Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Southern Spirit Guide to Florida

This blog is all about evolution. This entry will be beginning of a series of long articles that will present information on haunted places within a specific state in a brief, more guide-like format. I’ll still continue with long-form articles exploring various locations, while this format will carry a short-form description with links to the long-form sections. It will also cover locations that may be covered in a longer format in the future.

Please note that all information is evolving and this guide will be updated and reposted periodically. Currently, this guide will be organized by city, though that may change.

Homestead, Miami-Dade County

Coral Castle
28655 South Dixie Highway

Inside the Coral Castle, 2009, by Milan Boers. Released under
a Creative Commons License.
Originally covered in “Haunted Florida” published 27 December 2010.

An eccentric Latvian immigrant, Edward Leedskalnin, began creating this most eccentric of places in 1923 nearby in Florida City. In 1936 he moved himself and the castle to Homestead where he worked on the place until he died in 1951. There have been questions about how Leedskalnin, who was five feet tall and weighed less than a hundred pounds, maneuvered the massive blocks of coral that sometimes weighed a few tons. When visitors would ask how he did it, he would only answer, “It’s not difficult if you know how.” This has given rise to numerous theories of how this massive complex was constructed including the help of aliens, though engineers surmise that much of his work was done using known techniques.

It is only appropriate that this legendary place has legends attached. More sensitive visitors have noted the existence of energy vortices throughout the complex. Throughout this masterpiece, Mr. Leedskalnin’s presence is felt. Other visitors have had figures appear among the castle’s huge coral blocks.

Coral Castle. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     26 March 2012.
Lapham, Dave. Ghosthunting Florida. Cincinnati, OH:
     Clerisy Press, 2010.
Moore, Joyce Elson. Haunt Hunter’s Guide to Florida.
     Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2008.
Thuma, Cynthia and Catherine Lower. Haunted Florida.
     Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.
Walls, Kathleen. Finding Florida’s Phantoms.
     Global Authors Publications, 2004.

Key West, Monroe County

La Concha Hotel
430 Duval Street
The La Concha Hotel in the 1970s. Photo from the
Florida Keys Public Libraries System.
Originally published in “Haunted Hotels and Inns of the South, Part I,” 30 October 2010.

The theme that runs through the ghost stories of the La Concha Hotel in Key West is falling from a great height, both deliberately and accidentally. This seven story hotel, opened in 1926, is the tallest building in the city and has been the scene of suicides and a horrible accident. The building’s history has also experienced some great falls as well. Opened to great acclaim, this luxury hotel was visited by many of the notable names of the age: Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, even possibly Al Capone and his cronies, but with the stock market crash in 1929, business seriously dropped. The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane which swept the Keys destroyed the Key West Extension of the East Coast Railway which was one of the island’s major arteries.

Following World War II, the La Concha, much decayed, staggered on through the middle of the twentieth century with only the kitchen and the famous rooftop bar open to the public. The hotel was restored and reopened in 1986 to much fanfare. The La Concha Hotel has recovered from its fall, but, perhaps its spirits have not.

On New Year’s Eve, 1982 or ’83 (sources differ), a young man, unfamiliar with the hotel’s ancient service elevator, fell down the elevator shaft while cleaning up after a party. His spirit seems most active on the fifth floor and obviously, around the elevator. More deliberately, according to Dave Lapham’s Ghosthunting Florida, some 13 people have committed suicide from the rooftop bar of the hotel. Some of their spirits may also remain. One gentleman who took the leap in 2006 reportedly downed a glass of Chardonnay before doing so. Since then, patrons have reported their glasses of Chardonnay were sometimes suddenly jerked from their hands by an unseen force. Hopefully, these fallen spirits have found comfort in the Other Side.

1935 Labor Day hurricane. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     29 October 2010.
Jenkins, Greg. Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore,
     Volume 1, South and Central Florida. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple
     Press, 2008.
Lapham, Dave. Ghosthunting Florida. Cincinnatti, OH: Clerisy,
Rodriguez, Stacy. “La Concha Hotel turns 80.” The Key West
     Citizen. 20 January 2006.

Lake City, Columbia County

Hotel Blanche
212 North Marion Street
An old postcard of the Hotel Blanche.
Originally covered in “Haunted Florida” published 27 December 2010.

