Nestled deep in the Everglades among the Ten Thousand Islands along the southwestern Gulf coast of Florida is the tiny village of Chokoloskee. It is at the end of the road—literally. You can’t get any farther south except by boat. And at the end of the one main road in Chokoloskee is the Smallwood General Store, sitting on stilts, the waters of the Gulf lapping against its pilings as they have for over a hundred years. It was here on the shore next to Smallwood’s that Ed Watson met his demise in 1910.
Ed Watson had come to the area several years before and was farming very successfully on forty acres a few miles south on the Chatham River. He was a quiet, angry man who kept to himself, but was often in trouble with the law because of his violent temper. He had many enemies in the neighborhood.
Because he was so standoffish, he was cloaked in mystery. No one knew much about him. Folks wondered how he was able to do so well with his farm in such a hostile environment, until disemboweled bodies began showing up in the waters around Watson’s farm.
Someone finally figured out that he had been hiring migrant workers and then killing them instead of paying them, disposing of their bodies by burying them on his farm or feeding them to the alligators.
The local sheriff formed a posse and proceeded to Watson’s place to arrest him. Watson wasn’t home, but the posse found a mass grave with dozen of bodies and body parts. Back at Smallwood’s, the posse waited for Watson to show up. Because of the gruesomeness of the apparent murders, they dispensed with normal legal proceedings and shot him dead as soon as he appeared.
Many of the locals think Smallwood’s is haunted by Ed Watson and that it’s not safe to go among the pilings under the store. Maybe that’s true, but there is no doubt that Watson’s old place is filled with the ghosts of his murder victims. Many people have tried to make a go of the farm, but very little ever grew there after Watson died, and everyone has been overwhelmed by the ghosts. After many years, an old woman moved into Watson’s house. She, too, encountered the phantoms, and one night, while trying to fend them off with a lighted knot torch, burned the place to the ground. Since then, snakes and vegetation have reclaimed the farm and the house.
Ed Watson may or may not be around, but the ghosts of his many victims still certainly occupy that forty acres on the Chatham River a few miles south of the Smallwood General Store in Chokoloskee.
In his book Ghosthunting Florida, author Dave Lapham visits more than 30 legendary haunted places in the Sunshine State, all of which are open to the public so visitors can test their own ghost hunting skills.
In the late 1800s, Edward Leedskalnin left his Latvian home and came to North America. The love of his life, 16-year-old Hermine Lusis, had jilted him on the eve of their wedding because she had decided that, at 26, he was too old for her and too weird. Brokenhearted and dejected, he turned his back on Latvia to build a new life across the Atlantic.
After several years of wandering across Canada and the United States, he contracted tuberculosis and came to Florida for his health, buying a small acreage in Florida City, a few miles south of Homestead. There, in 1923, he began building Rock Gate Park, using massive blocks of coral to fashion huge tables, chairs, couches, fountains, and pillars. Coral weighs 125 pounds per cubic foot and is difficult to work with. Leedskalnin was 5 feet tall and weighed 100 pounds, and yet he was able to extract coral from the ground, carve it into a myriad of shapes—like a 3-ton table in the shape of Florida—and move the objects around the grounds of the park. He worked at night, in secrecy, with no help, using the most fundamental of tools.
Coral Castle is built using 235 tons of coral
In 1937, with development threatening the peace and quiet of Rock Gate Park, he moved his creations north to a 10-acre plot of ground near Homestead. Neighbors saw him transporting his sculptures on a heavy trailer pulled by a borrowed tractor, but no one ever saw how he loaded them. In this new location, Edward built what he called the Coral Castle, a two-story tower house using 235 tons of coral. The gate to his sanctuary was made of 9 tons of coral and was so perfectly balanced that it could be opened with one finger.
As he had earlier, he worked at night, in secrecy, and no one ever saw how he managed to extract the gigantic blocks of coral from the ground, carve them, and lift them into position. Some believed he had supernatural help. Some thought he used witchcraft. The fact is that, even though he had only a fourth-grade education, he studied physics, astronomy, and geology throughout his life and was an outstanding engineer.
