The Artist House, Key West

534 Eaton Street, Key West, Florida 33040


Courtesy: TripAdvisor

There once was a boy named Gene Otto,
who acted a little bit odd, no?
He played with a doll
For nearly seventy years all,
And only stopped when his own life was dunzo.

Robert Eugene Otto was the youngest of three boys born to the well-to-do Otto family of Key West. In 1904, he received a life-size doll as a gift from his grandfather (or possibly from a Bahamian maid who cursed the doll before giving it to young Gene — choose your own adventure there). Gene named the doll Robert after himself, and from that point on, the two were inseparable.

Robert the doll had his own place at the dinner table, his own toys to play with, and slept every night in Gene’s bed. Everywhere Gene went, Robert went. Gene’s mother often heard the two boys having conversations. Gene would ask Robert a question, and the doll would reply with its own deeper, raspier voice. At first, Gene’s mother considered it all just a boy playing with his doll, but as time went on, she began to wonder if there was more to this doll than she once thought.

Gene built a room for Robert in the turret attic complete with its own furniture and toys. Robert was known to move across the room on his own, and quite a few people witnessed Robert’s facial expressions change if he was offended or heard things he didn’t like. Servants in the house also reported hearing sinister laughing throughout the house before finding smashed dishes or destroyed objects.

Young Gene always spoke to and about Robert as if he were a real, living boy, and always blamed Robert for his own naughty behavior. A drink spilled? Robert did it. A lamp broke? Robert did it. Even Gene’s own temper tantrums were blamed on Robert.

Some say Robert was the inspiration for Chucky from the Child’s Play horror movie franchise. Surely, he was the inspiration for many doll possession tales, including his own franchise starting with the aptly titled, Robert, in 2015.

Gene eventually grew up, studied fine arts in Paris, and married, Annette “Anne” Parker, a concert pianist. Gene inherited his childhood home, and he and Anne moved there where they spent the last forty years of their lives. They called the home The Artist House, and it retains that moniker today.

Even into adulthood, Gene continued to play with Robert, even taking him along on vacations. Gene was an artist of some renown and set up his studio in the turret where he worked alongside his pal Robert.

Gene died in 1974. Anne died two years later, and the house was sold. The Artist House became a bed and breakfast in 1978 and remains so. Built between 1890-1898, the home’s Colonial Queen Anne style is accentuated by gingerbread molding, a lovely turret, and beautifully decorated rooms. The Artist House offers three individual rooms and four suites sure to meet your needs.

While you are there, you might encounter the apparition of a woman wearing a wedding gown floating down the stairs. She is thought to be Anne watching over her home and making sure everything is alright. Lights have been known to flicker, and doors have a tendency to open and close on their own.

As for Robert, he now resides in the Fort East Martello Museum where he can be visited every day except Christmas. Just be sure to speak kindly to him and ask his permission before taking his photo. Nasty misfortunes (car accidents, job loss, divorce) have been known to happen to those who don’t. I mean, c’mon. Show a doll some respect.

To book a stay at The Artist House, contact the bed and breakfast directly by calling (305)296-3977 for best rates.

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