“Robert did it.”
That’s the explanation young Gene Otto gave whenever chaos and disorder visited his Key West family home.
In 1904, when he was 4 years old, Gene received a 3-foot-four doll in a sailor uniform from the family’s Bahamian maid. Gene named the doll Robert, after himself—his full name was Robert Eugene Otto—and began carrying him everywhere. At night, Gene’s parents overheard him having conversations with Robert. He would talk in his usual voice and a different voice would reply. Mr. and Mrs. Otto assumed that Gene was using a put-on voice to speak as Robert. As the years passed, they began to question this assumption.
As Gene grew up, Robert remained his constant companion. The doll had his own chair at the dinner table and shared Gene’s bed every night. Whenever Gene experienced one of his frequent fits of rage, he would blame it on Robert. He also attributed odd occurrences of upturned furniture and scattered silverware to the doll.
When Gene got married, he consigned Robert to the turret room of the house. Kids walking past the Victorian mansion claimed they saw Robert scowling at them and appearing in different windows between morning and afternoon.
The doll remained in the turret until Gene and his wife Anne died in the mid-’70s. Tenants who lived at the house thereafter spoke of hearing giggles and seeing a change in the doll’s expression from day to day.
In 1994, Robert joined the collection of Key West’s Fort East Martello Museum, where he now sits in a glass box holding a toy lion. On the wall behind him are apologetic letters addressed to Robert from people who took his photo without permission.
You can visit Robert at the museum during the day, or at night when the rest of the exhibits are closed. Museum admission does not include a free yogurt.
By Andy Wright