17 Oct Haunted Museum in Key West: East Martello Museum
In a past life, the East Martello Museum was a military fort, but today it is home to a rather odd museum with bizarre and even some haunted exhibits and residents. The exhibits cover a good range of Key West history through historic artifacts, local art, and eerie stories and legends. The fort itself was built in 1862 and was used during the Civil War to assist in protecting the island against the Confederate Army. After the war ended, the fort was abandoned until the 1950’s when volunteers cleaned up the fort to open it as a museum.
You can take a self guided tour of the museum by day, or join a ghost tour to get your spooky fix by night. The ghost tours in Key West spend a significant amount of time at the museum as there is said to be such a large presence of ghosts at East Martello, and it is also home to the famous Robert the Doll. If you choose to enjoy the museum on your own during the day, you will be presented with a small brochure with information on the museum.
There is only one area throughout the entire building that is air-conditioned, so on hot days you may want to start and end your visit in the basement area viewing art that was created by local artists.
The remainder of the museum is in the fort, the tower and in the yard outside. In these areas you will see war-era relics, displays documenting the island’s history, folk art, and scrap metal sculptures.
One of the strangest exhibits in the East Martello Fort is the true story about local Key West Resident, Dr. Van Cosel, who fell in love with a beautiful young woman, Elena, who came in as a patient. She ended up dying 3 months later, but Dr. Van Cosel had already become obsessed with Elena. After quitting his job, he spent a large amount of his time at the mausoleum he built at the cemetery for Elena. Eventually, one night, he took her body home with him in hopes to bring her back to life. He lived with her in his house for 7-8 years before his secret came out. Even stranger yet, because of the high level of public interest in the case, her body was put on display in a funeral home before finally being put to rest for good in a secret grave.
The main attraction of the museum is the legendary Robert the Doll who is rumored to have been a victim of voodoo spells. Robert is a handmade doll dressed in a sailor suit, and was built for Robert Eugene Otto, or Gene as people called him. When Gene was a child, he thought of Robert as his best friend, but he would always blame Robert for anything that he did wrong himself. Gene would always say, “I didn’t do it. Robert did it.” When Gene grew older, he became an artist and helped design the Fort East Martello Museum. He also wanted to turn his home into a museum, the house that is now The Artist House on Fleming, but that dream never came to fruition and it is now a bed and breakfast. We recently stayed at this bed and breakfast, but at the time had no idea of its connection to the haunted doll. Anyways, legend has it, you need to ask Robert for permission before you take his photo. If you fail to ask for permission, your camera will mysteriously fail and break, or as some would say, “Robert did it.” Behind the doll in the museum is a wall filled with letters people have written to apologize to Robert because they didn’t ask for permission to photograph him and their camera broke shortly after. And yes, I may have asked Robert for permission to take his photo–I couldn’t take the risk of loosing all my photos! Robert has been the focus of TV shows, articles and tours for years and is the main reason many people visit the museum.
If you do decide to visit the East Martello Museum, don’t expect a wildly exciting time as it is small and odd, but if you go with the intent of hearing bizarre stories and want to learn about the islands history, you will have an enjoyable time. I’m glad I finally got to meet Robert!
Have you ever visited a haunted musuem?