Putting the final touches on my latest book Florida’s Best Bed & Breakfasts and Historic Hotels, due out from Pineapple Press this fall. Here’s a pre-publication taste:
Artist House, Key West
One of the most photographed houses in Key West is the charming Victorian Artist House, built in 1898 by Pharmacist Thomas Otto and his wife Minnie. Charming, yes, and creepy too. The gingerbread-laced wrap-around porches and third-story turret give it the appearance of a life-size doll house—and apparently it was. The Otto’s son Gene (Robert Eugene) was born here in 1900. The quite wealthy Otto family employed servants. Reportedly, one was a nanny (some references indicate she was from Jamaica, some say the Bahamas, some say she practiced voodoo) that Mrs. Otto became disgruntled with and fired. Upon the nanny’s departure she gave four-year-old Gene a gift—a doll dressed up like him, and named Robert. Young Gene became extremely attached to Robert. Reportedly he carried him everywhere and had long conversations with him. Also he would blame Robert for all manner of mischievous occurrences in the house—including tearing up his other toys. Some reports claimed poltergeist activity in the house—furniture moving, doors opening and closing on their own, as well. Gene would grow up to become an accomplished painter, studying in Chicago and living and working in Paris. After his parents died, Gene—along with his wife Anne who he had met in Paris, returned to Key West. They moved back into the house, where he turned the seven-window turret room into his artist’s studio. Gene still had Robert the doll. He propped him up in one of the turret windows, so he could look out over Eaton Street. Passersby say that sometimes Robert would move, turn his head and watch them walk by. They also said that sometimes it seemed that his facial expression would change. Gene Otto died in 1974 and Anne Otto died in 1976. Robert now resides at Key West’s Civil War Fort East Martello Museum, who had hired Gene Otto to design their gallery space.
Today Artist House is a seven-room inn that showcases its classic Queen Anne Victorian style, with twelve-foot ceilings, artfully-carved crown moldings, and etched glass transoms. The most fascinating room, of course, is the Turret Suite, with two levels. Its second-floor bedroom has a sitting area, two baths, French doors that lead onto a balcony, and a winding staircase up into the third-floor tower, with its own bed surrounded by seven windows.