Founder and Cincinnati native William Shakespeare Berger, W.S. Berger, spent more than 40 years amassing a personal collection of everything related to ventriloquism: dummies, puppets, photos, scripts, memorabilia, playbills, posters, recordings, and more. He was not a professional ventriloquist. In 1973, his massive collection was officially opened to the public and dedication of a third building was held. Edgar Bergen and Jimmy Nelson were among the performers. Since then it has nearly doubled in size as its name and reputation have spread worldwide.
Vent Haven Museum is a one of a kind museum, the only museum in the world dedicated to ventriloquism. Every year, hundreds of tourists visit the museum to see this amazing collection, to learn about ventriloquism and its history, and to see how dummies are made. Housing more than 900 dummies used by ventriloquists from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, Vent Haven's uniqueness draws tourists from literally around the world.
The collection began when W.S. purchased his first figure, Tommy Baloney, in 1910 while on a business trip to New York. At first, he kept the figures in his home in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, but the collection grew rapidly in the 1930’s and 1940’s. In 1947, he renovated his garage to house the dummies and in 1962, he built a second building. It houses over 700 figures, thousands of photographs and playbills, and a library of books, some of which date back to the 1700s.
The most popular dummy at the museum is a replica of Charlie McCarthy, a figure in a top hat, tux, and monocle. Charlie and his human partner, ventriloquism pioneer Edgar Bergen, appeared on the Chase and Sanborn Hour radio show from 1937 to 1956
From the late 1940’s until 1960, W.S. was the president of the International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists. His leadership helped the organization grow from about 300 members to over 1000. He also published a monthly magazine called The Oracle, which kept ventriloquists abreast of current events in the vent community. Mr. Berger also maintained extensive correspondence with ventriloquists from around the world, often writing as many as 50 letters a week.
W.S. outlived his wife, son and grandson and had no other heirs. Fearing his collection would be divided and dispersed, he sought advice from his attorney, John R.S. Brooking, who helped him set up a charitable foundation for his assets, property, and collection. Today, thanks to the foresight of Berger and Brooking, Vent Haven Museum functions as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, and Mr. Berger's fabulous collection is open to the public.