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is the strange case of Robert, the haunted
doll of Key West, Florida. ... Today, Robert
lives quite comfortably, though well guarded,
at the Key West Martello Museum. Visitors
are welcome to see him, though taking pictures
has proven to be difficult. Cameras tend to
stop working when pointed at the doll, only
to resume normal function outside the museum
The story of Robert the Haunted Doll
is well known to students of the macabre
and paranormal devotees around the world.
Images of his bizarre little face -- a
face that can call to mind any number
of notable characters, from Curious George
the monkey to Michael Jackson and even
Elijah Wood's famous "Frodo."
But one thing is for certain, those who
have a close encounter with this particular
little Florida treasure won't ever forget
Although stories of haunted dolls are
as old as children's playthings, the story
of Robert is notable due to the number
of people who claim to have witnessed
the evil doll at work or who claim to
have been victimized by him in one way
The dark story of Robert the Haunted
Doll began near the turn of the century
when the family of eccentricKey West artist
Robert Eugene Otto took up residence in
the famous Artist's House in the heart
of the city. Affluent and well-travelled,
the Ottos found the easy and unhurried
lifestyle of the Florida Keys most agreeable.
They settled in with their young son and
a large staff to wait on their every need.
Local legend holds that the Ottos were
stern people who held their son to rigid
expectations and expected strict obedience
from their staff. It is said that the
Ottos took on a Jamaican woman as a nurse
for young "Gene," as they called
him, and it was she who spent the long
hours with him while his parents travelled
the States and other parts of the globe.
But the idyllic relationship was not to
last, and the story is told that the nurse
got on the bad side of Mrs. Otto and was
promptly dismissed. But before she left
the household she gave a gift to her favorite
charge -- a hand-sewn stuffed doll, made
in the likeness of young Gene. A slightly
imperfect replica who Gene took to immediately.
The doll was christened with Gene's first
name, Robert, and from the moment he received
him from his Jamaican nurse, Gene never
let the doll out of his sight. It went
everywhere with him and was often seen
accompanying the boy on day trips into
town, both neat little gentlemen in pressed
white sailor suits sitting perched among
the Otto servants or straggling along
behind Mrs. Otto as she shopped.
At meal times Robert sat in his own little
chair beside Gene who would sneak little
bits of food to Robert out of the sight
of his parents. At bath time Robert would
assume his spot on a dry towel while Gene
soaked and played with wooden ships and
corks in his nightly ritual. And when
it came time to settle in for the night,
Robert was tucked neatly in beside the
drowsing boy ready to accompany him even
into his dreams.
Soon, however, the relationship between
Gene and his doll took on a troubling
aspect. Gene could often be heard playing
joyfully in his toy room one moment and
then, after a solemn silence, the sound
of low conversation would trickle down
to the servants' ears, first in Gene's
boyish voice and then in an entirely different
tone. Sometimes Gene's voice would sound
agitated, but the responding voice only
sounded insistent, and it was these moments
that began to trouble first the servants
and then Mrs. Otto most. On occasion the
concerned mother would burst in upon her
child and, oddly and unexpectedly, find
her son cowering in a corner of the room,
and the doll perched in a chair or on
the bed, seemingly glaring down at the
Eventually, the disruption to the household
left the playroom and the nursery and
it became evident to all who lived in
the household that something just wasn't
right about the little doll and the odd
hold it seemed to have over the youngest
More troubling were the inexplicable
events that began to occur -- glassware
and silverware thrown about the dining
room, servants locked out while on their
nightly rounds, clothing torn up and bedding
in rooms long unused disturbed and crumpled
on the ground. Most troubling, other beloved
toys belonging to young Gene began to
turn up mutilated and brutalized while
deep in the night there was the sound
Of course, young Gene was blamed for
committing mischief and was soundly disciplined
by his parents. On each occasion the boy
took the punishment but not without first
pleading and insisting each time that
"Robert did it!" Although his
parents never believed this, it didn't
take much protesting to convince the servants,
and the staff turnover at the Otto house
was understandably high. At one point,
concerned relatives attempted to intervene
and on the recommendation of a great aunt,
Robert the Doll was taken from young Gene
and sent to live in a box in the Otto
attic. One night later the aunt was found
dead in her bed, the victim, it was believed,
of a stroke, but immediately following
her untimely demise, Robert once again
took up his place at Gene's side.
