For years, horror movies have portrayed dolls as spooky playthings just waiting to be possessed by ghosts or evil spirits (hello, Chucky!). Whether it’s due to their frozen expressions or a creepy backstory involving their previous owners, dolls have solidified a place in our culture as the stuff of nightmares.
Over a century ago, a boy named Robert became fascinated by one particular doll that would later be the source of extreme unease for all who came into contact with it. When you find out why, you might just need to sleep with the lights on tonight…
Robert Gene Otto, or “Gene” as he preferred it, was an eccentric artist who came from a prominent family in Key West, Florida. When he was young boy, his grandfather gave him an unusual doll for his birthday. That doll would eventually gain a reputation for being one of the spookiest toys to be made.
The doll was manufactured by Steiff, a popular German toy manufacturer that was known for inventing the teddy bear. Although the doll wasn’t meant to be sold as a toy, Gene’s grandfather managed to purchase it from the company anyway.
Gene immediately developed an unhealthy attachment to his new friend, and according to stories, the doll—aptly named “Robert”—started to take on a haunting personality of its own. But that was impossible, right?
Gene dressed up Robert in one of his old sailor suits and carried it around everywhere he went. He formed an extreme attachment to it, and the doll, in turn, seemed to be just as smitten with its human companion…
Gene’s love of his new toy went far beyond infatuation. He would carry it with him up and down the streets wherever he went, and he talked to people about the doll as if it were actually a living being.
Then, odd things began happening in the Otto household. Items would frequently move locations and strange noises were heard throughout the home. Gene’s parents, naturally, believed their son was behind the mischief…
Gene, however, would always blame the commotion on Robert. At first, his parents chalked it up to a wild imagination—until they noticed odd things happening even when their son wasn’t home. The creepy occurrences continued as their son grew older, too.
One theory was that a Bahamian girl who used to work for Robert’s parents placed a voodoo curse on the doll after they wronged her. Of course, this was never proven to be true.
Disturbing incidents seemed to happen whenever Robert was around. Once, a plumber who was working on the Otto family’s home reported hearing the laughter of a child… before Robert the doll mysteriously moved across the room into a different chair.
As Gene grew older, he eventually moved out of his parents’ house and into a large home in Key West, Florida. Gene was happy he was finally on his own, and of course, he brought his old doll along with him.
As an adult, Gene no longer carried Robert with him everywhere he went, though he was still attached to the doll. He fixed a room on the top floor of his home for the toy, making sure it had everything it needed so it didn’t “feel” lonely and neglected.
Gene placed the doll in a chair that faced out of the top window. People on the street below took notice of it, and pretty soon they started avoiding the house altogether. Some claimed they could see it move on its own, and others said they felt it watching them as they passed.
Gene’s wife (center), whom he married many years before he moved to Key West, also began resenting the doll and everything it seemed to stand for. She eventually made Gene store it in the attic, secluded from the public.
After Gene and his wife’s deaths in 1974, a woman named Myrtle Reuter moved into the Key West home. The home came partially furnished—and it also came with Robert. Myrtle had no idea of the doll’s spooky history…
The doll remained stashed in the attic of the home for nearly 20 years. Over the course of that time, Myrtle noticed odd sounds and misplaced items, and eventually, she donated Robert to the Fort East Martello Museum in Florida. She felt it truly was haunted.
The museum was more than happy to accept the mysterious new addition to their collection. Of course, the employees figured Myrtle was just extremely paranoid; there was no way the doll was actually possessed… right?
Almost immediately after Robert arrived at the museum, lines formed out the door to see it. Even though the building didn’t advertise the new arrival at all, word quickly spread that it was displaying a haunted doll.
Everyone wanted to take a picture with Robert. They were intrigued by its mysterious—and supposedly haunted—past. Some even claimed their electronics would strangely act up when they approached the glass encasement.
Visitors would even write letters to the inanimate object asking its forgiveness, especially when it came to taking its picture without asking. They didn’t want any sort of bad luck headed their way.
To this day, Robert remains in the Fort East Martello Museum in Florida. People from all over still visit it, hoping to catch a glimpse of some paranormal activity. The doll, now 115 years old, still manages to spook those who dare to get up close!
What a spooky bit of history! We may never know if Robert the doll truly was possessed, but no one can deny the events surrounding its past are strange enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine.
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