Buried doll comes home for Christmas

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 4, 2004

MURFREESBORO – A doll once owned by Emilie Lawrence Reed, wife of the well-known Dr. Walter Reed, will be on display during the annual Candlelight Christmas event in Murfreesboro.

The doll will be shown in the upper bedchamber at the Roberts-Vaughan House.

Emilie’s doll has a fascinating history.

Her original owner, Emilie Lawrence, grew up in the town of Murfreesboro.

She had owned the doll previous to the outbreak of the Civil War.

During this time, Emilie watched her parents bury their valuables to keep them from being stolen by invading Union troops.

Emilie felt she should also bury her precious doll in order to keep her safe.

A number of years passed and the Civil War was finally over before Emilie came to reclaim her doll.

Unfortunately, the time spent in the damp ground had not been kind to the doll.

Her body and clothing had deteriorated, but her head was still intact and beautiful.

Emilie kept the head on her dresser in her bedroom and continued to love her.

As a young woman, Emilie met and fell in love with Walter Reed, who lived for a time in the house across the street from Emilie and her family in the town of Murfreesboro.

Once married, the couple traveled to many places, and the doll’s head accompanied them.

The Reed’s went to Arizona for a time and then on to Cuba, where Dr. Reed did most of his research with yellow fever.

Later, they came back to the house where Emilie grew up.

Wherever they lived, the doll’s head sat on Emilie’s dresser.

After Emilie’s death, the doll’s head was given to Dr. Philip Hench in the late 1940’s.

He was an admirer of Dr. Walter Reed, and had been collecting paper and memorabilia about his career.

Dr. Hench was known for his work in the discovery of cortisone, which earned him the Nobel Prize.

After Dr. Hench’s death, his widow gave the doll’s head and his Dr. Reed collection to the University of Virginia, where Dr. Hench had earned his medical degree. Later, Dr. Hench’s daughter asked the University to send the doll’s head to Elizabeth Groner, the great-grand-niece of Emilie Reed.

Groner kept the doll’s head for 10 years before generously deciding to give the doll the Murfreesboro Historical Association.

The doll was intended to be displayed for others to enjoy and to also be viewed at the Walter Reed House, once that restoration was completed.

During this time, the Friends of the Walter Reed House paid to have a new body and appropriate clothing made for the doll.

She was later placed in Winton for safekeeping until she could be displayed.

Finally, the doll has been taken out of storage and will be &uot;receiving visitors&uot; during the Candlelight Christmas on December 7 and 8.

Carole Farnham, site manager for the Roberts-Vaughan House, says the Association is excited about displaying the now intact doll and sharing her very interesting story.

For more information, please contact the Murfreesboro Historical Association at 398-5922.