Cedar Key is a really cool place. Old Crackers say that Cedar Key is like Key West was fifty years ago. I don’t know, but I do know that, although I really love Key West, I’m always enchanted by Cedar Key, where Sue and I go often to rejuvenate. No laptops. No cell phones. We don’t even watch TV when we’re there. Just the two of us on a laidback island where time doesn’t mean much, and what is happening in Washington or Wall Street doesn’t have much relevance.
My friend Rosemary Norman and her husband feel the same way. Maybe we should have a “Pencil Head” thing like Key West enthusiasts have their “Parrot Head,” since not so long ago Cedar Key was a major producer of pencils. Anyway, Rosemary, who is the founder of West Florida Ghost Researchers and an unusually sensitive person, has been to Cedar Key so many times and has had so many experiences, that she deserves to be named “Chief Ticonderoga.”
On her first visit to Cedar Key—she and her husband had just discovered the island—Rosemary woke early on Sunday morning and decided to go for a walk. The weather was balmy with a gentle breeze blowing off the Gulf. Few people were about, and she was enjoying the morning. She walked down Second Street intending to turn right on A Street and walk around the pier. As she strolled along, she saw an attractive couple seated at a table across the street at the Island Hotel. The woman was wearing a beautiful, lavender dress and hat, the man a suit with a high celluloid collar. Both were nicely attired, but Rosemary thought it odd that their clothes looked as if they were from the Gay Nineties. Oh well, perhaps they were here dressed for a period event.
She waved to the couple. The lady smiled at her and raised her tea cup. Rosemary went on. After swinging around the pier, she decided that she’d go back up Second Street and down Third Street just to see the sights.
This time as she passed the Island Hotel, she saw no one. There was no table in front or any room for one, only dirt and broken concrete. Curious, she crossed the street and went into the hotel. No breakfast was being served; the dining room was closed. The receptionist sat half asleep at the desk. There was no activity at all. It was then that she realized she’d seen ghosts.
Rosemary and her husband have been back many times, and she has yet to see the lady in lavender. Still, she has always been satisfied. The island is so haunted, she has no problem running into spirits.
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
The Colony Hotel and Cabaña Club is not the Biltmore, but it is a really spectacular hotel. The three of us—Joanne, Sue, and I—had spent most of the previous day and evening exploring the Biltmore and talking to people there. We were tired, but the following morning we got an early start and drove the 50 miles north to Delray Beach, just above Boca Raton.
Like the Biltmore, the Colony, sister hotel to the Colony in Kennebunkport, Maine, was built in 1926 by the father-and-son team of Charles and George Bowden, to cater to the hordes of well-to-do Northerners who flocked to Florida to escape the cold, snowy winters and bask in the sunshine and leisurely Florida lifestyle.
For many years, the hotel was closed during summer months, when the entire staff moved to its sister hotel in Kennebunkport. Furniture was covered with sheets. All but a few lights and all other nonessential electricity were turned off. Cobwebs and dust collected in corners, windowsills, furniture, and floors. A caretaker was left behind to perform minimal maintenance on the grounds, cutting grass, watering plants, and providing some security. But in summer, even with a caretaker around, the Colony looked mostly abandoned, forlorn, and even ghostly.
Perhaps because the hotel was closed much of the year and for so many years, rumors of strange happenings grew about the place, including tales of mysterious lights, sightings of apparitions, and unexplained sounds emanating from the building. Maybe they were true or maybe they were just the imaginings of strollers passing by in the dark. In any case, the Colony developed a reputation for being haunted.
One summer evening during the off-season, a couple was walking down the street past the empty hotel and saw, or thought they saw, movement inside. The figures they saw seemed to be running back and forth in the darkened building. They thought perhaps kids had broken into the place and were robbing or ransacking it. This was in the days before cell phones, so they crossed the street to a gas station and called the police, who quickly responded. Several squad cars arrived, and officers walked around the exterior to check for signs of a break-in. There were none, so they contacted the caretaker to get permission to enter. Inside, a quick check revealed that all the doors were locked and the alarm system was functioning properly. It had not been tampered with.
One officer was standing in the lobby when suddenly the elevator started rumbling as if it were moving. Then it stopped and chimed, the usual signal indicating that it had arrived at the desired floor. The doors opened, but no one came out. The officer stood there watching, dumbstruck. Now quite nervous, he radioed his partner, who joined him in the lobby. Together they finished their investigation and left, the caretaker locking up and resetting the alarm behind them. They had found nothing out of order.