For decades, travelers heading down Highway 441 from Georgia to Florida would stop at the luxurious Hotel Blanche in Lake City, among them, gangster Al Capone on his way to Miami. This landmark, the heart of downtown Lake City, has been witness to the city’s history for more than a hundred years. Recently, one of the building’s owners described part of the building as a “death trap.”As the hotel’s clientele dwindled towards the middle part of the 20th century, the hotel began to deteriorate. The ground floors have remained occupied with businesses and the second floor has occasionally been used for office space and meetings, but the third floor has not been in use for some time. In fact, the door to the third floor has been screwed shut; perhaps to contain some force from the Other Side?

Over the past few years, arguments have arisen over what to do with the massive white elephant. The city has considered purchasing the building, though I can find nothing to definitively say if that has occurred. Taking up nearly a block of downtown Lake City, directly across from City Hall, the Hotel Blanche was once the heart of Lake City. The hotel was constructed in 1902 by Will Brown and named for his daughter. The hotel added two wings amidst the tourist boom of the 1920s. The hotel closed in 1967 and its third floor has not been used since that time.

The paranormal history of the hotel is less clear. Greg Jenkins reports in his Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore that the hotel may very well have a “large collection of spirits,” though this hasn’t been officially investigated. Apparently many sounds are heard including children running and giggling. The sounds of door slamming have also been heard as well as many odd smells including perfume, vinegar and sulfur (sometimes seen as an indication of a malevolent entity. The spirits, though, do seem as unsettled as the recent plans for the building.

Burkhardt, Karl. “Renovation of the Blanche Hotel,
     Lake City’s most famous historic structure, may
     restore it as a downtown centerpiece.” Lake City
     Journal. 18 July 2011.
Hotel Blanche. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 27 December 2010.
Jenkins, Greg. Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted
     Folklore, Vol. 2. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2005.
Lilker, Stew. “Conversation with Steve Smith, Blanche
     investment trust spokesman.” Columbia County Observer.
     21 October 2009.
Lilker, Stew. “The Blanche Hotel: The seventh inning stretch.”
     Columbia County Observer. 3 March 2010.
Lilker, Stew. “The Blanche: The city steps up, Councilman
     Hill wants to slow down.” Columbia County Observer. 21
     October 2009.

Lakeland, Polk County

Annie Pfeiffer Chapel
Florida Southern College
The Annie Pfeiffer Chapel, 2006, by hyku. Released under a
Creative Commons License.
Originally published in “Haunted Southern College and University Buildings—Alabama and Florida,” 15 May 2011.

Few colleges can boast about the tremendous architectural heritage that Florida Southern College possesses. Contained within its West Campus is a collection of nine structures designed by the master architect Frank Lloyd Wright and named by him “Child of the Sun.” Following Wright’s sometimes cryptic designs, students and faculty constructed these structures beginning with this chapel which was completed on the eve of World War II.

Around these visionary masterpieces legends have also sprouted. A number of the ghost legends have been documented by Daniel Barefoot in his 2004 book, Haunted Halls of Ivy. Many of the legends have also found documentation in The Folklore of Florida Southern College by Dr. Alexander Bruce, who was an English professor and Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs at the school. Among the legends is one about the chapel and its architect.

Between the buildings’ amateur construction workers and the cryptic plans, some mistakes were made. Legend holds that the choir screen which covers the choir loft above the congregation in the chapel was installed upside down. According to Bruce, that idea is pure bunk, though Barefoot still kicks around the notion that the chapel may be haunted by the upset spirit of Wright still contemplating the wrongly placed detail.

Barefoot, Daniel W. Haunted Halls of Ivy: Ghosts of Southern
     Colleges and Universities. Winston-Salem, NC: John F.
     Blair, 2004.
Bruce, Alexander M. The Folklore of Florida Southern College:
     A look at the history and mystery of Florida Southern College.
     Chula Vista, CA: Avetine Press, 2003.

Miami, Miami-Dade County

Miami International Airport
2100 Northwest 42nd Avenue

Originally covered in “Haunted Florida” published 27 December 2010.

It’s not unheard of that an airport could be haunted. An airport may be the last place that a plane may board before an accident or perhaps a destination that is not reached. Either way, an airport may attract spirits. Miami International was the destination for Eastern Airlines Flight 401 on December 29, 1972. As the plane flew over the Everglades on its approach to the airport, it crashed killing 77 including both pilots. While the plane never arrived, legend speaks of the form of the plane’s captain, Robert Loft, being seen in the airport near where the ticket counters for Eastern Airlines once stood and disappearing into the old Eastern concourse.

In the annals of paranormal phenomena, this plane crash is the focus of many stories. Stories abound of the appearance of the captain and 2nd Officer Don Repo on planes that utilized parts recovered from the crash site. After these stories began to surface, Eastern Airlines reportedly removed all these parts from service. Additionally, during the recovery efforts for victims, many working in the swamps late at night heard whimpering and sobbing and saw phantom faces in the black water.

