Saving the living and the dead in Maryland

Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum
813 South Atlantic Avenue
Ocean City, Maryland

On October 28th, Dead of Night Paranormal Investigations will host an investigation of Ocean City’s former Life-Saving Station. Constructed in 1891, this white, wood frame building housed a keeper and a team of “surfmen” who monitored the local coast for ships in distress. Once a distressed ship was spotted, the team would leap into action and attempt to rescue any souls aboard the vessel. It was dangerous work that sometimes claimed the lives of the rescuers as well as those who they tried to rescue.

Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum, 2014. Photo by Preservation Maryland, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Life Saving Service—organized by the federal government in 1848—was merged into the Coast Guard in 1915 and this building was in service until 1964 when a new structure opened nearby. When the town considered demolishing the building in 1977, locals organized to save the structure and install a museum of local history. Today, packed with local artifacts and memorabilia, the building remains occupied by spirits who flit through the exhibition reminding visitors and staff of the lives that have been led and may have ended in this unassuming building.

Among the many relics is life-sizes rag doll with a grotesque gap-toothed grin known as “Laughing Sal.” Sal once greeted visitors to Jester’s Funhouse, one of the attractions located along the Ocean City Boardwalk. With a terrifying laugh and jerky animatronic movements, Laughing Sal invited visitors into the thrills of the funhouse. When the funhouse closed Sal was stored away, though vandals attempted to destroy the doll, she was restored and returned to greet visitors to the museum. Like Key West’s famous Robert the Doll, Sal continues to frighten visitors and staff alike. While the doll is no longer rigged to move, her disconcerting laugh can be heard by pressing a button in front of her display. However, Sal has been known to laugh when no one is around and when no one has pressed her button.

Laughing Sal’s creepy guffawing is not the only paranormal activity encountered in the old life-saving station. A little, blonde haired boy has been seen running and playing in the museum. Once, as the museum staff was closing, the little boy dashed through the front door into the museum. A staff member pursued the child into the museum, though he had apparently vanished. Despite checking every space a curious child might hide, the staff member could not locate him. The life-saving station has saved many a life and a few spirits as well.

Sources

  • Boardwalk Birdie. “Ghost hunting in Ocean City.” com. 11 September 2017.
  • Burgoyne, Mindie. Haunted Ocean City and Berlin. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2014.

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Florida Hauntings, County by County—Part II

This is part two of a project to examine a ghost story from every single county in Florida.

See part I (Alachua-Brevard Counties) here.
See part II (Broward-Clay Counties) here.

Broward County

Stranahan House
335 Southeast 6th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale

View of the Stranahan House from the New River, 2010. Photo by Ebyabe, courtesy of Wikipedia.

When viewed from the New River, the Stranahan House is nestled among many large buildings, an apt context for the site from which this city sprang. Frank Stranahan moved to Florida in 1893 to operate the ferry across the New River here. He also built a trading post to encourage trade with the Seminole Indians who lived on the opposite shore. After marrying the local schoolteacher, Ivy Cromartie, Stranahan eventually constructed the current house in 1901 as a wedding gift. The house served as an office for Stranahan’s many business interests as well as a family home for many years until a series of events in the 1920s began to sap his business interests.

In 1926, Florida was struck by a massive hurricane that moved ashore near Miami resulting in hundreds of deaths and striking a tremendous blow to business interests throughout the state. Saddled with financial ruin and a diagnosis of prostate cancer—which was untreatable at the time—Frank Stranahan attempted suicide. As a result, Stranahan was confined to a local sanitarium. With his death being imminent, his wife wrote to the sanitarium pleading for her husband’s release so he could die at home. Once he was finally released, Stranahan could not find his way out of the abyss of depression and not long after his homecoming, he chained himself to a sewer grate and threw himself into the river. Despite valiant attempts to rescue him, Stranahan drowned.

Ivy Stranahan continued living in the house and filled its rooms with borders to make ends meet. Continuing her husband’s community activism, Stranahan worked to build Fort Lauderdale into a modern and vibrant community. Eventually, she rented out the first floor of the house as a restaurant while continuing to live on the second floor. She died in 1971 and left the house to her church who eventually sold it to the local historical society. The house was restored as a house museum in the early 1980s and is open to the public.

