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A. Pustanio Photos submitted By Karen Panotopolosus
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 or another.
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
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
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 resident.
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 giggling.
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
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
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 night.
Each October, Robert the Doll goes to stay
in a glassdisplay 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
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 boy.
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In what many speculate was
actually an act of revenge, a Bahamian servant gave
his son, Robert Eugene Otto a doll made of a wire
frame, cloth, straw, and most likely, a soulstone.
This type of enchantment in some voodoo practices
involves a small crystal being placed into an object,
thus imbuing it with power by taking a soul of its
When Anne left, she left Robert
locked in his upstairs room, and put in a lease
agreement that 'Robert must at all times remain
the sole occupant of the attic room', or the contract
was void. This remained true up until her death
in 1976. The first new reports were from a plumber
working after Anne left. The plumber reported:
Future occupants reported
hearing noises upstairs including footsteps, laughter,
and crashes, and upon inspection, found that Robert
had moved position from where they left him. At
this time, usually he would only cross his arms,
move or cross his legs, or move from chair to chair.
The occupants were so disturbed by this that they
locked him in a sea chest in his room --
thus staying true to
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.And
He loves his pepermints.