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The Real Story of the Haunted Doll which Inspired a Horror Franchise

Charlotte Bond
Photo by Getty Images

Anyone watching the Child’s Play films from the 1980s might find themselves laughing at the dated special effects and the amusing idea that a harmless kid’s toy could wreak such havoc.

For those who’ve come across Robert the Doll, the idea of a haunted toy is not so amusing.

Robert was a toy owned by Robert Eugene Otto. The doll’s beginnings are uncertain, though some say that he was a gift from a maidservant in the Otto household. She had suffered some unknown wrongdoing at the hands of the family, and she cursed a doll using voodoo before presenting it to the young boy.

Actress Catherine Hicks and child actor Alex Vincent with Chucky in a scene from the film ‘Child’s Play’ (1988). Photo by United Artists/Getty Images

Actress Catherine Hicks and child actor Alex Vincent with Chucky in a scene from the film ‘Child’s Play’ (1988). Photo by United Artists/Getty Images

However, another version is that the doll was a present from Otto’s grandfather in 1904. Since the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West, Florida has managed to trace the doll’s manufacture back to the Steiff company in Germany, this seems the more likely story.

Whatever his origin, Robert became a firm favorite of Otto’s. Because Otto was known by his middle name of “Eugene,” he decided to call his new toy Robert. The doll even had a place at the dinner table with the family.

Robert the Doll. Photo by Cayobo CC BY 2.0

Robert the Doll. Photo by Cayobo CC BY 2.0

Otto’s association with his doll has been described as “unhealthy” by some, including Cori Convertitio, the curator of the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West, where Robert the Doll now resides.

Cori went on to say: “He brought the doll everywhere, he talked about it in the first person as if he weren’t a doll, he was Robert. As if he is a live entity.”

The stories go that as well as treating Robert like a real person, Otto began to blame accidents on the doll as well. At first, that was just dismissed as childish games, but then stranger things started to happen.

Child actor with Chucky in a scene from the film ‘Child’s Play’ (1988). Photo by United Artists/Getty Images

Child actor with Chucky in a scene from the film ‘Child’s Play’ (1988). Photo by United Artists/Getty Images

People reported hearing Otto talk to the doll and then a completely different voice answer back. Neighbors and friends related how Robert would blink, laugh, and walk around the house when the Otto family were out.

When he grew up, Otto moved into what he called “The Artist House.” Robert went with him.

At the insistence of Otto’s wife, the doll was kept in a turret room. However, people reported hearing footsteps above them when they were in the room below. Those who ventured into Robert’s room heard giggling or claimed the doll moved.

Robert the Doll on display at Fort East Martello Museum, Key West, Florida. Photo by Cayobo CC BY 2.0

Robert the Doll on display at Fort East Martello Museum, Key West, Florida. Photo by Cayobo CC BY 2.0

Occasionally, Robert could be seen in an upstairs window, and passing schoolchildren swore that he would disappear and reappear, or change which side of the window he was sitting on.

Otto and his wife died in the 1970s. Myrtle Reuter bought The Artist House, which came with Robert. Visitors to her new home reported hearing footsteps and giggles. Some even said that Robert’s expression changed if anyone in the room bad-mouthed Otto.

Her daughter, in particular, was terrorized by Robert, claiming that the doll tried to attack her several times.

Robert the Doll by RICKFRIKY CC BY 2.0

Robert the Doll by RICKFRIKY CC BY 2.0

In 1994, Reuter decided enough was enough and donated him to the museum.

But Robert’s antics haven’t stopped there. He has received around one thousand letters from museum visitors who have suffered accidents or mishaps after visiting. They apologize for disrespecting or upsetting him. Some people even send him boxes of candy.

Chucky. Photo by Luis Villa del Campo CC By 2.0

Chucky. Photo by Luis Villa del Campo CC By 2.0

At the museum, Robert is kept in a glass case where he has been provided with his own toy to cuddle. He’s taken out once a year to check for any sign of deterioration but has traveled a convention in 2008 and to Las Vegas in 2015.

Robert is such a famous figure that he has his own Twitter and Facebook page. When he receives letters from children, Convertito tries to respond to them: “Gene always had that childlike temperament around him and we feel like Robert would want to be kind to children.”

As well as inspiring the Child’s Play franchise, Robert also had a film devoted to him called Robert (2015). This spawned three sequels: The Curse of Robert the Doll (2016), The Toymaker (2017), and The Revenge of Robert the Doll (2018).

Read another story from us: History’s First Talking Doll – The Creepy Voice that Terrified Children

Otto might have gone on to become an eccentric artist, but his doll gained its own notoriety too. It is only the very bravest visitor to the Fort East Martello Museum that will dare to disrespect Robert the doll or his previous master.