Weaving among the 1958 Chevrolets, 1962 Cadillacs and 1975 Ford Thunderbirds at a classic car show in downtown Fort Myers, Florida, I see what looks like a red-haired toddler facing a palm tree, hands covering her face. She wears white sneakers, a poodle skirt and, rather disturbingly, a sign reading “My parents don’t want me. Take me home for $25.” A closer inspection reveals the toddler isn’t human, but a doll so lifelike that others are also looking twice. A man nearby bursts into laughter. “Yeah – picked her up from the flea market!” he shouts.
“Time out” dolls are faceless child look-alikes, reminiscent of the Grady sisters in The Shining. Also known by other names – pouting, corner, hide-and-seek, crybaby, punished – the dolls were once big finds at flea markets and antique stores. But, says Fort Myer’s Fleamasters Fleamarket employee Mary Tinaro, they have “had their season, and their season is over” (up until a couple of years ago the Fleamsters Fleamarket had an entire stall of time out dolls). The dolls can still be found, though, on sites like Etsy and eBay, in part because they remain a common – and creepily curious – fixture at many classic car shows.
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