American Duchess Cruise: Doll museum brings back childhood memories for many visitors

ABOARD THE AMERICAN DUCHESS – Mike Bakarich was happy when his wife Carolyn opened her Yesterday’s Children Antique Doll and Toy Museum in 1986.

“I finally had a place to sit,” he says with a smile. “She had dolls all over the house so I was glad when she got them out of the house and they weren’t taking up my seats.”

Mike Bakarich operates the antique doll and toy museum that his wife opened.

After a year, Carolyn moved her museum to a historic 1849 building in downtown Vicksburg where it is still located. But Mike is now the person who welcomes visitors to the huge toy collection. His wife died in 2014.

“She loved these dolls and loved talking to people about them,” he says. “Women would come in and she would talk to them about the dolls. She knew the histories of the dolls and knew collectors all over the world.”

The four-room museum includes more than 1,000 dolls dating back to 1843, plus pedal cars, rocking horses, doll carriages, teddy bears and much more.

“We’ve got some boys’ toys in here, too, like G.I. Joes and a big car collection,” Mike says. “Something for the men to see while their wives are looking at all the dolls.”

Some of the antique dolls date back to the 1800s.

What seems to be the most popular doll? “It’s always the one that women had when they were a little girl” Mike says. “I guess that doll brings back memories for them.”

The path to Vicksburg

Born in Chicago on May 6, 1928, Mike grew up in Arizona near the Mexican border. Although he is “not much of a collector,” there was one childhood toy he really yearned to own.

“I always wanted a bicycle but I was raised during the Great Depression and we didn’t have money for something like that,” he says. “I got a horse instead.”

At first, Mike said he thought he’d grow up to be a cowboy. “But then I found out that cowboys don’t earn much money.”

Shirley Temple dolls date from 1934-1938.

Instead, Mike joined the Army and advanced through the ranks until he retired in 1980 as a Brigadier General. The way he met his future wife was just a chance encounter, Mike says.

“A friend of mine was in an auto accident so I went to visit him in the hospital. His fiancé came to visit him, too, and Carolyn came with her. That was it.”

The couple had seven children and adopted four others from Korea. Wham Mike retired from the Army, the family moved to Michigan where Mike worked for Bechtel nuclear power company. They moved to Vicksburg in 1984 when he began working at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Station.

The number of visitors to the museum varies with the seasons. “We can always tell when one of the riverboats is docked here because we get a lot of those passengers in the museum,” Mike says.

Rare French dolls are among the most valuable in the collection.

That’s why I was there. When the American Duchess docked in Vicksburg, I caught the hop-on, hop-off Steamcoach to visit a couple of museums, walk through downtown and admire the flood wall. Cruise passengers receive free admission to the museums.

As for the future of the huge doll and toy collection, 89-year-old Mike says, “I just take it one day at a time. This was Carolyn’s love and I keep it going for her. But you never know what  tomorrow will bring.”

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