David Sloan, creator of the new Robert the Doll Experience, introduces visitors to the world’s most haunted doll during nightly tours at Fort East Martello, a Civil War-era fort that's also said to be haunted. MANDY MILES/Keys Weekly

Robert the Doll is a childhood toy with a chilling reputation, and a new tour experience offers an up-close-and-personal encounter with the legendary haunted doll.

Thrill-seekers, history buffs and ghost hunters can take their encounter with the world’s most haunted doll to a new level at the Robert the Doll Experience Ghost Tour at Fort East Martello Museum.

The tour represents a new partnership between the non-profit Key West Art & Historical Society and Key West author, ghost hunter, Keys Weekly columnist and Robert the Doll historian, David L. Sloan, who began researching Robert in 1996 and tracking down the truth behind many of its legends. Sloan was the first to identify Robert as a creation of the Steiff Co., maker of plush toys in Germany since 1880.

“This is the only tour in town that includes a personal encounter with Robert the Doll, and people are really loving it,” Sloan said, adding that all participants in the Robert the Doll Experience receive a half-price admission to return during the day and explore the rest of Fort East Martello.

At 116 years old, the 4-foot-tall, straw-stuffed figure is one of Key West’s oldest surviving residents, although he’s never drawn a breath — or has he? 

The beloved playmate of Eugene Otto, Robert the Doll arrived in Key West in 1904 when the young Otto was 4 or 5 years old. The doll, which was originally dressed as a clown (as if he wasn’t creepy enough) lived for decades in the Otto family home on Eaton Street, now the Artist House guesthouse.

The Key West Art & Historical Society has cared for the antique doll since 1994, when Myrtle Reuter, who had purchased the Otto family home, donated Robert to the Fort East Martello Museum, claiming the doll was haunted and had locked her in a room in her house.

Similar tales have surrounded the doll since the young Eugene Otto began blaming his best friend, Robert, for childhood mischief and misdeeds, and the accusations continued throughout the doll’s history, growing more sinister than schoolboy pranks. 

Author, historian and ghost hunter David Sloan introduces the legend of Robert the Doll — and establishes a ‘safe word’ in case anything bizarre happens on the haunted tour before taking his guests inside Fort East Martello. MANDY MILES/Keys Weekly
Robert the Doll is said to be one of the world’s most haunted dolls and, according to many visitors, continues his mischievous misdeeds from his museum display case. MANDY MILES/Keys Weekly

Robert has been blamed for ruining photographs and cameras when museum visitors took his picture without asking permission. The historical society receives countless letters each year from people apologizing to the doll and asking him to lift a curse that seemed to have befallen them since they visited Robert in his glass case at the Fort East Martello.

The Robert the Doll Experience blends history, mystery and paranormal exploration during a one-hour tour through the 1862 East Martello Civil War fortification on South Roosevelt Boulevard. Each experience includes exclusive access to the fort’s brick tunnels; a “Spirit Box” session with Eugene Otto, Robert’s childhood companion; and a 20-minute lockdown with Robert the Doll, where guests can ask Robert questions and discover his fascinating, true history.

Sloan praised KWAHS for its impact on local history, preservation, and education. 

“The Key West Art & Historical Society has created a vibrant community of people who thrive on the history of our island and the society shares that history in unique and innovative ways,” said Sloan. “Partnering with the society and getting the keys to a haunted Civil War fort is a dream come true for a doll freak like me.” 

The Robert the Doll Experience is destination-based at Fort East Martello, 3501 S. Roosevelt Blvd., with tours nightly starting at 8 p.m. Ninety percent of the experience takes place in the fort’s air-conditioned sections. Free parking is available on site and the fort is easily accessible by foot, bicycle, taxi or rideshare. Experience tickets are $29 online at ghostfort.com.

For additional information, contact Sloan at 305-395-1435.

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