He died in 1951 from cancer, but some believe that Edward stayed on at his beloved Coral Castle. Several psychics claim to have conversed with him; many feel the powerful energy that exudes from the place. One visitor took pictures, which, when developed, showed figures that were not there when he snapped the photos. Whether or not Coral Castle is haunted may still be open to question, but its construction will forever be shrouded in mystery.
Ready to visit Coral Castle? Check out the website for information.
You may think that Florida is all about Mickey Mouse; however, in his book Ghosthunting Florida, author Dave Lapham proves that the state is fertile ground for entities even more fantastic than a talking mouse. The book is a spine-tingling trip through Florida’s small towns and lively cities, its historic sites and fun spots, all of them haunted.
Picture by Christina Rutz [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Haunted Cassadaga Hotel and the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp
Cassadaga, Florida, is like no other small town in America. There are no banks, no drugstores, no laundries, no gas stations. There are few people wandering about and no children playing in the streets. It is almost unearthly quiet, and that’s the way the townspeople like it.
George Colby, a New York medium, was led by his spirit guides to Florida to establish a spiritualist camp at Cassadaga in 1875. Mr. Colby, suffering from tuberculosis when he arrived, found the waters at the site he chose to be soothing. He later was completely cured. The Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp quickly became an educational center where Spiritualism could be taught unhindered by outside interference. The oldest active religious community in the United States, Cassadaga is now a mecca for spiritualists, mediums, astrologers, and psychics.
The humdrum activities, sounds, and sights of a normal small town may be missing in Cassadaga, but spirits are here. The air in this tiny town off I-4 between Orlando and Daytona fairly shimmers with energy. Visitors can find almost any sort of spiritual counseling they want. Black magic and witchcraft are not used.
Arthur, an Irish tenor haunts Cassadaga Hotel
Of course, Cassadaga has its hauntings. The most famous are found at the old Spanish-style Cassadaga Hotel. Arthur, an Irish tenor, lived at the hotel for a time and died there in the 1930s. He is occasionally seen in the hallways by guests, and he will answer questions by flipping lights on and off. Arthur lived there in the days before air conditioning, and his room, number 22, smells of body odor. It also smells of cigars and gin, which Arthur apparently enjoyed.
Or did those aromas come from Gentleman Jack, another entity whose presence is often reported? No one seems to know now where he came from or very much about him, but he also supposedly haunts the hotel along with two little girls, Sarah and Katlin, who frolic up and down the halls.
Whether you stay in the hotel or come only for the day, Cassadaga is worth a visit just to enjoy the quiet and feel the incredible energy of the town.
The Cassadaga Spiritual Camp offers guided tours. If you are interested in a stay at the Cassadaga Hotel, check the websitefor availability.
People may think that Florida is all about Mickey Mouse; however, in his book Ghosthunting Florida, author Dave Lapham proves that the state is fertile ground for entities even more fantastic than a talking mouse. The book is a spine-tingling trip through Florida’s small towns and lively cities, its historic sites and fun spots, all of them haunted.
After a delicious lunch of pizza at the Monticello Pizza Kitchen, which, by the way, is also haunted, Betty, Lisa, and I headed for Tallahassee and the Knott House Museum just down from Florida’s Old Capitol in the Park Avenue Historic District. The area around what is now Tallahassee has been occupied by various indigenous and European cultures for twelve thousand years. Soon after the United States took possession of Florida from the Spanish in 1821, the Territorial Governor, William P. Duval, laid out the city, and in 1824 it became the territorial and later state capital of Florida. It is a beautiful city. Its rolling hills, wide boulevards, stately buildings, various college campuses, and numerous parks give Tallahassee a genteel ambiance.
