Home to Universal Studios and Disney’s Magic Kingdom, and with hundreds of miles of beaches, Florida is the premier vacation destination. However, while bathed in sunshine, paranormal occurrences cling to the shade of Florida’s shadow, granting visitors with paranormal inclinations plenty to discover when the sun sinks beneath the horizon. These are the 10 most haunted places in Florida!
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In Oak Hammock Park on canal C-24, gnarled branches from an ancient tree hang heavily overhead. Residents warn intrepid visitors to not happen across this 150-year-old oak after dusk, for The Devil Tree is intimately bound to a Floridian horror story. In 1971, Gerald Schaefer bound, tortured, raped, and hanged two teenage hitchhikers before burying their decapitated corpses in a shallow grave at the tree. This oak became the final resting place of his victims due to convenience, as Schaefer’s home was near the tree. To this day, pieces of the foundation serve as a grim memento of this man’s crimes.
Attempts have been made to remove this tainted piece of nature but alas chainsaws stop working as soon as they begin cutting into the tree, and the teeth of handsaws fall out upon contact with the trunk. Even an appeal to a higher power was no use. In 1992, a priest attempted to perform an exorcism only to have an unseen force knock over his cross.
Travelers who venture through the woods at night to visit The Devil Tree feel the cold of the grave seep into their bones and hear distressed screams echo through the trees. Some unfortunate visitors have claimed to witness apparitions of the slain hitchhikers swinging from the noose, high in the canopy of the oak branches.
However, The Devil Tree is not finished gifting the curious. The men who sought to use chainsaws to remove the tree drove off with pieces of bark in their pockets and were soon involved in a fatal accident. Now legend has it that those who remove a piece of the tree and leave the park are doomed to a similar fate.
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In 1961 NASA finished construction on Launch Complex 34, and the launch site was set to be the home for future space exploration. After successfully testing rockets and launching probes, it was now time to send astronauts into the great dark beyond. Unfortunately, Earth was not yet ready to relinquish man from her grasp, and during a test preflight on 1967, Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee perished when a flash fire swept through their command module.
NASA abandoned Launch Complex 34 a year later. In the years that followed, those who ventured near the decaying structure report sounds of panicked screaming from the launch pad and are overwhelmed with a sense of sorrow and terror. The reports became so increasingly frequent that they had to close the site to all visitors temporarily.
NASA has since then reopened the site and tours can be arranged with the Air Force Space and Missile Museum to visit the derelict monument. With a plaque embedded onto its side and three granite benches nearby, Launch Complex 34 now stands as a reminder of the cost of space exploration and to those three astronauts who made the ultimate sacrifice.
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Locals traveling between Orlando and Daytona hesitantly drive through Interstate 4 for a good reason - the south end of the bridge over St. Johns River is the epicenter for disaster. Plagued with frequent accidents since its construction in 1963, this single segment of I-4 has an estimated 1000-1700 vehicular accidents. Additionally, motorists lose cell reception, and radios play static or become dead silent. The eerie silence is the most preferred outcome as some report their radios picking up voices asking, “Who’s there?” or “Why?” along with the laughter of children playing nearby.
Delving into the past, it becomes obvious why this is a “Dead Zone.” This piece of I-4 was built on top of the graves of a family claimed by the Yellow Fever during the 1880s. For these four victims, there was no proper burial as the priest sent to conduct the last rights soon died after he arrived. Soon any who disturbed this final resting place met with a terrible fate and the residents took to naming this cursed land “The Field of Death.”
In 1960, at the same time Hurricane Donna was tearing its way across Florida, fill dirt was dumped on the burial site to elevate the highway. As if coerced by a supernatural force, Donna’s path was redirected passing over the construction site, and halting any progress for nearly a month. Then in 2004, Hurricane Charley followed the same course Donna took. Coincidentally, more construction was going right before Charley passed over the grave site.
Currently, many accidents and strange mishaps continue to take place at this nexus of paranormal activity and come nightfall residents claim to see orbs and wisps dashing around the pavement. Beware traveling down this stretch of highway, or you too will join the long list of victims of the Interstate 4 “Dead Zone.”
