From WILL - WILL Highlights -

Raggedy: 8:15 pm TONIGHT on WILL-TV

The history of the dolls that became cultural icons, and their connection to central Illinois.

Raggedy: The Magical Legacy of Johnny Gruelle with Raggedy Ann doll

In June 2009, hundreds of people descended on the central Illinois town of Arcola to attend the Raggedy Ann & Andy Festival and to bid farewell to Arcola’s Raggedy Ann & Andy Museum. The museum’s collection was about to move a new home in the National Museum of Play in Rochester, N.Y.

The 2009 festival provides the backdrop for a new documentary about Raggedy Ann and Andy and their creator, illustrator Johnny Gruelle. For more than 20 years, dedicated fans from all over the world had made the pilgrimage to Arcola to honor the legacy of the cultural icons.

The documentary, Raggedy: The Magical Legacy of Johnny Gruelle, airing at 8:15 pm Thursday, June 6, on WILL-TV, brings to light little-known stories and facts surrounding the sibling dolls that came to be loved by millions. The program includes interviews with Johnny Gruelle’s granddaughter, Joni Gruelle Wannamaker, and her husband, Tom, who operated the Arcola museum. Gruelle family photographs and nostalgic stories help bring the past to life.

As cameras roll, fans gather at the museum to share their stories and feelings about the end of an era with the closing of the museum. The airing of the documentary coincides with Arcola’s Raggedy Friendship Gathering June 7-8, a meeting of Raggedy enthusiasts from around the country, which has taken the place of the larger festival of past years.

North Carolina filmmaker Rob Hill produced and directed the documentary as an offshoot of a video project to film a Japanese tour group. “I was documenting the group visiting the museum before it closed,” he said. “I realized that this was a great opportunity to tell the larger story about the history of Raggedy AnnJohnny Gruelle and Andy and the Gruelle family.” Richard Sirianni was executive producer for the program.

Johnny Gruelle, pictured, who was born in Arcola in 1880 and lived there until the family moved to Indianapolis two years later, created Raggedy Ann when his daughter brought him a faceless rag doll she found in her grandmother’s attic. Gruelle drew a whimsical face on the tattered doll and named her after two James Whitcomb Riley poems, The Raggedy Man and Little Orphan Annie. Based on the tales he spun about the toy for his daughter, Gruelle illustrated the Raggedy Ann Stories, published in 1918.