Isabelle's Doll: History and Ghosts

Isabelle's Doll


Gretchen Hope Kreamer was born in 1895 to Orville and Hattie (Richardson) Kreamer. Her parents had come from the Midwest and her father, an optometrist, owned a jewelry and men's clothing store in Independence. Her maternal grandfather S.W.P. Richardson founded the first Christian Church in the community. Her sister Madeleine was born in 1900, the same year Orville had a new home built on Walnut Street. Gretchen graduated 1916 from Oregon Normal School (now WOU) and continued to earn an MA in Education. Both sisters were teachers and taught together at Leslie Middle School. Maddy taught math and Gretchen taught music.

A page from Hattie Richardson's scrapbook
Museum label on Hattie Richardson's scrapbook

Calling card - Silas William Patterson Richardson

Gretchen passed away in 1983 at age 88 and there isn't much else known about her other than she never married. But, before she died, she did something significant. She had a friend, (and fellow teacher) Vivian F. Carr, donate a special doll to the Independence Heritage Museum in 1982.




The doll has a china head, hands, and feet (complete with painted boots and ribbons), probably made in Germany, and a soft body. The style of both the doll and pink satin dress date to around 1860. Young ladies usually received these dolls in their teen years not as toys... but to be displayed and treasured. This means it was already about 50 years old by the time Gretchen received her and was possibly a gift from a relative such as her mother, an aunt, or more likely, a grandmother.

She sits in a small chair in the Victorian style 'parlour' of the museum and visitors admire her. Some believe she has the spirit of a young girl attached to her... a ghost of a child about six (Isabelle) who wishes to play with her. Stories are told every year at the annual Ghost Walk. The museum has a few ghost stories, but Isabelle's doll is a favourite of many.





I was asked to donate to a recent fund-raising event to raise money for building a new annex. I wanted to paint something 'museum related' and first thought of the doll. I really enjoyed painting it and was relieved my hands didn't hurt. It was purchased by Robin, director of the local public library and this pleased me very much.


My photograph and progress as I painted.


When I told my friend Peggy, the Curator/director of the museum, I named the painting. “Isabelle's Doll,” she said, “Don''t call it (the doll) that... she will think she can play with it and break it!” I answered, “But if she were going to do that, it would have happened by now.” Peggy agreed. I like to think Isabelle is more of a spiritual guardian who watches over it and I hope she didn't mind me painting a picture of her doll.


The finished painting


Note: Most of my information for Gretchen was found by researching the internet. I found the burial sites of her parents in Salem, but no record of her death other than October 1983. The museum's donation records note she was in Capitol Manor, W. Salem in 1982. If any one has more information, or even a photograph of her, please contact me and I will be happy to add it.


  1. Beautiful artwork! I love the history involved!

    1. Thank you so much! I am a history lover. I study family history and I spend a lot of time at the museum. I love researching things to find out about where they came from and who loved them along the way.

  2. I love the way you have captured the doll's expression in your portrait. I hope you will update the post when more details of Gretchen are found.

    1. Thank you! I have a hope that someone sees this and can provide more info. And yes, it will be added!

  3. WOW your artwork is beautiful! I personally can't do dolls, they spook me out, but I love the story behind this one! I love learning about the history of where they come from.

    1. Thanks Heather! Haha... yes dolls can get pretty creepy... that is what I love about them. As an artist, I often exploit that to express myself, and am having fun with it.


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