And the Knott House with its handsome Greek Revival facade only adds to that atmosphere. The house was built in 1843 by free-black builder George Proctor as a wedding gift for Thomas Hagner and his wife, Catherine. Thomas died in 1848, but Catherine remained in the house and added major additions to the rear. She turned it into a boarding house, presumably to supplement her income. At the end of the Civil War, Union General Edward McCook commandeered the home for his headquarters. He read President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation from the front steps on May 20, 1865. Today a ceremony on May 20 every year commemorates the event.
The Hagner family owned the house until 1883 when they sold it to a Dr. Betton, who maintained his office in the building. Following a succession of owners, William and Luella Knott finally bought the house in 1928. The Knotts were an influential family in Tallahassee. William was variously the state treasurer and comptroller and ran unsuccessfully for governor. Luella, a poet and community volunteer, was a staunch supporter of women’s rights. She homeschooled her three children, Mary Franklin, James Robert, and John Charles (“Charlie”), wrote and published countless poems, and filled her house with the antiques she loved. She also filled her home with poetry, which even today is scattered around the rooms, tied to various items with silk ribbons. Because of that, the house is known as the “The House That Rhymes.”
William died in April 1965 at 101 years of age; Luella fell and died a few days after that. Charlie then moved into his family home, determined to preserve it as his parents had left it. And when he died in 1985, he left it to the State of Florida, stipulating that it be maintained as a museum house. The Historic Tallahassee Preservation Board took charge of the property, and after spending more than one million dollars and several years of preservation and restoration efforts—the restoration team found evidence of earlier fires, which had to be addressed—the museum finally opened to the public in 1992.
Walking through Knott House Museum
Walking through the house is eerie. It is so complete and looks so lived in, I expected to see the lady of the house, Mrs. Knott, around every corner and in every room. There are four thousand books, three hundred pieces of furniture, and fifteen hundred personal items and art work. Books lie open on tables. Personal effects are strewn about. I would not have been surprised to see a steaming cup of coffee sitting on the counter in the kitchen, waiting for Charlie to come in and pick it up. I felt as if I were invading the Knotts’ privacy, as if I shouldn’t be there. But it is a beautiful house and extremely well maintained. Tours in the past used to be self-guided, but are now led by knowledgeable docents. That’s probably a good idea. Betty and her BBGT crew have been through the house many times. In past years, the curator hosted a “Fear Knott” event around Halloween as a fund-raiser. Betty, Lisa, and their team gave presentations and “haunted” tours through the house in the evenings. They also have conducted paranormal investigations in the building and have spent many nights there after the museum was closed. The most frequent experiences reported by BBGT investigators, visitors, and staff are footsteps. They are heard throughout the house. Sometimes they are very heavy like a man’s, and at other times lighter, as if a woman were walking around. They could very well be Charlie’s father, his mother, or Charlie himself. All three had a special passion for the house.
Once in the days when the tours were self-guided, a visitor rushed down the stairs breathless. A staff member was standing at the bottom. The visitor, quite excited, said, “I believe I’ve just seen a ghost!” The staff member, who’d had her own experiences, asked the lady what had happened. “Well, I just went into the first room on the right at the top of the stairs, and there was an older woman dressed in old-fashioned clothes standing there. At first, I thought she was a docent or something, but she just stood there and looked at me. And then she evaporated into thin air!” On several other occasions, visitors have reported seeing people throughout the house who appeared to be visitors as well, only to vanish before their eyes. Perhaps Charlie, his parents, and maybe even his friends are walking the halls. In the past, various staff members have reported items being moved around. Perhaps a book has been taken from a shelf in the library and left on a table somewhere else, pictures rearranged, fireplace tools misplaced, pages of music on the piano turned.
The Knott House Museum is a “must-see”
At the end of each day, the outside doors to the Knott House are closed and locked, of course, but inside doors are always left open to provide air circulation. Often when staff members arrive in the morning to unlock the house, those inside doors are all closed. And passersby late at night have reported seeing lights switching on and off inside the locked and empty house, as if someone was going from room to room.
