Ningyo: An Overview of Japanese Dolls, Part 1

Japanese girl in kimono with Ichimatsu ningyo 1920

It is no wonder that Japan and its culture appear mysterious and exotic to Americans.  For over 220 years, the foreign policy of the Tokugawa Shogunate (the last feudal military government) barred nearly all foreigners from entering Japan, and the common people of Japan were barred from leaving the country. In 1853, American ships commanded by Matthew Perry forced the opening of Japan to American and Western trade.

Commodore Perry Dolls brought from Japan in 1852

Japanese dolls (three fold or Mitsuori) given as gifts to Commodore Perry in Japan, 1853

From the first trade negotiations, Perry brought back a pair of Japanese mitsuori dolls. However, a Japanese play doll had already made its way to Germany, perhaps by a Dutch trader in 1851, resulting in the German style of doll known as Motschmann or Taufling.

German Taufling papier mache circa 1851

German papier mache taufling, circa 1851

Japanese dolls, or Ningyo, have influenced western dolls since at least 1851, and perhaps earlier, as the thread doll form (keue saiku) were among the first ningyo introduced in the US in 1799 by American ships from Salem Massachusetts contracted to fulfill Dutch treaty obligations during the French Revolution period.

Thomas Nast Santa Claus with taufling-ichimatsu

Thomas Nast (German-born American) Santa Claus with taufling/ichimatsu doll.  Printed in  Harper’s Weekly 1881

Ningyo have fascinated Victorian Europe, and have continued to be mesmerizing souvenirs in America since more frequent contact with Japan after WWII. In order to understand the place of ningyo within Japanese culture, however, it is necessary to understand more about the culture of Japan.


Shinto is the native religion of Japan, though Buddhism, Taoism, and Christianity are widely practiced there now, as well. Shinto involves nature worship, meaning that natural phenomenon such as sun, wind, trees, mountains, and water are considered as divinities. Torii, the traditional Japanese gates, are so popular in Japan’s culture that they have come to be known in the western part of the world as one of the characterizing features of Japan. The Torii is a gateway that signals the transition from the profane to the sacred, and is usually located at the entrance to Shinto, as well as to Buddhist, shrines, though it is also used to mark an area believed to have a deep spiritual meaning.

Tanabata Star Festival

Tanabata Star Festival

There are five sacred or holy days in the Shinto tradition. These auspicious days are January 1 (New Year), March 3 (Hina Matsuri or Girl’s Day), May 5 (Tango no Sekku or Boy’s Day), July 7 (Tanabata or Star Festival), and September 9 (Choyo or Chrysanthemum Festival).

Shinto is also animistic, meaning to see life in what we consider to be lifeless things. Dolls, therefore, have a deeply ritualistic meaning in Japan because of their ability to be surrogate human beings. “Ningyo” means human form, while “doll” is typically defined as a small human figure used as a child’s toy.


Dogu    The earliest recognizable dolls in Japan are prehistoric clay dogu figures, as old as 12000 BCE.

As ritual objects, ningyo are used as spirit vessels and votives for deities, as references to a particular person, child, infant, or unborn child, and can confuse malevolent forces, thus protecting children from danger and disease. Because of their sacred nature, ningyo are not merely disposed of; rather, they are given funerals at the end of their function with ceremonies concluding with burning the dolls or floating them away on water. (as we shall see . . .)

Just as western dolls are categorized in time periods usually corresponding to British ruling monarchs, ningyo are dated by Japanese imperial periods. In regard to antique ningyo, we are most concerned with Edo period through Showa period.