Eastern Airlines Flight 401. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 27 December 2010.
Jenkins, Greg. Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted
     Folklore, Vol. 2. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2005.

Olustee, Baker County

Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park

Originally published in “Southern Civil WarGhosts, Part I,” 28 November 2010.

In February of 1864, Union forces set out from occupied Jacksonville, Florida with the intent of making inroads into the state to cut supply lines, free slaves and possibly recruit African-Americans for service in the Union army. Heading west towards Lake City, the Union forces under Brigadier General Truman Seymour encountered entrenched Confederates under the command of Brigadier General Joseph Finegan at Olustee Station near Ocean Pond. Among the union forces involved in this battle was the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, one of the first and most well known African-American units.

Fighting through thick forest of palmetto and pine, the almost equally pitted troops (5,000 Confederates versus 5,500 Union troops) fought throughout the afternoon of February 20. The Confederates repulsed the Union troops and inflicted heavy casualties, causing the Union to lose some 40% of their forces (203 killed, 1,152 wounded, and 506 missing, a total of 1,861 men) while the Confederates lost about 20% of their forces (93 killed, 847 wounded, and 6 missing, a total of 946 casualties in all). Union forces retreated to Jacksonville after being beaten back.

The battlefield, preserved as Florida’s first state park in 1912, is home to an annual reenactment and re-enactors have had a number of odd experiences primarily involving full-bodied apparitions. One of the more interesting of these was an encounter between a re-enactor on a horse and a spectral Union soldier. The specter appeared and tripped the horse throwing the rider. Before the re-enactor could recover, he was smacked in the face by a rifle butt. Looking around, the shaken re-enactor searched for evidence of the soldier who tripped him, no footprints or any evidence was found. While no other documented encounters have been as violent, many have seen apparitions of soldiers.

Battle of Olustee. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 27
     November 2010.
Brown, Alan. Stories from the Haunted South. Jackson, MS: University
     Press of Mississippi, 2004.
Lapham, Dave. Ghosthunting Florida. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy
     Press, 2010.

Palmetto Bay, Miami-Dade County

Deering Estate
16701 Southwest 72nd Avenue
The Richmond Cottage on the Deering Estate, 2010, by Zoohouse.
Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Originally covered in “Haunted Florida” published 27 December 2010.

It seems that the former estate of Charles Deering, the founder of International Harvester, may be just crawling with spirits. And a variety of spirits at that. One investigation photographed the possible spirit of a Victorian woman while spirits of Native Americans may be associated with burial grounds nearby. The Deering Estate also features ghost tours of the estate that the League of Paranormal Investigators (LPI) dubbed, “ground-zero for lost spirits.” LPI has documented at least two full-bodied apparitions as well as numerous EVPs.

The estate has been preserved by the State of Florida and Miami-Dade County as a cultural and educational facility. Two buildings dating from 1896 and 1922 remain and are surrounded by swaths of land in its natural state. Battered by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, restoration of the estate took years and the grounds did not reopen to the public until 1999. 

Charles Deering. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     27 December 2010.
Charles Deering Estate. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 26 March 2012.
Cohen, Howard. “Halloween howling.” The Miami Herald.
     27 October 2011.
Malone, Kenny. “Miami’s Deering Estate: A real haunted
     house?” NPR. 28 October 2009.
“Miami-Dade Estate deemed ‘severely haunted.’”
     The Miami Herald. 22 October 2009.

St. Augustine, St. Johns County

Ponce de Leon Hall
Flagler College
Ponce de Leon Hall, the centerpiece of Flagler College, 2010.
Photo by John W. Tuggle, released under a Creative Commons

Ponce de Leon Hall, the centerpiece of the campus of Flagler College, is an early Moorish Revival masterpiece from the architectural team of John Carrère and Thomas Hastings, leaders in the Beaux-Arts Movement. Constructed by Henry Flagler as the Hotel Ponce de Leon in 1888, this opulent hotel featured intricate woodwork and some of the earliest works by stained glass master Louis Comfort Tiffany. The hotel served many wealthy guests until the mid-60s when competing roadside motels sent its finances plummeting.

In 1968, the hotel began restoration and renovation to convert it into Flagler College, a private, four-year, liberal arts school. The development was lead by Lawrence Lewis, Jr., Henry Flagler’s grandson and the school has expanded by purchasing other historic structures for restoration as college buildings. The school is now ranked by the Princeton Review in the top tier of southeastern colleges.

