What Is the Troll Hole?
With its record-sized collection of dolls, the museum is one of Ohio’s strangest tourist attractions.
Trolls have a bad rep in the human world. For centuries, the mythological beings have been steeped in superstition and looked upon as a breed of reclusive bone-munchers residing under bridges. Children are terrified of them and they’re seldom depicted as anything but villains in stories.
But at the Troll Hole Museum in Alliance, Ohio, they get the respect they deserve. A former manufacturing hub tucked between Cleveland and Canton, Alliance is dotted with historical buildings in various states of both decline and restoration. Many of them have been converted into art galleries and museums, including the Troll Hole, which is housed in a former Montgomery Ward department store and a Singer sewing machine factory.
Opened in 2014 by Sherry Groom, the museum has amassed what Guinness World Records considers to be the largest troll collection on the planet. More than 8,000 troll dolls in various shapes and sizes can be found at the Troll Hole, which is divided into a series of themed rooms, each focusing on different topics. In addition to a miniature mountain range, there’s also a history room, a quirky coffee shop, a naked — but censored — Donald Trump troll doll, and an entire “bedroom” dedicated to the DreamWorks film, Trolls.
Groom, who also works as a mental health nurse, has been a troll collector for years, and many of the items in the museum are from her own stash. But the Troll Hole Museum is more than a mere collector’s hobby; it actually operates on the belief that trolls exist.
“They are real, legendary, magical creatures,” Groom told OK Whatever. The Troll Hole charts the creatures’ evolution from primitive mountain dwellers to Hollywood actors, and it has an edge to it that makes it seem more like a natural history museum than novelty shop.
There’s a lot of troll lore to be learned there, too. Apparently trolls have traditionally lived in one of three environments: mountains, water, or trees. But nowadays they live just about anywhere due to diminishing habitats. Groom said trolls have been “misunderstood” throughout history, and can be nicer than humans think. They don’t really eat people anymore — “not so much nowadays” — and prefer junk food or Barbie dolls over human flesh. They’re also nocturnal and turn to stone if caught in sunlight. Who knew?
On a recent winter day, at a time when the museum would normally be closed, Groom led me on a Facetime tour throughout her magical kingdom. She was wearing her signature Sigrid the Troll Queen costume, consisting of a large, Mad Hatter-esque hat atop a blond, poofy wig, and a tail attached at her butt.
Our first stop was Grumpy Troll Coffee, which is located near the entrance and essentially serves as the museum’s gift shop. In addition to handcrafted, fair-trade brews, you can find local artisan wares, like candles and yard art, as well as novelty candies such as troll poo (which Groom swears tastes like jelly beans not the other thing).
Next, I was taken up the stairs to the first display consisting of celebrity trolls and fan-art, including a photograph of a pregnant Demi Moore troll. There was also a provocatively dressed Bollywood troll, a tatted-up, naked LeBron James troll (that had no wiener), and a Trump troll (that had a tiny square covering his junk).
Artist David McDowell’s troll royalty display came next, featuring King Magnus and Queen Ingrid, two life-sized trolls with gray skin, bulging eyes, and phallic noses. At least, that’s what the King looked like; I couldn’t see the Queen’s face because she was missing her head. Apparently trolls do this sometimes. They like to remove their heads, but then inevitably end up losing them, as the Queen had just demonstrated.
There was an exhibit of human-like troll paintings, most of them of young maidens with tails (much like the one Queen Sigrid was sporting). This type of troll is called a huldra (or hulder), and she appears in Norwegian and Scandinavian folklore as a femme fatale that, Groom said, likes to “trick boys into marrying her.” Legend goes that when a huldra marries, her tail is chopped off, but her inner troll remains. If her partner cheats or does wrong, she’s malicious and quick to seek revenge on him.
The scientific stuff was found in the Troll Hunter Room where everything from troll teeth to an enormous wad of troll snot was on display. There were skulls from “alien trolls,” because apparently the fabled cryptid also lives in outer space, as well as a photo of Bigfoot, because one school of thought believes the furry, bipedal creatures are merely a subspecies of troll.
The DreamWorks film Trolls had its own room, filled with movie memorabilia and designed to look like a child’s bedroom. And of course there was an exhibit dedicated to Thomas Dam troll dolls — the quintessential plastic figurines known for their stout figures, adorably ugly faces, and hair that stands up. From the ‘60s to the early ‘90s, Dam’s iconic troll dolls were replicated by tons of companies, due to a copyright glitch that entered the dolls into the public domain. Wish-Nik was one such copycat, known best for its Treasure Troll line of dolls with rhinestone belly buttons, and there’s a room filled with them and other Dam knock-offs at the Troll Hole Museum, too.
With so many trolls in one space, Groom told me there’s always a bit of mischief going on. Case in point: the inside of the employee bathroom. She panned the camera over the restroom where I saw a life-sized troll dressed like Elvis Presley sitting atop the toilet.
The museum’s back porch — which was littered with trash on the day of my tour — looked that way because there was a troll squatting underneath, Groom explained. Every morning the ground is scattered with junk food wrappers and chewed bones — the tell-tale signs that a troll is living nearby. Of course, no one at the museum has actually caught a glimpse of it yet because trolls’ nocturnal schedules don’t coincide with the Troll Hole’s hours.
But according to Groom, friendships between humans and trolls are totally possible. The main issue is finding a troll to meet. Despite the number of years Groom has dedicated to learning and educating others about trolls, she said she still has never seen one for herself.
Although, she’s not entirely sure about that.
As magical beings, trolls have the ability to shape-shift into other creatures, like bears, horses, and, most commonly cats, she said. So who’s to say she hasn’t seen a troll? Maybe it was just in a different form from what she’d expected?