In the Knott House Museum, Betty and her BBGT investigators have experienced just about every activity others have reported. They’ve also had another experience. During one investigation, Betty and Lisa were sitting downstairs, quietly listening, when they heard humming coming from upstairs. It sounded like a woman softly humming a lullaby to a baby. When they went through every room in the house to try to find the source of the sound, they could hear it everywhere but were never able to identify its location. The Knott House Museum is a “must-see” stop for anyone visiting Tallahassee. The visitor will find the most completely restored nineteenth-century house in Florida, and who knows? You might get to meet Mr. and Mrs. Knott or their son, Charlie.
Enjoy Ghosthunting Florida from the safety of your armchair or hit the road using the maps, the haunted sites travel guide, and the “Ghostly Resources.”
Redhawk Ranch – Wimauma
A story about peaceful Redhawk Ranch by Dave Lapham
Chasing ghosts across the length and breadth of Florida had been a thrill so far. I’d met dozens of wonderful people and had many exciting experiences, but like any road trip, it could wear you down. And after many weeks and hundreds of miles, I was getting tired and was thinking of taking a break from my travels. That’s when I met Bud and Brenda Hoshaw of the Redhawk Ranch, five miles south of Wimauma. They invited me to their ranch and spiritual retreat center, and I quickly accepted. From the moment I passed through the gates, I felt at peace, completely relaxed. But the tranquility and serenity of the place belies its violent past. Indigenous people occupied the area around Tampa Bay and the southwest coast of Florida for thousands of years. There is strong evidence that some of them lived on what is now the Redhawk Ranch. Tocobaga and Calusa tribes made their homes along the stream that flows along the south side of the retreat center.
The Tocobaga and Calusa tribes made their homes on what is now the Redhawk Ranch
The Calusa were powerful and dominated the area from just south of Tampa Bay to Fort Myers and inland to Lake Okeechobee. Their original name, Calos, meant “Fierce People,” but they, as well as the Tocobaga to the north, were no match for the Spanish conquistadors who came into the area in the 1500s. Hernando de Soto, who landed in the Tampa Bay area in May, 1539, was especially brutal. De Soto’s troops raped, murdered, mutilated, and slaughtered innocents with abandon. They even had trained greyhounds that attacked on command. The Spanish fed the dogs human flesh. Smallpox, measles, and other diseases brought in by the Spanish further decimated the native peoples in the area. In time the land passed into the hands of white settlers, and the Indians were no more.
But something or someone wanted Native Americans back on the land. Bud and Brenda Hoshaw are Native Americans, Bud part Menominee and Brenda Cherokee and Cheyenne. The story of their acquisition of the 18.5 acres that is now the Redhawk Ranch is bizarre. About twelve years ago, Bud and Brenda lived in a beautiful log home about four miles away. This house on five acres was their dream home, and they were quite happy. Then one day Brenda was on her computer when an advertisement for an 18.5- acre tract nearby popped up. She thought it strange, because she had been researching other things, not real estate. She deleted the ad and went back to work. The ad popped up again, and over the next ten days every time she went on the computer to Google something, the advertisement came up.
Finally, Bud told her, “Let’s call the realtor. This obviously means something.” And so they did. Carl Weiss took them to the property on Route 579, which turned out to be hard to find, because the large “For Sale” sign had fallen over and couldn’t be seen from the road. The frontage was completely overgrown and there was no drive into the place, although two rotting gate posts stood several yards off the road. But as soon as they stopped and got out of the car, Brenda knew she had to have the property. Brenda is psychic, and the first thing she saw was an Indian by the old gate posts. He seemed to be a sentry or lookout. And as they walked the property, she felt and saw other entities, including a red hawk. In the northeast corner, she was almost overcome by the beauty and peace of the place. A bank in New York owned the property, and when Bud and Brenda discovered what the bank was asking, they were dismayed. They couldn’t afford it. But Brenda prayed about it and knew they were supposed to be there, so they made an offer—one third of the asking price. The bank accepted their offer without even a counter offer. Stranger still, they discovered later that another man had gone around the realtor and directly to the bank with a much better offer and was refused.