Periods of Japanese History

*  Early Japan (until 710)                                            *  Edo Period (1603-1868)

*  Nara and Heian Periods (710-1192)                      *  Meiji Period (1868-1912)

*  Kamakura Period (1192-1333)                                *  Taisho Period (1912-1926)

*  Muromachi Period (1338-1573)                              *  Showa Period (1926-1989)

*  Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1573-1603)                *  Heisei Period (1989-present)

Categories of Ningyo

Japanese dolls can be categorized by the materials they are made from, such as cloth, wood, clay, or paper. However, it is much more enlightening to get to know ningyo within their place and purpose in Japanese culture. Therefore, we shall explore the dolls as Ritual, Guardian, and Festival Ningyo; Display or Appreciation Ningyo; and Play and Entertainment Ningyo, though these categories are also not clear cut. For example, the Ambassador or Friendship dolls are ichimatsu ningyo; however, they are obviously not play dolls. Rather, they carry a significant ritual purpose as ambassadors of goodwill, and they are intended for display. Likewise, kokeshi originated as souvenir dolls for display, yet they also have ritual significance, and some kokeshi seem intended as play dolls, as we see with the mini wobble headed dolls from my collection.


Author’s collection of miniature play kokeshi ningyo. The tallest doll is 4″.

In the next post, Part 2 of Ningyo: An Overview of Japanese Dolls, we will explore the first category listed above–Ritual, Guardian, and Festival Ningyo. (Bibliography will be listed at the end of Part 4.)


Ningyo: The Significance of Japanese Dolls


Early this month, I had the honor of presenting a program at the 2019 Mensa Annual Gathering in Phoenix, Arizona. This was an especially exciting event for me! Not only was it my first time to attend a Mensa Annual Gathering, or any event of this caliber, it was also my first time to stand up with a microphone in front of an audience to present! It was definitely a thrilling and gratifying experience. (And sometime I will make it to a UFDC {United Federation of Dolls Clubs} National Convention!)


My presentation was headed by an account of my experience living in Japan and seeking for a particular type of doll, as portrayed in my blog post, Beyond Oceans and Decades: In Search of Ningyo. The main body of the presentation was based on a program that I gave for my doll club, Antique Doll Study Club of Oregon, last summer.


Though the dinner-time audience was not a large one, the presentation was well received, and several attendees followed me to the Hospitality room, when we had to vacate the presentation room for the next program, so that they could view the dolls and reference books further and speak with me more.



One whole suitcase of dolls and books came with me for the display. They certainly added to the interest of the topic.


Now that the tension and excitement of this event are behind me, I am looking forward to sharing this program, Ningyo: An Overview of Japanese Dolls, Their Significance in Japanese Culture and History, and Their Influence on the Development of Western Dolls, with you. In the coming days, I will share this intriguing aspect of doll culture and history here, in several chapters of blog posts. Thank you for your interest and attention! Arigato gozaimasu!

Japanese girl in kimono with Ichimatsu ningyo 1920

Stella Julianna Comes Home


Ever since Stella Julianna could remember, she wanted to live on the West Coast by the ocean. When her Artist Mother, Connie Lowe, had her all ready, Julianna was excited that she was going to live with her new mother, Miss Jennie. Miss Connie helped her pick out just the right 1930’s dress with a cotton boll print, Mary Jane shoes, a soft pink coat, and her Steiff duck to keep her company on her travels.


Stella Julianna traveled all the way from east of the Mississippi River all by herself! She was snug in her “box berth” wrapped in a soft cotton quilt. She mostly slept, and the trip lasted only a few days.


She was a little bit startled when she emerged from her slumber and found herself in her new home.


She came out cautiously, keeping her duck companion close, and looked all around. There were so many lady dolls around! Stella Julianna hoped that they would be kind and friendly, and not boss her around since she was just a young girl.


Miss Jennie reached for her and reassured her that all the dolls were well behaved, though some were a little spirited sometimes. She said that Stella Julianna would fit right in, and that they would have lots of fun playing and making new clothes.


And then Julianna spotted a baby giraffe who was new in the home, too, from FAO  Schwartz. She reached over to comfort the shy creature. “Can he be my special pet?” she asked Miss Jennie. Then she knew that she was going to be very happy in her new home!

Deression era girl barefoot with schoolbook and lunchpail

Connie Lowe, who is an antique doll collector and doll artist, created Stella, a 20″ BJD (ball jointed doll) in the image of children in Depression Era America. I fell in love with Stella because, though she is not antique, she has such a wonderful persona of a child from a bygone era. Being a new doll, and a BJD, she has such potential for posing, play, and dressing creatively in period appropriate outfits. I am so glad that Stella Julianna is here with me now. Thank you Connie!



