Fort East Martello Museum, Key West: A Bastion of History and Hauntings

  • By: Timothy Rose
  • Date: 23 July 2023
  • Time to read: 7 min.


Key West, Florida, is home to an array of historical sites, many of which hold tales of ghostly encounters. Among these, the Fort East Martello Museum stands out, its historic structure a hotspot for paranormal activity and eerie encounters.

History of Fort East Martello Museum

Fort East Martello Museum

Constructed during the American Civil War, Fort East Martello was one of the many forts built to safeguard the coast. Though the fort never saw direct combat, its presence played a significant role in deterring potential attackers. After decades of neglect following the war, the fort was revived in 1950 and transformed into a museum by the Key West Art & Historical Society.

Haunting Legends and Supernatural Phenomena

Perhaps the most famous spectral resident of Fort East Martello is Robert the Doll, a seemingly innocuous toy said to be cursed. Gifted to a boy named Robert Eugene Otto in the early 20th century, the doll has been attributed with various unexplained events, and some believe it is possessed by a powerful spirit. Many museum visitors claim to have witnessed Robert’s expression changing or swear they’ve seen him move. Other reported phenomena include disembodied voices, chilling cold spots, and the unexplained movement of objects.

What is Robert the Doll?

Located in the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West, Florida, Robert the Doll is a one-of-a-kind artifact that many believe is haunted. Robert, often referred to as Robert the Haunted Doll or Robert the Enchanted Doll, stands at approximately 40 inches tall and is dressed in a sailor’s outfit. His expression is hauntingly vacant, while his skin, made from fabric, has aged and weathered over the years. A stuffed lion sits in his lap, adding another layer to his uncanny aura.

Fort East Martello Museum
Robert the Doll

The Origins of Robert the Doll

In the early 1900s, a man named Thomas Otto stumbled upon Robert in a quaint shop during a trip to Germany. Little did he know that this would be the beginning of a malevolent journey. As a thoughtful gift for his grandson Eugene’s eighth birthday, Robert was meant to be a playmate to keep the young boy company on the vast family estate in Key West, Florida.

At first, Eugene adored his new companion, dressing him in a tiny sailor’s outfit and carrying him everywhere he went. But it didn’t take long for something sinister to take root. Strange events started to unfold, and a guttural voice emerged, claiming to be none other than Robert himself. Eugene’s once-innocent chats with his doll turned into eerie exchanges with this otherworldly presence.

As time went on, the once-cheerful Eugene transformed into an unnerving figure, growing possessive and obsessive over Robert. His parents watched in horror as their son’s behavior spiraled out of control, and the creepy doll seemed to be at the center of it all. Furniture was tossed, toys were smashed, and the voice of Robert grew louder and more malevolent.

Terrified by the relentless horrors unleashed by the doll, Eugene’s parents decided to banish Robert to the attic. But Robert’s wrath couldn’t be contained. The strange occurrences continued, as if the doll was exacting revenge for being rejected. Footsteps echoed through the house, objects moved on their own, and the unsettling voice of Robert still reverberated through the walls.

Eugene’s adulthood did little to quell the dark presence of Robert. Becoming an artist, he kept the malevolent doll in his art studio, known as the turret room. His wife, sensing the ominous energy, demanded that the doll be removed, but Robert had other plans. He began to torment her in her dreams, warning Eugene that terrible things would happen if he didn’t bring him back.

Strange Happenings and the Legacy of Hauntings

Despite the unending terror, Eugene clung to the doll, even having children of his own. Upon his death in 1974, Robert found a new home with Myrtle Reuter, who also experienced bizarre phenomena and strange activities linked to the doll. Eventually, Myrtle decided to donate the cursed doll to the Fort East Martello Museum, where he remains on display.

Even behind the safety of glass, Robert’s antics persist. Museum staff and visitors have reported witnessing the doll move, change expressions, and cause misfortune to those who dare disrespect him. The legend of Robert the Doll has grown, attracting visitors from around the world seeking the thrill of encountering this malevolent entity.

The true origins of Robert remain shrouded in mystery, with some speculating that he may have been imbued with a vengeful spirit through voodoo. Regardless of the truth, one thing is clear: Robert the Doll serves as a chilling reminder to respect the unknown, for the consequences of mocking the malevolent can be dire.

Furthermore, the museum receives numerous letters addressed to Robert. Most of these are apologies from previous visitors who took photos without asking the doll’s permission, a practice said to curse those who do not follow it, leading to bad luck or mishaps. The letters beg for Robert’s forgiveness and for the reversal of the ill fortune they have experienced.

