Robert Did It!

There isn’t a ton of what I would call tourist-y stuff to do in Key West, at least not in the “traditional sense.” The local economy runs on tourism for sure, but it’ focus is primarily bars, kitsch shops and big game fishing. There is one important exception – Robert the Doll, the main draw at the Fort East Martello Museum near the Key West Airport.

As the legend goes, Robert the Doll was made and given as a present to four year old Robert “Gene” Otto a resident of the Keys by his family’s African servant who allegedly practiced voodoo. For years growing up, strange occurrences followed Otto and his doll. Furniture would be knocked over, things would turn up missing and each time Gene would say ”Robert did it.” For many, it became clear that this doll was much more than a toy.

Gene cherished this doll even into adulthood, and his married life. Even as a married middle-aged man, Gene would have big emotional blowups and explain them away with a simple “Robert did it.” Of course, Gene’s wife despised the doll and banished Robert to the attic. Local kids, not knowing about the doll, or its supernatural background, claimed to see Robert looking out the window menacingly as they walked to school.

Upon Gene’s death in 1974, his wife sold the house and left Robert in the attic, where he was found and eventually ended up at the East Fort Martello museum where he’s become the star.

Robert the Doll is surprisingly large (about the size of a 4 year old) and it sits in a glass case posed upright in a tiny wooden chair. His face is battered and pockmarked and his expressionless gaze made solely from buttons and thread stares toward the ceiling. In his arms is a just-as-creepy stuffed lion.

It is suggested as soon as you arrive that before taking a picture of Robert, you ask permission as politely as possible, liberally sprinkling both please and thank you, and addressing him as Robert as often as possible. It is said that those who do not ask politely face dire consequences, but most stories just involve the loss of valuable vacation photos.

We read some of the posted letters addressed to Robert apologizing for not asking permission before taking his picture. One couple claimed to have several serious medical conditions after visiting the doll and wrote the letter asking for forgiveness.

We’re happy to report that we had no real problems on the trip – though it rained a little one day, so that kinda sucked.

This museum is filled with artwork and an overview of the Key’s role in both trade and the Civil War. The museum alone was worth the $6 admission price, but Robert was just (If you don’t mind me saying Robert) icing on the cake.