“The Lady of Bellamy Bridge has been seen of late.” Marianna Newspaper, 1890. On dark foggy nights, the ghost of Elizabeth Jane Bellamy sifts through the swamp trapped in a search without end for her husband and life left unfulfilled. In 1837, three years after marrying Edward Bellamy, Elizabeth contracted yellow fever and died. A week later, her 18-month-old son Alexander joined his mother on the other side, leaving Edward without his family.
Grief-stricken and broken, he soon slit his throat to find peace in death to return to his wife and son. However, while mother and child were buried by a grove of trees that would later become the location of the Bellamy Bridge, Edward was refused his last request to join them and was buried in an unmarked grave far from his family.
Built in 1914, Bellamy Bridge is the oldest metal bridge in Florida. Previous iterations of the bridge once stood on the same spot with the first wooden Bellamy Bridge in 1851, the second in 1872, and the third in 1874. Elizabeth is bound to the structure as it penetrates the area of her final resting place. However, the bridge binds more than one soul to its metal skeleton. Sightings have been reported of a decapitated wagon driver crossing the bridge at night as well as a murdered moonshiner.
Visitors are free to travel the Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail to investigate for themselves as the trail is open daily, but at night travel is restricted except to those who undertake the popular Bellamy Bridge Ghost Walks. The walks take place on the weekend closest to Halloween each year and include a reenactment of the Bellamy ghost sightings with the actress providing fascinating historical tales of the surrounding area.
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During the Great Havana Hurricane of 1846, the terrible storm ruthlessly savaged sections of an overcrowded cemetery, and graves were washed away with some bodies and caskets scattered into the nearby forest. A year later, on top of the remains of the old cemetery the Key West Cemetery was built creating a mishmashed city of graves and above ground bone-white vaults, created to prevent the newly deceased from drifting out to sea.
All manner of people join one another in this crowded mini-necropolis – prominent Key West families, fire and yellow fever victims, navy soldiers, Cuban revolutionaries, and even the famous Key West bartender “Sloppy” Joe Russell. Given the previous disturbances to the grave, there is no surprise that there have been reports of the ghost of a Bahamian woman patrolling the cemetery at day and night becoming angry at any perceived slight towards the dead. Be wary of sitting, standing, or walking over any graves lest you invoke the seething rage of this eternal guardian.
Whether alone or with a group, those with a liking for the paranormal can visit the main office for daily ghost tours or take the self-guided tour. You are not without options; other Key West ghost tours also pass through this cemetery. The Historic Florida Keys Foundation offers walking tours twice a week for a fee.
The Coral Gables Biltmore Hotel is Mediterranean styled mansion so fabulous that the dead refuse to check-out. Messages are written in mirrors, lampshades suddenly disappear, lights flicker, and elevators suddenly have their buttons pressed by an unseen hand sending guests to the wrong floors. While skeptics are inclined to blame faulty equipment and thieving guests, the late gangster Thomas “Fatty” Walsh takes disrespect to this slight against his otherworldly accomplishments.
In 1929, Fatty was murdered in a gambling argument, and since then he has become a permanent guest at the hotel. He seems to harbor no malicious intent but feels the need to play pranks on the guest and staff. Forever a gentleman, waitresses claim he occasionally opens doors for them as they carry trays out into the restaurant. Be sure to book your stay on the 13th floor, as Fatty doesn’t stray too far from where he died and the dead love company.
Fatty isn’t the sole specter roaming the halls of the Biltmore. A woman in white is sometimes seen jumping from the windows, and visitors have observed a couple dancing across the floor before vanishing before their eyes.
Stained with centuries of lore, the Castillo de San Marcos is host to many ghosts from different chapters in Florida’s history. Located in the oldest city in the United States, this 300-year-old masonry fortress was once inhabited by the Spanish in 1672 only to switch owners continuously between British and American forces through decades of colonial warfare.
Native Americans were imprisoned and perished within its fortified walls. Yearning for freedom even in death, visitors have reported their apparitions wandering the grounds. Restless soldiers continue their patrol, and the Seminole chief Osceola has been sighted jumping from the high walls before vanishing.
