Travel Log…Silver Springs State Park

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Episode 43…The Silver Springs Brochure Forgot These Ghosts

There are two kinds of ghost stories coming out of the amusement park in Silver Springs, Florida.  One shows up in different forms in books and online pages, morphing and borrowing bits of narrative from other tales and redefining itself with each generation.  It’s somewhat forgot but those who work there, but each version is sworn to be true by each person that shares it. It’s nonspecific and familiar and has roots in actual locations you can see and feel.  Its stretches through centuries and trying to unlock what might be true and what might be legend can get you caught in rabbit holes and Internet threads.

Then there is the other kind of ghost story.  This one is more subtle and shared only between the people who work there.  They’ll tell you them if you ask, and everyone seems to have one, but people have stopped asking.  They are modern and oddly accepted by the people who have lived through them. They are anything but legend.

All through the years though there have been the stories.  Whether they are used to try and rationalize what happens there or just a living commercial, they have offered the park its heartbeat.  The beauty of the legends at Silver Springs is that all you need to do is decide what kind of love story you like. They’re all tragedies in their own way, but some are more poetic than others.

Take the published account spread by the park itself; or at least for a while until it played itself out.  That story involves two young lovers and an old woman who used to work at the park telling the tale. The old woman’s name is Aunt Silla and she knew the young lovers and would sit at the park and tell their story.  Claire Douglass was the son of Captain Harding Douglass, a hard man who was tough on his men and then tougher on his employees when he took over cotton fields in Florida. He considered it well below their station when his sensitive son fell in love with a beautiful woman named Bernice Mayo.  The two had met on the shores of what is now Silver Springs and immediately fell for each other. For quite some time they walked the banks and traveled on the water and allowed their passion to drown out the protests of his father. He eventually promised he would marry her and gave her a family heirloom bracelet until he could get her a real engagement ring.

Captain Douglas found out and shipped his son off to Europe under supervision hoping Claire and Bernice would forget each other with the distance.  Bernice, who had always leaned on Aunt Silla as a healer and adviser, not spent long stretches of time with her, slowly becoming more and more sick.  Claire wrote every day, but his father intercepted the letters, and with each day without word his lovers health got worse. One the day she realized she was going to die she begged Silla to row her body out into the Springs and be buried in what came to be called The Bridal Chamber.  At first the old woman disagreed, but when refused to concede and even went so far as to but a curse on her friend should she not comply, Aunt Silla promised. That night, under a full moon and with Bernice’s dead body on the boat, she rowed out and gently placed the young lady’s body in the water.  The Bridal Chamber seemed to open up and suck her in.

The next day, the day he had promised to return and marry her, Claire came back and demanded to see his bride to be.  Eventually Aunt Silla gave in and rowed the boat out to where she had dumped Claire’s body. As he watched the water and cried he saw a hand rise from the rocks with his bracelet on it.  He dove into the water and swam down to his beloved, trying his best to raise her body to the surface. When he realized he could not, he gave in to the water around him and embraced the woman he loved forever.

It has all of the elements of a true love story, even if they maybe a bit overly familiar.  For the decades she worked there, Aunt Silla would tell the story, and as Silver Springs grew in popularity it promoted Bernice and Claire’s love as part of the attraction of the park, even including it in their promotional material.  After seeing the enormous snakes and man-eating Alligators you can hop on a glass bottom boat and see their watery grave and maybe even see their ghosts. People talked of seeing lights in the water at night and even a ghostly boat making its way to the Bridal Chamber.

IMG_6762.JPGYet the story is hard to prove, which either adds to impact or frustrates if you look too hard.  There are no birth or death records of Bernice, Claire, or Captain Douglass, which is especially off considering Captain Douglass was a wealthy man who owned vast amounts of property.  The story is presented as true, and Aunt Silla, who was a real woman who worked at the part, solidifies it for the people who remember hearing about it.

“Yeah, us older people know that story, “ said one of the captains who remembers a time when they told the story. He also remembers how the story would always be changing depending on who you heard it from.  “Even the captains changed it a little and it gets confused. That’s why you find five different legends out there. Everyone’s got their ideas about it.”