Skepticism and Public Interest

Though many are quick to dismiss the tales surrounding Robert the Doll as mere superstition or mass hysteria, there’s no denying the public interest in this mysterious artifact. The doll has been featured in a variety of TV shows, podcasts, and websites specializing in the paranormal, and continues to draw crowds at the Fort East Martello Museum.

Skeptics often point to various psychological and social phenomena to explain the experiences associated with Robert. These include pareidolia (a psychological phenomenon where the mind responds to a stimulus, often an image or a sound, by perceiving a familiar pattern where none exists), power of suggestion, and a collective eagerness to believe in the supernatural.

The Enigma of Robert the Doll

Robert the Doll remains a deeply enigmatic figure. For some, he is a chilling reminder of the power of belief and the unknown. For others, he is a fascinating artifact, rich with history and cultural significance. Whether you’re a skeptic or a believer, one thing is undeniable: the story of Robert the Doll captures the imagination, revealing as much about human nature as it does about the supernatural. The fascination with Robert the Doll looks set to continue for many more years, cementing his place in the annals of the paranormal.

Popular Culture and Media Coverage

Robert the Doll, often associated with haunted doll phenomena, has had a significant impact on popular culture and has received widespread media attention. This eerie figure, allegedly possessed with supernatural powers, is a fixture of Key West’s local lore in Florida, and over the years, his story has permeated global consciousness.

The doll’s alleged supernatural nature has been the inspiration for numerous books, films, and television shows, including episodes of paranormal reality series like “Ghost Adventures” and “Mysteries at the Museum.” More broadly, Robert the Doll has contributed to the popularization of the “haunted doll” trope, influencing other well-known horror narratives such as the “Annabelle” series within “The Conjuring” universe.

A couple of books Robert the Doll and “Ghosts of Key West” by David L. Sloan, have covered the legend extensively. Sloan, a local Key West author and ghost tour operator, delves into the eerie lore surrounding Robert, exploring the doll’s supposed supernatural abilities and his reputed impact on those who disrespect him.

Moreover, Robert the Doll has become a popular tourist attraction, drawing countless visitors to the East Martello Museum where he is housed. Many of these visitors are drawn by the lore surrounding Robert and the stories of supposed curses befalling those who disrespect him. The doll has become such a phenomenon that he has his own merchandise and has become a part of the social media age, with tourists posting their pictures and experiences online. This social and media engagement continues to fuel Robert’s influence and cultural relevance, making him a uniquely enduring figure in the realm of paranormal pop culture.

Investigation and Research Efforts

The paranormal happenings at Fort East Martello have caught the attention of investigators in the field. While some recordings and readings hint at supernatural activity, skeptics suggest these may be due to the structure’s age and the power of suggestion.

Visitor Experiences and Urban Legends

Fort East Martello is rife with visitor accounts of strange occurrences and ghostly encounters. Tales of the enigmatic Robert the Doll, combined with the fort’s historical context, have contributed to several urban legends that add to the location’s intrigue.

Credit – Echo Travel Adventures

Preservation and Tourism

Today, the Key West Art & Historical Society maintains Fort East Martello as a museum, featuring exhibits that illustrate Key West’s history and culture. The fort’s reputation as a haunted site attracts thousands of tourists, eager to learn about the past and perhaps experience a ghostly encounter.


Fort East Martello Museum encapsulates a unique blend of historical significance and supernatural allure. Its robust structure and eerie tales continue to fascinate visitors, symbolizing Key West’s rich history and its intriguing relationship with the paranormal.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Fort East Martello Museum, Key West

Q1: Where is Fort East Martello Museum located?
Fort East Martello Museum is located in Key West, Florida.

Q2: Can I visit Fort East Martello Museum?
Yes, the museum is open to the public and offers guided tours.

Q3: What kind of paranormal activities have been reported at Fort East Martello Museum?
The most famous report involves Robert the Doll, believed by some to be cursed. Other paranormal activities include disembodied voices, cold spots, and objects moving on their own.

Q4: Has Fort East Martello Museum been featured in any media?
Yes, it has been featured in several books, documentaries, and TV shows about haunted places and paranormal activity.

Q5: How is Fort East Martello Museum preserved today?
The Key West Art & Historical Society maintains Fort East Martello Museum, offering exhibits on Key West’s history and culture.

Q6: Are there skeptics about the hauntings at Fort East Martello Museum?
Yes, some skeptics suggest that the reported paranormal activities might be due to the power of suggestion or the museum’s old age.

Q7: Are there any famous artifacts in Fort East Martello Museum?
The most notable artifact is Robert the Doll, which is said to be cursed and has been the subject of numerous ghost stories and urban legends.

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