Maureen Kenyon, Treasure Coast Newspapers
Who's ready for a good scare?
Halloween's almost here, so now's the time to make plans to visit some of the most haunted places in the Sunshine State.
Head to Marianna in the Panhandle for a ghost walk to Bellamy Bridge, the oldest steel-frame bridge in Florida. However, be prepared to get creeped out when you hear the story behind it's haunted past.
Or, gather up some courage for a trip to Launch Complex 34, the decommissioned site where three Apollo I astronauts died in a fire. Some NASA employees say it's haunted by their ghosts.
: shivers :
Here are 10 of Florida's most terrifying landmarks guaranteed to scare you this Halloween.
The steel-frame bridge Bellamy Bridge in Marianna, built in 1914, is the oldest of its kind in Florida. It's part of the Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail, a half-mile-long multi-use trail.
According to a website dedicated to the bridge, several ghost legends revolve around the bridge and trail, including the story of an early 19th-century moonshiner murder and the tale of a wagon driven by a headless driver. But the story that brings most visitors to the bridge is the tale of Elizabeth Jane Bellamy, the “Ghost of Bellamy Bridge.”
In 1837, Bellamy died of fever. A week later, her son died from the same illness. Elizabeth's husband, Samuel, became deeply depressed and turned to alcohol. About 15 years later, Samuel slit his throat with a straight razor at Chattahoochee River Landing. He was not buried next to his bride, despite his last request. Sightings of a ghostly woman near the bridge have been reported since the late 1800s.
The popular Bellamy Bridge Ghost Walks, guided after-dark tours, take place each year on the Friday and Saturday closest to Halloween.
Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail, 4057 Highway 162, Marianna, is open daily, weather conditions permitting. It's free to visit.
Apollo I Launch Complex 34
On Jan. 27, 1967, astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were on board the Apollo I craft when a flash fire broke out and completely engulfed the capsule, almost instantly killing all three men.
Now decommissioned, Launch Complex 34 is thought to be haunted by the ghosts of the three astronauts.
The launch complex broke ground in 1960 and served as the launch site for the Apollo program’s launching of Saturn I and IB rockets through 1968. The Apollo I capsule was being tested for launch when the tragedy occurred.
Some NASA employees and visitors to the abandoned launch pad have claimed to hear screams and an overall dark feeling when near the pad.
Take the official bus tour through the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex.
Koreshan State Historic Site
According to the Florida State Parks website, "a unique experience of how some opted to live, Koreshan State Park is a fascinating journey back in time."
Actually, the way "some opted to live" was to follow a man named Koresh, who developed a new religion, Koreshanity, in which he was the Messiah.
In 1894, a doctor, Cyrus Teed — Koresh — brought his followers from New York to Estero in southwestern Florida to establish a utopian community, the Koreshan Unity, according to the Naples Daily News.
The community believed the universe existed in a hollow sphere. At its peak, there were more than 250 residents.
According to Florida Rambler, a website dedicated to authentic Florida living, when Teed died in 1908, his followers propped up the body and waited for him to resurrect. After three weeks, the health department forced them to dispose of the body. It was placed in a mausoleum on the beach, but washed out to sea during a hurricane years later.
The last Koreshan died in 1982, and some people say their spirits still watch over the land. Witnesses have reported shadow people who disappear on the trails, unexplained voices in the buildings and floating orbs of light, according to Florida Rambler.
The Koreshan State Historic Site is at 3800 Corkscrew Road in Estero.
Key West Cemetery
It is estimated that as many as 100,000 people are buried in the 19-acre Key West Cemetery, 701 Passover Lane, near the foot of Solares Hill.
According to the Friends of the Key West Cemetery website, the original burial ground was located near coastal sand dunes around Whitehead Point, which is present-day Higgs Beach and West Martello Tower. However, following the Great Havana Hurricane of 1846, graves washed away and disinterred bodies and caskets were scattered throughout the island.
In 1847, the Key West (City) Cemetery was established at its current location, which is in the center of Old Town, the highest natural elevation on the island, rising 18 feet above sea level.
Prominent families who played a role in establishing Key West are buried there. People who died during a fire in 1886 as well as during the yellow fever outbreak in 1887 and 1888 are buried there, too. There is a memorial section of the cemetery dedicated to the men who died on the Battleship Maine in 1898. Some gravestones date back to the mid-1800s.
One of the more unusual supernatural reports from the Key West Cemetery involves a woman of Bahamian descent, who has made appearances during the day and at night. Those who have seen her have reported that she seems to become angry if visitors sit on grave stones, walk across graves or in any way disrespect the dead.
There are daily ghost tours in Key West, including through the cemetery. Want to brave the cemetery alone? Take a self-guided tour, but make sure to take along this map. Winter hours are 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and summer hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Interstate 4 'Dead Zone'
According to legend, a family of four German immigrants died of yellow fever in 1886 and were buried in a spot that is now beneath the Interstate 4 approach to the St. Johns River Bridge in Seminole County.
Accidents, including phantom truckers and hitchhikers, and disastrous weather also have occurred at the spot.
