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The Curse of Robert the Doll

by | Oct 30, 2017

The Curse of Robert the Doll



In Key West, in the Fort East Martello Museum, a doll named Robert sits on display.

Robert is three feet tall. He’s dressed as a sailor, made of cloth and stuffed with straw. He’s behind glass, propped up on a stool. His feet are up and crossed. He’s holding a small animal with bulging eyes.

There’s a pin-up wall behind Robert that runs the length of the room. In the center of the wall, there’s a yellow sign:



According to Cori Convertito, the museum’s curator, you can’t take Robert’s picture without asking his permission, nicely.

Surrounding the sign are letters from all over the world, mailed in by people who visited Robert. Some were written by hand. Others were typed out. Some are short. Others are longer.

All, however, contain apologies. One person wrote:

Dear Robert,

I want to express my deep regret for the things I said while I was visiting you along with taking your picture without asking. Before meeting you, my life was going along okay. Since meeting you, life has gotten very hard for me. I would very much appreciate it if you release me of the curse you have on me so I can get on with my life.

Thank you so much,
Kristie in Port St. Lucie

Robert haunts those who disrespect him. He’s believed to have caused car accidents and broken bones, illnesses and job loss and divorce.

“Please find it in your heart to forgive me, Robert,” reads another letter. “PLEASE MAKE THIS STOP.”

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The Curse of Robert the Doll

The doll’s original owner was a small boy named Robert Eugene Otto, who received him as a gift around 1906. He became infatuated with the doll, giving it his first name.

“Call me ‘Gene’,” the boy said to his mother.

“Why?” she said.

“Because Robert said so.”

Gene began blaming Robert for mishaps around the house: broken furniture and glassware, mostly. Then the family moved to France, leaving Robert behind in a box in the attic, nailed shut.

Years later, Gene returned home with a wife. The newlyweds moved back into Gene’s childhood home, where he found Robert again. He started playing with him again, carrying him up and down the street. He built Robert a room, to size, complete with a bed, table and chairs.

Sometimes, at night, Gene’s wife heard him talking to Robert, laughing at his jokes.

Eventually, Gene insisted that Robert be served first at the dinner table …

“He’s the man of the house,” Gene explained.

In 1974, Gene was found dead in the attic of his home.

Robert was on top of him, his little hands around his neck.

After Gene’s death, his wife leased the house and moved back to France. She left Robert behind. In fact, the lease stipulated that Robert be the sole occupant of the attic …

One day, the new owners woke up to Robert in their room. He was sat atop a kitchen knife.

So they took Robert to the Fort East Martello Museum, where he remains to this day, under Convertito’s care. Once, a reporter interviewed Convertito about Robert.

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“Do you think he’s haunted?” asked the reporter.

“I don’t know. I really don’t,” said the caretaker. “I’ve never had a bad experience with him. I’ve never really felt uncomfortable. It’s always been a very basic relationship and I have a job to do and I go and do it.”

What’s the lesson here? There are a couple:

1. There is business in broad belief.

Every year, tens of thousands of people pay to see Robert.

He also inspired the Child’s Play movies.

2. There is potential in personal belief.

If Convertito’s answer tells us anything, it’s that Robert’s power—his command over people—stems from a profound belief in his story.

Your beliefs dictate your perception, whether you’re in a museum, asking a doll for forgiveness, or a boardroom, selling a product or idea or approach. Your beliefs can instill confidence. They can also take it away.

“Everyone’s personality is composed of a complex interlocking system of beliefs, beginning with the Mother of them all: self-esteem,” writes Carl Alasko Ph.D. “How you think about yourself, whether you see yourself as valuable, competent, attractive, diligent, intelligent, etc. is only partly connected to actual reality. Most of your self-esteem is what you make up about yourself and believe to be true.”

If the negative broad belief around a doll can give it power, then a positive personal belief can also be empowering, in business and in life.

Believe in Robert, if you want.

And always believe in yourself. Your positivity will take you places.



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