Few things in the world of the paranormal creep me out more than haunted dolls. Granted, giant killer rabbits are actually my number one fear, but haunted dolls are a close second. Maybe it’s their lifeless eyes. Perhaps it’s their creepy little hands. Whatever it is, whenever I read stories of haunted dolls I get the Heebie-jeebies. So I thought I would share my anxiety with you guys as we explore some of the more famous, or notorious, cases of haunted dolls. Perhaps this will be a cathartic experience for me? At the very least, it’s a chance to share some creepy stories. I leave it to you to decide the validity of these accounts as always.
Robert the Doll
Any discussion of haunted dolls is almost required to mention the most famous example in the United States; Robert the Doll. In the late 19th century, a wealthy family, surnamed Otto, moved with their children to Key West Florida. Their youngest child, named Robert Eugene Otto, was born in 1900. He was better known by his nickname, ‘Gene’. Gene serves as the focus of our tale. The story goes that this family had many servants who looked after the house and the children. Mr. and Mrs. Otto were said to have been abusive towards the servants, particularly a Bahamian girl who was alleged to practice all manner of dark arts including Voodoo. For Gene’s 6th birthday, this Bahamian girl is said to have hand-made the doll pictured above and given it as a gift. After she placed a curse upon the doll as retribution for his parents mistreatment of her. Gene dubbed the doll “Robert” and began carrying the doll around with him wherever he went.
It was said that Gene would often be found talking with Robert. Far stranger than this, his parents were supposed to have heard Gene’s voice and another slightly different voice answering. This was believed to have been Gene playing pretend. Or was it? Not long after receiving the doll, Gene began waking up in the middle of the night, screaming in fright. His parents would rush into Gene’s room in order to check on their son. They would generally discover all of the furniture in his room had been turned over and the room was in disarray. Robert the Doll was said to have been at the foot of Gene’s bed, sitting upright. The parents naturally accused Gene of messing up his room, Gene maintained his innocence. He claimed that it was Robert the Doll who was making a mess of the bedroom.
This would became a pattern throughout Gene’s childhood. Whenever something bad was done around the house, Robert was to blame. As Gene grew, his relationship with Robert never changed. When his parents passed away, Gene was left his childhood home in Key West. Gene moved back into this house with his wife Annette. By this time, or perhaps a bit before, Gene had become known locally as an artist. In reality both he and his wife were involved in the Key West art movement; he as an artist/painter and her as a jazz musician.
Even as an adult, Gene was said to keep Robert around as a constant companion, much to the consternation of his wife. Gene was also said work alone on his paintings with Robert as his sole companion. It’s not hard to imagine that the relationship between Gene and Robert was a source of conflict between Gene and Annette. Annette reportedly felt uneasy around Robert. Really, who could blame her?
Eventually Annette would have enough of Robert. She put her foot down, Robert was to be resigned to the attic, in his own “room”. They lived this way for a time. After a number of years, Gene began to complain saying that Robert was mad. Robert didn’t like being in the attic, Gene would tell Annette. He should have his own room. The guest room overlooking the street was the perfect place.
It was in this room where Robert would come to rest for the remainder of Gene’s life. As time wore on, Annette and Gene’s marriage slowly began to unravel. Gene would scream and shout at his wife. At the end of these episodes, Gene would apologize and blame the behavior on Robert. By the 1970’s Gene became ill and locked himself away with Robert in Robert’s “room”. Gene finally passed away in 1972, with Robert by his side. Annette sold the house and left not too long after Gene’s death. She left Robert behind and never looked back.
A few years later, a new family moved into the house. After they were there for only a few weeks, the stumbled across Robert. Robert had apparently been “buried” beneath a number of boxes in the basement. The couple who moved into this home had a little girl who fell in love with Robert immediately. She soon added him to her large doll collection and all seemed well. Until, much like Gene so many years before her, she started waking up screaming in the middle of the night. The girl told her parents that she had seen Robert running around her bedroom and that it was trying to harm her. The family eventually got rid of Robert the Doll by donating him to a local museum where he resides to this day.
A blogger by the name of Timothy Clax did a great write-up of this case. Clax has the following to say about Robert’s current residence, the Martello Museum:
Robert is still at the museum, in his little sailor suit, holding a little stuffed lion that he, appears to be attached too. Employees always remember to introduce new recruits of the museum to Robert. Some visitors laugh at the stupidity of being afraid of a stupid doll, but many change their mind....when they see Robert's angry look staring back at them.
