Legends about dolls that are absolutely creepy

What is it about dolls that gets under people's skin? Smithsonian Magazine says that it might be the uncanny valley, a psychological response to something that looks almost human but isn't quite believable. An object like a doll that sits in that valley seems monstrous, as if it might have an animating spirit like a human but which is, like its appearance, somehow wrong.

Someone who's genuinely affected by these objects could have pediophobia, described by Healthline as an "intense and irrational fear of dolls." Even if you aren't thrown into a paroxysm of fear when presented with a doll, you might still think about all of the pop culture that's trained us to be wary of them. Think of films like Chucky or Annabelle or the murderous puppets from Puppet Master.

Perhaps some of us love stories of haunted dolls because we also enjoy that little twist of fear. Yeah, that doll in the corner of your room probably won't get up and scratch eerie messages on the wall. It would never silently watch you sleep, unmoving but still watching and waiting. It's all just in your imagination. Right?

Mandy creeps people out in British Columbia

Maybe the strangest thing about purportedly haunted dolls is the fact that so many people want to see them. It's an odd phenomenon, to be sure, but it can be a handy marketing tool for the places that house an eerie doll.

Take the story of "Mandy," a vintage doll currently exhibited at the Quesnel Museum in British Columbia. According to the museum, Mandy was donated in 1991. She was already well-aged even then, with a cracked porcelain face and ripped cloth body. While the staff has apparently given Mandy some clean new clothes, that eerie visage alone is still timeworn and haunting. Mandy doesn't stop at atmospherics, however. Mandy's donor reported odd sounds of a baby crying in her basement. Once Mandy was situated in the museum, staff claimed to hear phantom footsteps and also blamed the doll for missing office supplies.

Visitors have also had creepy experiences with her, says Huffington Post. Some say that Mandy's eyes follow them. Others swear that they've found her stuffed toy lamb on the floor, though it should be right next to her behind plexiglass. One report via the Quesnel Observer tells the tale of a woman who tried to film Mandy. Though her camera worked just fine in other exhibits, it went haywire whenever she focused on the doll. When she tried to play the VHS tape at home, it promptly jammed. Mandy is apparently camera-shy.

Charley the doll likes to move around

You'd think dolls, even of the haunted variety, would go easy on their intended audience: kids. Then again, for Charley, who's currently packed away in an oddities shop in Massachusetts, menacing children seems to be his favorite move.

It all began in 1968 in New York, says Atlas Obscura. Charley was supposed to be just another addition to an unnamed family's doll collection. Soon, however, weird things began happening around the new acquisition. Charley seemed to always be in a different spot than where someone had last left him. Annoying, but that's something a mischievous kid could do when no one's looking, or else chalked up to mere forgetfulness.

Then, the family's four-year-old daughter started to tell everyone that Charley spoke to her. All five children soon grew hysterical, saying that the doll spoke to them and even scratched their skin. Wanting to put an end to the collective freakout or avoid the supernatural escalation, the parents locked Charley in an attic trunk.

Charley emerged years later at a garage sale. A woman finally bought the doll, though she was told the eerie story, which has since followed Charley through many different owners. He's currently creeping out children and adults alike at Local Artisan, a small store in Beverly, Massachusetts.

Annabelle looks cute but might be a demonic toy

Annabelle's reputation is so fearsome that she inspired a horror movie franchise bearing her name, but the real Annabelle is less immediately awful. She appears to be a standard-issue Raggedy Ann doll ready for cuddling. Don't be fooled, say some paranormal investigators. According to the New Haven Register, Annabelle is so dangerous that she's been locked away in a case at The Warren's Occult Museum for years. 

What's Annabelle's deal? The story goes that she was given to a student nurse in the 1970s. The nurse and her roommate noticed strange activity happening around the doll, as if it was moving and even writing messages like "Help me" on scattered bits of paper. When consulted, a psychic claimed that this was due to the spirit of a little girl named "Annabelle." The two women tried to accept the doll, but things got violent. When contacted, the Warrens told the pair that, whoops, they had actually invited a demon into their home. Luckily, the Warrens had just the right place for Annabelle. She be going to The Warren's Occult Museum, where, according to Atlas Obscura, she'd be in the company of other creepy dolls and demonic artifacts.

Recently, reports Newsweek, the Occult Museum was closed due to zoning violations. Rumors claimed that Annabelle had escaped, but owner Tony Spera says she's still contained. For now.

Pupa scared people in Italy

Pupa is said to be made out of felt, a gentle material that doesn't exactly inspire fear. The beginning of her story, as described in Demonic Dolls, doesn't even sound that bad. As the tale goes, she first appeared in Italy during the 1920s, when she was given to a little girl. Soon enough, the girl became devoted to Pupa, so much so that she kept her childhood toy close by even as she moved into adulthood.