In a 2007 report, WKMG-Channel 6 reported the Florida Highway Patrol said nearly 440 crashes had been reported there between 1999 and 2006, according to the Orlando Sentinel. In 1960, the track of Hurricane Donna piggy-backed the area, and in 2004, Hurricane Charley passed over the burial site.
Ashley's Restaurant & Bar in Rockledge is a Tudor-style wood and stucco building furnished with old stained-glass windows and antique pictures on dark wood walls. And, according to its website, it's also the setting of a ghostly legend.
On Nov. 21, 1934, the body of 19-year-old Ethel Allen was found in Eau Gallie on the bank of the Indian River, mutilated and burned. Her skull was crushed and her throat slit. Ethel Allen was last seen at Jack's Tavern, which would become Ashley's Restaurant.
It's thought Ethel’s murder is the main source of the ghostly activity, much of which takes place in the women's restroom. One manager claims she's seen the feet of a woman dressed in 1930s-era shoes in a stall, only to exit her stall to find the other one empty, according to the website. Patrons also have reported seeing apparitions of a young woman in the bathroom mirror.
Still, others claim to have been pushed by an invisible force while going up and down the stairs. Lights flicker on and off during the night, alarms go off without explanation and glasses and dishes fall and break without cause.
Castillo de San Marcos
St. Augustine is the oldest city in the United States so it makes sense there are several stories of ghost sightings and hauntings.
The 17th-century fortress Castillo de San Marcos, constructed by the Spanish in 1672 and declared a national park in 1924 by President Calvin Coolidge, was used as a military defense by the Spanish and the British and Americans used it to imprison native American tribe members, including the Seminole war chief Oseola, according to the national park website.
Visitors have reported seeing apparitions of soldiers and Native Americans, as well as orbs inside the fortress.
The Travel Channel's "Ghost Adventures" reports one of the Castillo's best-known ghost stories involves a love triangle between Spanish Col. Garcia Marti, his wife, Delores Marti, and Capt. Manuel Abela.
In 1784 during the second Spanish occupation, Marti, the fort's commanding officer, suspected his wife of cheating on him with Abela. Soon after, his wife, Delores, and Abela mysteriously disappeared. Ghostly reports from the grounds of Castillo describe a female apparition in a white dress, believed to be the forlorn spirit of Delores Marti.
Castillo de San Marcos is on A1A in St. Augustine, and visitors can sign up for ghost tours here.
The Devil Tree
If you live in Port St. Lucie you've probably heard stories about The Devil Tree.
The tree is in Oak Hammock Park, 1982 S.W. Villanova Road, and it's creepy. It stands tall and its long branches extend high into the air. It's in the corner of the park and is accessible by a dirt path.
If the large oak isn't scary enough, the story behind the popularity of the tree will be.
According to a news story published Nov. 28, 2010, by Tyler Treadway, a hog hunter found bones and teeth belonging to two Iowa teens, Barbara Ann Wilcox and Colette Goodenough, around a tree near the C-24 Canal in western Port St. Lucie, which today is Oak Hammock Park.
The teens had been missing since 1973, when they were last seen in Mississippi, hitchhiking to Florida's east coast.
According to "Weird Florida" by Charlie Carlson, The Devil Tree is thought to be haunted. People have been seen in dark, hooded capes performing rituals at night near the tree. Since then, so many people have reported seeing these hooded worshipers that a priest supposedly performed an exorcism on the tree in 1992.
The scene at Oak Hammock Park in 1977, according to investigators' reports, was similar to shallow graves found near Blind Creek Beach on Hutchinson Island near Fort Pierce four years earlier.
The mutilated and decapitated remains of Georgia Jessup, 17, and Susan Place, 16, both of Broward County, were in the graves, and a one-time Martin County Sheriff's Office deputy, Gerard Schaefer, was found guilty of killing them.
For those crimes, Schaefer — who was also implicated in up to 30 more deaths — was sentenced to be executed by the state. However, on Dec. 3, 1995, Schaefer was knifed to death by Vincent Rivera, a fellow inmate at the maximum-security Florida State Prison near Starke.
Considered one of the "most haunted lighthouses in America," the Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum, 2081 Radford Blvd., offers ghost hunts of the lighthouse that stands 159 feet above the coast.
Supposedly, Michaela Penalber haunts the living quarters, where in 1840, she is thought to have killed her husband, Jeremiah. Both had been keepers of the lighthouse since it first opened in 1826. (It was rebuilt in 1859.)
Visitors claim that objects have been thrown at them. Others have heard whispers, footsteps and the voice of a child.
SyFy's "Ghost Hunters" performed its own paranormal investigation.
The Vinoy Renaissance Hotel
The four-star hotel, 501 Fifth Ave. Northeast in St. Petersburg, has been explored by "Ghost Hunters," too, after paranormal investigators heard stories from visitors and employees who claimed to sense a presence in the halls.
The presence started as a misty woman wearing white to a man dressed in clothes from the hotel's 1920s era, described by Major League Baseball players who were visiting. The book, "Haunted Baseball," details the ghost stories. Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Scott Williamson claimed to encounter a ghost at the hotel in 2003, along with members of the Pittsburgh Pirates and former Toronto Blue Jays reliever John Frascatore.
Also, water faucets turn on, doors open and close on their own and lights flicker in rooms for no reason.