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meetNKY Forgives Lease Agreement with Vent Haven Museum

The Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau (meetNKY)'s board of directors voted to turn over ownership of a rare ventriloquism collection to Vent Haven Museum.

The decision forgives the final $10,000 of a lease agreement that was signed by the organization and the Ft. Mitchell museum in 1979.

Vent Haven is the world's only museum dedicated to ventriloquism.

"Vent Haven continues to be one of the hidden gems of Northern Kentucky and the region," said meetNKY Interim President and CEO Julie Kirkpatrick. "With a renewed interest from tour groups into the market due to the opening of the Ark Encounter, more people are falling in love every year with this slice of Americana history. Travel journalists adore writing about this piece of history only found in Northern Kentucky. 

"The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to the tourism industry and our organization. Our board is committed to providing assistance and relief to our partners as we are able," Kirkpatrick said.  “While visitors are staying healthy at home as the pandemic winds on, we knew it was the right time to forgive this loan in an effort to ensure that Vent Haven made it through this crisis.” 

The museum has more than 900 ventriloquist dummies including the rare 61-piece Edgar Bergen Collection, which features Charlie McCarthy memorabilia and dummies. Bergen, who died in 1978, was a popular vaudeville, radio and movie personality who used Charlie McCarthy and other ventriloquist dummies - including Mortimer Snerd and Effie Klinker - in his act.     

In 1979, the Northern Kentucky Convention Bureau purchased the Bergen Collection for $50,000 and then leased it to Vent Haven for 50 years. The museum has been making a $1,000 payment to the Bureau every September since 1980 to pay off the debt, which had a balance this year of $10,000.    

Vent Haven Museum Board of Directors President John S. "Brook" Brooking said the museum "gratefully acknowledges" the forgiveness of the loan for the Bergen Collection. 

"By eliminating one of our annual expenses, meetNKY has supported the financial security and future of Vent Haven Museum," Brooking said. "With our 2020 income being greatly reduced by the pandemic’s impact on tourism, this gift means even more to us." 

Vent Haven's roots go back to 1910, when Cincinnati native William Shakespeare "W.S." Berger purchased his first dummy, Tommy Baloney. Berger, who retired as president of the Cambridge Tile Company in Cincinnati in 1947, began collecting dummies over the years, storing them at his Fort Mitchell home.  

According to Vent Haven's official history, Berger outlived his heirs and was concerned that his collection would be sold off and dispersed. So his friend and attorney John R.S. Brooking - the father of Vent Haven’s current board President Brook Brooking - set up a charitable foundation for Berger's collection and property and Vent Haven was born. 

In 1979, when the museum was just becoming financially stable, the Bergen collection became available. The Bureau, led at the time by Chairman Tom Kelly and Vice Chairman Frank Sommerkamp, who currently serves on Crestview Hills City Council, approved the purchase. Members of the Bureau's Board - known at the time as the Convention Authority - included Corporex Cos. founder Bill Butler, state legislators William Donnermeyer of Bellevue and Bill McBee of Burlington. 

"Had it not been for their generosity, the Bergen collection, which is a central element to the museum today, would have not been acquired," Brook Brooking said. "The Northern Kentucky Convention Authority made it possible for Vent Haven to share more fully the incredible history of Bergen and McCarthy with generations of visitors." 

-Staff report

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