Charming, right? Except, the woman's family says grandma believed that Pupa was alive. She had said that the doll could talk and move on her own, even going so far as to save her owner's life. Eventually, the woman passed away. Pupa changed hands and is now living with another family in the United States. 

According to Chucky Dies, she's gone a bit sour in her new digs. The current owners keep her in a case in which visitors claim to have seen a fog forming on the inside. People may even see messages written in the condensation, such as "Pupa does not like." Once, says a family member, she even began to walk. He tried to upload a video of the incident but says it was obscured. Only a single message was visible in the footage: "Pupa No!"

Letta the doll appeared in Australia

Few horror movies have better openings than the tale of Letta the doll. According to The Chronicle, Kerry Walton and his brother stumbled across Letta while exploring an abandoned home in Wagga Wagga, Australia. Like any sane, regular person, Kerry decided to take the doll back home with him to Queensland. Soon, Kerry's children began to claim that the doll could talk and move. It was easy at first to attribute this to bad dreams after dad brought home a dirty, grotesque doll from a derelict house.

Then, other visitors said the doll moved. When dogs were brought around, Letta appeared to drive them into an aggressive frenzy where some attempted to attack the doll itself. Walton says he can't even sell the doll. When he tried to do so years ago, he was physically unable to remove Letta from his car.

Those are all stories that could be dismissed as fantasies, but there are some real facts here to unsettle even the biggest skeptic. Walton says that he's had the doll checked out by staff members at the Australian Museum, reports The Chronicle. They've told him that Letta is made out of wood, has glass eyes, and is crowned with real human hair. Perhaps now Walton should consult with Annabelle's owner on the best doll-containment case to make sure Letta stays right where it is.

A Japanese spirit is said to inhabit a temple figure

A temple on Japan's northernmost main island, Hokkaido, is said to be home to the spirit of a young girl. The twist? She's still living inside a traditional doll. According to Japanese Ghost Stories, visitors to the Mannenji temple there can view the Okiku doll, a vintage figurine whose hair is said to still be growing.

The legend goes that a boy visited the island sometime in 1918 and bought a doll for his toddler sister, Okiku. She loved the gift and even named the doll after herself. Tragedy struck when the human Okiku died just a year later. The grief-stricken family placed her doll on their home altar as a remembrance of their lost girl. That was a normal part of the grieving process, but things got strange a few months later. That's when they started to notice that the doll's hair was growing.

Some time later, the family was in the process of moving. They offered the supernatural doll, whose hair was now even longer, to the Mannenji temple. The doll is still there today, says Demonic Dolls. Every year, it claims, a priest even gives Okiku a haircut to keep the length under control.

A Barbie doll haunts a shrine in Singapore

Just off the coast of Singapore sits a tiny island called Pulau Ubin. Amidst the abundant natural beauty, visitors can make their way to an old structure known as the "German Girl Shrine." Inside, surrounded by offerings of cosmetics, is a Barbie doll with a surprising history.

According to Atlas Obscura, the German Girl Shrine is dedicated to the memory of a local girl who died before World War I. Her European parents owned a plantation on the island, giving the girl a uniquely privileged life that couldn't last. As WWI began, British forces invaded the island and apprehended the family. As she ran from the soldiers, the teenage daughter fell off a cliff to her death. Local people buried her, later exhuming her remains and storing them in an urn housed at the shrine. Over the years, the memory of the girl shifted until she became a local Taoist deity.

The Barbie was placed there in the 21st century, reports AsiaOne, after the urn containing the girl's remains was stolen. A local man says he was then visited in a dream by a white girl who told him to buy a Barbie doll from a local shop and install it in the shrine. Visitors now say that the spirit of the German Girl resides in the Barbie. Those who bring a gift, like the cosmetics placed around the doll, are granted luck.

Chucky is for real

Long before Annabelle hit the screens, Chucky was frightening people worldwide in 1988's Child's Play. Lest you think that murderous doll was invented whole-cloth, however, know that he was inspired by a very real, very ominous toy named Robert.

Robert the doll was given to Robert Eugene Otto in 1904. Gene, as he was called, would later grow up to be a successful but eccentric painter, living in what's now known as Key West's Artist House. Gene was just four years old when the family maid gave him a large doll dressed in a sailor suit, reports Slate. Even as he grew older, the boy would have conversations with Robert and insist that the doll have his own seat at the dinner table. Gene also apparently had anger issues, though he blamed Robert for the mess of his tantrums.

When Gene married, Robert was banished upstairs, where passersby said he could be seen moving between different rooms. Eventually, Gene passed away, and the Artist House came under new ownership. The next residents said they heard giggles coming from Robert, who still sat in the upper floor of the home. 

