Ventriloquism, or ventriloquy, is an act of stagecraft in which a person (a ventriloquist) changes his or her voice so that it appears that the voice is coming from elsewhere, usually a puppeteered “dummy”. The act of ventriloquism is ventriloquizing, and the ability to do so is commonly called in English the ability to “throw” one’s voice.
Edward Rothstein writes: “There is nothing quite like the gasp that escapes your mouth as you walk through three small buildings on a residential street here and find yourself mutely stared at by 1,400 eyes and grinned at by hundreds of painted lips over leathery chins.”
The Vent Haven Museum grew out of the passion of William Shakespeare Berger, a Cincinnati businessman, who began accumulating the paraphernalia of the ventriloquist’s art in 1910. He later served as president of the International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists and before his death, in 1972, endowed this museum, which began in his home. Ventriloquists, or vents as they call themselves, continue to donate dummies and photographs. In various rooms there are tributes to 20th-century vents like Edgar Bergen, Paul Winchell and Shari Lewis, along with displays about great dummy makers like Charles Mack, Frank Marshall and the McElroy Brothers. And while the 750 or so dummies do not seem overly impressed, their guild’s masters apparently are: every July more than 400 vents gather nearby for a “conVENTion,” which includes a visit to the museum to pay homage. Text by By Edward Rothstein