Giving Thanks: Food for Thought, and Thought for Food


My china ladies have prepared their home for a festive occaision.

Are you cooking in or dining out for Thanksgiving? This question is loaded with more than gravy and cranberry sauce! Our national holiday of Thanksgiving is traditionally a day of feasting and community with extended family. (Yes, I am purposely ignoring the televised sports aspect.) Ideally, there are sufficient family members who contribute and share in the preparation for the festivities. These days, though, more and more restaurants offer catered dinners for the day and are open for dining in. A good thing? Maybe.

I am a strong believer in the essential goodness of food prepared at home, and of the community building aspect of sharing food and conversation around the dinner table. However, my reality does not always live up to my beliefs. I am a single “head of household” with two jobs. The two family members who live with me are not willing or able to prepare meals. The third family member with whom I often share holidays chooses not to cook. This usually leaves me in a position of wearing myself out as the sole planner and preparer of the festivities and not able to enjoy the gathering, or of choosing restaurant dining with its attendant foibles. Why is restaurant dining a less desirable meal? Here are some deeper thoughts on this issue.


Hazel offers cream of celery soup made with homemade chicken bone broth.

Deng Ming-Dao says in 365 Tao: Daily Meditations:

In cultures where personal contacts are more meaningful and closeness to the earth is a way of life, it is no surprise that people are interested in a complete relationship with their food. They buy it or raise it, they harvest it, they clean it, and they cook it–all before they eat it in gratitude. They don’t become sentimental over their food–practicality is to understand that we kill to survive–but they do give thanks for what has died to sustain them.

Today we have a very incomplete relationship with our food. We don’t see where something grows, we eat foods out of season, we buy prepared foods made by someone we don’t even know. There is a great power in knowing your food, knowing where it came from, preparing it with your own hands. This food, whether vegetable or animal, died for us. The least we can do is partake of it thoroughly and with respect.

Nowadays it is quite common for people to feel isolated. They lament not having friends, not having genuine experiences, not having a sense of who they are. If even the food that we eat and the way that we eat is lacking in wholeness, then how will we feel completion in the rest of our lives? (Tao #277)

Thanksgiving Vintage Family

At least one of my sons has a differing opinion. He believes that with the work-away-from-home structure of our modern lives, it makes more sense for food preparation to be centrally prepared in large quantities for purchase, rather than for individuals or small families to have to spend time in food preparation on a daily basis. This plan frees the limited time we have around work for other activities. (Lucky for him, his wife has a job in a natural foods store that includes a generous deli department. This connection adds an element of locality to their prepared food purchases.) And all three of my sons have a preferred other activity–playing board games! As they proclaim, sharing in playing games builds community, as does sharing a meal.

Victorian Parlour-Games

Deng Ming-Dao continues his thought on food and place with Tao # 320:

Why were people of old so integrated with their surroundings?  Because the objects that they used, the food that they ate, and the activities that they engaged in were straight from their surroundings. They used sticks made from [native wood] as eating implements. They used vines to make baskets. They used gourds as vessels. For food, they grew plants, domesticated animals, and caught fish and game. Their social structure was built around the cycles of the sun, moon, and stars. Newborn babies were washed with waters of the nearest stream. The dead were buried in the same earth that provided sustenance.

Now our food is imported from distant places and elaborately processed. We have no idea where objects we purchase come from, thinking that their presence and convenience is all that is necessary. We have means of transport that can bring us to places faster than our minds can adjust. We abuse our wealth and use it to insulate ourselves from our surroundings.

That’s why being of modest means is not necessarily bad. When one is poor, one is forced to use what is at hand. . . . The closer we can be to the earth and to nature, the more integrated with life we shall be.


Okay, as much as I would like to return to rural 1840, I know that is unrealistic and that I have romantisized expectations of the time. So, is eating at a restaurant for Thanksgiving a bad thing? I think that like being poor in the passage above, we have to make use of what is at hand. I have made the best choice I can for a location for an enjoyable family dinner. I hope the wait is not so long, it is not too noisy, and I will mourn the lack of leftovers to provide additional meals. I will graciously thank the growers, producers, cooks, servers, and others involved in providing the meal for my family. I will greet others who I do not know as they partake of this holiday feast at the same location. I will appreciate the disorientingly fast transportation for reuniting far-flung family members. Perhaps my family will re-convene after our meal at one of our apartments for games. We will admire and appreciate the upgraded game pieces that were artistically handmade by one of our group. Perhaps we will even contemplate who manufactured the forks we take our delicious bites from, and where the plates originated.

