William Shakespeare Berger (1878-1972)
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.
But Vent Haven Museum has not always been a museum open to the public. The museum began as one man's private collection, and the story of how Vent Haven came to be what it is today is almost as fascinating as the museum itself.
Vent Haven Museum was founded by Cincinnati native William Shakespeare Berger, known to his friends as W.S. He was not a professional ventriloquist. In 1895, when he was just 17, W.S. began working in the mail room of the Cambridge Tile Company in Cincinnati, and in 1947, he retired as president of the company.
The collection began when W.S. purchased his first figure, Tommy Baloney, in 1910. 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.
W.S. Berger and his fabulous collection
W.S. Berger outside of "Building Two."
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.