Robert the Doll: A Doll of A Doll


Can they make a doll of a doll? They sure can– and lucky me, I received a replica of Key West’s famous Robert the Doll  last Christmas. In my post from last year, I went on about Robert causing unrest from within the glass confines of his creepy abode: it’s impossible to look at him and not feel something— and just as impossible to look and him and feel nothing. He definitely makes an impression on the visitor.

What intrigues me is how he’s survived all these years. From his original bower in little Robert Eugene Otto’s home beginning in the early 1900s, until today, Robert lives on. Inexorably linked to Key West’s Artist House, where Otto lived, his presence is still felt there though he now resides in the museum at the island’s East Martello Tower.

My doll arrived in February, a full three months after Kirk ordered him from its Key West manufacturer. The first two shipments went missing. Granted, they were sent via the United States Postal Service, but still– twice lost? Kirk insisted on FedEx, and the third time was the charm– my Robert the Doll doll arrived intact, glowering at me from the minute I unwrapped him. He clutches a tiny stuffed lion, and has the same opaque black eyes that Key West’s Robert stares from. In his little sailor suit, he presents a picture of innocence…

I know he’s just a doll, yet there’s something strange about owning a replica of Robert the Doll. Maybe it’s because I was bothered for years by dreams in which mannequins came to life and followed me through the house. (My grandfather and uncle managed a mannequin factory in Brooklyn.) And as a little boy, I was terrified by a life-sized, mechanical fortune teller who I didn’t know was going to spring to life when I pushed a quarter into a slot in her glass booth. Me and dolls? Not a good combination. Though Robert has a place in the bedroom, and I know he’s just a creation of cloth and string, something tells me that he’s keeping those gimlet eyes on me while I sleep…

“… silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House,

and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

— Shirley Jackson, 1959