Key West’s oldest resident is 117 years old. He wears an outdated sailor suit and carries a stuffed animal tucked under his right arm. He spends most of his time staring blankly at those who visit. They approach him cautiously, a mix of intrigue and fear evident on their face and audible in the false bravado that makes their voice louder than necessary.
The Key West legend is featured in books, movies, TV shows, research projects. He’s the main attraction of a gripping tour that explores his Key West roots and the museum he now calls home. He receives hundreds of letters a year — often apologies from past visitors who fear they offended him.
He sends no replies and says not a word. No sound escapes his sewn-on mouth. No smile appears on his straw-filled face.
Robert the Doll is a childhood toy with a chilling reputation as the world’s most haunted doll. He lives at Fort East Martello Museum, where Key West author, researcher and ghost hunter David Sloan offers nightly tours and ghost hunts, introducing intrepid guests to the inexplicable and paranormal mysteries of Robert.
Those mysteries are the subject of a new two-hour “shock doc”-umentary airing Friday, Sept. 30 on The Travel Channel and streaming on Discovery+.
“The Curse of Robert the Doll” will kick off Ghostober, the network’s month-long approach to Halloween with specials that explore the inexplicable and the truly terrifying.
“Robert the Doll lives behind glass in a museum in Key West, Florida, where every year thousands of visitors who fail to follow his rules find themselves cursed,” states the show’s description. “Victims have experienced illness, injury, accidents and even death. But what makes Robert curse his victims? What evil entity lives inside this doll? This latest Shock Docs installment explores the true origin of Robert the Doll, uncovers the story of Robert’s first owners in 1905, and seeks to find out why this doll is so nefarious. Now, psychic medium Cindy Kaza steps in to unravel the mystery of his origins and the darkness attached to him.”
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.
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 museum.
“The Curse of Robert the Doll” premieres at 8 p.m. Sept. 30 on The Travel Channel, and then is available to stream on Discovery+. Sloan’s Key West Ghost Adventures are available nightly at Fort East Museum with a variety of tour options. Visit ghostfort.com for more information.