All You Need About Robert the Doll in Key West, Florida

Since its appearance in Fort East Martello Museum in 1994, Robert the Doll has captivated a horde of fans who now flock to the historic fort in Key West to catch a glimpse of him and his powers at work. However, many who make the journey to visit the doll were not only enthralled by its jester-like appearance but also cursed by it.

Are you a fan of the infamous Robert the Doll? Here are a list of questions that you may have about the doll that have earned its named as the most haunted object in Florida.

What Is the History Behind Robert the Doll?

The history of Robert the Doll dates back to 1904 when it was gifted to four-year-old Robert Eugene Otto, the youngest son of the Otto family, by his grandfather who bought the doll during a trip to Germany. An alternate version of the story says that the doll was actually a voodoo doll gifted to Otto by a Haitian servant; it was rumored that the Otto family were abusive towards their servants.

Instantly, Otto fell in love with the stuffed doll and the two became inseparable. He decided to name his newfound toy by his first name, Robert while insisting everyone else to call him Gene from then on. The Otto family would find Otto talking to Robert as if he was real. Whenever Otto’s parents try to discipline Otto for leaving his toys strewn across the playroom or even tearing up other stuffed doll, he would tell them, “I didn’t do it! Robert did it!”

Robert eugene otto young boy
A young boy said to be Robert Eugene Otto, in his sailor’s suit | Image credit: Florida Keys Public Keys

Eventually, Otto grew up and left home to study architecture at University of Virginia and later, painting at the Arts Students League in New York. There, he met her wife Annette Parker. The couple soon moved back to Key West and Otto was reunited with Robert the Doll. However, Parker was upset by Otto’s obsession with Robert. Apart from furnishing a room with child-sized furniture, Otto spent most of his free time painting and talking to his doll, up till his death in 1974.

The artist house key west
The Artist House, the former home of the Otto family | Image credits: The Artist House

With the passing of Otto, the house (now known as the Artist’s House) where Robert lived was sold to Mrytle Reuter, who became his caretaker. Often, Reuter would find Robert in a completely different room with his face expression changed. In one story, Reuter reported being locked at the house’s attic only to see Robert the Doll in the middle of the hallway when she manages to escape.

Two decades later in 1994, Reuter donated Robert the Doll to Fort East Martello Museum; she claimed that the doll was haunted and she had enough of his antics. Robert went on to become the star attraction of the museum and soon earned a reputation of being the most haunted object in Florida.

Fort East martello Museum
Fort East Martello Museum where Robert the Doll is housed in | Image credits: Key West Art & Historical Society

What Is Robert the Doll Made Up Of?

Robert doll is stuffed with a wood woll known as excelsior and furnished with felt. The sailor suit that now defines Robert the Doll reportedly belonged to Otto; he gave Robert a complete makeover along with a plush lion after finding his original clown suit and jester appearance ‘ugly’.

Robert the Doll supposedly originated from The Steiff Company, a toy company in Germany that manufactured pincushions and stuffed toys during the late 19th century. The Steiff Company was famously known for being one of the earliest creator of teddy bear (named after U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt). As with all of The Steiff Company’s toy collection, a metal button (tag) is attached to prove the toy’s authenticity. However, Robert’s right ear, which was where the metal tag was supposed to be inserted into, was missing.

clown doll steiff company
A clown doll made by Steiff Company | Image credits: My Steiff Life

Standing at almost 40 inches tall and 5 pounds heavy, Robert the doll was almost twice the size of the toys manufactured in the late 19th century to early 20th century. It was concluded by local researchers and consultants of The Steiff Company that Robert the Doll was originally made to be a window display rather than an actual product for children due to his life-size proportions.

Did Robert the Doll Inspire Chucky?

It was widely believed that Charles Lee “Chucky” Ray, commonly known as Chucky, was inspired by Robert the Doll. This is largely due to Chucky’s killing antics and heinous behavior in the Child’s Play media franchise bear resemblance to Robert’s paranormal activities in real-life, albeit a toned down one. However, original screenplay writer Don Mancini debunked the claims, stating that Chucky the doll was inspired by the Cabbage Patch Kids and My Buddy Doll craze in the 80s while the movie plot was based off horror films such as the 1975 movie Trilogy of Terror and the “Living Doll” episode of The Twilight Zone aired in 1963.

Robert the doll and chucky
Chucky and Robert the Doll | Image credits: Key West Art & Historical Society

What Are the Rules When Visiting Robert the Doll?

Mishaps that have happened to those who visited and disrespected Robert the Doll have prompted the community to compile a set of informal rules that one should observe. This rules are not exhaustive and serve as a general guideline. They include:

  • Always greet Robert and introduce yourself when you are meet him.
  • Do not tap or knock on the glass case that Robert is encased in.
  • Do not make fun of Robert or his stuffed pet dog.
  • Never question Robert’s power or taunt him.
  • Do not critique Robert’s appearance or outfit
  • Do not critique the letters pinned to the wall.
  • Always ask for Robert’s permission before taking a photo of him.
  • Thank Robert when you are leaving the exhibition or the museum.

Can You Look at a Picture of Robert the Doll?

There are no explicit rules on whether you can look at a picture of Robert the Doll without asking for permission or offending in. In fact, it is rather impossible to not look at a picture of Robert if when you are searching for it on the internet.

Nonetheless, users on Twitter have shared their stories of accounts happening to them right after surfing the internet for articles and videos of Robert the Doll. In spite of not being physically present in front of Robert the Doll, his presence and powers have transcended the internet and cursed users who are researching him.

That said, it is generally agreed that one can look at a picture of Robert the Doll without facing any serious consequences. However, it is best if one were to apologize and thank Robert the Doll; it is better to be safe than sorry!

What Happens if You Disrespect Robert the Doll?

Many who have offended Robert the Doll or disobeyed the rules above have had misfortunes or setbacks not long after their visitation to Fort East Martello Museum where Robert is housed in. Some of the minor incidents experienced by visitors include:

  • Cameras that malfunction in the museum, only to work again when they leave the property
  • An unexplainable sense of uneasiness after staring at Robert’s face
  • Slipping and falling at Robert’s exhibition area even though the floor is dry
  • Getting in car accidents right outside the museum, at S. Roosevelt Blvd
  • Job losses, illnesses, relationship breakups, and financial woes, days after visiting the Robert the Doll
Robert the doll glass casing
Robert the Doll in his glass casing | Image credit: traumadoc247 @ Instagram

While many of this misfortunes can be attributed to ‘general bad luck’, the numerous reports by visitors and timing of it (just after visiting Robert) have led many to believe that it was the nefarious work of the haunted doll..

How To Apologize to Robert the Doll?

If you feel that you have unintentionally disrespected Robert the Doll, it is best that you apologize to Rober to prevent any bad luck from befalling on you. There are many ways to do so, including a formal spoken apology in front of Robert the Doll or a picture of him. However, the most popular and sincere way is to send a handwritten letter to the museum, detailing the date of your ‘offence’ and a short apology to Robert.

Robert the doll apology letter
One of the letter pinned at Fort East Martello Museum | Image credit:

For those who are looking to send in an apology letter, you may mail it to Fort East Martello Museum, 3501 South Roosevelt Boulevard, Key West, Florida 33040, or via an email to [email protected] which is managed by staffs of the museum.

The advent of social media in the past decade have also prompted many to take their apologies online. On Twitter, fans and visitors would post their apologies along with #SorryRobert, hoping that their curse would be lifted by Robert.

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