Are curses real? Can a seemingly innocent toy bring misfortune and suffering for being crossed? You can decide for yourself when you meet Robert the doll.
Robert’s Early Years
In 1904 in Key West Florida, Robert Eugene Otto received a new doll for his 4th birthday. This doll was very unique. He was just over 3 feet tall, made of cloth stuffed with straw, and came with his very own stuffed animal. The boy immediately grew attached to his new friend, and gave him his first name Robert. After that, the boy only went by the name Gene.
Gene and Robert were inseparable. He dressed Robert in one of his old sailor suits, and took him anywhere he went. Over time, it became apparent that Robert was no ordinary doll. Gene spoke to Robert like he were a living being, and anytime an accident occurred or Gene was in trouble, he always told his parents that Robert did it.
His parents often heard him talking to Robert, and a different, deeper voice responding. Upon checking who their son was talking to, they would always find Gene alone with Robert.
When Gene was 10 years old, he awoke one night to Robert sitting at the foot of his bed staring at him. Moments later, his mother awoke to Gene screaming for help and the sound of furniture being knocked over. She rushed to Gene’s bedroom only to find the door locked. Upon unlocking and opening it, she found Gene curled up in fear, and the room a mess. Robert was sitting at the foot of the bed staring at Gene. When she asked what happened, Gene could only respond “Robert did it”.
Activity only increased from there. Gene and his parents often saw Robert running up the stairs, or staring out the window of an upstairs bedroom. They claimed that Robert could speak and they had seen his expressions change.
Once, a plumber was alone in the house doing repairs when he was startled by the sound of giggling. He looked around the room where the sound came from and saw that the doll had seemed to move across the room on its own.
Items that were left on Robert’s lap would end up across the room as if they had been thrown. Soon, Gene found several of his toys mutilated. When his parents asked how that happened, they received the now familiar response: “Robert did it”.
One legend claims that the doll was created by a family servant that put a voodoo curse on it to get back at the family for being wronged somehow. Little information exists to back this claim up though.
The more likely answer to where Robert came from is provided by the Key West Art and Historical Society who claims that Robert was originally produced by the German toy company, Steiff, which is famous for creating the first Teddy Bear. Interestingly, they claim Robert may not have been originally made as a children’s toy, but to be used in a window display of a shop as a clown or jester. Legend says this doll was purchased in Germany, and given to Gene as a gift by his mother or grandfather, possibly for his 4th birthday.
As far as Robert’s paranormal activity, we aren’t sure. Some legends claim the doll was already haunted when it was purchased, while others claim that a disgruntled servant cursed the doll after Gene received. One interesting theory claims that years of Gene’s energy and blaming Robert for accidents and misbehavior charged the doll into having energy of it’s own.
Locking Robert Up
Gene left Robert behind in his parents home as he went to college and began his career. Upon his parents death, Gene moved back into the home with his wife Anne.
Anne was immediately uncomfortable with Robert and asked Gene to lock him in the attic of the house. Gene built a bedroom in the attic for Robert, including toys to play with and child sized furniture. During this time, people claimed they could hear footsteps coming from the attic despite Robert being the only one up there.
Some school children complained that Robert was in the upstairs bedroom window watching them walk by and sometimes mocking them. Gene went to investigate as he had locked the doll in the attic. Sure enough, he found Robert sitting in a rocking chair in the upstairs bedroom watching out the window. Despite numerous attempts to lock Robert in the attic, he would always find him back in that bedroom sitting in the rocking chair.
Robert’s New Owners
In 1974, Gene passed away and Anne locked Robert in a chest in the attic. She passed away a few years later, and a new owner moved into the house along with her 10 year old daughter. At first, her daughter was excited for her new toy, but this soon grew into fear.
In a chilling repeat of Gene’s own childhood, this girl often woke in the middle of the night screaming in fear. She claimed that Robert was moving around the room on his own and that he wanted to hurt her.
In the early 90’s, the homeowner donated the doll to the Key West Art and Historical Society. She claimed he was haunted, often moving around on his own and had even locked her in rooms before.
Robert is now on display in the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West Florida. He is housed in a glass display case that is made of UV light filtering glass and is humidity controlled to keep him preserved. Unsurprisingly, Robert is one of their top attractions.
People claim that they have attempted to take his picture, but their cameras would suddenly stop working, only to start up again after leaving the museum. Staff and visitors claim they have heard giggling, seen his expressions change and even seen him put his hand up to the glass.
The museum encourages visitors to show Robert respect, and there are rumors of rules that must be followed when meeting him. Visitors should introduce themselves, tell him where they are visiting from, ask his permission before taking a picture and thank him before leaving. It is believed that showing disrespect can cause a string of misfortunes.
There are stories of people who did not follow the rules finding their cameras completely wiped with all pictures gone. One person claims that they visited Robert and followed all rules, but soon after leaving developed a severe rash and swelling. After researching, they found one rule they were unaware of: tell Robert where you are from.
Many attribute events such as divorce, serious injury or illness, car accidents or job loss to their being cursed by Robert. In fact, many people write to Robert begging forgiveness, or apologizing for any disrespect. The museum claims it receives several letters a day addressed to Robert, and has received more than a thousand letters since he’s been on display.
Surprisingly, Robert has received one unusual letter from a visitor claiming that her luck had been wonderful since meeting him, and that she wanted to thank him and let him know much she appreciated it.
- A Boy & His Doll. ROBERT THE DOLL. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2022, from http://robertthedoll.org/a-boy-his-doll/
- Bastek, M. D. (2022, July 16). Caution: Mind Your Manners When Visiting Robert the Doll. Horror Obsessive. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://horrorobsessive.com/2021/04/13/caution-mind-your-manners-when-visiting-robert-the-doll/
- Cherrell, K. (2019, September 27). The Curse of Robert the Doll. Burials & Beyond. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://burialsandbeyond.com/2019/09/27/the-curse-of-robert-the-doll/
- Discover the Story of Robert the Doll. Artist House Key West. (2021, August 5). Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://www.artisthousekeywest.com/robert-the-doll
- Ghosts & Gravestones. (2022, June 15). Robert The Doll. Ghosts & Gravestones. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://www.ghostsandgravestones.com/key-west/robert-the-doll
- Serena, K. (2021, December 1). Meet Robert The Doll, The Haunted Toy That’s Been Terrorizing Florida For Over 115 Years. All That’s Interesting. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://allthatsinteresting.com/robert-the-doll
- Wright, A. (2021, October 25). The Story Behind the World’s Most Terrifying Haunted Doll. Atlas Obscura. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/story-behind-robert-the-doll