Sharlee is a retired RN, avid antique collector, and proud grandmother. She now splits her time between the U.S. and Mexico.
Paranormal Legend of Robert the Doll
Robert the Doll has a long and hair raising history. You say you don't believe a doll can be possessed or haunted? Well, suspend your disbelief for a moment, keep reading, and discover the havoc that Robert has wreaked on everyone who has had the bad luck of encountering him.
The Evil Imaginary Friend
It's not that unusual for a young child to have an imaginary friend or two. Oftentimes parents think it cute—a mischievous little friend to take the blame for some minor wrongdoings. In fact, some parents will cite this as evidence of a healthy young imagination.
However, what happens when the imaginary friend starts to torment the child? What if the child cannot sleep through the night without the friend waking them to play? What happens when the play becomes rough, and the child becomes frightened?
This is what happened to a young child named Robert.
A Vengeful Servant and Voodoo
The story begins in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Otto. The year was 1904, and the place was Key West, Florida.
It was well known in the community that the Ottos mistreated their servants and were not the kindest of people. Soon, however, the Ottos would regret treating their employees disrespectfully—especially one housemaid who helped take care of the couple's young son, Robert Eugene (Gene) Otto.
This particular servant was said to be versed in the ways of voodoo. As the story goes, this servant handmade a doll and gave it four-year-old Gene as a gift. The doll stood three feet tall, was stuffed with straw, had very lifelike features, and was clutching a small lion. Gene decided to name the doll "Robert."
The doll became Gene's constant companion. It's said that the Mr. and Mrs. Otto often heard Gene upstairs talking to the doll. What was puzzling, however, was that two entirely different voices seemed to be coming from their son's room.
"Robert Did It"
Hearing two different voices coming from Gene's room may have been puzzling, but soon things took a turn to the downright terrifying. The Ottos were awakened in the middle of the night by Gene screaming from his room. They would open his door to find him cowering in bed—and overturned furniture strewn about the room.
"Robert did it!" is what Gene told his parents.
Other odd events associated with Robert the Doll began to occur. It was said that his expression seemed to change, as if he were reacting to conversations around him. Some people said they heard giggling coming from empty parts of the house. And still others reported seeing him appear in the windows of the house.
Eventually, however, Gene grew older, and his haunted doll was moved to the attic.
Homecoming and Rehaunting
When Gene became an adult, he left home and became an artist. He returned to his childhood home, however, when his father died and left the house to his son.
Gene decided that his childhood home would be perfect for him and his new wife. He felt the larger home would provide not only a spacious place for them to live but also a wonderful home studio space. He planned to use the large turret room on the second floor for his painting studio.
Before long, Gene discovered Robert the Doll in the attic—and he promptly brought him down to the turret room. Even after all of the intervening years, Robert's hold on Gene was strong, and from the moment Gene laid eyes on him Robert's influence could be felt in the house.
Gene's wife found Robert very odd and unsettling. One day while Gene was out of the house she decided she'd had enough of Robert's glare, and she returned him to his attic hideaway.
When Gene returned home and found that the doll had been moved, he was displeased. He declared that Robert needed a room of his own where he could see out of a window. He hurriedly returned Robert to the turret room. It wasn't long after that Gene's wife began to question her husband's sanity.
What the Neighbors Saw and Heard
Key West residents began to talk about Robert the Doll and his evil doings. Many told stories of seeing and hearing Robert in the turret room as they walked by the home, peering out of the windows. They claimed that Robert would mock them as they passed. School children avoided walking by the Otto home, fearful that they'd see Robert's mean glare from the window above.
Gene himself reported that when he visiting the turret room he would find Robert in the rocking chair by the window rocking and complaining of his displeasure with his accommodations. Finally, Gene himself had enough of Robert's antics and put him back in the attic.
Visitors to the Otto home would often comment on hearing footsteps coming from above, walking back and forth, as well as strange giggling sounds. Guests no longer wanted to visit the home.
Gene Otto died in 1974, and his wife promptly sold the home—leaving Robert the Doll behind in the attic.
Robert Haunted a New Child
Robert the Doll waited patiently up in the attic to be discovered once again by the new occupants. He didn't have to wait long.
