Annabelle is an ordinary Raggedy Ann doll. But some people believe she’s possessed by a demon, and terrorized a bunch of college students in the 1970s. Movies like Annabelle and The Conjuring tell this story.
They use a prop doll, but there’s a real Annabelle doll in a basement museum, known as the Warren Occult Museum, in Connecticut. Sadly, the museum is currently off-limits to the general public due to local zoning laws, but the Warrens still show off Annabelle and their other artifacts at lectures and talks across the country.
A version of this story was first broadcast in October 2014. Here’s an encore presentation as part of the Off the Path from New York to Boston podcast.
Annabelle is real. You might disagree on whether she’s really possessed or not, but here she sits, encased in thick glass, surrounded by crucifixes and warning signs and ominous music.
“Now, it doesn’t look very scary, like the one in the movie,” says director Tony Spera. “It’s so innocent-looking. It’s like a child’s Raggedy Ann doll.”
But according to him, this doll is a vessel for a demonic entity of pure evil. Back in the ‘70s, he says, Annabelle supposedly tormented a student and her friends for months with cryptic warnings and late-night attacks. And tonight, about 50 tourists from across the country are crowding around to get a picture with her.
“It’s a lot creepier than the movie doll,” says Edwin Ojeda. He took a close look, but his friends hung back. “The one in the movie looks like it was made for the movie. Nobody would really buy their kid that doll.”
The museum has never been more popular. The Conjuring introduced the world to Ed and Lorraine Warren, a real life husband-and-wife demon-fighting team. For decades, when there were reports of a paranormal entity in a house, the Warrens were there to investigate. And before he died in 2006, Ed built a collection of supposedly possessed artifacts from his clients. Spera says some of them came to Warren because they got in over their heads in black magic.
"They would knock on the door of Ed’s house, sometimes at 2 or 3 in the morning, and say, ‘Can you take these off our hands? We don’t want these anymore,’” he says.
He describes the collection as “things that have been used in black witchcraft rituals, séances, incantations, conjurings.”
“It’s the opposite of walking into a church or a chapel," he says.
There are satanic idols from the woods, figurines covered in human teeth and an organ that supposedly plays itself.
The family used to offer tours for a handful of visitors every few months or so. Now they’re hosting sold-out crowds every two weeks. Some tourists came a long way, like Stacy Hassey, who came from Cincinnati, Ohio. She says she wants to learn about the unexplained, about ghosts and spirits, angels and demons.
"There’s so many things on TV about this now,” she says. “It’s so sensationalized, you don’t know what to believe."
Some of the younger crowd tonight are horror fans who came because they loved the movie The Conjuring. Others see this as kind of a pilgrimage to meet the real Lorraine Warren. She’ll show up tonight, but not for the museum tour. She says she doesn’t like what’s down there.
"I don’t go in there,” she says. “You know that, don’t you? I don’t go in there at all. No, I don’t go in there. No … If I were you, and you went in there, don’t ever try to challenge it.”
But even at 87, she doesn’t mind going out to check for hauntings in other people’s houses. Some people are here tonight to ask her advice with their own haunting problems. A few even manage to set up an appointment.
The Warrens themselves don't turn up in Annabelle – it's all about the doll. But whether you're a true believer, or just a fan, don't worry — they'll be back for The Conjuring 2 next year, in time for Halloween.