not sure what I was expecting when I stopped to walk through the Hall of Sisters, a collection nun dolls on exhibit in this tiny Michigan town, but there was a lot to disconcert.
Several hundred dolls, most nuns but some priests too, are really a sideshow to a massive six-story “Cross in the Woods,” the centerpiece of this religious shrine and gift shop.
But I didn’t even go look at the cross. I was all about the nun dolls, and boy were they creepy. It’s not really the fault of well-meaning parishes who donated the dolls that their exhibit was such a spectacular failure.
The central problem is that dolls are by and large manufactured children, which made them seem much too young to make a lifetime commitment of celibate service. Some of the parishes tried to make them seem older by popping on spectacles, but this just resulted in 20 more misfortunate children, ripe for playground taunts of “four-eyes.”
I guess they don’t make doll parts with wrinkles, or even crow’s feet or laugh lines. This resulted in a crop of nuns whose age ranged from babies to teenagers. There was a group of bigger, mannequin nuns, and some of those seemed to be adults, but 20-year-olds, tops. It was looking at them that made me realize the other underlying flaw shared by all the nun dolls: copious makeup.
It’s true, some of the cosmetics were tasteful and neutral, but there wasn’t a nude lip among them, from newborn to department-store nun. It must surely have been wrong before, putting makeup on babies, but I never noted it so much before these tarted-up toddlers tried to pass themselves off as religious. Nice try, Mary Jane. Wash your face, Sister Sally.
As if in afterthought, the museum also displayed several priest dolls confined to their own sex-specific cabinets and windows. Attractive and smiling mannequin come-ons, they were even more creepy if that is possible, their potential good intentions undermined by a legacy of clergy sexual abuse. At least the nun dolls could hide their hair under veils and wimples. Father Chad’s blow-dried head was on display for all to see.
Also Unbelievable: Prayer Candles
A secondary sham at the front of the museum and gift shop invited you to pay $5 to “light” a “candle” to support the non-profit. Resembling red plastic drink tumblers with lids more than anything else, you didn’t even have the pleasure of burning anything. You just paid your money and pressed down to “light them.” Vatican City votives they were not.