Thursday, January 10, 2013

Creepiest Blog EVER

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Okay, Hallie, it's a COINCIDENCE. Sure, fine, think of it that way. But remember how Monday's post was kind of about the controversy over whether there was ESP? Whether there were ever times our minds connected with somene else's. Right?

Well, first, here's some inside scoop--these posts are often scheduled before the actual day they're up. Imagine that! We're sometimes organized. So. Point is, Julie Hyzy sent me her post a couple of weeks ago.

But because I'm not THAT organized, and because obviously if the amazing and fabulous and successful and beloved Julie Hyzy sends me a post, it's going to be great, I didn't even read it until yesterday.

And--ta dah: look what it's about. HAH.

                by Julie Hyzy

Thank you so much, Hank, for inviting me here to guest blog today!

This past December, my husband and I spent a couple days in Key West (Yep, the gorgeous setting for Lucy Burdette’s Key West Food Critic Mysteries!).

One of the highlights of the trip was the Ghosts and Gravestones Frightseeing Tour where, after dark, we visited the Fort East Martello Museum and Gardens. A caretaker carrying an old fashioned oil lamp appeared as we disembarked from our trolley. He opened tall, creaky iron gates and invited us into the museum’s dark courtyard. “I’m Grimsby,” he said and he led us in to meet…Robert the Doll.

Robert was given to young Robert Eugene Otto in 1906 by his family’s Bahamian servant—a woman schooled in voodoo and black magic. The little boy loved his doll so much (it’s about the size of a four-year-old) that he gave it his own name, Robert, and from then on insisted on being called Gene. Robert the doll has his own website, here. Take a look.

Okay, so, back to the museum.

It was dark, quiet. Our voices echoed and our steps clattered in the cavernous museum.

Robert waited for us inside a Plexiglas case, perched on a small chair. He has coffee bean eyes, and wears a jaunty little sailor suit. Grimsby explained that if we wanted a picture, there were rules: We needed to greet Robert by name, introduce ourselves, and then ask permission to snap a photo. He warned us that if we refused to comply, Robert would become unhappy. He would curse us. Bad things would begin to happen. “He’s done it before.”

Grimsby pointed to a wall of letters from former visitors who’d ignored the advice and were now begging the doll to lift the curse—“He’ll do it again.”

Grimsby’s eyes glittered. “Who’s up first?”

I was.

I stood in front of Robert and regarded him for a long moment. 

“Hello, Robert,” I said, “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Julie.” 

I giggled a bit at the absurdity of it all. And at that moment, I felt a zing of connection. A weird one. As though Robert… liked me. As though he was lonely and appreciated the visit. But because there was a line of eager photographers behind me, I continued quickly, “Will it be all right if I take your picture? I promise, just one.”

Nothing fell from the ceiling, so I assumed it was okay. I snapped my shot.

There was something compelling about this doll, yet I’d be lying if I said he didn’t creep me out a little bit. I felt as though he was trying to communicate. And yes, I know how silly that sounds.

As we bid the lonely doll a fond adieu, I thought about how much fun it would be to include him in a future book. Not at the White House of course, but if, say, Grace Wheaton (Manor House Mysteries) happened to oversee a supernatural or paranormal convention at Marshfield, Robert could be a fun part of that story. Perfect, I thought. I have my next plot line.

Before I left, I took one last look at Robert. He seemed sorrowful and melancholy in his Plexiglas home. I wondered: Will he be upset with me if I include him in a book? No, I thought, it will be an adventure. I’m convinced he’ll be thrilled.

As I got back outside and took a deep breath of night air, it occurred to me to wonder why I was thinking about him this way at all.

I’m a skeptic. Always have been, always will be. But, Robert… He and I connected. Can’t explain it. Don’t think I want to try.

Have you ever felt a connection like this? Or am I just nuts?

HANK:  I rest my case. (And you know, this was creepy when I first read it. Now it's creepier. And I hope Rovert thinks it's okay that he's on the blog. Did you guys see the Twilight Zone with the fortune-telling machine in the diner?)