It’s hard to tell when the desire for a new story came around and why it was needed, but people shifted away from Bernice and Claire.  It may have been because Aunt Silla passed or because one of the many shifts in ownership though it had a different mystic, but a new narrative was written.  People who work at the park attribute it to a changing management and the emphasis on Ross’s Seminole Village.

A young man named Navarro from the Tequesta tribe fell in love with a beautiful lady from the Muscogee tribe named Tululah.  The tribe’s chief, a man by the name of Satouriana determined the best course of action would be to send the young brave to the land of the Creeks to report on their power.  But there was a bargain made behind Navarro’s back, and when he arrived he was captured and held for more than three months. Tululah was heartbroken and soon grew ill. She eventually died and asked to be buried in the deepest part of the spring, known as the Bridal Chamber.  She sunk to the bottom and was engulfed by the rocks. Not long after, her lover returned to hear of her death. He rode out and the bottom of the Bridal Chamber seemed to open up for him enough for him to see a glimpse of his would-be bride. He jumped from the boat, and as they embraced the rocks swallowed them up.

silverspringsocalaeveningsun1.jpgIf tracking down the real people in the first version is almost impossible, proving this version is false is fairly easy.  There is no written record of the tale of Navarro and Tululah until it appears in the Ocala Evening Star in 1907. It’s author, who was on loan from Talisman, the newspaper for the Women’s College of Florida which became Florida State University, was Nettie Lisk.  Lisk, it seems, was a fiction writer and poet for most of her career, so it is unclear whether she had heard the legend and wrote it or whether she merely created it herself. Also, the tribe identified in the story, the Tequesta, is located more than two hundred miles from Silver Springs.  The Muscogee might have been in the area around the time of the founding of the park, but not much before then. In fact, the Muscogee are actually part of the Creek, so it seems odd Nazarro would be asked to spy on tribe his girlfriend belonged to and that they would then hold him prisoner, especially when there is no evidence in the story that her family did not oppose the marriage.   The legend, however, persists and is said to be the cause of the unexplained activity on the water.

There might be another story to explain what the rangers see.  This one again involves love and is even more tragic and gives parts of the area their names.  Oklawaha fell in love with the beautiful woman Winona. They were both the children of their tribes chiefs felt revealing their love might lead to war.  They instead decided to run away with each other to the Chattahoochees, although there is no tribe by that name. It might instead be a reference to the Chattahoochee River in Georgia.  Someone found out about them leaving and decided to prevent them from leaving. They tracked them through the woods and backed the lovers onto a bluff overlooking Silver Springs. Knowing they would be caught and kept apart, they held each other close and jumped from the cliff.

They say both sides immediately realized they had made a mistake in trying to keep them apart.  They named the river that flows into the spring Oklawaha in his honor and a Lake nearby after her.  They also say the green moss under the water is Winona’s hair.

Who is the “they?”  It’s hard to tell because no one who currently works at the park has ever heard of the two lovers.  And there is no bluff that overlooks Silver Springs. Nettie Lisk specializes in fiction.

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If you haven’t had enough of love and suicide there is even another story spread by locals and recorded in the book Florida Ghost Stories by Robert R. Jones.  This tells of another set of lovers, this time named Mourning Dove and Running Fox. For a long time Silver Springs was called the Peace Camp and the different people around it would put their differences aside and compete in Olympic-type games.  It was there the two met after Running Fox, who was well known as the best athlete at the games, saved her life from a poisonous snake. She was taken by him and took him home to meet her father who also took an immediate like to the man. So the story has a happy ending?  Not quite. Another man, Brown Dog, became jealous and angry Running Fox had beaten him in the races and struck him with a stone on his way to see his lady. As Running Fox laid dying, he put an enchantment on Silver Springs. Anyone who met and fell in love under the “twisted palm” where they had met would be in love forever.  When Mourning Dove took his body out to the Bridal Chamber to bury it, she added to what her lover had said. Anyone who took the flowers from the water and walked with one in each shoe would find love, and putting the flowers in one shoe would get rid of someone who was causing them trouble. She then wrapped the vine and stone which acted as an anchor around her neck and threw herself into the water.

