Haunted Florida, Briefly Noted

“Attention, blog readers! Cleanup on the Florida aisle!” Since the move from Blogger, I’ve been sitting on several articles that needed a bit of cleanup before being reposted. This article combines the remains of my original “Haunted Florida” article along with some theatre entries that were written for a book on haunted Southern theatres, that was never completed.

Athens Theatre—Sands Theatre Center
124 North Florida Avenue
DeLand

Henry Addison DeLand dreamed of creating the “Athens of the South” when he began developing land around a small Florida settlement called Persimmon Hollow. He opened a small academy, DeLand Academy, but after a freeze in 1885 destroyed the orange crop, DeLand returned north short his investment. Wealthy Philadelphia hat maker, John B. Stetson, took over the academy and reopened it as John B. Stetson University, later just Stetson University.

DeLand grew over the next few decades, becoming a center of learning and culture on the east coast of Florida. The Athens Theatre was opened in 1922 with the hope of continuing that cultural influence. The magnificent Beaux Arts style theatre opened as a vaudeville and movie house. In 2009, the building was renovated, restored and reopened as the Sands Theatre Center, a performing arts center for the community.

Athens Theatre, 2007, by Ebyabe. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Within the walls of the theatre two spirits linger. The shade of a stagehand who fell to his death still resides here, but it is the lively spirit of a young actress who is most often felt. Legend speaks of a young actress starring in a show who began a torrid affair with the theatre’s manager. The manager’s wife appeared one day to find the two in flagrante delicto and, after a shouting match, the wife bludgeoned the pretty, young actress to death with a lamp. Actors using the actress’ old dressing room sometimes incur her contempt which is sometimes expressed through objects being thrown or the room’s temperature drastically lowered.

Sources

  • DeLand, Florida. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 18 March 2013.
  • Martin, C. Lee. Florida Ghosts and Pirates. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2008.

Coral Castle
28655 South Dixie Highway
Homestead

Coral sculptures at Coral Castle, 2005, by Christina Rutz. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Edward Leedskalnin, an eccentric and possibly brilliant Latvian immigrant, began work on his masterpiece in nearby Florida City in 1923. In 1936 he moved himself and the castle to Homestead where he worked 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 the site, Mr. Leedskalnin’s presence is felt. Other visitors have seen figures appear among the castle’s huge coral blocks.

Sources

  • 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.
  • Temkin, Maria & Michael Zimny. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for the Coral Castle. 2 April 1984.
  • Thuma, Cynthia and Catherine Lower. Haunted Florida. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books,
  • Walls, Kathleen. Finding Florida’s Phantoms. Global Authors Publications, 2004.

Deering Estate
16701 Southwest 72nd Avenue
Miami

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.

Richmond Cottage on the Deering Estate, 2010, by Zoohouse. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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.

Sources

  • 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?” 28 October 2009.
  • “Miami-Dade Estate deemed ‘severely haunted.’” The Miami Herald. 22 October 2009.

Henegar Center for the Arts
625 East New Haven Avenue
Melbourne

Henegar Center, 2010, by Leonard J. DeFrancisci. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A fine example of adaptive reuse, the Henegar Center is located within an old school building. Having opened in 1920, the Melbourne school was named after a former principal, Ruth Henegar in 1963. The building was closed as a school in 1975 and reopened as the Henegar Center for the Arts in 1991. In addition to opening with a 493-seat theatre, the building also came with a resident ghost, Jonathan. According to Kathleen Walls, Jonathan’s antics include the usual noises attributed to spirits as well as moving actors’ props. The theatre’s balcony seems to be his favorite area of the theatre and he has been spotted there on occasion.

Sources

  • Henegar Center for the Arts. “Our Rich History.” Accessed 25 March 2013.
  • Walls, Kathleen. Finding Florida’s Phantoms. Global Authors Publications, 2004.

Hotel Blanche
212 North Marion Street
Lake City

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.

Hotel Blanche, 1908, from a postcard. Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida.