Others try to take pictures of Robert in his case, and there cameras will not turn on. They replace the batteries thinking that was the solution, but the new batteries are not working either! When they leave the museum, there cameras turn on and the batteries fully charged.
One male visitor, who didn't believe the curse was true, videotaped his entire day at the museum. When they got to the area were Robert was, the sound on the camera turned off and couldn't be turned back on! He turned around to talk to an employee close by, and the sound on the camera was turned up all the way. Blaring in his ears.
There are a number of websites devoted to this case. If you’re feeling brave enough, you can even spend the night with Robert. I’ll personally be sitting out on that one. What are we to make of this tale? I honestly can say. The psych student in me thinks that perhaps it was Gene who had the issues rather than did Robert the Doll. It is interesting that the little girl would report the same kind of strange behavior from Robert that Gene had done. Assuming she had never heard the stories I have to wonder how she would have come up with similar stories.
Further reading on Robert the Doll:
Our next example of a haunted doll was made famous last year on the big screen. The Conjuring, a story based on the files of demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, opened with a 10 or 15 minute scene involving a haunted doll named Annabelle. In typical Hollywood fashion, the producers of the film decided to hollywood-ify the doll to make it scarier. I’d argue the original Raggedy Ann doll was plenty creepy as it was. In fact, the doll from the film looks a little silly in my opinion.
In 1970 a woman was searching for a birthday present for her daughter, Donna, who was a nursing student at the time.Donna lived in an apartment with a roommate named Annie who was also a nursing student. Donna was apparently happy with the present and placed it in her room as a decorations. The Warren’s website tells us what happened next:
With in that time both Donna and Angie noticed that there appeared to be something very strange and creepy about the doll. The doll apparently moved on its own, relatively unnoticeable movements at first, like a change in position, but as time passed the movement became more noticeable. Donna and Angie would come home to find the doll in a completely different room from which they had left it .
Sometimes the doll would be found crossed legged on the couch with its arms folded , other times it was found upright, standing on its feet, leaning against a chair in the dining room. Several times Donna, placing the doll on the couch before leaving for work, would return home to find the doll back in her room on the bed with the door closed.
I’m going to be honest, if I was having these experiences I probably wouldn’t have kept the doll for much longer. Present or not. Although I suppose it’s possible that Donna and Annie simply rationalized the experiences away. It would probably be easier to assume that they had moved the doll and just forgotten about it. Rather than the doll acting under it’s own volition. The doll’s activity persisted and began to manifest in new, and in my opinion much creepier, ways. From the Warren’s website:
About a month into their experiences Donna and Angie began to find penciled messages on parchment paper that read "Help Us" and "Help Lou". The hand writing looked to belong to that of a small child.
As if that weren’t bad enough, the Warren’s website relates another event which seem to have been the final straw for the girls:
One night Donna came home to find the doll had moved again, this time it was on her bed. Donna had come to find that this was typical of the doll but some how she knew this time it was different, something wasn't right. A sense of fear came over her when she inspected the doll and saw what looked like blood drops on the back of its hands and its chest. Seemingly, from no where, a liquidy red substance had appeared on the doll.
It was at this point in their experiences that Donna and Angie sought for help. Not knowing what else to do, they turned to a medium. The Warren’s website tells us:
Not knowing where to turn they contacted a medium and a seance was held. Donna was then introduced to the spirit of Annabelle Higgins. The medium related the story of Annabelle to both Donna and Angie. Annabelle was a young girl that resided on the property before the apartments were built, they were "happy times". She was a young girl of only seven years old when her lifeless body was found in the field upon which the apartment complex now stands.
The spirit related to the medium that she felt comfort with Donna and Angie and wanted to stay with them and be loved. Feeling compassion for Annabelle and her story Donna gave her permission to inhabit the doll and stay with them.
A friend of the girls, named Lou, had been with them since the doll arrived. From the beginning Lou had been against Donna keeping the doll, believing it to be evil. Lou had his own experiences in the apartment, though honestly to me they sound like examples of the “old hag” syndrome. The Warren’s website relates Lou’s experiences:
Lou awoke one night from a deep sleep and in panic. Once again he had a recurring bad dream. Only this time somehow, something seemed different. It was as though he was awake but couldn't move. He looked around the room but couldn't discern anything out of the ordinary and then it happened. Looking down toward his feet he saw the doll, Annabelle.