While the legends fade, those who work at the park can tell you it still is one of the most haunted places in Florida.  It has been for years. Gina has worked there for most of her life and has seen and felt a ghostly but friendly presence.  “There’s a ghost in our shop. One of the old maintenance mechanic maybe. I go in there to find something and I’ll hear a noise and turn my head, and there’s what I’m looking for.  Just enough to turn your head to get to the part.” Over the years this has happened to her quite often, but like many of the people who work at Silver Springs, she understands it’s all part of the job.

“There is something about the park that is so creepy at night, “ says Kasey, a newer employee to the park. “ There are rangers that live here and they at night there is something that doesn’t feel right.”  For her the most haunted place on the property is the ballroom. “There supposed to be a ghost that hangs out of the top floor of the ballroom. I’m not sure of everything that goes on, they just say it’s haunted.   The managers have their offices upstairs and they always say they have things happen. “

She had her own experience there shortly after she started.  She was closing up for the night and turned all the lights on the bottom floor off.  As she went to leave, all the lights came back on and then flickered, although there was no one around to play with them.  Her friend, Crystal, talks about an experience they had together late one night in the ballroom.

“We were cleaning in the back, doing dishes.  I saw it first and it didn’t move for like five minutes.  I was walking in near the window. The lights (from the signs) give it some luminescence.  For some reason I felt something and turned and looked. There was this face. It was floating in the window.”  Both ladies describe it the same way. They could make out the different features of the face, but not give many details.  Both describe it as being there but not there, and for some reason the ear stand out in their memories.

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We went there to see some of these locations for ourselves and see what all the legends were about.  After hearing the story of the ballroom, Natalie went into a breezeway full of displays. Some were of the original dioramas created to promote the park that were sent to the World’s Fair while others are models of the old boats and artifacts from the Seminole Village.  Near the entrance is an actual canoe said to have been pulled from the springs years ago. We spoke to several employees, and after using the ladies restroom, Natalie noticed an odd scratching near the bathroom door. We commented that there might be something with us as this scratching had happened several other times during a ghostly encounter.  The bathroom door opened in response. We began filming and the door continued to open in response to some of our questions.

Taking a step back, the door may have been opened due to wind in the bathroom, which has an entrance on the other side as well.  The door, however, had not moved the entire time we were speaking to people in there, including an interview with a ranger right after, and stopped as soon as another person walked into the hallway.

Crystal offers another theory.  “They say there are Native American spirits in that breezeway.  They say it’s a woman that hangs around there. Between the old village up near the staff parking lot and all the stuff they have in there, it makes sense.”  She has heard several people talk of the ghosts there and offer the Native American explanation for it. “My boss is sometimes back there late at night, like two o’clock at night.  H says he hears that bathroom door open and then slam shut.”

Her belief in the spirit was confirmed by a story one of the newer workers told who did not know the history of the hall.  “The lady went into the female bathroom. It was later in the day. I think it was the back stall that is closed. She said she went in there and the lights started to flicker.  She comes out and was washing her hands and she hears a woman. She turns around and there was nobody there. She went back to washing her hands, drying her hands. She turns around and there’s an Indian standing there, right where that broken stall is.  She ran out of there and she’s never been back. She refuses to go there.”

  

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Tripping on Legends Live…Lore v. Lies

Do you care if you’re lied to?

In the real world we avoid letting people in our lives who are dishonest and abuse our trust. We go to great lengths to make sure to protect ourselves and are careful with whom we let it. Then we hear a good ghost story, and it all drops away.

There is a difference between retelling an urban legend you think might be true and getting into a ghost story everyone knows to be fiction. The pressure to produce paranormal media has introduced a different kind of liar. The line between folklore and fiction is getting ever thinner, but you care?

So do you still care if you’re lied to?

You can contact us with questions, comments, and your favorite legend or tidbit of folklore at spookytripping@gmail.com.

We’re still knee deep in the #hauntedlove project, so we’re especially looking for ghost stories with a love twist.

You can listen to episode 43 where we discuss the Silver Springs
legends..

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Episode 43…The Silver Springs Brochure Forgot These Ghosts

 

Keep visiting the site for the trip log of our travels and other urban
legends at: www.trippingonlegends.wordpress.com

Follow us at: www.facebook.com/trippingonlegends

Twitter: @naynaymyfriend @SpookyBalzano

Instagram: @SpookyTripping

Tripping on Legends Live…Ghostly Evidence

Going live after their TOL Summer Trip 2018 has been completed, Tripping on Legends explores the nature and need for evidence in the paranormal world.
 
