Robert the Doll | Key West's famous Haunted Doll

The Curse of Robert the Doll

get to know Key West's famous haunted doll

Address: Fort East Martello Museum 3501 S Roosevelt Blvd, Key West, FL 33040

A real-life Chucky doll? Or better yet, the story behind it. Arguably Key West's favorite haunted attraction, Robert the Doll has been wreaking havoc since the early-1900s. Follow the rules and don't cross him. If you do, your life will never be the same. Whether you're a believer or not, one thing's for sure, this doll is not to be played with.

Did you know?

  • Robert the Doll was a one-of-a-kind design, manufactured by the Steiff Company in Germany, the same company that invented the Teddy Bear.
  • The sailor suit Robert the Doll wears is not his original getup. Instead, it was an outfit his owner Gene Otto wore as a child.
  • Robert the Doll is the inspiration behind the 1980s slasher film Child’s Play.

What Does Robert the Doll Look Like?

What was supposed to be a "life-sized" little boy doll in a sailor's costume, has turned into a sinister symbol of Key West folklore. Made out of dense fabric and stuffed with straw, this century-old doll's appearance is chilling, to say the least.

Robert is not your average doll. His skin is imperfect. His face is covered in nicks, chips, and holes. He has large, beady black eyes and an eerie stone-cold expression. In his right hand, he holds a toy of his own, a wide-eyed plush puppy, whose cheery expression makes Robert look all the more ominous.

Cursed by Robert

Currently displayed at the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West, Florida, visitors are welcome to stop by and catch a glimpse of the infamous doll.

What they're not allowed to do is take a picture of him without asking for permission. And they have to ask nicely, too. According to local lore, Robert will not hesitate to put a curse on anyone who doesn't obey the rules.

At the museum, Robert sits propped up on a wooden chair. Behind him, pinned to the wall, is the warning sign: "Don't Photograph," followed by a list of Robert's mischievous deeds. But not everyone heeds the warning, and they sneak a picture of him anyway.

That explains why surrounding the warning sign are dozens of apology letters from people all over the world, asking Robert to stop the madness he's unleashed upon their lives.

One letter reads:

"Sorry I did not ask 'out loud' to take your photo. Since then, my husband lost his diamond out of his ring. I tore my rotator cuff + my daughter's wedding was canceled. All happened before I returned home. Please stop the curse I am truly sorry + life is hard enough!"

We recommend you don't mess with Robert, just in case the rumors are true.

The Origin of Robert the Doll

We know what this doll can do, but how did it all begin?

As with most antiques, the history of the doll is somewhat obscure. Some sources claim that the doll was gifted to Robert Eugene Otto by his grandfather on his return from Germany. Otto, who went by "Gene," loved the toy so much, he named it after himself.

Others say that the doll was gifted to the child by a Voodoo practitioner who worked for his family, as retaliation for their wrongdoings.

For many, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The most prevalent anecdote is that the doll was indeed a harmless gift from Otto's grandfather, but that it was hexed by a family servant after they were wrongfully fired.

How Gene's grandfather got his hands on the doll, is also a mystery. Robert, as it turns out, wasn't even meant to be a toy. He was designed as a window display piece of clowns.

Somehow, this makes Robert seem even creepier.

The Doll Comes to Life

Once the doll entered the Otto household, it soon began showing sinister signs of life.

Gene grew disturbingly close to the doll. He referred to it merely as "Robert," as if he recognized it as a living being.

Rumor has it that the Ottos could hear their son talking to someone while alone in his room. They didn't think much of it, though, chalking it up to the child's overactive imagination. That is until they heard a completely different voice reply to Gene.

Robert Runs Rampant

It wasn’t long before the pair’s seemingly perfect friendship turned violent, with Robert unleashing his rage every night like clockwork.

According to legend, Gene's parents would often be woken up by their son's screams. They'd go check on him only to find the young boy shaking with fear, surrounded by overturned furniture. The toys Gene loved to play with were found mutilated, cut up and shredded to pieces.

" Robert did it!" seemed to be the only thing coming out of young Gene's mouth. No one believed the kid until the family, too, started experiencing unexplained events around the home. The Ottos swore they could hear Robert giggling and walking around the house.

Imagine the family's surprise when they were approached by a passerby who confirmed their suspicions. The man said he'd seen Robert walk from one window to the other from outside. To him, the doll was most certainly alive.

For Better or for Worse

Gene went on to become a celebrated artist, studying art in major cities like Chicago, New York, and Paris. While he studied at The Sorbonne, he met the woman who would eventually become his wife, Annette Parker.

In 1930, Gene and his wife returned to Key West, where they settled into Gene's childhood home. But even as a newlywed, Gene's love for Robert never waned. Annette allowed Gene to continue caring for his friend, but she was definitely not a fan.

Room With a View

This is likely why the attic was designated as Robert's room. Gene got him a chair and positioned him in front of a window. Robert's room was fully-furnished and had toys for his entertainment.

Passing school children avoided the house at all cost since they swore they could see Robert seated in his chair one minute, then disappear the next. During this time, the rumors of a haunted doll started to take over Key West.

Robert’s New Companion

Gene's home came to be called "The Artist's House." After Gene died in 1974, Annette placed the house on the market before leaving Key West for good.

The house was purchased by Myrtle Reuter, who found Robert hidden in the attic a few years later. For some time, she'd heard strange noises in the attic. When she decided to check it out, she found Robert in his chair.

She quickly realized this wasn't your typical doll, but it didn't scare her. In fact, she liked Robert so much that she went on to live with him for twenty years. In 1994, she donated him to the Fort East Martello Museum.

Rise to Fame

Robert's arrival at the museum must've been a turning point for him since he kicked it up a notch with his antics. Museum staff say that upon being placed on exhibit, cameras and other electronics started to malfunction.

Of course, now we know that the worst was yet to come. Still, every year, hundreds of tourists flock to the museum to catch a glimpse of the famous local legend, even if it means being cursed for a few hours.

Aside from the dozens of apology letters, Robert also receives gifts and praise. People send him candy, money, and - occasionally - drugs, which, side note, you shouldn't do. It is a museum, after all.

He also has social media platforms that the museum employees handle, to allow those unable to travel to Key West to keep up with Robert.

If you're looking to get spooked in Key West, look no further. Visit and have fun, but be nice - or you'll find yourself writing an apology letter to a doll. Don't say we didn't warn you.

Know Before You Go

Fort East Martello is an Art & Historical Museum open to the public. It includes collections of relics from the Civil War, displays detailing Key West's past, and artifacts like Robert the Doll.

For more information about the Fort East Martello Museum or to purchase tickets, please visit their website.

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