An evening of ghosthunting at Redhawk Ranch
On one recent occasion, Brenda invited several sensitive friends down for an evening of “ghosthunting.” Claire Castillo, Frank and Debbie Visicaro, Rick and Denise Incorvia, Cynthia Anderson, and Helen Bender all assembled with Bud and Brenda in their living room. They were asked to walk around the property without discussing their experiences and then write down whatever ever they saw, smelled, heard, or felt. After everyone was finished they would gather and tell the group what they had experienced. Three hours later, they all returned to the living room, excited by what they had encountered. To begin, several of them felt that the whole area had once been underwater, and as geological changes had occurred, it had become dry land. There was also some sense that a stream once existed next to the driveway. They also felt that the stream running along the south side of the property had once been much wider and deeper.
Debbie and Rick agreed that this area had once been a village. They both had a vision of a panicked group of women, children, and old men getting into two canoes on the stream in the southwest corner of the ranch and fleeing. They felt that the village was under attack by white men. Not far away, several members of the group sensed a burial ground. Farther upstream Brenda had a vision of an area where women gave birth. Possibly a hut of some kind once stood there. She said her knees went weak, and she had difficulty breathing. There was high energy all along the stream. Frank also had a vision of several Spanish swords lying on the ground near the northeast corner in the vicinity of Bud and Brenda’s Sacred Circle. He also saw what he thought was an angel, a wolf, and an owl, which he sensed were keeping them safe from deception. Near the creek he had the feeling that a child had drowned. Denise and Bud saw a chief that was made of wood, its head covered with brightly colored wooden feathers. And almost everyone saw wraith-like wolves, eagles, coyotes, dragonflies, and even a white horse, in addition to the ghosts of two young white girls. Cynthia said she sensed a brave showing off the horse in a camp right behind the house.
On this occasion and many times before and since, Cynthia, Debbie, and Brenda also met an old man, a chief, sitting in a rocking chair on Brenda’s porch. They smelled his pipe before they even saw him. He is a kindly person, and Brenda is comforted by his presence. The group stayed late into the evening, sharing with each other. And although they each had different experiences, they all agreed that, except for the area where the burial grounds were located, the whole ranch was filled with positive energy. On my visit, as usual, I saw nothing, but I was filled with peace and a sense of well-being. And I did have one experience. While walking into the Sacred Circle with Bud, the wind chimes hanging there began tinkling, which, Bud told me, almost always happened. Still, it made me smile. After we soaked up the good vibes in the circle for several minutes, Bud motioned to me, “Come on. I want to show you something else.”
And we walked out into a circle of trees in the center of the field which fronts the house. Bud produced a compass and handed it to me. When I stood exactly in the center of the ring of trees, the north arrow pointed north, but if I moved one step to the left, the needle swung left. If I stepped one pace to the right of center, it swung to the right. Very curious. Bud and Brenda have several mastiffs for security. They are sweet dogs, but Bud is careful to pen them when strangers are around, because they are very protective. On my visit, Bud was with me when I got out of my truck, so all they did was lick my hand and vie for attention. I love dogs, and we made friends quickly. When I drove away from the house and stopped across the field at the Sacred Circle for one last look, the dogs came bounding after me, crowding around and begging for attention.
When I finally walked back to my truck, opened the door, and started to step up, Butkus, their big male who doesn’t weigh much less than his namesake, sat on my foot and looked up at me with soulful eyes. He didn’t want me to leave. “I know, pal. I don’t want to leave either, but I’ve got to go.” With that he raised his rump and licked my hand goodbye. Driving away, I laughed out loud with happiness, totally revived and ready to get back on my haunted road trip. The Redhawk Ranch is a fantastic place, and when I finish with this book, I’m going back for a nice, long stay. I hope I can finally meet some of these friendly ghosts in person.