The house remains the home of Frank and Ivy Stranahan who are still very much spiritually in residence along with several other spirits including a small Seminole girl who collapsed and died at the front door. The house has opened at various times for ghost tours. In 2003, an article in the local paper described the spooky experiences a group of schoolchildren had on a tour, “”Some smelled perfume, the eyes in Frank’s portrait downstairs moved, laughter came from the vents in the dining room, and one child felt someone tap him on the shoulder when he was upstairs.” An article from later that year recounts that docents in the house have experienced doors opening and closing by themselves, beds being found in disarray moments after being made, and the odor of lilac perfume believed to be one of Ivy Stranahan’s favorite.

Sources

  • Carr, John Marc. Haunted Fort Lauderdale. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2008.
  • Kneale, Dennis. “Campaign planned to save historic Stranahan house.” Fort Lauderdale News. 13 August 1981.
  • LeClaire, Jennifer. “Stranahan House gets in the Halloween spirit.” Sun-Sentinel. 24 October 2003.
  • Wallaman, Brittany. “Putting tourists in good spirits.” Sun-Sentinel. 1 September 2003.

Calhoun County

Information on a Calhoun County haunt was not available when this article was first created. I have recently explored the haunting of the Old Calhoun County Jail in Blountstown.

Charlotte County

 Indian Spring Cemetery
5400 Indian Spring Road
Punta Gorda

The resting place of the 20th governor of Florida and founder of Punta Gorda, Albert Gilchrist, Indian Spring Cemetery was laid out by him on land donated to the city by city councilman, James Sandlin. A nearby spring feeding into Alligator Creek may have been used by Native Americans, thus the name. Over its nearly 150 years of existence, more than 2000 souls have been laid to rest here under the moss-draped oaks.

Paranormal activity here consists of audio phenomena with sounds of weeping, wailing heard within the empty cemetery. Cemetery lights, a phenomenon where orbs of lights are scene around burial locations, have also been experienced here. Dave Lapham includes the experience of a local who, while walking with her mother and her dog, witnessed orbs of light floating about three to four feet above the ground. Fearing the lights, the group fled.

Sources

  • Charlotte County Government. “Indian Spring Cemetery.” Accessed 4 September 2017.
  • Lapham, Dave. Ghosthunting Florida. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2010.

Citrus County

Crystal River Archaeological State Park
3400 North Museum Point
Crystal River

The Crystal River on Florida’s west coast is one of many natural wonders in the state. Fed by warm waters from some 30 natural springs, the Crystal River is known for its large numbers of West Indian Manatees who luxuriate in the gently heated water. On the river banks, Native Americans built their own utopia, the remains of which are preserved in Crystal River Archaeological State Park.

Sunlight falls on one of the mounds at Crystal River Archaeological State Park, 2007. Photo by Ebyabe, courtesy of Wikipedia.

This state park encompasses a complex of six mounds that include burial mounds; middens, or refuse mounds; and platform mounds atop which high-status officials may have lived. Among the mounds are two remarkable steles, or stone monuments, one of which features the crude likeness of a human face. Steles are generally regarded as a feature found among the civilizations of Central America, and very rarely found among North American civilizations.

For her 2004 book, Finding Florida Phantoms, Kathleen Walls spoke with a ranger who reported that voices had been heard among the mounds when no one was present, and some apparitions have apparently been spotted here as well.

Sources

  • Cox, Dale. “Crystal River Archaeological State Park—Crystal River, Florida: Prehistory on the Crystal River.” com. Accessed 5 September 2017.
  • Walls, Kathleen. Finding Florida’s Phantoms. Global Authors Publications, 2004.

Clay County

Old Clay County Jail
21 Gratio Place
Green Cove Springs

The Florida Times-Union has deemed the Old Clay County Jail to be a place where it is always Halloween. Paranormal investigators have deemed the building to be one of the most active that many of them have seen.

Built by the Pauly Jail Company in 1894, the building saw its last inmate in 1972. The building now serves as home to the Clay County Archives. Like most corrections facilities, this building has seen the worst of society and a number of tragedies in its long history. Among the tragedies was the assassination of a sheriff, an inmate suicide, five executions and another suicide on the front lawn.

Old Clay County Jail, 2010. Photo by Ebyabe, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Reports of activity from the jail include voices, apparitions, and hair-pulling. Activity has become so well known that the Clay County Historical Archives website features a page describing the haunted conditions of the building.