Jonathan's game painted by Kendra

Game upgrade painting and photo by Kendra Jackson

My gratitude goes to you, my readers and followers, for making my blog–my creative outlet–a successful one. May you enjoy food that satisfies your body and soul, and may you benefit from community with those you hold dear as well as benefitting unknown people in need of community.


My doll’s house Thanksgiving table. We know where the dishes came from!

Ming-Dao, Deng. 365 Tao: Daily Meditations: 1992, Harper Collins, New York.

Vintage Victorian Thanksgiving


Going Dutch: Dressing a Vintage Wooden Doll

DSC03606 (2)

Last spring I was fortunate to attend a Luncheon in Junction City Oregon with a presentation on wooden dolls. This luncheon had quite a large selection of “Helpers,” or dolls and related items for raffle. Attendees could purchase raffle tickets and place their tickets in the bag next to items they hoped to win.


The “Helpers” that I won at the Wooden Doll Luncheon

Almost embarassingly, I won several items for which I had placed only one ticket in the bag! However, I did win one doll for whom I had placed half a dozen tickets–a hand carved wooden doll from Europe.


This 12 3/4″ doll is marked on the back in ink with the artist’s initials and the date, 2001. She is reputed to have been bought by Barb Hilliker, the Bleuette doll expert and author, while on a trip to Europe. She was donated as a “helper” by Annie Roupe. It does amaze me the experiences my dolls have had before they come to live with me!



This doll has marvelous carved details in her face, hair, hands, and even a carved chemise neckline. As with many of the dolls who come my way, she came with no clothes. Her upper arms are made of coarse muslin fabric, and are not stuffed.

Since she is a girl of the Netherlands, I wanted to dress her appropriately. I am not too familiar with traditional Dutch costume beyond the wooden shoes and the cap with pointed ends, so research was needed. I found these images that inspired my doll’s costume:

Dutch girl and Daschund

Traditional Netherlands girl costume 1910s

Dutch girl w wooden doll Nico Jungmann 1872 - 1935 Dutch

Young Dutch girl w basket of fish Edmond Louyot 1861 - 1920

My Dutch girl now has doll-sized greeting cards that I made with these images to carry with her so that she can reminisce about her origins.


The costume that I made consists of six pieces of clothing, mostly made from small fabric remnants. The drawers and slip are of unbleached muslin. No blouse with sleeves was needed because the doll’s arms are made of muslin. Therefore, I made a sleeveless full slip rather than a petticoat. The skirt is lightweight denim. The bright red bodice is lined with the striped fabric that makes the top part of the apron. The stripes and patches on the apron are similar to those in two of the vintage images above. In one image above, the young girl has a lace apron, and she is holding a doll. She is dressed for indoors, and appears to be wealthy. My doll is a working girl and carries a basket with a (Japanese) clay fish, similar to the last vintage image. However, she does have lace on her bonnet, which is made from an antique fabric remnant that had the lace on it already.


For me, making this Dutch costume for an almost vintage hand carved doll was something different from making a 19th century dress for a German doll. It may not be completely authentic, yet I am quite happy with the regional quality that it evokes. And this fine, hard working young lady can be proud to stand on display fully clothed in the Dutch fashion.

Dutch school, 17th century from Christies

This Dutch kindje is certainly nobility with her rich dress and delicate poppet.




A Journey for Miss Ruby, Chapter Seven: A Connecticut Kind of Summer


Everything about Ruby’s journey had been delightful! Yet, she couldn’t think of a better reason to travel than to visit family. Even though she was “born” in Connecticut, she was now a “West Coast” girl. How fortunate she was to have an “East Coast” clan to welcome her back! Ruby thought that Oregon City where she lives was incorporated a long time ago, in 1844 (as the first incorporated town west of the Rocky Mountains), but the town where she was staying, Colchester Connecticut, received its charter in 1698–almost 150 years before Oregon City. My, that is old!