Robert was donated to the local Fort East Martello Museum in 1994. The museum says Robert routinely disrupts electronic devices like cameras. They've also received letters from people who have insulted Robert, now begging for his forgiveness after they've experienced unearthly misfortune.

Ann the doll creeped people out on a livestream

While some dolls serve up the creepiness through old-fashioned stories and legends, Ann the doll made the leap into the 21st century with some human help. As reported by CNET, Ann supposedly has a good paranormal pedigree. Unnamed investigators claim that she's inhabited by the spirit of a girl who passed away from tuberculosis at the infamous Waverly Hills Sanatorium.

The sanatorium, which opened in 1910, was built to house tuberculosis patients just outside of Louisville, Kentucky, says Atlas Obscura. The location had the dual advantage of clean, fresh air and quarantined distance from civilization. Over the years, many patients nonetheless died at Waverly Hills, leading some to believe that the now semi-abandoned building is haunted.

The story goes that Ann the girl died. Her spirit followed her nurse, Lois, back home. Lois supposedly kept a doll collection to house the child spirits that trailed her. She even maintained a log of their spectral hijinks, which included cries for help and actual tears. CNET, however, couldn't confirm that someone by that name had ever worked at Waverly Hills.

Not one to let research get in the way of a good story, horror site The Lineup hosted a livestream featuring Ann. Viewers reported that Ann closed her eyes and caused technical glitches, while one saw a "ghost blip." Ann now lives with a new couple in Illinois.

The Island of the Dolls is full of horrors

If one doll is creepy, then what do you do with an island packed full of them? The Island of the Dolls is legendarily unsettling, thanks to its nearly wall-to-wall complement of grimy children's toys.

What would possess someone to create such an eerie place just outside the bustle of Mexico City? According to Vice, it all comes down to Don Julio Santana. The ultra-religious Don Julio abandoned his family and set up on an uninhabited island, where he would live for another five decades until his death in 2001. Until then, he could be seen traveling the old canals, fishing out dolls to bring back to his growing collection.

Why dolls, though? In the version of the story related by Atlas Obscura, not long after his move, Don Julio found the remains of a drowned girl floating near his island. The dolls were an attempt to either appease or protect her spirit. If one doll was good, then perhaps Don Julio thought that a small island packed full of them, even as they rotted in the sun and humidity, was even better.

Then again, the discovery of the girl's body may have been all in Don Julio's head, the product of untreated mental illness. Either way, the Island of the Dolls is a very real, very creepy landmark that still stands today.

A doll named Claire tormented a child

Sometimes, you get a gift that just doesn't work for you. Maybe it's an ill-fitting piece of clothing, a book that doesn't strike your fancy, or some odd collection of scented soaps that you toss into the back of a cabinet somewhere. Disappointing as that is, just be grateful that a pair of socks has never tried to haunt you.

Jill was an innocent eight-year-old child when she received a doll, says Haunted Objects. The old-fashioned porcelain toy was a gift from a family friend who then shortly passed away. Jill kept the doll, which she named Claire, as a memento. Jill recalled that music boxes began to play on their own, always around Claire. Objects would fall from shelves whenever she was nearby, too, and missing items would be found in the doll's pockets.

In one of the most horrifying incidents, recounted by Jill on Reddit, Claire was placed in a rocking chair in the corner of Jill's room. In the middle of the night, it began to rock on its own, waking Jill. As the horrified Jill watched, Claire's head turned to stare at her, while every music box in the room began to play.

Claire was swiftly packed into a box and hidden in the back of a closet. Jill says that the doll is still there, where it could be responsible for some of the other paranormal happenings in her parents' home.

Is an Elsa doll haunting a Houston family?

Dolls of all sorts are possible haunting magnets. Even if a beloved toy is a simple, mass-produced movie tie-in, there's always the chance that something creepy could latch onto it. 

One Houston family says that just such a toy, an Elsa doll from the Frozen movie franchise, might be haunted. According to Today, the Madonia family had been trying to get rid of the thing for years. Father Mat attempted to throw it out the first time, only for the family to discover the doll inside a wooden bench.

That first could have been chalked up to forgetfulness or even a sneaky child who wasn't ready to let her doll go into the great beyond. The second time, however, gets a little weirder. Emily, the mother, wrote that Elsa was then put into a garbage bag inside another bag, placed inside the can beneath other refuse, and wheeled out to the curb. A short while later, the very same Elsa, identifiable by some marker stains, appeared in the backyard. The doll, which was programmed to sing and speak when a button on its chest is pressed, began to do so, whenever it cared to and regardless of button-pressing.

Emily eventually mailed the doll to a friend who offered to give the spooky toy a home, reports Vice. Elsa now lives a quiet life affixed to the brush guard of the friend's Jeep.