Sources

  • Buehn, Debra W. “Old Clay County Jail stars in Local Haunts’ TV show Sunday.” Florida Times-Union. 1 April 2010.
  • Clay County Historical Archives. Ghosts in the Old Jail. Accessed 9 October 2014.

The something near Sale Creek—Tennessee

Railroad tracks through Sale Creek not far from Shipley Hollow. Photo by Brian Stansberry, 2015, courtesy of Wikipedia.

North from the hubbub of Chattanooga lies the community of Sale Creek. Just north of Sale Creek, Daugherty Ferry Road guides travelers into the Tennessee backwoods through to a place called Shipley Hollow. After Shipley Hollow Road forks from Daugherty Ferry, travelers enter the domain of something that the locals have nicknamed the “Pitty Pat.”

For roughly two centuries travelers through Shipley Hollow have had run-ins with an entity or creature. The horrors of the first encounter are still whispered about, though many of the details have been lost through this inter-generational telephone game. Some iterations of the legend place the first encounter in the 1770s, while the primary source for the written version provides the date as during the 1860s. The 18th century setting is not likely as the area was occupied almost exclusively by the Cherokee people and the legend states definitively that the characters were settlers.

The basic version of the legend tells us of a settler woman and several small children travelling in a wagon at night through Shipley Hollow. From out of the darkness, something startles the horse causing the wagon to overturn on top of the mother killing her. The children disappear into the night, possibly taken by the entity, never to be seen again. Residents and travelers soon began to hear a strange sound pursuing them after dark a strange pitty-pat, pitty-pat, pitty-pat, led many to sprint towards their destination.

Over the next century, hapless travelers after dark, doctors on house-calls, and local residents were all frightened of the entity that sometimes climbed onto the backs of horses or buggies. In the 1950s, two residents driving down the road late one night had something crash into the side of their car. The impact caused the driver to step on the gas until the pair reached the safety of a nearby house. Expecting to find evidence of the terrible collision, the gentlemen found nothing. The side of the car was intact with nary a scratch or dent. The men returned to the road seeking the remains of what hit their car, but again, the search was fruitless.

These stories have filtered down to today, and the legend was documented in historian Curtis Coulter’s 1990 book, A Sentimental Journey Down Country Roads: Stories of Sale Creek, Tennessee. Coulter included the original legend and the 1950s collision described above. Georgiana Kotarski included information from Coulter’s book, but she also adds a story from November 2004. Early one morning a pair of deer hunters took up in two deer stands they had set up near Shipley Hollow. Using walkie-talkies to communicate, the pair arrived in the early morning darkness. One of the hunters noticed that the deer seemed to be moving about earlier than expected.

Communication between the hunters was interrupted by static over the walkie-talkies. Peering into the darkness of the woods, one of the hunters heard something moving in the forest. His eyes, having adjusted to the light, soon saw something blocking out the small slivers of light that filtered through the trees. The inky shadow surrounded him, and he felt it breathing on his neck. The feeling lifted after five fearful minutes. After this frightening incident, the hunter began asking around about ghost stories from the area and discovered Coulter’s book.

In 2010, curious teenagers were attracted to the area by tales of ghosts, but they found a gun-toting local who held them until the police arrived. Since the curious teens had not stepped out of their cars, nor had they entered the cemetery, the police arrested the man who held them for false imprisonment. While this incident is not terribly important, the articles do provide a picture of the things that people are still encountering in Shipley Hollow. One of the articles states that “those who visit the cemetery drive around a loop three times, then stop and listen.” One of the teens said, You are supposed to hear weird sounds and sometimes you can even see a light.” The loop is Shipley Cemetery Road, which branches off Shipley Hollow Road to the Shipley Cemetery and loops around to the main road.

Another article about the 2010 incident includes another brief story from the area. That story speaks of a woman being kidnapped, murdered, with her body tossed into a well near the cemetery.

If you head out to Shipley Hollow, you may want to run if you hear a pitty-pat, pitty-pat, pitty-pat sound, though also be on the lookout for gun-toting locals.

Sources

  • “Case bound to grand jury against teacher who held ‘ghostbusters’ with a rifle.” The Chattanoogan. 17 November 2010.
  • Kotarski, Georgiana C. Ghosts of the Southern Tennessee Valley. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2006.
  • Stone, Michael. “Popular haunt.” Chattanooga Times-Free Press. 11 September 2010.

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