This house has been sold since this photo, and is no longer a shop. Miss Jennie wishes she was the buyer!

Of course many of the houses and buildings in Connecticut are older than in Oregon, too. Ruby liked looking at all of these old buildings.


A historic Colchester house, facing the town green.


This interesting Victorian is near the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam.

August 2014 18 Airline Trail bigger stone wall 5 conjunction

Connecticut is also noted for its beautiful stone fences; even like this one that is unused and hidden away now along Judd Creek.


After shopping for awhile, Ruby stopped for a rest on this stone wall in Old Mystic Village.

Shopping is always interesting in Connecticut. Everyone likes stopping at Nature’s Art along the way to Old Mystic Village.


Ruby was quite taken with this large malachite stone. She found that it soothed her spirit.


“This room with dinosaur skeletons is a little bit scary–it gives me the shivers. But I still like the fish.”


“What do you mean, we already have Citrine at home? I want to put THESE in my suitcase!”


Harry’s Place doesn’t look quite like this any more, but it’s still THE place to hang out on summer evenings in Colchester! (Photo by Dave Stewart)


Burgers, chili dogs, and onion rings were the favorites with all of these Stewart girls. (Photo by Dave Stewart)


And of course ice cream for the whole family is the perfect ending for a summer evening. Coneheads had Miss Jennie’s favorite–espresso bean! (Photo by Dave Stewart)

DSC03531 (2)

Ruby liked dressing up in her white summer dress for church in Manchester.

Even this delightful journey eventually came to an end. The dolls in her bedroom were beginning to miss Ruby most dreadfully. When she came home, she petted the housecats, then she sat on the little Windsor chair next to Little Davie. Now all the bedroom dolls could sit or stand for days and days listening to Ruby share story after story about her journey to the East Coast.

THE END . . . is just another beginning!

Red dress girl with flag circa 1850s

East or West, Home is Best




A Journey for Miss Ruby, Chapter Six: Special Joys


After so many fun days in Maine, Ruby was glad to be back at her home-away-from-home in Connecticut. Miss Jennie was getting ready for her all-day antiquing trip to Brimfield Massachusetts, but Ruby wanted to stay home for that one.


Uncle David likes to shop for wooden boxes and burlap bags at antique fairs. (Photo by Dave Stewart)


Miss Jennie found a few interesting things at Brimfield including a wee Steiff bear, a rag doll, and some girls’ and ladies’ small clothes. She liked this sewing machine, but it was too big to fit in her suitcase to take home.

After Ruby was all rested up, she couldn’t wait to go to Special Joys Doll & Toy Shop! She had heard so much about it, and knew that it was a favorite with her cousins, the antique Izannah Walker dolls. She put on her best red dress, her silk stockings, her red leather shoes, and her sunbonnet. She was ready to go!


Miss Joy shows Miss Jennie an auction report about a rare Izannah Walker doll which sold for more than the usual amount of many, many dollars.

Inside the shop, Joy Kelleher met them, and they made introductions. Ruby felt warm in her heart when Miss Jennie introduced her to Miss Joy, and Joy took a special interest in her. Joy had met Paula Walton, Ruby’s birth/artist mother who also lives in Connecticut. Joy said that Ruby was one of the best Paula Walton Izannah dolls she had seen. My, was Ruby proud! She stayed with Miss Joy and got to know her better while Miss Jennie explored the shop and all of the special dolls who lived there.


Miss Jennie especially liked these early 19th century dolls in Miss Joy’s personal collection, including the papier mache Lydia hairstyle on the left.


Many of the dolls had amazing old, old dresses, including the brown and blue cotton dress on this large early 19th c. Voit Pauline type doll with teeth!


Can you tell that Miss Jennie is especially fond of the early papier maches?


Of course, she likes china dolls so much, too. Especially when they are wearing old appropriate cotton dresses and have kitties who sit next to them!

