Let’s talk about haunted things. And I don’t just mean houses or graveyards; ghosts definitely aren’t limited to wandering around specific locations. There are all sorts of things that are haunted: Places… people… and, of course, objects. I have never made it a point to bring haunted objects into my home; some people do, though, and the results are usually pretty tragic. Since it’s Halloween, therefore, I figured it might be useful to provide a guide to the sorts of items you should never, ever allow across the threshold of your personal dwelling. From dolls to chairs and from paintings to mirrors, these 10 objects actually exist — and because of their supposedly haunted or cursed status, you’d definitely do well to give them a wide berth.
It’s worth noting that as much as I love reading about stuff like this, I’m definitely a skeptic; as such, I’m inclined to think that most of the phenomena associated with these items can be chalked up to coincidence or rotten luck — when, that is, they haven’t already been completely debunked. That said, though, they still make for some deliciously spooky stories, so get ready to give yourself a shiver. It’s all in the spirit of the season, after all!
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1. Robert the Doll
When Key West artist Robert Eugene Otto — or Gene, as he was more commonly known to his family — was four years old, he was given a doll as a gift. As the story goes, the doll looked kind of human, but kind of not; he wore a sailor suit and carried a toy of his own, a miniature stuffed lion. Gene named him Robert, and from the moment he first appeared, weird events plagued the family’s home. Gene’s parents would periodically hear Gene giggling with someone — an unknown person with a deep-sounding voice — as they walked by his closed bedroom door; furniture overturned in rooms in which Robert sat; Gene began having horrible nightmares; toys would disappear and reappear, mutilated; and whenever something went wrong, Gene would utter the phrase, “Robert did it.” Even after Robert was banished to the attic, passersby claimed to see a small figure moving from window to window. Many believe the doll to be cursed.
These days, Robert is kept under lock and key at Key West’s Fort East Martello Museum; you can visit him, but make sure you ask his permission before taking his picture. He doesn’t take kindly to unsolicited photographs. And whatever you do, do not bring home a Robert the Doll replica. Seriously. Don’t do it.
2. "The Hands Resist Him" Painting
Often referred to as “The Haunted eBay Painting,” "The Hands Resist Him" was found on the site of an old brewery by a couple from California. They put the painting up for auction on eBay in February of 2000, claiming that the characters in the painting sometimes moved on their own — and occasionally even escaped the boundaries of the painting itself. Eventually it sold for a whopping $1,025, because apparently people really like to decorate their homes with cursed paintings.
While there’s no denying that the piece, which features a young boy and a doll-like girl standing in front of a window and a sea of disembodied hands, is a little on the creepy side… it’s probably not actually cursed. The work of artist Bill Stoneham, it was based off of a photograph his parents took of him and a neighbor when they were children; he himself was rather surprised when he heard about the stories attached to his piece. Says Stoneham about the painting's symbolism, “There are memories, echoes of all the life within a place…. The hands are the ‘other lives.' The glass door, that thin veil between waking and dreaming. The girl/doll is the imagined companion, or guide through this realm.”
He painted some sequels, by the way. Three of them. Anyone interested in the complete set?
3. The Dybbuk Box
Remember the 2012 horror movie The Possession? It was based on a true story — or at least, as true as any story of this ilk can be. The item known as “the dybbuk box” made its first appearance on the Internet in 2003, when it was put up for auction on eBay. Its owner at the time claimed that he had picked up the box, intended for the storage of wine, at an estate sale in Portland, Oregon in 2001. It had belonged to a Jewish woman who had lived to the ripe old age of 103; the box, she had always said, housed a dybbuk, or evil spirit, and should never, ever be opened. Of course the new owner opened it… and as you might have guessed, things didn’t go so well after that. He gave it to his mother, who immediately suffered a stroke; he asked his sister to hang onto it, but it freaked her out because it wouldn’t stay shut; he tried to sell it, only to find it returned to his doorstep with a note reading “This has a bad darkness”; and so on.