Anyway--Let's hear your creepy stories, Reds! And I'll give Julie's brand new White House Chef mystery FONDUING FATHERS to two lucky commenters!


  1. So nice to meet you, Robert . . . and you, too, Julie! [And now I’ve got to ask: Are you going to put Robert into one of your books?] I love that a doll was the child’s most beloved possession. And I’m curious to know if Robert lifted the curse after receiving those letters!

    No creepy stories from here, I fear . . . but now I’m having visions of the ghosts dancing in the ballroom of the Disney Haunted Mansion ride . . . .

    Yes, Hank . . . “Nick of Time,” the fortune-telling machine episode of “The Twilight Zone” is one of my favorites. And that tabletop fortune-telling machine was really creepy!

  2. Hey Julie! This is so bizarre. I've just spent the last 10 minutes looking at Robert the Doll videos on Youtube! "Robert wanted a room with a view???" "Robert was angry??" So deliciously wweird.
    When I was a kid the scariest movies were always the ones where dolls or ventriloquist's dummys came to life. I think Dead of Night is one of the classics.

  3. Julie - Hey, You! Welcome! If there's anyone I know who would feel empathy for a sad and lonely looking doll, it would be you. That's just so . . . you. and it's lovely.

    I, however, kinda keep as far away from dolls as I can, usually (I admit to dearly loving my Eloise doll). I didn't care for them when I was a little girl. My imaginary friend was more fun. And like Ro, always thought the scariest movies were the ones with dolls.

    I'll have to think about creepy experiences . . . .

  4. That is one creepy doll.

    I do love those Ghosts tours when on vacation. There is a great one in San Diego that takes you into what is supposed to be the most haunted house in the US (sorry, I can't remember its name). I have to say, some of the pictures from the tour are a bit odd. Floating light orbs, what looks like faces in the wallpaper, stuff like that.

    Creepy I say, Creepy

  5. So wonderful to visit the Reds today!! Love the conversations!

    Joan - I think I have to put Robert in a story. I almost feel as though I owe it to him. Going in to meet him, I thought the idea of a haunted doll was laughable. Now, not so much. Creepy.

    Rosemary - I'm so glad you watched some of the Robert stories. Unbelievable. The fact that the boy who Robert first belonged to gave up his own name... eeyoo.. Ventriloquist dummies always creep me out, too. Wasn't there a movie with Anthony Perkins where one came to life?

    Hey, Kaye! - You are so sweet! Believe me, given your preference to keep distant from dolls, you may not want to visit Robert if you're ever in Key West. I liked him, but there was a real oddness to the experience I can barely put into words.

  6. Hmm, the part about the child giving the doll his name and deciding to be Gene after that TOTALLY creeped me out. There's an entire book or movie plot right there. And not in a good way.

    And suddenly I'm reminded of the doll in the glass case, that appeared at my brother's house after our grandmother died last year. (No, not magically; my brother brought it home from her room at the retirement home, but I'd never really noticed it before. I'd thought it was one of her many antiques from auctions.) She's beautifully preserved and is very nicely dressed in the year she was bought, 1929.

    But apparently she creeps my nieces and daughter out. Her history? When my grandmother was 11, in 1929, her father committed suicide. A kind friend took her downtown and bought her the doll to help her through the time of stress.

    I can see why she might have negative vibes.

  7. Creepy stories? I can't even THINK about ghosts when I hear a strange sound in our antique house or I'll invent one. I have way too wild of an imagination. Brrr...

    Robert and "Gene" - wow. Julie, you definitely have to put them in a book! And I have your latest on my TBR pile (which I expect to finally get caught up on after my knee surgery next week) - can't wait to read it.

  8. Dolls have creeped me out since reading MAGIC by William Goldman. Yikes!

    The family ghost story is about my grandfather, who was a doctor and a terrible dresser. He picked out ugly suits, one in particular that you couldn't tell if it was purple or brown. Since he died, he has been spotted often in his old house, which was later a dentist's office and now a lawyer's. The reports are always the same. More than one person sees a strange old man who disappears, and then the two people argue -- about the color of his suit. It was purple! No, it was brown.