While college students now roam the halls where America’s elite of the Gilded Age once walked, the occasional specter from the past still appears. The stories and legends of Ponce de Leon Hall are numerous and include not only anonymous hotel guests but the shades of the hotel’s visionary founder, Henry Morrison Flagler and two of his three wives. Legend holds that the first mysterious phenomena occurred just after Flagler’s death in 1913. He died after a fall in his home, Whitehall (which is also haunted), in Palm Beach. His body was returned to St. Augustine where his vision for Florida as a vacationer’s paradise first began to take shape. A public viewing was set in the hotel’s rotunda and while mourners stood by the massive oak doors slammed themselves shut. Shortly after the funeral a small tile on the floor was discovered that bore a resemblance to Flagler. Students have reported run-ins with a spirit believed to be that of Flagler.

Among the more anonymous spirits are the “Lady in Blue” and the spirit of a young boy. The legend behind her sad spirit tells of a young woman having an affair with a married man. When he refused to divorce his wife to marry her she began to race up the staircase to pack her things. He foot caught on the hem of her long skirt and she tumbled down the stairs breaking her neck. The spirit of the little boy has been encountered in the hallways where he asks if students are able to come and play with him. Like the Lady in Blue, is can be assumed he was likely a hotel guest, but their identities are unknown. Then again, the phantom footsteps, spectral music and disembodied voices heard throughout the hotel simply serve to remind the modern day of the college’s Gilded Age history.

Barefoot, Daniel W. Haunted Halls of Ivy: Ghosts of Southern
     Colleges and Universities. Winston-Salem, NC: John F.
     Blair, 2004.
Graham, Thomas. Flagler’s St. Augustine Hotels. Sarasota,
     FL: Pineapple Press, 2004.
Graham, Thomas. National Historic Landmark Nomination
     form for the Hotel Ponce de Leon. 7 July 2005.
Jenkins, Greg. Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore,
     Vol. 2, North Florida and St. Augustine. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple
     Press, 2005.

St. Pete Beach, Pinellas County

Don CeSar Beach Resort
3400 Gulf Boulevard
The Don CeSar, 2006, by Porkfork. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Originally published in “Haunted Hotels and Inns of the South, Part I,” 30 October 2010.

Thomas Rowe’s palatial pink dream faces the Gulf of Mexico at St. Pete Beach, opening in the waning years of the 1920s, it immediately became the playground of the Jazz Age glitterati and kept its popular position throughout the Great Depression until Rowe’s, the hotel’s builder and owner, death in 1940. As his will writing out his ex-wife hadn’t been signed at the time of his death, the old will was executed. Rowe’s ex-wife, unprepared for running a major hotel, took over and the hotel’s glittering position faltered. The hotel was purchased by the army for use as a veteran’s hospital and it remained as such until the 1960s.

After the army abandoned the massive hotel, it sat forlorn until it was purchased and restored to its 1920s splendor. During the time it was abandoned, stories surfaced of Jazz Age phantoms strolling the halls. Among the most famous stories from this Grande Dame tells of Thomas Rowe being seen in the company of a young woman, supposedly the woman for whom the hotel was built. Rowe met this young singer in London when she appeared in William Wallace’s opera, Maritana. While the lovers were forbidden to marry, Rowe built this edifice in her honor and named it for the hero of the opera, Don CeSar.

Don CeSar. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 28 October
Jenkins, Greg. Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore,
     Volume 1, South and Central Florida. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple
     Press, 2008.
Lapham, Dave. Ghosthunting Florida. Cincinnatti, OH: Clerisy,
Powell, Jack. Haunting Sunshine: Ghostly Tales from Florida’s
     Shadows. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2001.
Turnage, Sheila. Haunted Inns of the Southeast. Winton-Salem,
     NC: John F. Blair, 2001.


  1. Wonderful post, and I was so happy to see my home state of Florida included.

    I seem to remember that I've left comments on your blog-- and you responded--regarding a little-known cemetery in Miami. My brother lives right by it. I hope to visit it the next time I'm down there. I've seen it many times, including at night, but have never gone into it. We walk the dog from my brother's house, down the street, and all along one of the perimeter coral rock walls of the cemetery. It has a very "strong" feeling which is very hard to describe.

    Your post about The Hotel Blanche in Lake City was a huge surprise for me because I didn't even know of its existence! I'm only about 30-40 minutes south of Lake City (in Gainesville, FL)so perhaps one day I'll take a drive up there and ask permission to see the building. In any event, regardless of whether or not I'm allowed to enter the building, I'd love to just walk around the exterior.