Dolls are incredibly common toys, but they can also be incredibly creepy. Anyone who has ever spent a night in a spare room with a doll collection will attest to the odd paranoia that sets in. Even as your logical mind tells you that dolls do not move or wish harm upon people, there is no denying the strangeness of these pint-sized human replicas. Furthermore, stories abound of haunted and murderous dolls, though you should doubt any claims found on eBay, the most famous of which is Key West’s Robert the Doll.
His worn face is eerily simple, with a nub of a nose, beady black eyes, and scar-like nicks. This model boy in a sailor suit may seem to be smiling, but any joy is a mask for the malevolence lurking within.
A Boy’s Best Friend
Robert’s story starts in the early 20th century, when Robert Eugene Ott received the doll from his grandfather or a household servant, depending on the account. The German doll was likely produced as part of a jester-filled window display by the Steiff Toy Company, who had produced the first Teddy Bear in honor of Theodore Roosevelt. It was not intended as a toy, though, and the sailor outfit was likely one that Ott himself had once worn. The boy, who went by Eugene or Gene, dubbed it Robert and began spending all his time with the doll.
Soon enough, Robert the doll had his own seat at the dinner table and in Eugene’s bed each night. However, strange things started to happen after the Otts overheard their son talking with the doll, which spoke in a low and sinister voice. Eugene would wake screaming in the night, claiming that Robert was trying to scare him. Even during the day, silverware flew off the dinner table, lamps fell from tables, and unused rooms were turned upside down.
As the Otts were known to be strict with their servants, rumor had it that a scorned voodoo-practicing servant had cursed the doll after suffering low wages and physical abuse. With human hair and a stuffing of bloody rags, Robert the doll was seen as possessed, but Eugene would not give him up and continued claiming innocence.
A Laughing Legend
Even as he grew older and established himself as an eccentric artist in the community, Eugene still kept Robert close. After his parents died, though, the younger Ott had difficulty keeping servants because they fled from the disembodied giggling, voices, and footsteps that surrounded the cursed doll. He soon moved into a new home that he dubbed The Artist House, where Robert was positioned at an upstairs window. Neighbors claimed that the doll could appear and disappear of its own accord, causing local children to avoid Ott’s address.
In time, Eugene chose to wed, but his bride immediately sensed evil in Robert’s malevolent expression. Claiming fear of personal harm, she forced her husband to place the doll in the attic, but Robert was not finished with the young couple. Passers-by still saw movement on the house’s upper floors, and several locals claimed that Robert would watch them pass and giggle maniacally. As Eugene’s health declined, he kept his childhood friend at the upstairs window until his death in 1947, when his wife returned the doll to the attic.
A Demonic Doll
According to one version of events, the new family had no idea what they would find when they began exploring all that Ott’s widow had left behind. In particular, their 10-year-old daughter fast discovered the doll, who had been placed in a chair under a blanket on the top floor. She claimed Robert as her own, but she began seeing him moving about in the night. After the girl was attacked by the doll, they gave the doll away.
The house’s owner, Myrtle Reuter, tells another story. Upon moving into the home, her family did indeed discover the doll in the attic. However, she herself reported that the doll moved around the home of its own free will. In addition, visitors claimed to hear footsteps on the upper floors, and Reuter even witnessed the doll’s visage change when anyone spoke ill of Eugene Otto in his presence. After twenty years, though, she had had enough and kicked Robert out – donating him to the East Martello Museum in Key West, Florida.
To this day, Robert is kept locked within a glass case in the center of his own private room at the East Martello Museum. Workers regularly report seeing the doll move of his own accord or change position during the night. Some have even heard strange noises or spectral giggling come from Robert.
Visitors also report similar phenomena; however, the most common problems result from failing to ask Robert for permission to take a photo or laughing at the legend. While past offenders reported blank film, modern ones more often find an evil expression on the doll’s face or some change in position in their photo. Afterwards, they will commonly encounter bad luck, from car accidents to job loss and serious injuries. Letters abound from apologetic tourists and fans alike, including many sending candy to the demonic doll with an acknowledge sweet tooth.
Today, you can follow Robert on social media and write email apologies, but you should still be careful given the doll’s dark history.
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