According to Guinness World Records, the largest collection of haunted dolls is ‘La Isla de las Muñecas’ – Island of the Dead Dolls in Mexico – where several thousand decaying toys dangle from trees and litter the ground.
But the woman behind Junee’s Haunted Doll Museum, Silvia Heszterenyiova, feels it may be time for them to update their records.
“I have over 10,000, or it could be around 11,000 here now,” she muses.
“Plus another 6000 or 7000 that I’ve got in boxes that people donate and I’m always buying a new one, or I make a new one.”
The Junee Doll Museum is located on the grounds of Australia’s most haunted house, the Monte Cristo Homestead.
Tall and blonde, Silvia speaks softly and with a thick Slovakian accent, which adds to her mystique.
She moved to Sydney with her two daughters 13 years ago and says it was an iconic TV show that set her on a course for Australia.
“When I was a child, it was Czechoslovakia at that time, and I was always watching Skippy,” she explains.
“I told my mum that one day I will move to Australia with the kangaroos and the beach and the freedom – far away from all trouble.”
While today she is casually dressed against the cold in an oversized jumper and beanie, Silvia has a penchant for elaborate Gothic and Steampunk attire.
She lives in a converted church house – complete with a mock graveyard – and drives an old hearse purchased from a funeral home in Griffith.
“I will take it shopping sometimes and people love it,” she laughs.
“We had this lady from America doing some documentary and she wanted to go to the shops and wanted me to take the hearse, so I said OK.
“She’s 92 and was sitting next to me and a skeleton between us – she was laughing so much!”
Silvia moved to Junee several years ago after meeting her partner Lawrence Ryan on a ghost tour of his Monte Cristo Home.
“I like all this paranormal stuff,” she says but explains that her interest in dolls had a less spooky beginning.
A skilled make-up artist, she started making hyper-real therapy dolls that she would donate to nursing homes.
“I was working in aged care and looking after people with dementia and Alzheimer’s, and I saw how much they love to hold babies,” she explains.
“It’s like comfort to them, so what I made I gave it to them and then everyone wanted a baby so it became my new business.”
While Silvia continues to make her lifelike “fairies reborn”, her paranormal interests steered the hobby in a darker direction when she opened the museum in Junee in 2019.
“I thought – why not try to make some ghost dolls and vampires and zombies,” she says with a grin.
The vast collection of dolls fills every corner of the converted shed and Sylvia says people are surprised by the diversity of the collection.
“People are like – ugh, doll museum – they think it’s porcelain dolls like old ladies collect, but they come here and they’re looking and they say, ‘wow, there is everything here!’
“I have the antique dolls too, but there’s a little bit of everything, including the creepy dolls as well.”
Spending long hours and late nights working in a notoriously haunted place, Sylvia says she often hears distant laughter and catches glimpses of shadows and phantom visitors wandering through her collection.
Surprisingly, the most haunted doll is not one of the zombies or demon babies but is a delicate vintage wind-up doll that she says will spontaneously play music and begin rocking back and forward.
“I had no idea she actually can play before I opened the museum,” she says, winding the key on the blonde-haired, blue-eyed doll.
“I was putting those dolls here with my daughter in the other room and we heard this music box and we came to check and she twisted her head to look at us.”
While COVID has stalled tourism in the area over the past few years, Silvia says interest is growing and she has plans to expand.
“I need a bigger space to fit all my dolls,” she says.
“People are saying it’s the biggest collection in Australia, but when I put it all together, I think it could be the biggest in the world.”
Original Article published by Chris Roe on Region Riverina.