Can a doll haunt a house?
Take Robert, a large doll that for many years inhabited the Artist House in Key West, an island off the southern tip of Florida. The Artist House is a bed and I breakfast establishment, a place to relax, but some patrons have had anything but relaxing times there. The owner, Ed Cox, tells of a young German woman who stayed in the front bedroom, and who was terrified.
"The more you go up that staircase, the worse the feeling is," she said. The front bedroom was the place where the doll had been kept for many years. A plumber working at the Artist House insisted that he heard the doll giggle, and that he found it sitting in different spots when no one was around to move it. Did it move itself?
Owner Cox tells of other disturbances in the house — of pictures that fly off the walls, for example. He once saw the door of a book cabinet spring open for no visible reason. Sometimes doors won't open. Sometimes they open when they shouldn't.
Who is Robert, and what could he be up to?
Robert was the doll of Robert Gene Otto, an artist who lived in the house all his life. When Gene, as he was called, was given the doll he was five years old. It was the custom around 1900 to give a child a doll that looked like him. Robert the doll is the size of a child. He has human hair, and buttons for eyes. Gene used to dress the doll in his own clothes. He also gave it his first name.
Myrt Reuter, who owned the house after Gene died, cared for Robert as though he were a human being. "It has different kinds of clothes," she said. "It was in a pixie outfit when I got him. Now I have Gene's little sailor suit on him.
"I've been told," she said, "that when Gene did anything mean or hateful he always blamed it on the doll." Myrt Reuter tells of renting the house to a law student one winter. She says, "He told this story that the doll was voodoo and it locked him up in the attic." Was that true? Possibly. But it is a fact that many people have reported strange experiences in the house, whether or not Robert was causing them.
Enid Hoffnan, who has written books about the Hawaiian mystical tradition, Huna, suspects that what is going on with Robert is what the Hawaiians call Mana. "Mana," she says, "carries ideas. It can be stored in certain things, wood and silk in particular. It flows in ways that are hard for us to understand. The doll has possibly infected the atmosphere of the house."
Gene had been a bad-tempered person all his life. The doll had been his "mirror image." A lot of his personality had gone into the doll—all the evil thoughts and actions. Possibly Gene's anger is living on after his death, through Robert.