After a discussion of haunted stairway and the moving door they posted earlier, Christopher Balzano gets into why evidence may not be better than experience. The group gives the best evidence they ever say that they did not collect and offers their opinions on whether the evidence versus experience scale should swing the other way in the future.
 
 
 
You can follow the trip at #TOLSummer18 and #hauntedlove.
 
You can contact us with questions, comments, and your favorite legend or tidbit of folklore at spookytripping@gmail.com. We would love to hear your views on what we talked about.
 
 
We’re still knee deep in the #hauntedlove project, so we’re especially looking for ghost stories with a love twist.
 
Keep visiting the site for the trip log of our travels and other urban legends at:
 
 
 
 
 
Instagram: @SpookyTripping

Episode 42…The Trippers’ Haunted Agenda

 

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Episode 42…The Trippers’ Haunted Agenda

A few days before their big summer adventure, the Trippers get out the big board and set their agenda out.

After talking for a few about Christopher Balzano’s recent legend trip in the Myakka River State Park, he and Natalie Crist argue about the best way to go about tripping the locations picked out for their Summer18 trip.

They discuss the ghosts in Astor, DeLand, Silver Springs, and Oviedo. They also establish their first contest with the prize being a valued copy of Haunted Objects.

You can follow the trip at #TOLSummer18 and #hauntedlove.

You can contact us with questions, comments, and your favorite legend or tidbit of folklore at spookytripping@gmail.com.

We’re still knee deep in the #hauntedlove project, so we’re especially looking for ghost stories with a love twist.

Listen to the episode…

Keep visiting the site for the trip log of our travels and other urban legends at:
www.trippingonlegends.wordpress.com

Follow us at: www.facebook.com/trippingonlegends

Twitter: @naynaymyfriend @SpookyBalzano

Instagram: @SpookyTripping

Episode 35…A Gloomy Sunday at the Fairchild Oak

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Listen to Episode 35…A Gloomy Sunday at the Fairchild Oak

 

The Tripper take their first trip to Ormond Beach, Florida, and discover there might be more one the coast than just a few old Native American Stories.

They start at the infamous Fairchild Oak, which has been called at times the Death Tree, the Murder Tree, and the Suicide Tree. Christopher Balzano and Natalie Crist explore the history of the location and use the old cursed song Gloomy Sunday to try and see if the stories might be true.

You can also read more at the full travel log entry coming soon…

You can contact us with questions, comments, and your favorite legend or tidbit of folklore at spookytripping@gmail.com.

Keep visiting the site for the trip log of our travels and other urban legends at: www.trippingonlegends.wordpress.com

Follow us at: www.facebook.com/trippingonlegends

Twitter @naynaymyfriend @SpookyBalzano

Instagram @SpookyTripping

Ghost Lights and Other Spirits of Ormond Beach

radio player Listen to Episode 36…There’s Something Up at Ormond Beach

There’s a ghost.  Maybe. Odd things are happening, so people think the place may be haunted.  They don’t know why, and so they find a story that seems to make sense or one that sounds familiar.  There are two people driving down the road and and they get into a car accident. The man is ejected from the car and dies on impact, but the woman survives for a while.  She can spot her husband, his dead body slumped under the tree nearby, and all night, as she waits for help to come and rescue her, she reaches out to him and calls his name.   Now at the spot of the accident you can see two balls of light hover in the area. They seem to be trying to get to each other but never can. Sometimes a voice is heard on the wind

Simple.  Right?

If believing in ghosts is thinking outside of the box, folklore and urban legends are the box we use to try and make sense of them.  In Ormond Beach, Florida, there has been an story playing else out at least a hundred years. Dig a bit deeper and you’ll see they story might go back even further.  Ghost stories about odd lights have been plaguing a stretch of road leading to the Tomoka State Park for as long as there has been a road there. The trouble is they don’t live in isolation.  Instead every time you try to neatly put them in some kind of box, a detail wiggles out and attaches itself to another story. Or a true historical event sheds a different light on things, making it even harder to tell what might be true.  More importantly, it confirms that something else is going on, something bigger than a simple haunting or a wayward ghost.