  9. Jack, that is a fabulous story!

    Julie, so nice to see you here! I am in the middle of FONDUING FATHERS and reading slowly to make it last.

    The funny thing is, I've never gone on a ghost tour in Key West. Have to do it now--dying to meet Robert. Do you think he'll remember you? Maybe all writers on JRW could put him in next book...or would he think we're making fun?

  10. Rally, creepiest thing ever.

    ANd Julie, dare I ask, did you also ask Robert for the blog-picture rights? I dont want to step on any toes

  11. Yes, MAGIC. That was the movie, too.

    I mean--you can't have a ventriloquists dummy without it being scary. Even like, LambChop. Creepy.

    Because the person's mouth ALWAYS moves, so that's silly, and one always wonders who's really in charge.

    I'm trying to think of a ventriloquist who I like. Does Senor Wences count?

  12. Dolls... Clowns... Oh, and faceless faces. Can be SOOOO creepy!

    Great to have you here, Julie - did you know that your White House chef, Olivia Paras, was among the top choices when Jungle Reds ran our Jeopardy survey for Bouchercon?

    And while I love this story, since I'm just back from an eatathon in New Orleans, wondering how (aside from your vast experience flipping burgers) you learn about how someone WOULD prepare food for a White House dinner?

  13. Breaking news: FONDUING FATHERS hit NYT bestseller list this week at #19!

    Hooray for Julie and Ollie!

  14. Well, when I was little, living in a small estate of tall redbricks beside the Dodder, where WB Yeats used to walk as he composed his poems, I suddenly became terrified of ghosts.
    My mother, most uncharacteristically, was making a dress, and had a remnant of creamy white silk left over. She sewed me a toy, called Ghostie, a little lost baby ghost that was terrified of humans. I would take Ghostie to bed and comfort him, telling him I would protect him from any scary humans, and Ghostie was my personal protector from the otherworld in return.
    I don't remember where Ghostie went in the end - perhaps he stayed behind when we moved downriver and across the sea.

  15. Okay, so the doll creeps me out. Something about the way it's angled away from in the photo makes it appear faceless at first.

    I did a haunted Portland (OR) tour once down in the old Shanghai tunnels below Chinatown. Alas, the only vibe I got was that there was a lot of opium smoking going on back in the day. :-)

    I'd love to have a extrasensory experience, but I've come to accept that I'm not sensitive that way--bummer! :-)

  16. Julie, congrats on the NYTs list!!!! Woot! I hope you are doing a happy dance!

    And what a weird story. Creepy. I never liked dolls. I went to see some scary movie with a doll in it at the drive-in (yes, when they still had drive-ins) with my grandmother when I was a little girl. Ugh.

    But do I think inanimate objects can hold some sort of psychic residue? Maybe.

    And I only read The Velveteen Rabbit to my daughter until the pages fell apart...

  17. YAY JULIE!!!! How did you find out about it? How do they tell you?

  18. Ventriloquist dummies have always given me the creeps. I'd love to take that tour and meet Robert - and then meet him again in your book!

  19. What's the story of the Velveteen Rabbit? It comes alive? And is Sara Crewe the Litte Pricess? Or The Secret Garden? I fear I have blocked all of those books because they scared me.

    Yes,Joan, Nick of Time! Eeesh.

    Twilight Zone, I love. Inanimate things coming alive in kids books--not so much. It can only lead to disappointment.

  20. Congrats, Julie, on the NYT's list.

    Deb, remember that resort hotel in Scottsdale where we ate dinner that one book tour? The entire time I was freezing, and felt like someone was staring through me. Then our friend Dave, told us it had once been a gangster place, supposedly people had been murdered there. Still get a shiver when I remember how the place made me feel. Was never so glad to get out of a room as I was that night.

  21. Congratulations on the NYT list! Nothing creepy about that! Dee

  22. Hi Robert, nice to meet you. My name is Terry. (I'm not taking any chances here!)

    Hey Kristopher, that haunted house in San Diego is the Whaley House (it's also a museum) and at the Sisters in Crime San Diego meetings, we had the San Diego Ghosthunters come talk to us about it. Very, very creepy.

