The story of Robert the Doll, also known as Robert the Haunted Doll, begins in 1906. The Otto family, a well off, artistic couple and their son, had moved to Key West Florida just a few years before. They were reasonably affluent, and employed a number of servants in their household. It was known that in the Otto household, the treatment of the servants was harsh, and perhaps even occasionally abusive.
One servant in particular, a Bahamian woman, was angry with her mistreatment. As a way to get her revenge, she gifted a doll to the young son of the Otto family. What the family didn’t know was that this woman was a practitioner of voodoo, and that the doll their son had received was cursed.
The young son of the Otto household, Robert Eugene Otto, known as Eugene, or Gene to his family, took a liking to the doll immediately, and even named it ‘Robert’ after himself. From the moment he received it, the young Eugene Otto would virtually never let Robert out of his sight. Even when he bathed, Robert the Doll would be there by his side, on a chair, watching.
As time passed, Eugene’s parents began to take notice of their son’s strange behavior when he was playing with Robert. At first, it was just voices – they would hear Eugene talking to someone, and then a different voice responding. They brushed that off as a child with an active imagination – after all, it’s not uncommon for children to invent imaginary friends. However, the ‘conversations’ between Eugene and his doll became more and more unusual – both the parents and servants often heard what seemed like a scared or agitated Eugene, followed by an unknown voice demanding something from him. The few times that Gene’s mother decided to check in on him, she found the boy terrified, hunched over in the corner of the room, with Robert sat on a chair gazing down on him.
Soon the events in the house escalated from strange to downright sinister. Servants began to hear giggling in the middle of the night from an unrecognizable voice. The Ottos started finding toys that belonged to Eugene mutilated and destroyed. Gene’s mother would hear a scream from Gene’s room, burst in, and find heavy furniture turned over and household items destroyed – and every time this happened, the young Eugene would cry ‘Robert did it!’. Even neighbors and those that lived in the area claimed to have witnessed unusual things – many say that they saw the doll moving from window to window, watching them. Visitors to the Otto house stated that they noticed that Robert’s expression would change.
There are also some sources that state that one of Eugene’s Aunts urged his parents to get rid of the doll – they eventually agreed and put the doll in her own house, in her attic. That same aunt was found dead a few days later, having suffered a stroke. The doll was then moved out of the attic and back into the home of the Otto family.
As Eugene got into adulthood, his attachment to Robert the Doll never changed. For a number of years after his parents passed away, Eugene Otto lived alone in the old house, with nobody but Robert for company. There were even rumors at the time that the Doll had its own room, complete with furnishings and some of the toys from Eugene’s childhood that weren’t destroyed.
Eventually, Eugene married a woman named Anne. Anne understandably despised the Doll – and her desire to see it locked away or discard is said to have been a frequent source of arguments between the two. Eventually, Eugene relented, and placed Robert in the attic – redecorated, of course. Still, visitors and guests at the house claimed to hear giggling and movement in the attic. Children who lived nearby also claimed to see the doll watching them from different windows in the old house. It eventually got so bad that Eugene and Anne had trouble hiring staff for the house, and had to resort to doing most of the household chores themselves.
Within the community, there persists a rumor that Anne went insane, and eventually died. We’re can’t find more than a couple of sources that claim this, but if it’s true, it certainly makes the idea of Robert all the more unnerving.
Even after the Ottos passed on, in 1974, the strange circumstances surrounding the doll continued. The new family that moved into the house also had similar experienced – in fact their ten year old daughter, upon seeing the doll, developed the same kind of attachment as Eugene 70 years ago. The girl also claims that the doll had tried to harm her – and to this day, this girl, now a grown woman, continues to firmly assert that the doll had sinister intentions. In fact, this new family left the house not long after they moved in – and Robert, left behind, was transported to a nearby museum.
Robert the Haunted Doll now resides in the East Martello Museum in Key West – where employees also occasionally report strange occurrences. Some staff at the museum have said that they sometimes hear tapping on the glass of the case that holds Robert – others claim that the doll often rearranges his positioning without the case when nobody is looking. Even tourists – who have no reason to lie – have claimed that their phones and cameras stop working when they’re near the Robert exhibit – but work immediately when they step outside of the premises of the exhibit.
Even today, there are still occasionally children who claim that they see Robert the Haunted Doll watching them – not near the museum, but from the windows of the old house, now known as the Artist house.
Every October, the museum transports Robert the Haunted Doll to the Custom House in Key West. Staff at the museum claim that this is when Robert is most ‘active’ – and they recommend all visitors act courteously in the presence of the doll by introducing themselves. Those who don’t – well, let’s just say that the staff strongly recommend you introduce yourselves.