Miss Joy seemed as delighted to have them there in her shop as they were to be there! She especially enjoyed getting to “play dolls” with someone who knew about and appreciated the older dolls the way Miss Jennie did.


The wax-over-papier mache doll in the blue dress blinked at Ruby when Miss Joy pulled on a lever that opens and closes her eyes.


Now, which one of these early 19th c. papier maches with Apollo knot hairstyles will come home with us. Both so lovely . . . Of course Miss Jennie chose the one with the old cotton print dress! (And also a wooden body Lydia china!–but that is a different story.)

Ruby was basking in the attention given her by Miss Joy. Joy said in the kindest way that Ruby was a country girl, and that she would be better served with dark stockings rather than her fancy silk lace ones. Joy didn’t find black or brown or red striped socks that would fit her, but she did find blue stockings for Ruby.


Miss Joy gets to know Ruby better.


Ruby admires her new blue stockings.

“Now you are a bluestocking!” Miss Jennie told her. “What is a bluestocking?” asked Ruby. “She is an educated, literary, and intellectual woman who preferes to wear worsted blue stockings rather than the more formal black ones.  There were even Blue Stocking Societies in the 18th and 19th centuries.” “Oh. I think that means that I’m smart, like you!” Miss Jennie blushed politely.

Miss Jennie found so many things to take home to the dolls in the bedroom, and dolls were chosen to come home with them. After the purchases were made, it was time to leave. They were so glad to have finally visited Miss Joy and her astonishingly charming shop. Everyone hoped that they would be able to come back again during another visit to Connecticut.

Now that all of the special planned events were over, they could enjoy the company of family who they came to visit, and have fun being in Connecticut!

To be continued . . .

Paris CDV girl flounced dress large doll

Girls like large papier mache dolls when they are new, as well as when they are old.


A Journey for Miss Ruby, Chapter Five: Lobsters and Moccasins


What do you mean. I can’t take my whole chocolate lobster catch home with me?

When Ruby woke up Friday morning, the sky was grey and the hotel parking lot was wet. They visited Max, the omelet chef, in the dining room again; then they were travelling in the Salsa Red Pearl van north from Portland just a little way to Freeport Maine, home of L.L. Bean.

L.L. Bean was like a shopping center all on its own with five different stores. It has been in Freeport for over a hundred years! They went in the door of the Hunting and Fishing store first where they saw racks stacked high with canoes, and racks and racks of rifles standing in rows on the floor. Then they looked at taxidermy animals under an open staircase. The animals were so still in their make-believe forest. Ruby thought that they should get their taxi and go back to the real forest.


“Look, she’s dressed like me! Can I go to that beach?”

Next they went into a corridor with lots and lots of pictures of L.L. Bean catalog covers through the years. Ruby found the ones she liked best–the ones without guns.

At the other end of the corridor was the clothing store. Miss Jennie tried on pants, shirts, and pajamas. Ruby became very bored. There were no clothes her size, not even dungarees. They looked at the gigantic L.L. Bean boot outside the Clothing Store entrance. It was so big that Ruby didn’t want to have her picture taken there.

When they were finally outside again, there was an ice cream shop, but they didn’t go there. Instead, they went across the way to the L.L. Bean Home Store. “Oh, no!” thought Ruby, “I’m going to be bored for longer!”  But just inside the door, she found something fun–toy log cabins, just her size.


“Looky, looky, a whole log cabin village!”

Then there were more things that caught her attention!


“I could take a bath in the bowl with the pretty blue fishes, but I would be afraid in this one with the lobster claws.”


“I didn’t know they would have boots my size!”


“What do you mean I have to choose just one pair?”


“All right, I choose the moccasins. They are sooo soft inside!”

After the L.L. Bean stores, there were more fun shops to explore. Ruby didn’t have to wait too much more for the big people to look at clothing. They went into a fabulous art store called Abacus, where they found sea shell art, recycled broken glass made into pottery dishes, and tiny cars and trucks made out of tin cans.


“I think I could drive this one!”

They did finally go in an ice cream store, and Ruby especially liked the chocolate lobsters (with soft claws) and chocolate blueberries at Len Libby Chocolate Store.