    I've also had a couple of those woowoo experiences that can't be explained by any logical means, so this kind of stuff definitely weirds me out.

    What a great post...but definitely, not somewhere I want to visit. Sorry Robert!

    Congrats Julie on the NYT list!.

  23. Yeah, Terry, the permission thing stopped me, too. Sadly. There are more things on heaven and earth...

  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

  25. Woo-hoo!!! Thank you, everyone for the warm congrats! I'm flying high today. Maybe Robert whispered in somebody's ear at the NYT. Could be! I'm telling you, he's a powerful guy.

    I didn't ask his permission about blogging. Thought about it, but chickened out. Not because I was afraid he'd say no, but because I thought the other tourists would think I was nuts. I bet he's having fun here today.

    I'm loving all these doll stories. And yes, MAGIC, that's the movie I was thinking of, too!

    Hank - my editor emailed me this morning. The news hits on Wednesday afternoon/evening and when I didn't hear from her yesterday, I figured I'd missed out. But she was just waiting for the morning, I guess! Woo-hoo!!

    Loving all these ghost and woo-woo stories, too! Maybe we should turn out the lights while we read this blog today. What do you think?

  26. I have the lights off...but the windows open. It's nice and bright in here and I'm not about to read this tonight with the lights out. No way!

  27. The creepiest experience with dolls I've ever had was watching the first 15 minutes of the movie Barbarella. Ye gods, that scene is terrifying. The mechanized "dolls" with their bitey mouths filled with sharp teeth, going after a captured, nubile Jane Fonda gave me nightmares.

    However, in the next scene all her wounds were magically healed. Soon after that I could no longer watch, it was all so silly.

    Thanks for blogging about this, Julie. Now I know what to steer clear of. *shudder*

  28. I've heard of haunted dolls before, probably on a ghost story show on the Travel Channel. I think there was one in Scotland and maybe I've heard of the one you saw.

    I love to watch and read true ghost stories. I have a whole bunch of books like that. True crime author Ann Rule's daughter, Leslie, writes true ghost stories.

    Yeah, I saw that Twilight Zone episode. Re: ventriloquists' dummies, I've seen shows like that on Goosebumps and there was even an episode of Alf like that.

  29. Waaaaitaminnit. You think Robert has something to do with the NYT list? I think we should talk about something else.

    How about those Red Sox? Okay, not that. Flu shots?

  30. Wow, where to start? I loooove creepy. Julie, huge congratulations on the NYT list!

    I really want to go to some of these spooky places, and I'm sure Robert is smiling today at all this attention. I think the idea of all the Jungle bloggers putting him in a book is genius.

    Hank, how do you get scared by Frances Hodgson Burnett and the Velveteen Rabbit? Ok, I admit the Velveteen Rabbit was sad.

  31. I 'm a skeptic, sort of. I also figure it cost me anything to be respectful of might be hovering around. Of course, it could be my fevered imagination. :) Congratulations on hitting the NYT list.

  32. I don't know Shel, they just make me feel sad and haunted.

  33. Ok, that makes sense, Hank. Sad and haunted are pretty close to creepy...I always found Frances Hodgson Burnett to be soothing though. Wonder what that says about me??

  34. Karen, your description of the beginning of Barbarella and the dolls' bitey mouths ... eeyikes! Remind me to skip that movie!

    Frances Hodgson Burnett was my favorite author as a child. Gosh, I loved A Little Princess. Even with Emily the doll. Her name was Emily, right?

    Next time I'm in San Diego, I'll have to stop by the Whaley House. Thanks, Terry and Kristopher!

  35. *Yesterday's winners* of Carolyn Hart's books are Susanna Stone, Judybusy, and Terry Shames! Contact me with your address at
    at h ryan at whdh dot com !

    There's still time to enter for Fonduing Fathers..the NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER!