The 10-year-old daughter of the new owners was quick to find Robert in the attic, and she promptly added him to her other toys in her bedroom. Soon, Robert unleashed his displeasure on the child. The little girl began screaming out into the night, claiming that the doll moved about the room, and that he would climb on her bed and attack her as she tried to sleep. Even more than 30 years later, she steadfastly claimed that "the doll was alive and wanted to kill her."
Where Is Robert Today?
Today, Robert lives in the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West, Florida. He is still dressed in his white sailor suit, and he is still clutching his stuffed lion.
Employees at the museum continue to give accounts of Robert being up to his old tricks even today.
If you are planning a visit to Key West, why not stop in and see Robert for yourself?
- Address: 3501 S. Roosevelt Blvd., Key West, FL
- Hours: Daily 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (last admission 4:30 p.m.)
- Phone: (305) 296-3913
- Adults: $16
- Senior/Local/College ID/Retired Military: $12
- Youth (7-18): $8
- Child (under 7): Free
The Otto Home Is Now a Bed and Breakfast
If you are going to visit Key West and want to stay at Gene Otto's boyhood home, you can do so because the home is now a bed and breakfast called The Artist House.
The photos on the website look beautiful, and it has received nothing but fabulous reviews for comfort, location, and food. Not to mention that the owners are known to be wonderful hosts.
I will be visiting Key West next winter, and I will be staying at The Artist House. I simply can't wait!
Comments From a Reader
After reading my article about Robert the Doll, a reader kindly sent me this note:
"If you're interested, I have a bit more information that was missing from your page on Robert the haunted doll. The servant was dismissed from the Otto household because Mrs. Otto spotted the four servants in the backyard doing some form of what she thought to be black magic.
Robert (the little boy) did not go by the name Gene; he was called "Robert." He only started going by Gene when one day his mother scolded him using his name, and he told her that his name was not Robert—the doll's name was Robert, and his name was Gene.
According to several residents of Key West (not me, I don't know whether this part is true), the government did acknowledge Robert (the doll) and actually granted the doll property rights.
Also, the servant who made the doll used Gene's hair for the doll. It's a known fact that once a person's hair is cut it can't change colors (of course!); however, the doll's hair is now white.
If you choose to visit Robert in the museum and want to take a picture you need to ask politely and do NOT make fun of the doll! If he allows you to take a picture he will tilt his head to the side; if he does not tilt his head and you take a picture anyway bad things happen to not only you but to anyone you were with or family members. The walls in that room of the museum are covered in letters from people asking Robert to please take the curse off, and apologizing for making fun of him."
Read More About Robert the Doll
- Robert the Doll | Key West Art and Historical Society
The Key West Art & Historical Society maintains the culture of the Florida Keys through exhibits and education programs. Learn more on our Robert the Doll page.
- The Legend of Otto’s Doll | The Palm Beach Post
If there are such things as ghosts and possessed things, souls wandering in search of a peace denied them in life, then Key West is a perfect place for them to flourish.
- Robert the Doll: The Toy That's Haunted Key West for 100 Years
Ever since it was gifted to Robert Eugene Otto in 1904, Robert the Doll has haunted Key West, Florida, with its supposedly paranormal powers.
Please leave me a word or two.
Sharlee (author) on November 16, 2017:
Thank you your opinion. I appreciate your critique.
Hadi on November 13, 2017:
Robert the Doll is nothing more than a fake
meow88 on July 29, 2014:
scary i would freak out, i never like dolls it just scared me a lot cause there eyes wanted to kill you, sense i was 5-6 year old that time my older sister put a scary movie of a chunky doll, i have to hide my mom lap and hide under the blanket cover also sleep with my mom
anonymous on September 05, 2013:
You should get the TAPS team to chek it out...
anonymous on August 12, 2013:
@Wednesday-Elf: Thank you very much!
anonymous on April 17, 2013:
I have heard of Robert the doll before, very interesting lens
Nightcat on October 20, 2012:
This is really awesome! I lensrolled you on my Haunted Dolls and other Yuletide Terrors lens. Blessed! :)
Ladyeaglefeather on March 18, 2012:
cool lens, very interesting
anonymous on October 02, 2011:
Very spooky story - a fascinating lens!