Gene Otto never left the family house
and when his parents finally died he was
left there to live unhindered, with Robert
by his side. Unlike most mature men of
his age, Gene never put away this particular
childhood relic -- later it would be suggested
by some close to him that the doll would
not allow Gene to abandon it in such a
way. As Gene got used to life "alone"
at the Artist House, Key West began to
talk -- and not about the living resident
they knew to be there.
Stories abounded of the sounds of giggling
and maniacal laughter coming from "the
Turret Room" -- the Victorian corner
of the house that Gene had inhabited as
a boy. This had now become Robert's domain,
or so it was said, and everything there
-- the furnishings, the curtains, the
"tolerated" toys that Robert
had not destroyed all were left as they
had been in Gene's childhood.
Servants were kept sporadically and even
the most stout hearted of them didn't
stay for very long at the Artist House.
Finally, the staff dwindled altogether
to a couple that came in for a few hours
a day; while the wife cooked Gene's meals
the husband would tend to minor chores
around the house. But both would be long
gone before sunset, and neither would
venture into the Turret Room or near that
end of the house no matter how they were
threatened or cajoled.
Soon, the needs of manhood (at least
temporarily) over rode the attachment
to childhood and to Robert the Doll when
Gene Otto took a wife. The marriage was
troubled from the start, not the least
because Gene insisted on Robert accompanying
the couple everywhere, having a place
at their dinner table, and even, amazingly,
that he assume his place in his favorite
little chair beside the newlyweds' bed.
Not surprisingly the marriage went sour
quickly and ultimately Mrs. Otto went
insane and died of undisclosed causes.
She is said to haunt the Artist House
to this day.
Eventually, Gene Otto followed her in
death and for a time Robert the Doll was
left alone in the huge house. When new
owners bought the house to restore it
to its place as a Key West showcase, Robert
was committed once again to an attic box.
But this is said to have pleased him no
more than it did the first time it was
tried, and the nights became unbearable
for the new owners who reportedly found
Robert in all manner of places, in all
manner of predicaments. When the doll
was found giggling and holding a kitchen
knife at the foot of the new owners' bed,
there wasn't any Gene Otto to blame it
on. The new owners left in a hurry and
Robert the Haunted Doll was moved to his
new home at the East Martello Museum in
Key West, where he is well guarded.
Still, tourists who visit the Artist
House today say Robert is not necessarily
"attached" to his new home,
as they have reported the sounds of giggling
and small scampering feet in the empty
rooms where the tour guides feared to
take them. Sometimes children on their
way to school pass the Artist House and
flee in terror from the face of Robert
peering down from the Turret Room windows.
Doors are still found unlocked, windows
left slightly open in the areas that Gene
and Robert frequented all their lives.
But his displeasure at being a display
item at the East Martello Museum seems
unceasing. Visitors are chilled by the
sight of him. One woman was disturbed
to find that the expression on the doll
changed right before her eyes. "One
minute he was smiling, then he was frowning
and mad," she said.
Other visitors who try to take a photo
of the famous doll have been disappointed
to find black frames instead of photos.
Digital cameras are useless and the lighting
in the area where Robert now "lives"
is consistently bad, despite the musuem's
repeated attempts to provide more illumination.
Of course, "Robert did it" is
still the motto when things go bump in
the night, and no member of the museum
staff wants to be the last to leave at
Each October, Robert the Doll goes to
stay in a glass display case at the Custom
House in Key West. Musuem curators say
that this is the best chance to "meet"
Robert and that anyone stopping by should
not fail to introduce him or herself to
the doll. Stories from those who failed
to show this little courtesy are numerous,
such as the woman from Orlando who reports
that Robert, or something like him, followed
her home after a Custom House visit. She
reported that the silhouette of the doll
was repeatedly seen in her bedroom window
and throuhgout the ordeal of that night
there seemed to be no electricity in her
bedroom, although lights remained on in
other parts of the house.
Robert the Doll welcomes you to the Customs
House each October where he waits in his
glass case, perhaps sucking on peppermints
that the Custom House staff place beside
him to keep him content. Although the
Museum and Customs House don't advertise
it, Robert is always in the market for
a new home with a nice family and a child
who will love him as if her were a REAL