During the same period, passersby began reporting orbs, or balls of light, flying erratically in front of second-story windows. These orbs became quite common for several months, and many people reported seeing them. Then, as suddenly as they had begun appearing, they disappeared. None have been reported since 1989.
In 1999 the hotel began staying open year-round, and the stories of paranormal activity have persisted. Guests have reported strange lights and dark figures moving through the hotel, and some have heard music coming from the darkened and empty dining room. The music can be heard only on moonless nights and early in the morning, before 3 a.m. And some have heard female voices coming from the dining room, when no one was there.
One staff member reported that on several occasions he has heard noises from the empty kitchen: pots clanging, utensils being dropped, an occasional plate shattering on the floor. He said that, each time, he has gone in to see what was going on, half expecting to find a mess. What he found was a kitchen in perfect order, pots hanging and dishes stacked where they should be. Justina Broughton, Charles Bowden’s granddaughter, has reported hearing animated discussions coming from the office and the kitchen. When she was a child during the off-season, she would often accompany her father into the closed hotel and run through the halls and empty rooms. She recalls that she often caught fleeting glimpses of something or someone out of the corner of her eye and thought nothing of it at the time. And more than once she saw an older, well-dressed man reflected in the glass cover of a painting. She had the odd sensation that he was her grandfather, and well he may have been. In any case, her experiences were always benign, even pleasant.
We were welcomed by a friendly staff. Although most of the people we talked to were a bit reluctant to discuss the paranormal activity there, they allowed us to roam around and take a look for ourselves. As we walked around, Joanne was able to confirm many of the stories we had heard from others or read about. She saw dark, fleeting figures in the dining room and hallways and heard the clanging of pots and pans coming from the kitchen, as well as music and muffled voices in the dining room. She didn’t find anything peculiar about the elevator but did sense activity on the second floor. Mostly, she confirmed what we already knew.
We couldn’t stay very late, so we were not able to experience anything that might be taking place in the wee hours, but I have no doubt of their veracity. As we left the Colony, I promised Sue I’d bring her back for a long weekend. It seemed a wonderful, romantic place for a getaway.
In his book Ghosthunting Florida, Author David Lapham visits more than 30 legendary haunted places in the Sunshine State.
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.
We’re getting to the point of winter that feels like it will never end. The cold has set in for what feel like the rest of eternity.
This is the time of year when people begin planning their summer vacations, the prospect of sunny, sandy beaches warming our chilled bones.
With Florida being one of the most popular vacation destinations, we thought we’d highlight a few of The Sunshine State’s most haunted hotspots for you, your friends, and family to check out this summer.
These and other haunted hangouts can be found described in further detail in Ghosthunting Florida by Dave Lapham.
The Biltmore Hotel of Coral Gables Miami, FL
For being less than 100 years old, the Biltmore Hotel has accumulated quite the history. Constructed in 1925, the hotel housed speakeasies and a casino during the Prohibition. In 1942 the hotel was converted into a hospital that treated soldiers returning from World War II. The Biltmore was renovated once again in 1992 and the next decade saw remodeling and updating making the hotel grander and more opulent than ever.
But through the Biltmore is more than just a historical artifact for the city of Miami; it is one of the city’s most haunted spots. The hotel boasts dozens of ghost encounters, from Thomas “Fatty” Walsh, Miami’s most powerful Prohibition-era gangster, to the “Woman in White”. An historic landmark and haunted hotspot, The Biltmore is certain to be a tour you won’t soon forget.
Pinewood Cemetery Daytona, FL The haunting of Pinewood Cemetery goes back to 1877 and the untimely death of Alena Beatrice Smith, the most commonly spotted ghost in the cemetery. One of the most paranormally active areas in Florida, Pinewood Cemetery is said to be filled with the souls of many dearly departed who linger still. For the ghost-hunting enthusiast, Pinewood Cemetery is a must.
Homestead Restaurant Jacksonville Beach, FL It’s hard to tell whether the Homestead Restaurant is more famous for it’s delicious, southern, home-cooked food or for it’s haunted legends, but one thing is for sure, both aspects of this iconic Jacksonville Beach spot draw an array of visitors. The building, constructed as a personal residence in 1932, was left to Alpha Paynter, who used it as a boarding house until 1947, when she refurbished the building into a restaurant. Alpha is said to still be lurking at the Homestead, often seen sitting by the fireplace and walking the upstairs halls. The Homestead has hosted an array of owners, yet has consistently provided good food and good ghost stories. Whether you’re in search of a ghostly encounter or some of the best friend chicken you’ll ever have, you definitely need to check out the Homestead Restaurant.
This blog post was written by our intern, Katie Butts.