Haunted Dolls and Dead Victorians: I LOVE Spooky Stuff

Some people use the Internet for porn, I use it to fall down the rabbit hole of creepy stuff.
Publish date:
May 1, 2013
death, ghosts, spooky stuff, haunting

The lights in my house used to turn on and off by themself.

It was a weird, old house in Seattle, and to this day, I'm absolutely convinced there was some ghosty, spooky shit going on in there.

It didn't help that when my family purchased the house from it's previous owners, they wrote this long rambling letter to my family about "releasing the house and all the spirits within it" to us. Seriously? I still can't believe my parents, both superstitious and believers in the afterlife, thought this was a good idea.

For the six years we lived in that house, we heard and saw all manner of haunted house stuff -- doors would open and close on their own, footsteps walking up the stairs to the second floor and stopping outside a bedroom door, a shadowy figure at the foot of my bed.

Early one evening, when I was 11 years old and home alone, I got "trapped" in a back bedroom when I kept hearing a knocking and tapping on the other side of the door. When I peeked under the door, I could see no feet. I stayed in that room for hours until my parents came home to rescue me.

Maybe all that stuff was just me being a bored kid with an overactive imagination, but the time spent in that creepy house sparked a fascination with all things spooky and macabre.

Some people use the Internet for porn, I use it to fall down the rabbit hole of creepy stuff. I've lost years of my life looking up every post-mortem photograph, haunted hotel and Black Dahlia detail I can find.

When I left my old job, and forgot to clean out my computer's favorites list, I can only imagine the look on my replacement's face when he was confronted with hundreds of links to websites showing dead Victorians and "The Body Farm" in Tennessee, among others. If I'm being watched by the FBI, I understand.

So, gentle reader, I give to you the gift of nightmares. I've mentioned my obsessions in the past, and you asked for more.

Here it is, a list of my favorite spooky subjects.


The Victorians were a dark bunch. With photography becoming more accessible, people, commonly the middle class, were able could take one last photo of their deceased loved ones to memorialize them.

The dead were often propped up to appear more lifelike, making for stiffly posed pictures. Remember, they were often dealing with rigor mortis, so posing them was somewhat limited. Sometimes, if you look closely you can see the stand and pole with which the deceased is being held up.

Some of the photos are so good that you have to really look hard to figure out who is dead. I bet there were some rousing games of "Find the Dead One" at Victorian parties. Like I said, they were a dark bunch.

The eyes always give it away. If the dead's eyes looked "too dead," white was added to the image to make the eyes look more lifelike. Children were often portrayed as sleeping, with rosy cheeks painted in after.

Really, some of these photos are just so sad and lovely. You can almost feel the mourning and finality in the faces of the living posed around the dead. It is a peek into a very intimate part of their lives.

The ones of children really get me, there must have been such a mixed sense of peace and loss when taking a post-mortem photograph of your child. For some of these people, this was the only photo ever taken of them.

Some call this practice "bizarre," but the intimacy and elegance of some of these pictures makes sense to me as a way in which to find some beauty in the sorrow surrounding death.


"The Body Farm" is actually The Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee started by Dr. William Bass.

Basically, this is the place where bodies go to rot. Various donated bodies are place around "death's acres" to see how they decompose when placed in certain situations -- out in the open, in a trash can, under the dirt, in water, etc.

"The Body Farm's" research aids in the solving of murders and the gathering of forensic evidence. In the book, "Death's Acres" by William Bass and Jefferson (one of my favorites!) Dr. Bass details how, by knowing exactly the timeline by which the human body decomposes, he can figure out important forensic details in solving murders.

You can even donate your body to the University of Tennessee to be used as subject on the "Farm." They say that the bodies and the family's of the deceased are treated with the "utmost respect and compassion."

I must admit there is something off-putting about having a human being treated as a lab subject after death, but medical schools use cadavers, right? These bodies are just allowed to rot.