As with most ghost stories, the most potent force preventing these spirits from moving on is love. In 1874, the fort’s commanding officer, a Spanish Colonel, was convinced his wife was cheating on him with a captain. The two suddenly vanished one night, and for over three centuries, witnesses claim to spot a woman dressed in white searching for her lost love. The curious living can sign up for ghost tours of the fort and experience the centuries of history of the Castillio de San Marcos.
On the north end of Anastasia Island, the St. Augustine Lighthouse has stood tall since its construction in 1824, making it the oldest structure in the city. A bright beacon for ships conducting their nightly voyages, the lighthouse also attracts wayward spirits.
Originally owned by Dr. Allan Ballard, the government purchased the lighthouse. However, the state government offered what he perceived was far less than the true value of his lighthouse, and he only sold it after they threatened to take it by force. Since then, Ballard’s ghost has been spotted wandering around the base of the lighthouse since in life he angrily vowed to the government he would never leave his home.
Ballard is not the only ghostly presence bound to the St. Augustine Lighthouse. While painting the outside, Joseph Andreau fell to his death and can sometimes be heard climbing the 219 steps. Cigar smoke is said to saturate the air before another deceased resident, Peter Rasmussen, appears and disappears. The drowned daughters of Hezekiah Pity can be heard laughing and playing on the property.
Those who feel the need to satiate their hunger for the paranormal can take the Dark of the Moon ghost tour for an opportunity to encounter the true owners of the coastal tower.
This building was not built on a grave, and no one has died on its grounds. There is nothing disastrous attached to the history of this museum. Instead, it is home to a vessel of concentrated malice, Robert the Doll. Gifted to Robert Eugene Otto by his grandfather, the doll was garbed in a sailor suit that young Otto once wore and became his constant companion well into his adult life.
However, misfortune befell Otto from the moment he gained possession of the doll, and he attributed all mishaps to the doll’s machinations, “I didn’t do it. Robert did it.” He was often heard speaking to the doll and responding for it in a different voice. In later life, he became an eccentric artist, locking himself away for days arguing with the doll and rarely leaving the room up until his death in 1974. Two years later, his wife followed him into the grave. It is believed that Otto imbued onto the doll his pent-up frustrations and insanity, ascending it past simply being childhood toy and a bundled force of evil.
To this day, the doll remains contained in a glass case in the Fort East Martello Museum and began to attract attention in one part due to his history and another due to strange events such as electronic devices seeming to malfunction when he is present.
Feel free to visit the museum but know that Robert the doll demands respect. Any guest who he feels slighted him in any manner are cursed with misfortune unless they seek forgiveness. The museum owners state that unfortunate visitors have come back to the museum and even sent letters appealing to Robert’s mercy.
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On the southern end of Gasparilla Island in Boca Grande rests a lighthouse whose grounds are host to the spirits of pirates, lighthouse keepers, and a Spanish princess. Constructed and first lit on December 31st, 1890, the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse was responsible for guiding valuable cargo and at one point was a safe harbor for ships in World War 2 before being deactivated in 1966.
However, in the 77 years of its service, the structure was dosed in tragedy. On some nights, the jubilant round face of a little girl can be seen staring out into the sea - her frame lit by the revolving lights. In the 1880s she met her untimely end and was buried near the lighthouse. She now spends her afterlife no differently from when she was warm flesh and bone, playing in her home and gazing longingly out through the window.
The land where the tower stands also holds the spirits of the long dead. Captain Jose Gaspar, the notorious pirate the island was named after, inhabited this island and has been said to bury his treasure horde beneath the sands before he and his crew met their end by the USS Enterprise. Workers have claimed to witness his ghostly crew drudge through the sands after dark, and some have reported sighting the headless body of a Spanish princess, decapitated by one of the pirates, wandering the beach.
In 1986 the building was restored and is now operational. The public can visit the museum portion of the lighthouse known as Historic Port Boca Grande Lighthouse and Museum to learn more about its fascinating history.