Schaeffler House doll returns home

Sarah Tham, Mary McGinnis, Suzanne McGinn, Janet Lukehart, Louisa Schaeffler the Doll, Sue Wadkins, Donna Smoller, Deb Garver. Each of these women had an instrumental role in the reconstruction of the 1906 doll that was found at the Schaeffler House. The doll was rebuilt over the last year by the Over the Rainbow Doll Club and was presented last week.
The doll was in need of various repairs from a new wig to epoxy for the hairline cracks in her head and her missing eyeballs.
Sue Wadkins of Hillsboro receives the newly refurbished Armand Marseille Alma Doll, Circa 1906 from the Schaeffler House that The Over the Rainbow Doll Club of Lawrence refurbished over the past year and returned last week.
The Over the Rainbow Doll Club of Lawrence found this Armand Marseille Alma Doll, Circa 1906 and refurbished her over the last year.

Janet Lukehart of Lawerence loves to visit small museums almost as much as she loves old dolls so she was in for a huge surprise when she visited her friend, Sarah Tham, a professor at Tabor College and discovered the Schaeffler House in Hillsboro last year.

“I fell in love with that place,” she said. “It is like the family still lives there.

Louise Schaeffler Ebel, daughter of William and Ida Schaeffler was born in January of 1900. At some point in her childhood, Louise acquired a 24 inch Bisque Armand Marseille “Alma” doll, circa 1906.

Lukehart said, “After basking in the ambiance of the incredible first level, we headed up to the turret bedroom on the second floor. On the way up, Steve (Fast) told us the room had belonged to Miss Louise Schaeffler, the youngest child and only daughter in the family. We entered a room for a charmed and happy girl. There on the bed, lay Louise’s childhood doll. I immediately named her Louisa after her little-girl mother, Louise Schaeffler. Louisa was unkempt. My heart sank a bit to see she had lost her eyes. That’s never good for a doll. But her little sweet face was fine. Her wig looked both frightful and tired. Her white leather body needed reinforcement, and one of her arms was on backwards. As I gently lifted her leg the teeniest bit, a little pouf of sawdust escaped. I was concocting rescue plans before we left the Schaeffler house.Throughout the evening, Sarah and I discussed the doll’s condition, and a plan was hatched. Over the Rainbow Doll Club would help restore this doll.”

Lukehart belongs to a doll club and she knew they could help. So she offered her services and it worked out for them to take the doll to fix.

She explained that the Marseille dolls were made beginning in 1825 and were in production even during World War II.

“I’m sure Louise’s mother got a shipment of dolls in for the store and she chose one for her daughter who would have been between 6 and 8 at the time,” said Lukehart.

She contacted Donna Smoller, an extremely capable doll repair artist in her area and set to work.

The plan was to fully repair the doll, and see her beautifully dressed and appropriately shod in period clothing.

Keith Ebel, grandson of Louise, agreed the doll needed tender loving care and restoration. Tham of Hillsboro lovingly collected “Louisa”, named by the Over the Rainbow Doll Club members, and delivered her to Lawrence with the help of Sue Wadkins in Hillsboro.

Wadkins, who works with the Hillsboro Museums and grew up next door to the Schaeffler House, said that the first time her granddaughter saw the doll she said, “She looks like the bride of Chuckie.”

Smoller began work on Louisa. Her slip of a dress was disintegrating, her legs had holes where her Sawdust filling was leaking, one of her arms had been reattached backwards, her wig was not attached to her head, and she was absent of eyeballs.

Louisa received new leather patches where holes had been. She was restuffed with sawdust to fill in her legs and arm. Her sad little “reattached” arm is now facing the correct direction. Sleeping eyes had to be constructed with new eyeballs, heavy wire and a fishing weight.

As requested by Smoller, her eyes will remain open as her head has been packed with acid-free tissue. Louisa has a new wig. Her original wig was beyond repair. Her new wig is in compliance of a hairstyle of her time. Hairline cracks from the inside of her head were filled with epoxy to prevent further cracking. “New” bloomers, slip, and dress were made from antique clothing featuring pintucks and lace. She now wears shoes which echo styles from her original era.

The goal was accomplished and on Saturday, July 9, a full program was held and the doll was presented. Afterwards, Louisa was lovingly packaged for her trip back to her place of honor, in Louise Schaeffler Ebel’s childhood bedroom.

“She is beautiful as she once again sits on Louise’s bed, where her journey to Lawrence began,” said Wadkins.

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