I want to go to there.


I'll admit it, I'm kind of a walking encyclopedia of haunted places. It is the rare haunted location that I haven't heard of. Jealous?

While the rest of you jokers were running around getting drunk and having sex in high school, I was reading everything I could get my clammy little hands on about ghosts and hauntings.

Three of my favorites are the ones listed above. I've visited Lemp and The Queen Mary and I am visiting Robert next month in Key West. Some people visit the largest ball of twine, I visit haunted dolls, what of it?

Here's the lowdown:

Lemp Mansion

Former home of the St. Louis Lemps (approximately 1840's through 1940's) of the Lemp Brewing Company. Once a prosperous family with a successful beer company, the Lemps' lives were plagued by misfortune, mental illness and suicide. Most of the Lemp family committed suicide in or around the mansion. Not to mention the life of the sadly titled "Monkey Faced Boy," Zeke, William Lemp Jr.'s secret son, who was locked away in the attic.

Reports of ghostly voices, footsteps, knockings and apparitions plague the house. Zeke's face as been seen in windows and William Lemp Jr. has been said to peek over the stalls in the women's bathroom.

Maybe I just got swept up in the spookiness of it all, but when I visited Lemp Mansion (which is now a restaurant and B&B), I got suddenly very agitated when climbing the stairs to the attic and then burst into tears upon reaching the threshold to Zeke's room.

The place is a little cheesy now, what with the murder mystery evenings they do, but when you go up into the bedrooms and attic spaces, the place is pretty damn disconcerting.

Robert the Doll

The backstory alone on this one gives me the heebie jeebies.

Robert Gene Otto of Key West, FL was given a doll handmade by a Haitian servant in the early 1900's. The doll was meant to resemble young Robert, and its hair was even supposedly made of Robert's own hair.

Robert developed a extra special close relationship with the doll, going so far as to relinquish his first name to the doll, because it was "his" name, and insisting on being called Gene for the rest of this life.

For many years Gene could be heard having conversations with Robert, a low voice heard in response to Gene's. Strange giggling would be heard all over the house and often Gene would be found cornered in his bed surrounded by Robert's carnage -- upside down furniture and mangled toys.

Eventually Robert was moved into the attic where he stayed until Gene was an adult and converted the attic into an artist's studio. Gene became obsessed with Robert again, and his attachment to Robert -- along with his wife's onset of mental illness -- destroyed his marriage.

These days Robert the Doll lives in the East Martello Museum in Key West, where from time to time he supposedly moves himself, jams cameras that try to take pictures of him unannounced, or frees himself from his glass display case. A lot of people say his facial expression actually changes depending on his mood.

Alright, Gene Otto might have had some major mental instabilities that can account for Robert the Doll's mischief. Be that as it may, you have to admit it's a pretty creepy story.

The Queen Mary

My husband took me here for my birthday one year. He won some major points in booking a room, taking me to dinner, and indulging my inner ghost hunter as I traipsed around the ship. However our night did not end in romance, as I insisted on having the lights and the TV on the whole night, lest one of the ship's many reported ghosts decided to drop by and offer a turn down service.

An ex luxury liner and military ship, The Queen Mary has seen her fair share of death and destruction at sea.

Among her over 150 documented ghosts, disembodied voices have been recorded in her engine room, a little ghost girl has been heard and seen playing in the now drained ship's indoor pool, and a lady in white has been seen dancing in the Queen's Salon.

What freaked me out so much, and made me sleep with the lights on was the report that a man in a 1930's suit has been reported to appear in the staterooms in the middle of the night. As we lay in the pretty, art deco room, snuggled into our comfy queen sized bed, I eyed the chair by the door and DARED that man to make an appearance. Thankfully, he did not.

That's my short list. The stuff I'm most likely reading about when I'm supposed to be doing work or socializing.

Are you into any of this stuff? Got any good ghost stories? Visited any haunted houses/ships/dolls lately?