For a child, a dollIsland of the dolls is much more than a simple miniature version of a human. Be it a stuffed animal, an action figure, or a porcelain masterpiece that does not get held or cuddled or played with they are a symbol of innocence and trust. Children will spill their deepest, darkest secrets to their teddy bears or their favorite toys. Sometimes the toys listen…and talk back.
Although there are literally dozens of stories regarding these hellish objects I have decided to focus on just three of them. One of the most famous stories of haunted dolls is the story of Robert the Doll. The doll was given to Robert Eugene Otto (who preferred to be called Eugene) as a gift in 1906 by a family servant who was not happy with the family. The servant was also reputed to be quite skilled in the black arts. For years the family would overhear conversations between the boy and his doll at first thinking it was cute- Eugene speaking in two different voices- before coming to believe that the doll was actually speaking back to him. Neighbors swore they saw Robert moving from window to window while no one was home. The Otto family themselves were convinced they saw Robert run from room to room and occasionally there would be a terrifying giggle come from the doll as well as objects crashing to the floor to which a horrified Eugene would shriek “Robert did it!” when his parents rushed to investigate.
When Eugene was married he insisted that Robert have his own room. His wife refused at first until, after several unexplained instances of the couple coming home and finding Robert in a different place than he was left, she finally relented. Eugene demanded that Robert be placed near a window because he liked to look outside. When Eugene died, his wife moved out but left Robert in the attic. The new family’s ten year old daughter at first adopted Robert as her own but soon began claiming the doll was evil and it had tried to attack her on several occasions. Today Robert resides in the Fort East Martello Museum in Clearwater, Florida. According to the local legend people who visit the museum are allowed to take pictures of Robert- as long as they ask nicely and Robert responds by moving his head. If he does not give permission and the picture is taken anyway Robert will curse the photographer’s family.
The second story I chose to relay is that of Annabelle the Raggedy Ann doll. She was a gift from a mother to her daughter, Donna, for her birthday shortly before she graduated nursing school. Donna loved the doll and even took to putting it on her bed as a part of the décor of the room. At first she thought it was cute but both she and her roommate Angie would notice startling things about Annabelle starting with noticing that the doll was in a different position than that in which she was left. It then escalated to the doll being found in rooms other than where Donna or Angie had put her. When the doll was found in Donna’s bedroom behind a closed door after being placed on the couch when Donna and Angie left for work that morning the women became very alarmed but it was what happened next that forced them to begin taking the next steps to try and find out what they were dealing with.
There were notes the two women began finding in their apartment written on parchment paper. The notes always had the same message – “Help us” or “Help Lou”. The combination of the facts that surrounded this phenomenon prompted Donna and Angie to consult a medium. First, there was no parchment paper kept in the apartment by either woman. Second, the handwriting on the notes seemed to be that of a young child. The third occurrence and the last straw was when Donna came home and found the doll on her bed covered with drops of what looked and felt like blood. Knowing they were in over their heads with this terrible oddity, they sought help.
When they held a séance with the assistance of a medium the two women were introduced to the spirit of Annabelle Higgins, a young girl who was found in a field near the apartment complex where the women now lived. The medium told Donna and Angie that Annabelle liked the women and wanted to inhabit the doll and stay with them. Compassion overwhelmed their common sense and told Annabelle that she could stay. This was a terrible mistake.
The women had a friend named Lou who was not as convinced as Donna and Angie that the doll was peaceful. He had a recurring dream where he saw the doll glide over his body, coming to rest on his chest and halting his breathing. One night, he was convinced that it was not a dream and what he was experiencing was actually happening. Another instance was when Lou and Donna were planning a road trip and he heard something in Donna’s room. He went in to see what the noise was and saw the doll sitting there. He suddenly had an overwhelming sensation that someone else was in the room with him. He spun around to find there was no one there but out of nowhere felt a terrible pain in his chest. After cleaning off the blood he saw seven distinct claw marks across his chest.
Finally renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren were called in as well as a priest who performed an exorcism blessing –which is less about expelling evil as it is about filling the home with the love and power of God. After thorough research and investigation it was determined that a demonic presence had attached itself for the doll, not actually inhabited it. And when Donna had given “Annabelle” permission to live in the doll in the house, she had unwittingly given the demonic presence permission to stay in the house and wreak havoc that could have led to the deaths of Donna, Angie and Lou. According to the Warrens spirits, either benign or malevolent, do not possess inanimate objects – they possess people. The object, Annabelle in this case, was just a means to an end.
Today Annabelle can be seen at the Warren Occult Museum in Moodus, Connecticut. The museum is run by Lorraine Warren who states that Annabelle is still found in different places around the museum and is purported to growl at unsuspecting visitors.
The third and final story I have chosen is that of La Isla de la Munecas – literally “The Island of the Dolls” in Mexico. About eighteen miles from the capital city there is a small island on Teshuilo Lake said to be the home of a young girl who drowned while playing in the lake surrounding the island. It was said that her spirit haunted the area, beckoning to others to join her in the water because she refused to move on. For many years, no one lived on the island for fear of the unnatural events surrounding it. At first, it was only at night but soon even during the day the island was completely avoided. Until Don Julian Santana Barrera arrived in the 1950s to make the island his home after he decided to separate himself from other people.
It is said that Barrera began bringing dolls to the island as a means of stifling the spirit of the young girl, claiming that he had spoken with the girl’s spirit and she had asked him to bring her dolls not only to play with but to use as a means to stave off evil spirits that haunted the island along with her own. Barrera began bringing dolls that were thrown away, or lost and floated to the shore of the island. It got to the point that no matter how many dolls he brought to the island, the girl’s spirit was not satisfied and Barrera employed a desperate measure – he constructed a modest hut to house the dolls he deemed to be the best and also for the girl’s nomadic spirit to call home.
It did not work.
In April 2001, Barrera and his nephew Anastasio were fishing near the island and he confided that for years he had been hearing strange and frightening voices calling him to the water, telling him to join the spirits of the young girl and the host of others who haunted the dolls of the island. Anastasio humored his octogenarian uncle for the rest of their time on the water. Later Anastasio had some errands to run he told his uncle he would come back in a few hours. When he arrived at the island, Barrera was dead- floating face down in the same spot where the little girl had lost her life over seventy years earlier. It seemed that after decades of trying, the spirits of the island had finally claimed Barrera.
Today there is a lucrative business ferrying tourists who wish to glimpse the island for themselves. But do not expect any of the locals to wait for you after dark. They feel, as do many people who visit the island, that the look of the decades-old dolls accurately represents the spirits inhabiting the island. Many of the dolls are in a state of decay that makes them look like corpses. Many have empty eye sockets filled with spiders that still seem to stare at you. Some are burned, some covered in moss or mold; others are missing limbs. Many are hung by their necks like convicted criminals.
Are these stories of demonic dolls and possessed playthings true? Do spirits and curses bring those once-treasured childhood toys to some semblance of life? Or is it just overactive imagination, maybe even forgetfulness or someone playing a prank…or are they in actuality playthings of demons?