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 (which may be an indication of a malevolent entity). The spirits, though, do seem as unsettled as the recent plans for the building.

Sources

  • 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.

Miami International Airport
2100 Northwest 42nd Avenue
Miami

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.

Miami International Airport, 2007, by Jason Walsh. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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.

Sources

  • 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.

Richey Suncoast Theatre
6237 Grand Boulevard
New Port Richey

The patron attended a performance at the theatre. He sat in his favorite seat, BB1 in the balcony, for the performance and a few hours after leaving was dead of a heart attack. Not only was Willard Clark not just a patron, he was the president of the theatre. Following his death in 1981, he has apparently returned to the theatre he loved so and is not happy when his favorite seat is occupied. Patrons unfamiliar with the story have experienced a distinct chill while watching performances from Clark’s favorite seat. Others have spotted a gentleman in a tuxedo in that seat. For awhile, the seat was simply reserved for the ghost and patrons were told it was broken.

The history of this theatre reflects much of the bumpy history of Florida in the early 20th century. Land booms, busts and the Great Depression fill the history of the state and the theatre felt shockwaves from all of these.

Richey Suncoast Theatre, 2010, by Karm Atwin. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Thomas Meighan made a name for himself in silent films. After his 1919 film, The Miracle Man, he officially had become a “star” and he appeared opposite great leading ladies like Gloria Swanson, Mary Pickford (known popularly as “America’s Sweetheart”) and Norma Talmadge and under the direction of such greats as Cecil B. DeMille. Talking with his brother, James, a realtor, Meighan became very interested in Florida and bought land there in 1925. Inspired by dreams of making the New Port Richey area a celebrity winter playground, he built a home there and encouraged his friends to visit. When a new theatre opened in town in 1926, it was named, appropriately, the Thomas Meighan Theatre.

The grand opening of the theatre on July 1, 1926 was heralded with a showing of Meighan’s film, The New Klondike. The theatre experienced ups and downs in its business and improvements were made to allow for the latest in film technology: “talkies.” But with the hardships imposed on the area during the Great Depression, the theatre closed its doors. The theatre reopened under a new name in 1938 and continued operating under a variety of names until 1968 when competition from a local multiplex led to the theatre’s closure. It was purchased in 1972 for use as a community theatre. The Richey Suncoast Theatre has continued to operate as a successful community theatre ever since. And Willard Clark continues to watch fabulous performances from his favorite balcony seat.

Sources

  • Cannon, Jeff. “Ghostly Encounters in Pasco County.” com. 25 October 2012.
  • Fredericksen, Barbara L. “Attention ghost: Exit stage left, through wall.” Tampa Bay Times. 31 October 2006.
  • The Meighan/Richey Suncoast Theatre.” The History of Pascoe County. Accessed 3 April 2013.
  • Spencer, Camille C. “Is New Port Richey a truly ghostly town? Or is it a myth?” Tampa Bay Times. 30 October 2009.
  • Thomas Meighan. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 3 April 2013.

Venice Theatre
140 Tampa Avenue, West
Venice

Venice Little Theatre has grown so much they dropped the “Little” from their name in 2008. Founded in 1950 and first performing in an airport hangar at the Venice Airport, Venice Theatre has expanded into one of the premier community theatre companies in the nation. After the city needed the airport hangar for storage in 1972, the company purchased its current building: a 1926 structure with a tower resembling the St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice, Italy, the town’s namesake.

Where actors now play, cadets from the Kentucky Military Institute—which summered in Venice—once sweated and occasionally the spirit of a small girl still roams. She has been seen curiously watching groups of juvenile actors and bouncing a ball in the corridors that once served as the military institute’s gymnasium. Who she is or what she’s doing in this particular building remains a mystery.

Sources

  • Cool, Kim. Haunted Theatres of Southwest Florida. Venice, FL: Historic Venice Press, 2009.
  • History. Venice Theatre. Accessed 31 March 2013.

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