In 1906, young Robert Eugene Otto received a doll from his family’s servant.
It was, at first blush, unremarkable: a doll of wire, cloth and straw, with beige skin and human-like hair. It wore an outfit similar to that of an American Naval officer.
But the doll held an ominous secret that would reveal itself in time.
You see, legend has it that the Otto family, who lived in Key West, Florida, weren’t kind to their servants. One servant, a Bahamian woman, grew tired of her mistreatment.
Some say she was skilled in voodoo and black magic. As an act of revenge, she infused a doll with dark spirits, and cursed it with hatred. She crafted it with human blood and hair, and stuffed it with rags soaked in the liquid of the dead. It was this doll she bestowed upon young Robert.
A terrible gift.
A Haunted Soul
Robert Eugene Otto, unaware of its sordid history, took to the doll almost immediately.
He named it Robert, after himself (he actually went by his middle name, Gene). His parents would hear him late at night conversing with Robert the Doll, and sometimes — perhaps it was their imaginations, or was that strange, guttural voice really coming from their son? — they could hear the doll speaking back.
Gene would go on to blame Robert the Doll for countless strange occurrences. Plates falling from tables, lamps falling from walls. Torn clothing and misplaced objects littered throughout the house.
His parents, when reprimanding him, would simply be met with the reply, “Robert did it.”
Eventually, Gene grew older and traveled to Paris to pursue a career in art. He got married, and life went on. However, when he and his wife returned and moved back into his old Victorian home in Key West, Gene made special accommodations for the doll. It was still very important to him.
He constructed a small room in the third floor turret, scaled perfectly for Robert’s size. He placed small furniture inside. Robert sat in a chair, motionless. Most of the time, of course.
Allegedly, neighbors would claim they could see Robert the Doll through the third-floor windows, moving from room to room. The sound of laughter occasionally echoed throughout the house, as well, glimpses of shadows as the doll made its nightly walkabouts.
In 1974, Gene died and Anne moved away. But Robert remained, and the strange occurrences continued to be reported by new occupants and utility workers.
Unexplained footsteps, strange noises, laughter. Some would turn their backs on the strange little doll, and it would have moved, just slightly, when they looked again.
The Curse Continues
The doll was lost in time, packed away by nervous occupants who couldn’t bare to keep it in plain sight. It eventually surfaced again, however, when a new family found the doll in the attic.
Their 10-year-old daughter welcomed the old doll, becoming its new owner. But she, too, would learn of its secret terrors. She would scream in the night, shouting that Robert was moving. On at least one occasion, she claims (to this day, in fact), that the doll tried to kill her.
Robert the Doll was ultimately given to the East Martello Museum, where it has been on display — locked behind glass — ever since.
For two weeks every year, it’s brought to the Custom House in Key West, where visitors may have a look for themselves.
A word of caution, however:
You may be wondering about all those notes and papers pinned to the wall in this photograph.
Before taking a picture of Robert the Doll when he is on display, each person must first ask for his permission. If his head tilts, that means permission has not been granted.
Those letters were sent to the museum by people who dared to tempt the curse of Robert the Doll, who didn’t ask for permission. They contain true testimonies of the bad luck and misfortune that followed.
In those letters, they ask for forgiveness.