Calvin and Ruby Black (American, 1903–1972 and 1915–1980)

(Left) Calvin Black, photo courtesy of Light Sara Films(Right) Ruby Black, photo courtesy of Spaces Archives

Calvin Black, photo courtesy of Light Sara Films                         Ruby Black, photo courtesy of Spaces Archives

Calvin Black was born in Tennessee and grew up working for the family circus, where he learned ventriloquism and traveled the United States until meeting Ruby in Georgia. The couple married in 1933 and in 1953 they bought a plot of land in Yermo, California, hoping the climate would be better for Calvin’s deteriorating health. When a new highway brought an influx of tourists the Blacks decided to build a miniature amusement park they named Possum Trot. Possum Trot consisted of multiple wind-driven constructions, a merry-go-round, a train, and, as the main attraction, a feature they called the Fantasy Doll Show at the Bird Cage Theater. Dolls carved by Calvin and dressed by Ruby, using mainly found objects and items from a local dump site, were installed throughout the park. The Fantasy Doll Show alone employed nearly sixty three- to four-foot dolls to perform shows designed by Calvin.

Before Calvin died in 1972 he asked Ruby to burn the dolls but she never did, continuing to live in Possum Trot until her own death in 1980. After Ruby’s death the site fell into ruins as local interest declined, and Possum Trot was dismantled. Today, the Blacks’ dolls can be found in private and public exhibitions across the United States—miniature tributes to the whimsical world that was Possum Trot. The dolls have a totemic quality to them, each one designed with a unique character in mind. Some rode bicycles with the help of wind, while others had built-in speakers in the back of their heads, meant to “speak” a pre-recorded melody or statement.

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