The box has changed hands several times since the 2003 auction; currently, it's on display at Zak Bagans' Haunted Museum in Las Vegas. I am not generally a Zak Bagans fan, and I haven't been to his allegedly Haunted Museum, so I can't really recommend that you make the trip yourself... but it's an option, if that's, y'know, your jam. Either way, you can still see the original eBay listing for it archived here.
4. Annabelle the Doll
We’ve spoken about Annabelle in depth before — after all, she’s about to have her very own movie — so I’ll give you a refresher course here: Purchased used from a hobby store in 1970, the doll that would later become known as Annabelle spent a considerable amount of time terrorizing a pair of nursing students before paranormal experts Lorraine and Ed Warren were called in. Although initially the spirit within the doll claimed to be that of a young girl, Annabelle Higgins, who had been found dead at the age of seven, eventually it became clear that this was not the case.
The Warrens determined that “Annabelle” was actually a demon posing as the spirit of the little girl—and even worse, that she was intent on stealing one of the nursing students' souls. An exorcism seemed to have solved the problem… but the Warrens, who took Annabelle with her at the conclusion of the case, ended up building a locked case for the doll after she started getting up to her old tricks at her new home. You can visit her if you want; she’s on display at the Warren’s Occult Museum.
It’s worth noting that Annabelle got one helluva redesign for her cameo in The Conjuring, which will also carry over to her own film. She’s actually a Raggedy Ann doll, which looks a little less creepy than her Hollywood version… but I still wouldn’t want her sitting anywhere in my house.
5. Thomas Busby’s Stoop Chair
Thomas Busby of Thirsk, North Yorkshire was not a nice man. In 1702, he came one day to discover his father-in-law, Daniel Auty (sometimes spelled Awety — isn’t unregulated spelling fun?) sitting in his favorite chair; this sparked an argument resulting in Auty threatening to take back his daughter (women as property... sigh), before Busby threw him out of the house. That night, Busby went up to Auty’s home, bludgeoned him to death with a hammer, and hid the body in the woods. The body, of course, was found; Busby was tried and convicted; and he was subsequently hanged, tarred, and left in a gibbet by the side of the road opposite the coaching inn. It’s said that on the way to the gallows, Busby requested a drink of ale at his favorite pub before his sentence was enacted. As he finished, he said, “May sudden death come to anyone who dare sit in my chair.”
The chair currently occupies a spot in the Thirsk Museum. Terrible fates have befallen many who have sat in it, from brain tumors to car crashes; accordingly, the decision was made in 1972 to hang it from the ceiling, preventing anyone from sitting in it ever again. A wise move, I feel.
6. Anna Baker’s Wedding Dress
In 1836, ironmaster Elias Baker purchased a mansion near the Alleghany Furnace in Altoona, PA. Shortly after he, his wife Hetty, and their two sons moved in, Elias and Hetty welcomed a third child, a baby girl named Anna. According to the stories, by the time Anna had reached marrying age, she had fallen in love with a local steelworker. They got engaged in secret, even going so far as to obtain a beautiful gown for Anna to wear at their wedding. Alas, though, her father discovered their plan and forbade Anna from marrying the man she loved; he was too low class for her, Elias said. The match would never do. The wedding dress went unworn, and Anna Baker died an old maid in 1914. The dress remained on display in the historic house museum the Baker Mansion eventually became for quite some time — and every so often, it would appear to dance all by itself, its sleeves fluttering and the matching slippers tapping, as if moved by a non-existent wind.
There’s nothing like a pair of star-crossed lovers to add a little oomph to a legend — but this one, at least, has been fully debunked. According to the executive director of the Blair County Historical Society, which maintains the Baker Mansion today, the dress was worn by Elizabeth Bell in 1830. Bell was the daughter of another ironmaster, Edward Bell; the room the dress was displayed in memorializes the Bell family. Unfortunately, though, the dress had to be taken out of circulation; it had degraded too much due to exposure to light and other airborne pollutants.
7. "The Crying Boy" Painting
You’ve probably seen "The Crying Boy" before. Maybe you spotted it hanging in a model home, or decorating the walls of a drab and dreary waiting room. Painted by Italian artist Bruno Amadio, known commonly as Bragolin, "The Crying Boy" is one of a series of paintings featuring tearful children staring out at the viewer. Mass-produced and widely distributed, copies upon copies of "The Crying Boy" have entered the world since the 1950s.
