Students seek answers about mysterious black doll

Stella Halpern of Island Pond bought this handmade doll at a house auction in East Burke in 2003.  It’s very old, and she wonders if it might have been owned at one time by a runaway slave child on her way to freedom.  The doll has been donated to the Old Stone House Museum, and students at the East Burke School are researching the house and the doll.  Photo by Tena Starr

Stella Halpern of Island Pond bought this handmade doll at a house auction in East Burke in 2003. It’s very old, and she wonders if it might have been owned at one time by a runaway slave child on her way to freedom. The doll has been donated to the Old Stone House Museum, and students at the East Burke School are researching the house and the doll. Photo by Tena Starr

copyright the Chronicle, October 9, 2013

by Tena Starr

Stella Halpern is hoping someone will solve a mystery for her.  What was a very old, battered, handmade black doll doing in the rafters of a house in East Burke?

Mrs. Halpern bought the doll in 2003 at an auction of the home’s contents.  She has since donated it, along with the rest of her collection of homemade black dolls, to the Old Stone House Museum in Brownington.

“I love old auctions,” said the 92-year-old Mrs. Halpern.  “We were sitting there, and they were down to practically nothing, and the auctioneer sent for a complete thorough search.  They had found this little black doll hidden in the rafters in the attic.”

Mrs. Halpern bought it for $5.

“I didn’t buy it because of the price,” she said.  “I bought it because my curiosity was aroused.  It’s a handmade sock doll, made from black socks.  It was in an old house in white Vermont and has to have historical implications.”

It’s not very likely that a white child of the time would own a black doll, Old Stone House Museum Director Peggy Day Gibson noted.  Also, she said that when the owner of the house was remodeling he found a penny dated 1851 in the walls.  Sometimes, in older homes, a coin was put in the walls to date the time of construction.

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