Saturday, March 28, 2015

Historic dolls Topsy and her brother Moses

I hate getting rid of dolls, because a part of me believes they are alive. Topsy and Moses are two childhood companions that I unearthed when going through boxes downstairs recently. I still can't part with them.

According to collector Kathy Winchester, this Topsy was made by Reliable Dolls around 1950. Her name comes from the intrepid girl character in Uncle Tom's Cabin.

This place is now a historic site commemorating the terminus of the Underground Railroad taken by slaves who escaped to Canada. Author Harriet Beecher Stowe was inspired by the memoirs of Reverend Josiah Henson.

As a child, I knew little of the history or politics of Topsy. To me, she was just another doll friend. Much later, in high school, I learned about the Underground Railway when we sang "Follow the Drinking Gourd," a folk song which describes how escaping slaves navigated by the Big Dipper as they travelled beneath the night sky toward freedom.

I made the clothes these dolls are wearing. Topsy's rubber pigtails once had ribbon bows. She's a child and he's a baby, though they're the same size. Moses, newer, has flexible arms and legs, eyes that close when he lies down and a hole in his mouth for his bottle.

In our imaginary world, Moses was Topsy's younger sibling. What memories are evoked by these two, the youngest of a large doll family. My sister once told me Topsy came from "Dopenady" (an adoption agency). That explained why her skin colour differed from that of her white siblings.

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