The history of local communities is preserved in different forms: Sometimes it’s found in old, yellowed documents, sometimes it’s passed on through stories shared between family members and sometimes, as in the case of the Oro Valley Historical Society, history comes in the form of a doll.
When the society first formed in 2005, Henry Zipf, the grandson of George and Mathilda Pusch, donated a trunk full of family memorabilia. George and Mathilda were German immigrants who settled in what is now Oro Valley in 1874 and established a cattle ranch that used a steam pump to provide water: called Steam Pump Ranch.
Peg O’Connell, co-chair of the OVHS collections committee, was cataloguing away at the collection of old documents and photographs, but starting to wish for some more concrete material to work with.
“I need to take on a happy project,” she said.
And then, piece by piece, she started to find the arms, legs and other body parts that made up a porcelain doll from over 100 years ago, all in the chest donated by Zipf.
The society started to do some research, and determined that the doll was made in Germany between 1880 to 1900, and had likely belonged to Gertrude Zipf, George and Mathilda’s oldest daughter to survive past infancy.
Barbara McIntyre, the great grand-daughter of George and Mathilda and great-niece of Gertrude Zipf, is also a member of the Oro Valley Historical Society.
“We never called her Gertrude,” she said. “We always called her Aunt Tootsie.”
And so the society named the doll Tootsie, and set about on a mission to make her authentically whole again. After having the doll restrung, there was still work to be done. Namely, one of Tootsie’s fingers was missing and she needed a new outfit.
Darlene Rain, an award-winning doll maker who lives in Tucson and has been making dolls for over 35 years, was up to the task of putting Tootsie back together again. By drilling a hole in Tootsie’s broken finger and sticking a wire in it, she was then able to use a clay-like material to rebuild the finger. She also made shoes to fit Tootsie’s two different-sized feet, and provided her with some socks.
“I must have had those [socks] in my stash for the last 25 years,” she said.
And then Ruth Fahden, a 93-year-old member of the Tucson Doll Guild, the Doll Artisan Guild and the United Federation of Doll Clubs came along to get Tootsie decent. With her two passions being doll-dressing and family history, she seemed like the perfect candidate.
Fahden started sewing her own clothes when she was four years old, and was making all of the clothes for herself, her mother and her sister by the time she was 13. She got into sewing clothes for dolls in 1999, because she didn’t have anyone around to sew for: her kids were grown up, and her grandkids weren’t nearby.
Since then, she’s become a doll expert: her house is filled with dozens of dolls that she’s dressed, all from different periods. Tootsie, she explained, was produced in Germany by Heinrich Handwerck and his wife, who made dolls from 1876 to 1902.
“If a doll was made before 1902, it is a super, super quality doll,” she said.
Tootsie’s clothing is made mostly out of silk, except for her cotton underwear, her cotton and velveteen jacket, and some material from Gertrude’s (the original Tootsie) wedding dress, which was also found in the trunk. O’Connell gave it to Fahden to see what she could do.
“I used the parts that I could salvage, and made the basic dresses out of that,” Fahden said. “All of the lace is real antique lace.”
Tootsie will be on display at the Pusch House at Steam Pump Ranch on Saturday, Oct. 14 from 9 a.m. to noon, as a part of Steam Pump Ranch’s Second Saturdays. Fahden will be present to answer questions about the process of designing Tootsie’s outfit. There will also be society docents giving tours of the Pusch House. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated. Second Saturdays will continue in the coming months, with a different artifact from the society’s collection being featured each month.
Though O’Connell said that many members of the society have not lived in Oro Valley their whole lives, they all share a passion for history. For McIntyre, who used to love listening to her family’s stories as a child, it hits even closer to home. Now, as an adult, she has a drive to pursue history and an organization through which to do it. She compiles family photo albums, donates resources to the society and conducts tours at Steam Pump Ranch.
“It really feeds something within myself to be able to go and do tours, and share not only the history of Oro Valley, but my family history,” she said.
See ovhistory.org to learn more.