NORTHUBERLAND — The World Doll Day festivities set for Saturday, June 9, at the Joseph Priestley House will honor the memory of long-time Priestley House volunteer Ruth Eleanor McCorkill, who died in May 2017. She was 96.
The Merry Mary Tea, a special event that will be part of the celebration, is named for Merry Mary, a large cloth doll with a bright red smile, that invariably accompanied McCorkill to the Northumberland museum when docents and guides dressed in old-fashioned clothing.
McCorkill served as a volunteer well into her 90s, dressing up to portray Hannah Woodcock, one of the Priestley family’s servants. During part of this time, she lived at Nottingham Village, on the outskirts of Northumberland.
“I often took her to Priestley House for these events,” said John L. Moore, a Northumberland resident. “She and Merry Mary would be waiting for me in a sunroom near the entrance. They’d both be wearing 18th century-style clothing. When we arrived at Priestley House, the nonagenarian and her much younger doll took their seats in the hallway just inside the front door and awaited visitors.”
Festival organizer Hope W. Kopf of the Friends of the Joseph Priestley House told how a friend recently described a visit to the state-owned museum several years ago: “Ruth Eleanor was sitting inside the door with Merry Mary on her lap. She not only welcomed the folks, but told quite a few interesting facts about Priestley, his friends, his house and Northumberland.”
In 2013, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission gave McCorkill an award for outstanding service.
McCorkill had dozens of dolls in her apartment at Nottingham. “Her playfulness captivated my daughter (Alexa) and they would spend hours entertaining one another with games and storytelling and simply enjoying one another’s company,” said Barbara Spaventa, a Northumberland woman.
McCorkill’s collection even included a doll she had had since she was 4. “To Ruth Eleanor they were more than just dolls, they were part of her family,” Spaventa said.
That’s why when Alexa arranged a surprise party for McCorkill on her 93rd birthday, the festivities “included her most cherished dolls, Merry Mary being her favorite,” Spaventa said. “No celebration would be complete without them.”
Plans are afoot to have Merry Mary make a special appearance at the Merry Mary Tea. Children attending the Victorian-style tea will be encouraged to bring their favorite doll with them, Kopf said.
For the afternoon, the hallway where McCorkill greeted visitors in Priestley House will be designated “Ruth Eleanor’s Memorial Hall.” Some of her favorite dolls, including Ralph and Monkey, will be there.
Events and activities scheduled as part of the afternoon include: exhibits of dolls and dollhouse, storytelling, a special activity table, and history-themed cutouts for parents to take pictures of their children. Refreshments will be free and will include lemonade, cider and root beer floats.
Although most Doll Day events at Priestley House will be free, there will be an admission charge for the tea, and reservations will be required.
As Spaventa remarked, “I know the upcoming doll tea … would definitely have met with her approval. If she were here today, she would be first in line to buy a ticket!”
To make reservations, go to: josephpriestleyhouse.org