Robert Eugene Otto – or Gene, as his family called him – was just a young boy in the early 1900s when his family’s maid gave him a strange, straw-filled doll to play with. Gene loved his life-sized doll and brought it along everywhere, even naming it “Robert” after himself. It wasn’t long, however, before people began noticing signs of Robert the Doll’s evil and mischievous nature.
As rumor has it, the Ottos and their servants would often hear Gene in his bedroom, having conversations with himself in two entirely different voices. Furthermore, the Ottos would wake up in the middle of the night to Gene’s screaming, only to find the frightened boy in bed, surrounded by overturned furniture. Gene would blame Robert the Doll for messing up the bedroom, while Robert would glare at Gene from the foot of the bed.
Soon after, mutilated toys and mysterious happenings would appear in the home, only to have Gene proclaim each time: “Robert did it!”. Though the Ottos didn’t quite believe Gene, it was reported that they could hear the eerie sound of Robert giggling around the house, and passersby even claimed to see a small doll moving from window to window. Robert was eventually moved to the attic, where he remained for a number of years.
Gene inherited his family’s Key West mansion after his parents passed, at which time Robert the Doll returned to his old bedroom, Gene’s turret room on the second floor. By then, Gene had been working as an artist, and local folklore insists that Gene would spend his days alone in his mansion, painting with his old friend Robert.
Gene eventually married and many tales of his wife’s disdain for Robert arose. Conflicting rumors surfaced, some alleging that Gene’s wife died from “insanity” after locking Robert in the attic, while others report that Gene died with Robert by his side. Today, Gene’s residence operates as a bed and breakfast called the Artist House, and visitors can even stay in the old turret bedroom.
Robert the Doll now lives at the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West, Florida, where some believe his hair color – and soul – are both slowly fading. Visitor beware, though, as Robert’s current favorite mischievous act involves casting curses on those who take his photo without first asking permission. To date, the walls near his glass case are covered in numerous letters from previous visitors and naysayers, begging for Robert’s forgiveness and asking him to remove any hex he has cast.