Yesterday's Magazette

1 – Haunted Florida

Haunted Florida


By Madonna Dries Christensen

All houses wherein men have lived and died are haunted houses. Through the open doors the harmless phantoms on their errands glide, with feet that make no sound upon the floors.

–– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Moonlight whitewashes Cedar Key’s Shell Mound Trail in Florida’s Panhandle. Nocturnal wildlife rustles and roots in the deep brush, stirring primeval odors into the damp air. At dawn, a passerby sees The Ghost Woman seated on a boat at water’s edge.

Legend says that Annie Simpson and her wolfhound were killed by pirates in the late 1800s because she witnessed them burying treasure near the mound. Treasure hunters later uncovered a chest of coins and a dog’s skeleton, but Annie’s remains were never found. Still, the young girl with long dark hair has been seen countless times. One observer saw only a white dress and a light floating through the trees, but a little girl followed Annie into the woods because, “She wants me, Mama.” The mother didn’t understand until she noticed Annie beckoning to the child.

Florida’s misty swampland, lush hammocks, and stately old trees curtained with Spanish moss provide ideal hiding places for ghosts. If, indeed, they want to hide. Many souls from the past regularly make themselves known. These apparitions might be frightening to viewers, but rarely do ghosts harm anyone. They are usually benign, even benevolent; some are pranksters who enjoy making things go bump and squeak in the night.

Some say that historic Tampa Theater is haunted by former projectionist Foster “Fink” Finley, who practically lived at the theater before his death in 1965. Current employees have reported a ghostly white presence, keys rattling, and light switches unexpectedly going on and off.

The Boca Grande Lighthouse on Gasparilla Island seems to have a resident spirit, the young daughter of the lighthouse keeper. A park ranger and others have reported feeling her presence, or hearing someone humming in what was McKinley’s office, where the girl often played. They report hearing the sound of metal jacks being tossed on the wooden floor and a rubber ball bouncing.

The nation’s oldest city, St. Augustine, is alive with phantoms. Excursion tours are offered, with guides dressed in period costumes and carrying lanterns. Haunted sites include Castillo de San Marcos, the lighthouse, cemeteries, parks, inns and homes. Among the specters seen is Henry Flagler, who built the Florida East Coast Railroad and the Ponce De Leon Hotel (now Flagler College). One student was reportedly so shaken by his encounter with Flagler’s image that he not only left college, he left town.

Indian leader Osceola reputedly haunts St. Augustine because a local doctor cut off Osceola’s head and used it to scare the chief’s children. Residing in a centuries-old house is Don Pedro Benedit de Horruytiner, Spanish governor in the 1600s. The house also has a ghost cat, the spirit of a sentry who was killed in the house, and a mysterious form that moves about in the shadows in the foyer. .

Micanopy’s population of 800 includes at least one ghost, Inez Herlong Miller, dwelling at The Herlong Mansion Bed and Breakfast. In about 1910, Inez’s mother, Natalie, inherited her family’s Micanopy homestead. Because Mr. Herlong’s South Carolina business was failing, the family moved to Micanopy. Unaccustomed to humble accommodations, Herlong enclosed the little house inside a mansion.

Natalie retained title to the property and when she died in 1950 it went to her six children, with the stipulation that their father could live there until his death. When he died 10 years later, the mansion was in serious disrepair. All the children wanted the house, but only Inez, whose husband had died and left her with money, could afford to buy and restore the mansion. After an extended battle, Inez bought her siblings’ shares, but there was so much bitterness that none of them ever spoke to Inez again. Not long after her victory, she was working on the second floor when she died from a heart attack. She never spent a night in her beloved home.

Or, is she still there? Owner, Sonny Howard, believes she is, and says, “If she’s happy here, I’m happy.” He might tell you the story he heard from the Evanses, the people from whom he bought the house. They had hired a restoration crew and given them permission to sleep in the house at night. For three nights the workers were awakened by doors opening and closing and footsteps in the upstairs hall. After searching and finding no intruders, the crew decided the house was haunted and moved to a hotel.

The Evanses, eager to put the ghost story to rest, spent a night there. They locked their bedroom door and slept soundly, but in the morning their bedroom door was open. Howard tells this story only after guests have had breakfast. When he asks how everyone slept, he says most of those who report an “experience” were lodged in the room in which Inez died. But he doesn’t say which room that is. One guest reported an apparition floating across the room, seen only in the mirror, not in the room itself. It appeared to be a woman wearing a red shawl or hood over her head. When the guest spoke aloud, the image disappeared.

Sarasota’s Ca’ d’Zan (house of John), was the winter home of circus master John Ringling. Although he died in 1936, he still casts a giant shadow, seen by people touring the mansion, particularly in the Black Marble room, rumored to have been the site of dabblers in the occult.

Sarasota’s Ringling College of Art and Design supposedly has a ghost. The story goes that in 1929 the body of a young woman named Mary was found hanging in a stairwell between the second and third floors in what was then the Bay Haven Hotel. A student in 1985, who said she saw Mary, described her as the archetypal ghost: skeletal, long stringy hair, tattered white gown, hovering near the ceiling. Later students have reported missing items, moved paint brushes, fleeting unexplained visions, and feelings of being watched. A cleaning woman who encountered some sort of specter fled the building and never returned. A team of ghost busters who investigated the college dorm found no evidence of Mary.

St. Petersburg boasts a mansion once owned by Thomas Rowe. In the early 1900s, Rowe was in London, where he fell in love with a young opera singer named Lucinda. Her family forbade her from seeing Rowe, so he returned to Florida. His letters to her were returned unopened. Then one day, after receiving word of Lucinda’s death, he received a letter from her, in which she wrote, “Time is infinite. I wait for you by our fountain, to share our timeless love, our destiny in time.” In Lucinda’s honor, Rowe built a luxurious mansion, complete with a fountain and courtyard like the one in London where they had spent time. Rowe died in 1940 and, as the story goes, Lucinda finally made it to Florida, in spirit. The two have been seen strolling along the water’s edge, arm in arm, or walking the halls of the mansion that is now the famed Don CeSar hotel and resort, called Florida’s Pink Palace.

Ghosts are sometimes explained as the wandering spirits of people who died untimely or violent deaths, leaving unfinished business. They may be seeking attention, wanting to be seen or heard. Perfectly sane folks from all walks of life claim to have had contact with something they call a ghost. Of course, the accuracy of these stories is in the eye or mind of the beholder. Are ghostly images figments of imagination, or is there truly an active spirit world surrounding us?

Henrik Ibsen, the Norwegian author of Ghosts, wrote, “I almost believe we are all ghosts! It is not only what we have inherited from our father and mother that haunts us. It is all sorts of old, dead ideas, all kinds of old, dead beliefs, and so forth. They have no life, yet they cleave to us, and we cannot shake ourselves free from them.”

Vol. 36 No. 3 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Fall – 2009


1 Comment »

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    Comment by Ned — October 28, 2009 @ 6:45 pm | Reply

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