The Baby Doll Dance in Lowellville, Ohio
Each year in Lowellville, Ohio the Mount Carmel Society holds their Italian Festival. The focal point of the festival is the Baby Doll Dance… a wild tradition dating back over 100 years. Here’s the story of the Baby Doll Dance and the festival from the perspective of Lowellville native and local author, Emily Rae:
A giant doll erupting in flames while dancing around in a circle surrounded by people.
It’s summer in the small village of Lowellville, Ohio! Each year in the middle of July, Lowellville’s Mt. Carmel Society hosts an Italian festival. In a village of 900 proud Italian residents, this is a big thing. And this isn’t any ordinary festival.
Here’s how the festival appears to an outsider:
The festival starts as someone would expect. Multiple food vendors, unstable rides, an excessive desire to win cheap carnival game prizes, and so on. Aside from the random bursts of fireworks and an intense bocce game in the middle of the festival, nothing is out of the ordinary.
Around 10:30 PM, a large gathering takes place in a parking lot, a band playing Italian music appears to be the source of entertainment. People are sitting in lawn chairs, kids are dancing, teenagers are climbing up hills and generally milling about. Eventually the band leaves and firemen start to yell at the large group of people to back up and create a large, circular space. This isn’t easy to do. Imagine this taking the form of a mosh pit full of adrenaline-filled Italians.
After the crowd recovers and the area is roped off, the band enters and begins playing a droning and repetitive beat that the crowd absolutely loves. Suddenly, the creepiest, weirdest, most unexplainable thing is carried into the parking lot.
The baby doll appears to be made of paper mâché, her dress is a festive red, white and green, and it’s not hard to miss her lumpy bosoms. On top of that glorious body, sits a long, narrow head. Her face, complete with thick eyebrows and full lips, is sketched onto it. The baby doll is close to 8 feet tall with her arms sticking straight out, reaching about 12 feet. Spanning across those arms is a row of fireworks, and whatever’s on top of her head can only be mistaken for some antenna to reach the outside world.
While you’re busy thinking “What kind of cult did I walk into?” a man crawls INSIDE of the doll. As she rises and comes to life, a local fireman lights her arm on fire. The crowd cheers and claps as she dances around in a circle spewing fireworks in all directions.
A mysterious explosion comes from the Italian baby, but celebrations resume.
Loud, whistling fireworks spray over the crowd. Not only do they spray, they explode. It’s raining fireworks a mere 10 feet from the crowd. The light from the fireworks flicker over her beautiful Italian face and thick work boots peek out from under her dress, unphased by the embers they’re stepping on. Danger is imminent.
Sparks and ashes fly over people as firemen run around, pointing and yelling in attempts to keep people safe. For some reason, the crowd cheers and claps louder.
Then, she becomes still.
BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG.
Her head explodes. The earth vibrates under your feet. Fireworks light up the night sky. You’re 98% sure you’re dead.
Here’s how the Lowellvillians see it:
It’s finally here. You’re sitting in a lawn chair right in front of the bandstand, listening to the world-renowned Mt. Carmel Band before the sun has even gone down, lost in thoughts of the baby doll. The tradition started in Italy when Italians would burn the baby doll, who represented a witch. They believed burning her cleansed the sins of the town, and Lowellville has been sin-free since 1895.
When 10:30 rolls around you don’t move backward as instructed by the fireman, you were there so early you deserve to stand in the front. You manage to maintain your location even after children and incredibly tall men try to force their way into your precious spot.
Your mood lifts when you see the wonderful, iconic baby doll floating into the stage. The music melts your stress away and you feel giddy when the baby doll includes you in her show by showering it’s hot glittery sparks all over you.
You cherish this moment.
Anticipation creeps over the audience as she becomes still. Suddenly, magic explodes from her head and beautiful fireworks fill up the night sky. Your summer, nay, your life, is complete.
After the show ends the dance is discussed (it can’t be ignored). I’ve heard a variety of testimonials such as:
“What the hell just happened?”
“I think my hair burned a little bit.”
“I have a permanent smile on my face.”
“I didn’t know what life was until this moment.”
“Last night one firework went off late, so keep your distance for a minute.”
And while the opinions vary, everyone’s thinking the same thing:
“I’m glad I survived another year..”
Curious? Watch it right here:
(Ignore the screams, it’s normal)
Follow Emily online at ByEmilyRae.com