Ruby thought of Little Davie in her room at home in Oregon City, and about how much he liked his toys. She brought home a little tin can car for him.


“Thank you, Ruby! I’m glad you’re home.”

Touring and shopping in Maine for four days had been the best of times! It would soon be time to return to Uncle David and Aunt Lynn’s home in Connecticut. And there was a very SPECIAL shop that Ruby was looking forward to visiting there, where she would feel right at home.

To be continued . . .

Five vintage girls shopping

Girls having fun



A Journey for Miss Ruby, Chapter Four: Tall Ships on Casco Bay


Miss Ruby on board The Wendameen, July 5, 2018

After a busy morning seeing all the lighthouses, Ruby and her family rushed back to the hotel just in time to catch the shuttle bus to downtown Portland. The bus was definitely the way to get there because there would be nowhere to park the Salsa Red Pearl van. The bus driver was from Boston Massachusettes and now lives in Portland Maine. Miss Jennie told him the story about the coin flip to name the new (in 1845) Oregon town Boston or Portland. Then he said, “That is a fabulous story! I’m going to tell it to my friends!”


“What do you mean I have to share!”

Once they were in Portland, there was plenty of time to have lunch at Flatbread Company, right beside the dock where the big ferry boats chugged in and out of the bay. The oven fired pizza was delicious, but Ruby liked her bottle of Maine Root Blueberry soda best of all.


One of the ferry boats on Casco Bay


Then they went out to the dock where the schooners were moored to get their boarding passes. Ruby was so excited about going on the ship, she could hardly be still in line. “I thought a schooner was a wagon that took people on the Oregon Trail to Oregon and California,” she said. Miss Jennie told her that she was right; Prairie Schooners did roll across the prairies on the Oregon Trail. Those wagons were smaller than the great Conestoga wagons, and with their white canvas covers or bonnets, they looked, from a distance, like smaller tall masted schooner ships, sailing across a sea of grasses.


Timberwind (1931) in Casco Bay as seen from Wendameen, July 5, 2018

The Portland Schooner Company sails three tall masted schooners for two hour tours and charter trips. Ruby and her family would sail on Wendameen, the oldest of the three ships. “Goody, goody, I like old things,” said Ruby. Wendameen is a two-masted schooner, built in 1912 by the noted naval architect John G. Alden, and is 67 feet in length. She is the 21st recreational schooner built by Alden, and is one of the oldest to have survived. She sailed on the Great Lakes for 20 years, then languished on land until 1985 when she was fully restored and began her life of “windjamming” cruises in Maine. Wendameen was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.


Wendameen (Stock Photo)


Miss Ruby at the helm of Wendameen

When Ruby leaped on board Wendameen from the dock, she went right to the helm. “Can I steer?” Then the captain came aboard and said to her, “What kind of voodoo is this?” Ruby just looked at him with big eyes and said, “No voodoo, sir. I’m just Miss Jennie’s travel companion.” That seemed to satisfy the captain, and he paid her no more mind on the cruise.

They followed Bagheera as Wendameen’s motor pushed them away from the dock. Then they were in the bay and the sails were unfurled by the two-woman crew. What a lovely evening to be out on the water on a tall masted ship!


Portland skyline from Wendameen on Casco Bay


Miss Jennie especially loved being on this historic tall ship, and sailing! (Photo by Dave Stewart)

There were lots of things to see out on the bay. There was a Civil War fort named “Fort Gorges” that is on an island, and they could see the other two schooners, Timberwind and Bagheera, sailing around the bay. Ruby looked and looked at the varnished wood, tall masts, sails, and rigging, on the ship she was on. She was amazed at how the crew members climbed right onto the mast to adjust the sail! “I want to do that!” she said. “Can I have a schooner for my birthday?”


Octagonal shaped Fort Gorges, finished in 1864. No troops were ever stationed there because it was obsolete before it was completed, being replaced by iron clad ships and long-range guns.


Bagheera (1924), as seen from Wendameen


Spring Point Ledge Light as seen from Wendameen


The captain and one of two crew members aboard Wendameen, July 5, 2018 (Photo by Dave Stewart)


Mast and rigging, Wendameen

Ruby was sad as the sun sank lower and Wendameen followed Bagheera back toward the dock. She thought she could sail aboard a tall ship for days and days. This had certainly been an experience that she would remember for all of her life.


