In his faded, jaunty sailor suit, Robert the Doll looks like your regular creepy 113-year-old doll, but beneath his frozen smirk is a much darker secret.
Robert the Doll was given to 4-year-old Robert ‘Gene’ Eugene Otto back in 1904, reportedly by a servant who practiced voodoo and black magic. Naming him after himself, the boy would take the child-sized doll everywhere, even giving him his very own seat at the dinner table.
It’s believed that Robert’s face once bore features similar to that of a jester (just in case clowns didn’t freak you out enough already) but the wear of the years have left him curiously blank. His hair is apparently human.
Gene’s parents would often hear their son speaking to the doll in his room at night, with another, very different voice answering back. They assumed Gene, like many kids, was putting on a new voice for fun. However, as the years passed they weren’t so sure, and would sometimes find Gene cowering in the corner, while Robert glared at him.
Children visiting the house would see the doll scowling at them or even peering down at them from windows. Whenever something strange happened, such as toys being mutilated, Gene would utter the bone chilling words, ‘Robert did it’.
Some believe the unusual closeness between the ‘best friends’ led to some emotional energy being transferred from the living boy to the doll. As Gene grew up, he kept his best doll pal close, maintaining what some viewed as an ‘unhealthy relationship’.
There are rumours he dedicated an entire room to Robert in his house, as if he were a real child, and his friendship with the doll reportedly put a strain on his marriage. Mrs Otto’s mental health was said to deteriorate as a result, before she died of unknown causes.
I spoke with Cori Convertito, a Curator for the Key West Art & Historical Society, who was able to confirm Gene’s unusual personality:
Robert Eugene Otto was, in a nutshell, an eccentric artist. While he did have an extroverted personality, many who knew him regarded him as a bit weird, peculiar. He had a doll for a best friend, that is not a trait that acquaintances found ‘normal’.
Eugene married a woman named Ann, who hated Robert the doll and banished him back to the attic
— kiwi (@miboatbabe) August 3, 2017
Gene died in 1976, but Robert’s presence still lingered. Those who stayed at Gene’s house reported footsteps and giggling in the attic room where Robert was stored. A visiting plumber even reported the doll had moved across a room all by itself.
His expressions were said to change, sometimes showing disdain if somebody dared to criticise his deceased owner. Some reports suggest he even attacked people, locking them in his attic domain.
After Gene’s death, the house was purchased by Myrtle Reuter, who also became Robert’s ‘companion’. Myrtle claimed Robert ‘moved around her house and was haunted’, and after six years she donated the doll to Fort East Martello Museum, in Key West, Florida. She died shortly afterwards.
— Deborah (@mischief89) July 12, 2017
At over a century old, Robert still has a dark hold over those who see him at the museum. An ‘atmosphere’ around Robert has been reported, and many people who have tried to take a snap of the button eyed fiend have found their cameras inexplicably broken.
According to Cori, Robert elicits a variety of reactions from visitors:
It is difficult to isolate a single reaction; people visit Robert with different expectations and attitudes.
Some are too frightened to step foot into the gallery, some stay for hours to speak with him about their life and their individual problems, there are paranormal investigators who visit with him with the intention of understanding what makes Robert tick.
Then there are others who don’t believe in Robert, who visit in order to taunt him. No matter the intention, I believe that Robert affects them in one way or another during their visit.
Worse still, there are those who believe Robert is capable of much more than pulling some creepy pranks. Those who have crossed him have apparently suffered severe punishments. Robert also has a variety of terrified pen pals, who often write to him begging for forgiveness for showing him disrespect.
Cori believes the word ‘cursed’ does not accurately describe Robert, although he does possess a distinctive energy:
There is definitely an energy that exists, more often it is a negative energy. He causes relationship breakups, car accidents, medical problems, and some have attributed deaths in the family to Robert. Most of the visitors who write to him apologise for the way they treated him, they attribute their difficulties to Robert.
— PANICd (@PANICdatabase) August 4, 2017
The current museum staff aren’t afraid of Robert exactly, but Cori says they all make sure to treat Robert with the necessary respect:
The museum staff are very respectful to Robert, no one is scared, but they show reverence when they are in the same gallery. In the past, there have been (former) employees who were afraid of Robert.
For me, I have yet to have any strange experiences with Robert the Doll. I am very respectful when I am around him, perhaps that is the reason why I have not had issues.
For now, there are no plans for Robert to leave the Key West area, which has been his home for over one hundred years.
There he sits in his glass case, waiting for your visit.
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.