But in 1985, something strange happened. Stories began circulating — stories of prints of "The Crying Boy" being found in the ruins of burned houses, utterly unscathed. No fireman would allow a copy of the painting into his home, and people began to speak of them as something unnatural. Something evil.
But it’s pretty safe to say that this story is false. It was first disseminated in the UK tabloid The Sun, and, well… Tabloids also report on people seeing the Shroud of Turin magically appear on their pancakes. Steven Punt attempted to get to the bottom of the rumors in an episode of the BBC Radio Four show Punt PI; he discovered that the varnish coating the prints was fire repellent, accounting for their imperviousness to flames.
They’re still not sure why the frames remained unburnt, though.
8. The Woman from Lemb Statue
We’re pretty sure the statue known as the Woman from Lemb is a depiction of a fertility goddess… but it may as well be a death statue, because good gravy, that’s all that seems to follow in its wake. Dating back to roughly 3500 B.C.E., the statue was recovered from Lemb, Cyprus in 1878. Since then, it’s had at least four different owners, all of which perished within six years of receiving it. First, there was Lord Elphont: All seven members of his family died within six years of the statue’s arrival at their home. Ivor Menucci’s family — owner number two — all went within four years, as did the family of Lord Thompson-Noel, owner number three. Owner number four, Sir Alan Biverbrook, and his wife and two daughters, went next… but before it finished off the family entirely, the two remaining sons donated the statue to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. The museum curator who took care of the acquisition died within a year, as well. Freaky, no?
...Or at least, it would be if the story was true. According to Rob Bricken at io9, the statue exists, but the tales that cling to it are pretty much entirely made up. It’s often referred to as The Lemba Lady; it was discovered in 1970, not 1878; and it’s been part of the general collection at the Cyprus Museum in Nicosia since it was first found. It also hasn’t, y’know, killed anyone, so hoorah for that.
9. The Basano Vase
Like a number of the objects on this list, death seems to follow this antique silver vase. We don’t really know where the Basano Vase came from, but we’re pretty sure it was created in Italy during the 15th century. Someone found it in 1988 — again, where, we don’t really know — and even though it came with a note that read “Beware, this vase brings death,” that someone decided it would be a really good idea to auction it off. It sold for four million lira — around $2,300 at the time — and three months later, its new owner was dead. The next owner similarly passed away, this time after two months. The pattern continued, owner to owner, until eventually the police decided enough was enough and buried it somewhere. They won’t tell anyone where — but that’s OK. Seriously, guys. Do not go and dig this thing up, even if it is mostly a myth.
10. The Tallman Family's Bunk Beds
In 1986, Deborah and Allen Tallman moved with their young children into a house on Larabee Street in Horicon, Wis. In 1987, they bought a second-hand set of bunk beds for their kids for $100. But by 1988, they had moved out of the house and buried the bunk beds in a landfill where they hoped no one would ever set eyes on them again.
When they brought the bunk beds home, you see, they brought more than just a piece of furniture with them. They brought in something… else. Something that terrorized them for months: They began seeing strange shapes in their home, hearing voices that didn’t belong to any of the Tallmans themselves, fighting with clock radios that kept changing channels by themselves and furniture that moved when no one was looking, and jumping out of their skins with fright when an apparition of an old woman appeared without warning.
About half a year after they brought the bunk beds home, the Tallmans had had enough. They got rid of the beds — said Deborah Tallman to UPI at the time, “The beds were buried Saturday in a landfill where nobody will ever build. They took them out there and plowed them under” — and put the house up for sale. But although no other residents of the house ever reported any supernatural activity, the period in the late ‘80s during which the Tallmans lived at the address stuck with them. Said Deborah Tallman to UPI after they moved out, “I think it's going to be a long time before things get back to normal. I still cannot sit at home at night and not be afraid of the dark.”
The beds, as far as anyone knows, have never been unearthed.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t still there.
Waiting for the next family to take them home.
This post was originally published on Oct. 2, 2014. It was updated on June 11, 2019.