Lying out in the sunny state of Florida, in the United States, is the city of Key West. Located in the Straits of Florida, it is a place known for its azure waters and abundant sunshine, long the getaway for such prestigious figures as former President Harry S. Truman and the famed author Earnest Hemingway. Despite its cheery ambiance, it also has its share of haunted places, and one of these is a handsome estate dating back to the city’s beginnings, which has among its many anomalies a very haunted doll.
What is today known as the Audubon House has a long, and often quite dark history. The origins of the house stretch all the way back to the very beginnings of Key West, back in the 1800s when the area was a bustling sea port. In those days a lucrative business was to be what was called a “wrecker,” which was a person who basically went out to salvage the lost cargo of ships that had been smashed on reefs, sunk by pirates, or ravaged by storms. The wreckers would go out, salvage what they could, and then get a commission from the company that had lost the ship. In the early days of Key West, wrecking was a booming business, it made the region rich, and one of the best was a man by the name of by Captain John H. Geiger.
He was well known in the area and stinking rich off the wrecking business, and in the 1840s he had a sprawling estate built on what is now 205 Whitehead Street, right on the water. It was an grand, opulent home, meant to be a status symbol, all meticulously put together by shipbuilders and possessing wide porches and high windows in a “Greek Revival Neo-Classical Bahamian Vernacular” style. The house was built to last, claimed to be hurricane proof and with joints that used no nails and wide outward slanting roofs to keep out the wind and rain, and the interior was filled with the best furniture and finery money could buy. It was considered to be one of the most luxurious residents in all of Key West, but it did have its share or darkness, once being used as an infirmary for patients of cholera and Yellow Fever, and Geiger’s own son is said to have died in the house. The Captain himself would become a recluse in his final days here, said to merely sit in his room and glare out at passerby or wistfully staring out to sea up until his death in 1885.
Despite this tragedy, the house would stay in Geiger’s family for decades, with the last descendant to own it being his great-grandson, William Bradford Smith, also known as an eccentric recluse who apparently refused to ever leave the 2nd floor of the house. By the time Smith died in 1956, the house had fallen into disrepair, a peeling, crumbling shadow of its former glory, and was actually scheduled to be torn down in 1958. It would be saved at the last minute by a non-profit educational institution called the Mitchell Wolfson Family Foundation and restoration efforts were begun. It was at this time that the house would be renamed to the Audubon House, after the world famous renowned ornithologist and painter John James Audubon, who was a frequent visitor to Key West, Audubon came here to paint birds, even cataloging many new species such as the Great Blue Heron, and he was certainly one of the most famous people connected to the area, yet although he had been to the land where the estate sits it is thought he never even stepped foot in the house named after him. The house was open to the public as a museum in 1960, and has been a popular Key West tourist attraction ever since. It is also supposedly very haunted.
Some of the ghosts that seem to roam here make sense, such as the specter of Geiger himself, said to be seen standing on his beloved 2nd floor balcony still staring off to sea or sometimes roaming the property’s spacious gardens, as well as the spirit of his grandson Smith. Lights are often seen on in the house when no one is there, and an unidentified ghostly woman in a flowing dress is also sometimes seen around the estate. There is also a presence that seems to linger in the art gallery that features many of Audubon’s paintings, as well as disembodied footsteps and voices. Indeed, there is a painting in the house that is said to be actually haunted, this one not of birds but of a little girl. It is allegedly a painting made of a deceased girl only known as “Hannah,” which attracts to it the eerie sound of children’s laughter no matter where it is moved on the property. It now resides in the so-called “children’s room,” once used as the infirmary, which seems to have all manner of paranormal phenomena pervading it, such as the electronic intruder sensor being constantly tripped despite no one being there and no matter how much it is adjusted, sending the police out to check the house out only to find no one there. This has gone on even after checking that there is nothing wrong with the system and even after changing security companies. There are also moving objects and the sound of little feet running, but the creepiest story surrounding the children’s room is that of the haunted “devil doll.”
In the late 1980s, a new doll came to the residence, donated by a local woman and called simply “Mrs. Peck’s doll.” It is a waxen faced doll, measuring about 22 inches long and thought to have been made in the 1850s. The doll’s face is very creepy indeed, with a sickly look, “the pallor of a cadaver,” dark circles under its eyes, and teeth that look decrepit and yellowed. This doll caused problems almost immediately upon arrival, with many guests complaining of how unsettling it was and how they almost felt repelled by it, often claiming that its eyes would follow them around the room. Staff also began finding lightbulbs unscrewed or other toys broken for no discernible reason, and making it all even spookier still was the fact that all pictures taken of it would not turn out, and one photographer allegedly even had his camera pop open to spit out his film. Some photos do turn out, but show the doll with a different facial expression or with a black slash scrawled across it. However, the incident with the doll that really takes it into the realm of the bizarre is the time it escaped.
According to the story, on January 6th, 1997 at 1:30 AM, the alarm in the children’s room went off for no reason again as usual and once again no one was seen at the property. The next morning when museum staff came in to work it was noticed that Mrs. Peck’s doll was missing. The entire house was searched with no sign of it, and although it was thought that maybe there had been a robbery, nothing else in the house had been taken, including far more valuable objects and even more valuable dolls in the same room. Who would break into that house to steal that one doll and why? One employee would say of the doll and its theft to the Sun Sentinel:
That doll was morbid. It was beyond morbid. It was sinister. The doll was really ugly. It had a tooth that snaggled out over the lip. It had real thin lips. She had a sneer. She was creepy. That doll was haunted. Who-ever took that doll is in a lot of trouble. Woe, ye, to the thief. Or, don't come back, little doll.
Of course, there was also the whispered rumor that the doll wasn’t stolen at all, but had rather come to life to run away. In the meantime, there were psychics who came forward with their own ideas on what had happened to the doll. One psychic said that the doll was hiding somewhere in the house, and that the only way to stop its game was to bash in its head. Another claimed that it was buried somewhere on the property, but the doll has not been seen since. Oddly, the paranormal phenomena associated with it seems to have ceased since its disappearance, and it is all very strange indeed. There have been a lot of ideas thrown around about what happened here, such as that it was simply stolen to that it was possessed by the girl Hannah in that haunted painting, but no one really knows. Although many of the hauntings still continue at the estate to this day, the children's room has gone mostly quiet, and that doll is out there somewhere, perhaps still up to its mischief.