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Robert the Doll, a Legend of Key West

September 4, 2011

Key West, it’s really not my kind of town I am not a drinker and bars are not my thing.  However I really do love its history, its haunted history.  The history of this small island is filled with violence, hatred, heartbreak and tragedy…that make it very fertile stomping ground for ghosts.  I fully disclose that I do believe in ghosts, I have had personal experiences that have proven to me that the spirit world is very real and it does exist.  I don’t believe that life ends here on earth, so I think it’s logical to believe that when our souls leave our earthly bodies, they might get sidetracked or decide to hang around a while.

Robert sitting in wait for those who dare to visit.

I recently went to Key West and had the pleasure of visiting the Fort East Martello Museum and of taking a ghost tour with www.hauntedtours.com. The first stop, fresh off of being on the road for 4.5 hours, was the museum.  The Fort East Martello was built during the Civil War as a fort for the North, yes the North.  Key West was a union town.  The fort never saw battle but is a testament to the ingenuity of the Martello style of construction.  It really is a nice bare bones museum, be warned it is also very hot.  The fort is open and while there are ceiling fans it is no match for the summer heat and humidity that easily enters the open passages.

A close up of Robert's mystery lion-no one knows where it came from.

The star of the Fort East Martello is hands down Robert the Doll, Robert the haunted doll, the doll that was the basis of the Child’s Play movies.  Robert sits in a specially made case holding his stuffed lion, a lion that no one knows where it came from, but Robert is quite attached to him.  Robert sits behind glass waiting for visitors.  There is a wall next to Robert’s case filled with letters and cards from adults and children around the world.  Some of the cards may be considered fan letters, and some ask him for forgiveness and ask him to make their bad luck stop.  Maybe some of you have heard of the impish yet feared Robert, maybe some of you haven’t, gather round and I will tell you a story of Robert Eugene Otto and his doll companion Robert.

Robert Eugene “Gene” Otto was given the doll as a gift in 1904.  The doll was given to him by the daughter of a servant who was mistreated by the Otto family.  The doll was named Robert, and Robert Eugene was from then on called by his middle name Eugene.  The Otto family began hearing Eugene carrying on conversations with Robert, two sided conversations, and assumed that Eugene was just changing his voice.  Eventually the family no longer believed that Eugene was performing any kind of trickery with his voice.

Robert's "father" Robert Eugene Otto, sadly spent the majority of his life exclaiming, "Robert did it!"

Anything bad that Eugene did, the young boy blamed on his doll companion, Robert.  Eugene always had an answer for any wrong doing attributed to him, “Robert did it.”  The family would hear noises and eerie giggles and would go into Eugene’s room to find out what was happening only to hear Gene’s customary response of blaming the disturbance on his doll.  Neighbors began reporting seeing the doll running from window to window looking out at them.  Children did not like walking past the Otto home.

Gene and Robert were rarely separated even as Gene grew older.  Local legend has it that the college aged Gene carried Robert with him on the streets of Key West.  That might seem odd to you and me, but apparently in Key West it wasn’t too big of a deal.

A thank you note and some sweets given to Robert by a child visitor.

Years later after Gene was grown and married his father passed away and the family home was left to him.  Eugene, now an artist, thought the Otto home a perfect place to live with his wife, Anne.  Once he returned home he found his old companion, Robert, in the attic and sensed that he was displeased with his current location.  Gene decided to give Robert the turret room which had plenty of windows to look out of.  Gene’s wife was afraid of Robert and found her husband’s attitude towards the doll very unsettling.  Again neighbors and children reported seeing Robert moving around and looking at them from the turret room’s windows.

A little Robert replica doll sold by the museum and ghost tour, yes, I got one.

Gene eventually grew weary of Robert the Doll and his behavior and returned the doll to the attic.  After Eugene died, his wife promptly sold the Otto home , known as The Artist’s House and left Key West and moved back to her family home in Boston.  Robert remained in the attic for years more, until the new owner’s 10 year old daughter came across him in the attic and took the doll to her room.

The wall next to Robert holds letters and cards from people around the world.

It wasn’t too long before the girl would wake up terrified and telling of Robert’s running around her room and that Robert was trying to hurt her.  Robert eventually made his home where he remains today in the Fort East Martello Museum, in a very special alarmed case where he sits and looks out at his visitors, lion in hand waiting to be asked permission to allow people to take his picture.  Just for the record, I did ask, and I did say “thank you.”

The legend goes that a visitor must respectfully ask Robert if they may take his picture, and he is to signal his consent with a tilt of his head.  If he does not grant permission or if he is not asked people have reported mishaps with their cameras and pictures and if you mock him bad luck is said to follow you.  So if you visit this formidable doll, please be kind and ask nicely if you may take his picture or else you may be sorry you didn’t.

Robert the Doll is waiting for you to visit him at the Fort East Martello Museum.

The Artist’s House is now a bed and breakfast, and curiously enough the ghost that reportedly haunts the premises is Anne Otto…but that is for another time.

More stories of Key West to come…stay tuned.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 4, 2011 10:52 pm

    I love Robert and it’s hard to believe the stories of actual unprovoked harm. Maybe, like Joan Crawford, he has mellowed over the years.

  2. September 4, 2011 11:06 pm

    Let’s hope so. I know the daughter of the owners who bought the house from Anne Otto, still maintains over 30 years later that Robert was trying to kill her…so maybe in the 30 years since he has relaxed a bit-maybe it’s his having to get used to seeing a vast variety of people. 😉

    • September 4, 2011 11:12 pm

      I think people project their fears onto him. But I can’t reject a personal experience someone had just because it seems silly to me. Oh Robert! Maybe the little girl made him go to tea parties and wear lipstick. No murders reported so far. . he seems so sweet to me.

      • September 4, 2011 11:14 pm

        Yes, we think he’s sweet but maybe it would be different if he was out from behind the glass and sitting in our room. 😛

  3. Fern permalink
    September 4, 2011 11:51 pm

    Again, you prove your great story telling skills! I did do some reading up on Robert’s story, but never saw some of these details. I think its neat actually, that Gene had that sort of attachment to his childhood friend. If I am allowed to my own opinion, I think that Robert was very hurt when he was stuffed back in the box, and felt rejected. This is probably what turned him the rest of the way, and the little girl bore the brunt of his rage.

    • September 5, 2011 12:18 am

      Thank you so much, Fern. You might have a point…I think it seems pretty clear Robert liked attention and did not appreciate being ignored. Maybe Robert is a one person doll and resent someone trying to fill the shoes of his beloved or cursed Gene. Another question is did Gene really have a choice not to be attached to Robert?

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