When Ruby was home again, she took out her copy of Avi’s The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, which is a Newbery Honor high adventure story about a tall masted ship and a 19th century girl who sailed on her. This helped keep Ruby’s sailing adventure alive for her.

This beautiful Thursday evening had been the perfect time for Ruby’s sailing adventure. Now it was time for dinner (grilled scallops! Yum!) and another cozy night at the hotel. The morning would bring rain–the perfect day for shopping!

To be continued . . .

Nautical girl antique print

So much to sea!


A Journey for Miss Ruby, Chapter Three: Four Lovely Lighthouses


Miss Ruby at Portland Headlight Lighthouse, Cape Elizabeth, Maine on July 5th, 2018

The hotel room had a soft bed with lots of pillows for resting on. Everyone woke up in time to have a delicious and nourishing breakfast, including custom-made omelets made by Max, the professional omelet chef. Most of Ruby’s family appreciated coffee to start the morning, but Ruby declined.


Ruby liked the stack of soft pillows, too.

This would be a full day of touring, including visiting three lighthouses in Portland, and a schooner cruise! The first thing that Ruby noticed along the seacoast was the wild beach roses. Unlike the cultivated roses in Portland Oregon, the petals of these roses grew in a single layer around the flower. They were bright and beautiful with the sun on them.


Beach roses at Portland Lighthouse

A little way down the path, though, the roses were all but forgotten as the most iconic lighthouse in the world came into view!


Such a clear, sunny, day, the sailboats don’t need the light right now.

Portland Head Light was first lit on January 10, 1791. It is taller now than it was then, and no longer burns whale oil as did the original 16 lamps in its tower. Ruby had to look up and up and up to see the top.

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Miss Jennie enjoyed walking all around the lighthouse park just as much as Ruby did.


Miss Jennie at Portland Headlight, July 5, 2018

After looking at seaglass earrings and a whale shaped mirror in the gift shop, it was just a short drive to the next lighthouse, the Springlight.


Spring Point Ledge Light in South Portland Maine, constructed in 1897


This is what the breakwater looks like with the gaps between the stones. (Photo by Dave Stewart)

Spring Point Ledge Light in South Portland Maine, constructed in 1897, is listed on the national register of historic places. It is called a sparkplug lighthouse because it’s structure rests on a concrete or metal caisson. People can walk out to it on the breakwater made up of very large stones with big gaps between them. Ruby decided to just look from the shore.


Portland Breakwater Lighthouse with Corinthian columns

The third lighthouse that Ruby visited that morning was the Portland Breakwater Lighthouse, which is also called The Buglight. Built in 1875 of curved cast iron plates, it is decorated with six Corinthian columns. Its design was inspired by the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, Greece.

Ruby was quiet and thoughtful in the van after visiting these lighthouses and learning about their history. Before leaving Maine on saturday, she visited one more lighthouse with Miss Jennie.


The Cape Neddick Light or the “Nubble” at York, Maine

Driving south to return to Connecticut was more summertime splendor as they meandered past Old Orchard Beach and Wells Beach. The sun was beginning its late descent in the summer sky as they pulled into the lot at Cape Neddick. They felt fortunate to find a parking spot. The nearby ice cream shop was just as popular as the lighthouse on this day! Cape Neddick Light, also known as the “Nubble,” was built in 1879 at York, Maine, and is still in use today. It is on an island which can be reached by boat or by cable car.


Miss Ruby’s artwork of “Portland Headlight” by Kris Kristiansen

Lighthouses, as Ruby learned, have a very important purpose to protect ships by warning them to stay far enough away from the coastline, which can be dangerous for them. She would have much to contemplate and share with the other dolls when she returned home. Yet the adventures of this vacation Thursday were just beginning, for Ruby had booked passage on The Wendameen, a 1912 schooner with tall masts and sails!

To be continued . . .

Blake Henry Lighthouse Keeper nantucket museum

Blake Henry, Lighthouse Keeper. Nantucket Museum