  36. Oh Julie... master creep fest... god.

    Here's mine. Doing my laundry in grad school. Basement of Divinity Hall. Divinity Ave. Cambridge, Mass. Late at night. Standing, leaning on dryer. I see Emerson. Yes, that one. Wearing his 19th century dress suit. He turns and looks at me. Walks on. Heads toward stairs that lead to his old room. I am chilled. Shivering. "Must have fallen asleep," I think. Grab my clothes and head toward the stairs. Can't make myself go up those stairs. Exit the building through the basement bulkhead. Walk around the building. Let myself back in through the front door. Climb to my room on the third floor. Right beside Emerson's chapel. I hear sounds of a bench scraping the wooden floor. Papers being shuffled and dropped. I struggle with my door key. Shaking. Walk to window for fresh air. In the window across the street. The Peabody Museum. Emerson. His reflection from the window of the Divinity Hall chapel looking back at me. Reflected from the museum window.

  37. To this day, I don't like to reread The Velveteen Rabbit; it's way too sad for me. I have a rough time wth Frances Hodgson Burnett's stories, too, which make me both angry and sad.

    What happened to the grown-up Robert? Your story has me worried about him. Maybe someone can write about him growing up without an identity? No. Never mind. Too sad.

    By the way, congratulations on the NYT! Right now I am reading and enjoying Grace Interrupted.

  38. DebRo--exactly.

    Bitey mouth. That is SUCH a scary description!

    Shel, it probably means you are well-adjusted and conficdent..xoxo :-)

  39. Reine - Emerson? Whoa!! That's so cool!! I'd have been creeped out too, but wow... what a great story!

  40. This whole thread is so amazing. There must be something wrong with me, because I don't find it creepy or scary. Interesting maybe.

    OTOH I never liked ventriloquists because I thought they were annoying until Geoff Dunham and Peanut. Five minutes into his routine and I was thinking of Peanut as a live person. He's purple, fuzzy, obviously a doll. But absolutely real.

    I lived in a house with ghost. A man in a blue work shirt and dark pants. Always at the top of the stairs, walking downstairs. He never looked at me. He wasn't scary, but I always wondered what he was doing there.

  41. Heather Graham wrote a series of 3 books that were set in and around Key West and made up a lot of the folklore while including real stuff like Robert the Doll. It made me really want to go to Key West and explore it more. It's so bizarre!

  42. Julie, congratulations on the NYT list! How exciting!

    I was just in Key West for several days after Christmas. I heard about Robert, but we didn't make it to the museum nor did we take the ghost tour. Next time I go, the tour will be on my list.

    While in London one year, a friend and I toured a home and church of John Wesley. His mother is buried in the cemetery across the street from the house and I wanted to see her headstone. Several authors are also buried in Bunhill Fields cemetery, including John Bunyan. As we entered the cemetery around 4pm on that wintry December afternoon, the sky had begun to darken. A short way into the cemetery, a man stopped us and said "you don't want to go too far into the cemetery; the fog is coming in fast." We turned away for a second to look in the direction we wanted to go. When we turned back, there was no one there, not even a shadow of a man walking away. Only a thick fog that we hadn't seen rolling in. Needless to say, we beat a hasty retreat! Gives me the willies just think about it. I can still hear him say "don't go too far into the cemetery."

    Take the ghosts of New Orleans cemeteries, at night, of course.

  43. Love puppets, marionettes, ventriloquists, dolls, and stuffed animals! I am having a ball with granddaughters & dolls (& fairies). Today I gave them Raggedy Anns.

    I have a profound memory -- I was in Kyoto and went with a Japanese friend up into the hills to an Shinto ancient shrine. When I looked at the face of the Buddha, I felt the love of the universe. I have been a calmer person since that day.

  44. Well, I still have my Raggedy Ann--with the little heart under her dress. But (whispering) I still think they're weird.

    Nancy Jo! Whoa! DId you ever see the movie Pimpernel Smith?

    And Emerson?

    You all are amazing.

    And YAY Juile! NYTBS! Hurray!

    Tomorrow! It's 1/11-and a real friend of the Reds has a gift for you!

    Michelle F and Karen B
    Email me at h ryan at whdh dot com with your address!

  46. NIght, all! See you in the AM--and there will be CAKE!

  47. Night, Julie. NIght, Robert. And thank you to both of you...!

  48. Thank you so much! Address has been emailed.