Forget Annabelle - haunted dolls have been around for ages, and few are as terrifying as Robert the Doll. The history of Robert the Doll is fascinating, encompassing an eccentric artist, a curse, and an ever-growing list of people who claim their lives have been affected by him. Though Robert did get an eponymous movie in 2016, his story is creepy enough without all the Hollywood embellishment.
Though there's been some inconsistencies among the facts about Robert the Doll, the facts of this Key West institution's mythos are as fascinating as the fiction. From creepy voices to mysterious movements to strange laughter and eerie deaths, the legend of Robert outshines many cursed object stories and has been haunting people for over a hundred years, and shows no sign of slowing down.
There are many stories about Robert the Doll's origins, some creepier than others. One of the most popular theories is that Robert the Doll was given to a boy named Robert Otto (who was more commonly called Gene), by a disgruntled servant in the early 1900s. The servant was said to be a practitioner of voodoo, and the doll was meant to punish the family for treating her poorly.
In reality, Gene's grandparents gave him the doll after traveling through Germany in 1906. But even though that story is decidedly less eerie (and less racist), the doll coming from Germany isn't without creepiness, either. The doll is one-of-a-kind, purchased from a shop window display full of clowns and jesters. While it may not be as evil as a vengeful curse, imagining his frightening face as a clown certainly isn't much better.
Gene's relationship with Robert the doll is already eerie enough given that he named it after himself, but that's only part of the issue. The outfit we see Robert in today is a sailor suit, one that likely belonged to Gene himself. When Gene was ten years old, he woke up in the middle of the night to see Robert sitting at the edge of his bed, staring at him. His mother was then awakened by Gene's startled screams and the sound of furniture being moved. When she got in there, she saw a terrified Gene with everything out of place. He claimed that Robert did it.
Gene continued to blame anything bad that happened on Robert, like when his parents found mutilated and dismembered toys around the house. One of the theories about why Robert is so haunted is that Gene’s identity is too mixed up in the doll. Gene poured his personality into the doll, making him more and more realistic. Given that Gene went out of his way to even prepare Robert with his own attic bedroom, perhaps that theory isn’t too much of a stretch.
An aunt who lived with the Ottos was worried about all of the chaos Robert the Doll was causing. She suggested to Gene's parents that they remove the doll from Gene's room and put it in storage. The Ottos did this, locking Robert in a box and placing him up in the attic. The next night, the aunt was found dead in her bed. She was an older woman, and it has been said that she died of a stroke. Still, the Ottos were superstitious about her death and opted to bring Robert out of storage and back into Gene's room before he could do anything else.
Prior to Gene’s death, he began spending more and more time with the doll he kept in his attic. He was said to be up there talking to him as his health declined, spending his final months with the familiar figure from his childhood. Once he died, things got stranger; when reporter Malcolm Ross came to visit the house, he claimed that the doll’s presence made him uncomfortable, because its face seemed to change depending on the tone of conversation in the room. Some believe that Gene imparted as much of his spirit as he could into the doll before his death, and it is him who is causing such uneasiness to those who encounter the doll.