Haunted Objects: Robert the Doll

I grew up with them. Probably most of you who read this blog grew up with them, or at least played with them for a brief period in your formative years. Whether you’re a girl or boy, dolls play a prominent role in anyone’s childhood. It can be a bit… unsettling… when you read a story about an innocent child’s toy which is more sinister than innocent.

This is one such story. The story of Robert the Doll

The story of Robert begins in the early 1900s when the doll was given as a gift to Robert Eugene Otto by one of the slaves his father had brought from the Bahamas. Some now speculate that the gift was really an act of revenge by the slave. The doll, made of a wire frame, cloth and straw possibly contains a soulstone, a typical item of voodoo practitioners. Soulstones are believed to be enchanted in some way; in this case it was likely imbued with the soul of the slave’s dead child. Little Gene, as family members called him,  loved his doll and toted him everywhere, as children often do with a favoured toy. That it was life-sized surely made it seem as though Robert had a friend that went everywhere with him. Servants would often hear Gene in his room talking with Robert using different voices for the conversations.

When the family started waking to Gene’s terrified screaming in the middle of the night, however, things began to take a turn for the worse. Upon arriving in Gene’s room to find the reasons for the screams, the family often found Gene huddled on his bed, clearly frightened, surrounded by overturned furniture. Robert was always blamed.

As if the overturned furniture wasn’t enough, mutilated toys began appearing around the house and mysterious events occurred with increasing frequency. Gene’s response to all of this was always, “Robert did it!” Few parents honestly believe their children when the child blames someone (or something) else for the trouble they get into and the Ottos were no exception. Things changed, though, when family members heard Robert giggling in various parts of the house and passersby reported seeing the doll moving from window to window. It was at this point that Robert was relocated to the attic for many years.

After studying in Paris, where he met and married his wife Anne, Gene returned to Key West. When Gene’s parents died, he inherited his childhood home and moved in with Anne. Gene hired contractors to build a room near his old one to Robert’s scale, furniture included, and there the doll remained.

Unfortunately, the marriage between Eugene and Anne was a disaster from day 1. Probably because Eugene wanted to bring Robert everywhere they went and even brought him into their bedroom. Whether Anne thought the doll was possessed or not, it seems rather creepy that a grown man would want to have a doll around at all times. As Eugene aged, however, he became increasingly abusive toward his wife.

Now the stories I’ve read diverge a bit. Some say that Eugene locked Anne up in a room just below the one he had made for Robert and went insane and died there. Others say it was Eugene who died first and when he did, Anne relocated to Boston where the rest of her family lived and rented out the house.

According to one account of the first family who lived in the house occupied by Robert the Doll, the little girl who lived there quickly discovered Robert in the attic turret and claimed him as her own. Apparently Robert wasn’t too keen on this and he made her life a living hell. She claimed that the doll tortured her and today, 30 years after her encounters with the doll, is still traumatized. She also steadfastly believes the doll was alive.

At any given time, one can look up the auction of various purportedly haunted items on eBay so we know that there are hundreds of items around the world that are allegedly haunted, but Robert the Doll is a unique specimen. Many witnesses have come forward speaking of the evilness they saw first hand. In addition to the many, many children who claim to have seen Robert move from one window of the house to the next while they walked passed the house on their way to school, others claimed to have seen Robert’s expression change into a menacing smirk. A plumber who was hired to make repairs within the house not long after Anne moved out fled when he heard Robert giggling.

Today, Robert can be found in the Key West Martello Museum wearing the same sailor outfit as the day he was gifted to Robert Eugene Otto. He reportedly still pulls pranks on workers at the museum. One worker claims that after cleaning the museum and closing down for the night, he returned the next morning to reopen, only to find several lights on again, including one near Robert’s display case. Stranger still was the fact that the doll was in a different position than the night before and had a layer of dust on the bottom of his feet as if he’d been walking around.

Visitors are welcome year round at the Museum, though many may find that taking his photograph will prove difficult. The museum staff also recommend introducing yourself to him when you visit. Perhaps that will smooth the way for an easier photo shoot.

If you do visit Robert and are successful with photos, we’d love to see them and share with our readers.

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