GabrielaFargasch on August 18, 2011:
That is one spooky doll!! Wow!
promotional-coupons-codes on April 26, 2011:
lolz The most funny part was that you have to ask doll to take a picture.
momsfunny on April 16, 2011:
Freaked me out, I am typing this while hiding under the covers of my bed!!
anonymous on January 11, 2011:
never heard of this before now...bizarre
anonymous on December 30, 2010:
Shit this scared me alone, I would never visit this doll and let me tell you Florida is off my list for my next vacation too!!! What the heck!!! I need to run now, that doll is going to scare me all night in my dreams!
anonymous on December 22, 2010:
I really enjoyed your lens! Our home is haunted. We think it is built on Indian ground because it is like a conduit. I wrote about it on my squidoo lens too. Maybe we could connect our lenses? Our Home Is Haunted CLICK HERE TO SEE IT
ghosty_grl6 on March 27, 2010:
i swear... my neighbors went 2 key west for there ghost tour and they went to the museam and the dad was taunting it (nananabobo, im out here your in there) that kindof stuff and when the fsmily walked down the forts hall the sealing fan w/ a light bursted in to peaces before there eyes!!! TRUE STORY!!
socomplete601 on August 03, 2009:
That is a very unique looking item wow. kind of reminds me of the new resident evil after life 2010 movie coming out you can check out here: www.residentevilafterlife.info
RedRoseBoutique on July 11, 2009:
Great lens! Nice video on Robert.
Keaka77 on August 05, 2008:
Great lens.. I am going to key west in two weeks.. Guess what you just gave my family a good idea to do while we are there. Thanks for the info..
Gifts And Collectibles
anonymous on February 22, 2008:
I am going to Waverly Hills after I graduate staying there for 10 days
thomasz on February 12, 2008:
Wow really great lens. Come visit my lenses.
anonymous on February 09, 2008:
Recently visited Key West and did a Ghosts and Legends Tour. I have watched TV shows about Ghosts but Robert has fascinated me. I did not get a chance to visit the museum but plan on going back and that will be my 1st stop. However, I will be very cautious to not upset him, I have heard he can reak havoc on visitors. Peace Robert!
anonymous on February 04, 2008:
Creepy, but interesting reading. Nice work, 5 stars for you. Feel free to check out my lens on Dish Network promotion as well - that's where you can get the best deal out of current unfair satellite TV war.
OfficeRocket on January 22, 2008:
Creepy!!! keep up the good work.
I have an office supplies site which you are your readers may be interested in.
anonymous on November 08, 2007:
this doll is freaky, I believe it is evil, would like to visit it in person, but it could be bad luck. I wouldn't look him in his eyes at all,it could be dangerous, (he was on a ghosts show on tv
Carla-White on October 31, 2007:
Another great lens. I really enjoyed reading that. Spookey. Happy Halloween!
house on October 28, 2007:
anonymous on September 01, 2007:
i think that this is cool and id love to hear about this stuff i mean im gonna be a ghost hunter
Petee on August 03, 2007:
Very interesting lens thanks a 5 star.
catch-cheating on July 30, 2007:
great info and very interesting lens, 5 star
Nicegoogoo on July 09, 2007:
great lens and some creepy too.But great lens and I enjoyed reviewing it.Rated it 5 stars.
You can get me at symptom of depression .
anonymous on June 09, 2007:
Being in Key West numerous times and being a native of Fl , I had to indulge in the ghosts and legends tour. I haven't visited Robert the doll yet, but I will when I return there soon. I took pictures of the Otto house and got great results - 4 clear and beautiful orbs in all. Yep, I believe it!
anonymous on May 26, 2007:
About three weeks ago, I took a ghost tour and visited Robert at East Martello Museum. When I first took a glance at Robert, I was in a different room! Staring right at me, with beaty eyes, Robert!He did not talk or anything. But when I decided not to take a picture, good luck, Robert! 20 dollars!
mross72 on November 22, 2006:
I would like to hear about your experience. I am in Key West and just did the Ghosts and Legends tour and learned the story of Robert.