It began to slowly glide up his leg, moved over his chest and then stopped. Within seconds the doll was strangling him. Paralyzed and gasping for breath Lou, at the point of asphyxiation, blacked out. Lou awoke the next morning, certain it wasn't a dream, Lou was determined to rid himself of that doll and the spirit that possessed it.
At this point, Donna decided that they must not be dealing with a human spirit. Instead, “Annabelle” must have been a demonic entity of some kind. Enter the Warrens. Donna contacted an Episcopal Priest who in turn notified the Warrens of the activity. Ed and Lorraine were very interested in working on the case and agreed to assist Donna and her friends in ridding themselves of Annabelle.
Ed and Lorraine were also convinced that what was occurring in this situation was the beginning stages of demonic possession. Accordingly, the website states:
This spirit manipulated the doll and created the illusion of it being alive in order to get recognition. Truly, the spirit was not looking to stay attached to the doll, it was looking to posses a human host.
The spirit or in this case an inhuman demonic spirit, was essentially in the infestation stage of the phenomenon. It first began moving the doll around the apartment by means of teleportation to arouse the occupants curiosity in hopes that they would give it recognition.Then predictably the mistake of bringing a medium into the apartment to communicate with it.
The inhuman spirit now able to communicate through the medium, preyed on the girls emotional vulnerabilities by pretending to be a rather harmless, lost young girl with which during the seance, was allowed permission from Donna to haunt the apartment. Insofar as demonic is a negative spirit, it then set about causing patently negative phenomena to occur; it aroused fear through the weird movements of that doll, it brought about the materialization of disturbing handwritten notes, the symbolic drops of blood on the doll, and ultimately it even attacked Lou leaving behind the symbolic mark of the beast.
The next stage of the infestation phenomenon would have been complete human possession. Had these experiences lasted another 2 or 3 more weeks the spirit would have completely possessed, if not harmed or killed one or all of the occupants in the house.
Satisfied with their explanation of the phenomenon, Ed decided that it would be best to have the Exorcism Rite performed in order to cleanse the house of the activity. The priest who performed the ritual, Father Cooke, didn’t seem all too eager to exorcise an apartment. Upon the insistence of Ed and Lorraine, he relented and exorcised the ladies apartment. Donna insisted that Ed and Lorraine take the doll with them. That seems to have been the end of Donna, Angie, and Lou’s troubles. Though, apparently, Annabelle continued to lash out at the Warrens. You can read more about that at the Warren’s site.
What in the world are we to make of this story? Annabelle certainly produced far more activity than Robert the Doll did. Yet he’s the one with the museum! Where’s the justice in that? Seriously though, the Annabelle story is interesting and very creepy. I don’t know that I’m as convinced as the Warrens were that they were dealing with a demonic spirit. But to be fair, I didn’t investigate the doll so who am I to say?
A Haunted Doll of Your Own
If the two stories above weren’t enough to convince that haunted dolls are not great items to own, you can purchase one of your very own! First up is the Haunted Dolls Paranormal Research Group. The group, based out of England, says that they “offer free help and advice to people worried about unexplained activity in their home or workplace.” On top of this, the group offers the chance for you to own a piece of their paranormal collection. Here is one of the dolls that they have available for sale at the moment:
Spirited Doll Julia
From the website:
Very active lady, In her 40's. Fond of classical music and singing. Very laid back. Would suit a variety of homes as is very adaptable and friendly.
Julia could be yours for the low, low price of £55.00. If you’re in the market for a wider variety of paranormal dolls, AJ’s Haunted Doll Shop is your destination. Everything from haunted clown dolls to spirit children can be yours, for a reasonable price of course. It’s a bit of an understatement to say that I’m skeptical of these items and their validity. Of course, if I ever have the disposable income I’ll certainly try to pick one of these up.
Haunted dolls, while being super creepy and keeping me up at night, exist in that fringe part of the paranormal for me. I’m not entirely sure what to make of these stories. With Robert the Doll it would be easy to explain that as a combination of a child with an overactive imagination and an obsessive / anti-social personality disorder. Of course, I never meet Gene so all I can do is go based off of the accounts of his actions in childhood and later in adulthood.
Annabelle on the other hand is a bit of a different beast. If we assume that Donna, Angie, and Lou are telling the truth about the activity which they experienced, it’s a lot harder to chalk up handwritten messages as being indicative of an “overactive imagination”.
At the end of the day all I can do is keep an open-mind about these kinds of stories. Haunted dolls will probably always creep me out. Yet they also fascinate me. Who knows? Maybe one of these days I’ll break down and buy one of my very own.