The Artist House, Key West

  • By: Timothy Rose
  • Date: 20 January 2024
  • Time to read: 7 min.


On a quaint street in Key West, Florida, The Artist House stands as a picturesque emblem of Victorian architecture. However, it is not just the historical significance or its aesthetic charm that beckons visitors, but also the chilling tales of ghostly encounters and eerie phenomena, making it a fascinating stop for those intrigued by the supernatural.

History of The Artist House

Constructed in 1890, The Artist House gets its name from the acclaimed artist, Robert Eugene Otto, who spent his childhood in this home. The house is most famously associated with the legend of “Robert the Doll”, a supposedly haunted doll that was once the playmate of Eugene Otto.

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.

The Origins of Robert the Doll

The story of Robert the Doll dates back to the early 1900s. He was created by the Steiff Company, a German toy manufacturer famous for producing the first teddy bear.

In 1904, Thomas Otto embarked on a trip to Germany and stumbled upon a peculiar doll behind a pale glass window. It was the perfect gift for his lonely grandson, Eugene (or “Gene”), who longed for a friend. Standing at three feet tall, the doll came with a small dog companion and was named Robert.

Eugene and Robert became inseparable, venturing on countless adventures together. But something was amiss. Eugene’s behavior took a sinister turn. He grew possessive, even violent, if Robert wasn’t by his side. Strange occurrences plagued their home, from whisperings in the night to objects shattered and overturned.

One night, Maria, Eugene’s mother, overheard a guttural voice responding to her son’s whispers. Shocked and terrified, she confronted Eugene, who simply answered, ‘Robert.’ The presence within the doll seemed to grow stronger, wreaking havoc on their lives.

Years passed, and the curse continued. Eugene, now an adult, kept Robert with him as an artist in his turret room. His wife demanded Robert be banished, but the doll retaliated through nightmares and threats. Eventually, Robert found his way to the Fort East Martello Museum, where his eerie antics persist.

Strange Happenings and the Legacy of Hauntings

Over the years, the Otto family and their houseguests reported experiencing strange and unexplained phenomena associated with Robert. This included hearing footsteps in the attic when no one was up there, finding the doll in different places around the house where they hadn’t left him, and even catching glimpses of the doll moving.

Even after Gene Otto’s death in 1974, the eerie happenings didn’t cease. The house was purchased by a new family, and their ten-year-old daughter claimed that Robert the Doll would torment her, moving around the room on his own and making malevolent expressions.

In 1994, Robert was donated to the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West, where he resides today. Visitors to the museum report continuing strange phenomena. Some say their electronic devices malfunction in the doll’s presence, while others claim to have seen the doll change expressions or even move slightly.

Artist House in Key west
The Artist House in Key West – Credit lizm1118

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.

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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
Robert the Doll – Credit Cayabo

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.

Haunting Legends and Supernatural Phenomena

Many believe that Eugene Otto’s childhood toy, Robert the Doll, possessed supernatural abilities, often blamed for misfortunes and eerie occurrences in the house. Although the doll now resides in Fort East Martello Museum, strange phenomena continue at The Artist House. Guests have reported seeing apparitions, experiencing sudden temperature drops, and hearing inexplicable noises during their stay.

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

Several paranormal investigation teams have visited The Artist House, documenting unexplained electromagnetic field (EMF) fluctuations, capturing electronic voice phenomena (EVPs), and even photographing what they believe to be apparitions. Nevertheless, skeptics suggest that the house’s rich history and atmospheric setting may inspire visitors to perceive paranormal activity where there may be none.

Visitor Experiences and Urban Legends

Guests at The Artist House often share tales of their own ghostly encounters. From mysterious footsteps to sudden feelings of being watched, these experiences contribute to the urban legends that surround this historic Key West home.

Preservation and Tourism

The Artist House is currently a charming bed-and-breakfast that continues to welcome guests from around the world. While it is known for its comfort and hospitality, the inn does not shy away from its haunted reputation, attracting a wide range of visitors, from history buffs to thrill-seekers.


The Artist House weaves together Key West’s rich history and the allure of the supernatural into a captivating narrative. Its charming architecture, combined with a lingering sense of the inexplicable, ensures The Artist House remains a unique and memorable destination.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about The Artist House, Key West

Q1: Where is The Artist House located?
The Artist House is located in Key West, Florida.

Q2: Can I visit The Artist House?
Yes, The Artist House operates as a bed-and-breakfast and is open for bookings.

Q3: What kind of paranormal activities have been reported at The Artist House?
Reports include apparitions, unexplained noises, sudden temperature drops, and a general feeling of unease.

Q4: Has The Artist House been featured in any media?
Yes, The Artist House and its associated legends have been covered in various books, documentaries, films, and paranormal-themed TV shows.

Q5: Are there skeptics about the hauntings at The Artist House?
Yes, some skeptics argue that the perceived paranormal phenomena could be influenced by the house’s historic context and the famous legend of Robert the Doll.

Q6: How is The Artist House preserved today?
The Artist House is meticulously preserved as a bed-and-breakfast, attracting visitors with its historical significance and reputed hauntings.

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