Dolls are often a fond childhood memory for many – cultures around the world have ones made of different materials for different reasons and each person will bring their own meaning to each doll. Some dolls are used as toys for children, while others have been used in magic and religious rituals for centuries. But while many dolls are frequently beloved by their person now, there’s one doll that has supposedly brought terror to many.
In 1906, Robert the doll was given to 5 year old Robert Eugene Otto and was, shockingly enough, named after the boy, who went by Gene. Stories vary on how Robert the doll came to Gene – one is that a Bahamian servant of the Otto family gave the doll to the boy. This servant, whose name is lost in history, was practiced in black magic and voodoo, which might explain the later behavior attributed to the doll. However, the most likely story is that Gene’s grandfather bought the doll in Germany and brought it back to Florida for the boy.
Soon after Robert came to reside with the Otto family in Key West, Florida, weird things started to happen. Gene’s parents heard the young boy talking to the doll in his room at times and it would often sound like the doll was talking back. At first, they had assumed that Gene was just using a voice to speak as Robert but soon started to question that assumption.
When Gene was still growing up, odd occurrences would be blamed on the doll – upturned furniture, scattered silverware, mutilated toys. More than once, Gene’s parents would wake up in the middle of the night to Gene screaming and would find the frightened boy surrounded by upturned furniture. While no one would quite believe Gene when he blamed the doll, the eerie sound of Robert giggling could be heard throughout the house. Neighbors even claimed that the doll independently moved from window to window when they passed by.
Robert eventually moved to the attic, spending a number of years living up there. When his parents passed away, Gene inherited the family home and brought Robert out again. Local folklore insists that Gene would spend days alone in the mansion, painting with Robert. Other stories say that when Gene did marry, the doll was a sore point in the relationship and that he drove Gene’s wife to insanity.
Even after Gene’s death, weird things would happen around the doll. People still heard giggling and footsteps from the attic. One plumber had come to work on the house and after hearing giggling, he found that the doll had actually moved across a room on his own. Some people claimed that Robert’s expression would change, as if he was following the conversations happening around him.
After Gene died, Robert and the Otto house were purchased by a woman named Myrtle Reuter. For twenty years, Reuter remained Robert’s companion but eventually donated the doll to the Fort East Martello Museum in 1994. She claimed that all the behavior that had been associated with him continued, especially him independently moving around her house.
Robert the Doll still remains at the museum and the weird behavior continues, even after the deaths of Gene and Reuter. He wasn’t initially put on display but when he finally was, strange things started to happen. Cameras and electronic devices started to occasionally malfunction around him and some say he started to curse those who took his photo without asking first. Letters eventually started coming in for Robert, often asking for forgiveness and apologizing for disrespectful behavior.
Can you visit?
Yes, you can! You can go see Robert the Doll at his current home: the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West, Florida. A stop to see Robert is even included on the ‘Ghosts and Gravestones Trolley Tour’ that offered by the Historic Tours of America.
And that is the story of Robert the Doll.
Sources and to learn more
- Key West Trolley Tour – Ghosts and Gravestones
- The Story Behind the World’s Most Terrifying Haunted Doll – Andy Wright, Atlas Obscura
- Robert the Doll – Atlas Obscura
- Robert the Haunted Doll: Creeping Out Floridians Since 1904 – Ella Morton, Slate
- On Permanent Display at Fort East Martello – The Key West Art and Historical Society
- Visit Robert the Doll
- Unboxed, episode 15 of Lore Podcast
- Robert the Haunted Doll: Florida’s Scariest Toy is More than a Plaything – Donna Anderson, Week in Weird