The story begins with what may very well be a natural occurrence which has taken on the name the Ormond Ghost Lights.    As ghost stories go, they are pretty straight forward. As you travel from Bulow Creek State Park down Old Dixie Highway to Tomoka State Park, there is a part of the road that goes over a bridge.  For decades people had seen orbs flying around the sky there at night and wondered what they might be. The activity seemed to reach its peak in the 1950s where the flight of the lights were so well known as to be part of the town’s collective lore.

IMG_4691People driving along the road were treated to a light show.  At times there would be only one. It might fly through the sky or dance around in a circle and come crashing down.  More of the stories tell about two lights that seem to be connected. They may hover or crash into each other. There are even reports of them combining into one.  Often described as “playful” or “with a mind of their own” the lights have been known to follow drivers giving off a low hum and even cause accidents and death. They were observed playing with each other, and it was well known you could pull up to the bridge, turn your lights off, and enjoy a show.

This is where the stories start to pile up on each other and become connected to a larger picture.  There is a story of a lone motorcycle driver who was killed while following the lights. He is now trapped on that stretch of road himself and appears as a bright orb with loud motorcycle engine that trails drivers and then disappears.  A newlywed couple driving through broke down after seeing the lights. The man left to go get help and never returned. The woman followed soon after and neither were ever seen again. Their spirits remain on the site now, causing other couples to break down.

IMG_2060These stories sound similar to ghost stories told around the country.  They make for some interesting goosebumps, but their similarity to other widely told tales give them the ring of legend and not legitimacy.  Even the idea of soul collecting lights stretches back centuries. For example, the Wampanoag of New England believe in the idea of tei pai wankas, or the spirits of the dead seen in the form of balls of light.  They believed these lights would often kill people or lead to their deaths, and to die in such a way would trap you as a tei pai wanka. They same idea is held by Europeans and European settlers only the lights are call Will O’ the Wisp.

The lights seemed to die down in the early 1960s, and when they disappeared leads to the most logical reasoning behind them existing in the first place.  According to a park ranger at Tomoka State Park, “As far as I know that (the lights) has been disproven because of the fog and the lights way back then. The bridge used to be lower.  The lights would shine across the marsh and the marsh gases would look like ghosts. That’s where it came from.” In fact, the current bridge was installed in 1961 and changed the angle at which cars approached the woods.  This shift caused the lights to disappear, and with them the ghost sightings pretty much ended. They became just a story locals told.

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Simple.  Case closed, haunting solved and retired.

It would be easy to dismiss the ghost lights as having just been a natural phenomena with some creepy stories attached to them, but there are so many tales surrounding their backstory, and too many stories being told about odd things happening in the forest, to just dismiss them off hand.  

For a long time swamp gases, and just about any other gas you can think of, has been the rational explanation for why some ghosts appear.  The logic is sound. Think of the number of cemeteries with their decomposing bodies and all of the orbs seen by the living. However, the questions have never really been answered as to why it exists in some places and not others or why different kinds of gases cause different kind of lights.  In fact, the explosions of these gases have never really accounted for the movement of the lights either. Why do some seem to dance or follow people or spin around and combine. Why do some seem to have a personality or even a consciousness. In cemeteries, a body is said to take several decades at most to decompose and release these gases.  How then can stories of ghost lights persist over an even longer time or in cemeteries where the bodies are hundreds of years old? To say the convenient, if misunderstood, explanation dispels all of the ghost stories is less logical than to admit some might be spirits.

To say nothing of the physics of how a shift in an angle can cause these light to immediately go away.  The headlights reflecting off the gas caused the ghosts. It makes sense on one level, but the argument falls apart when looked at closely.  For example, many of the people who observed the orbs said they would turn off their lights to enjoy the show. How then are their headlights causing them?  How do headlights turned on account for the ones that were higher in the sky?

Then there are the deeper questions, the ones that establish a pattern of the supernatural and unexplained in the area.  The Ormond Ghost Lights are just the most popular of the legends. Other date back further and point to the land being rotten somehow, perhaps cursed for some reason.

To start with, Old Dixie Highway, which was originally conceived as a path between Chicago and Miami back in 1925 over what used to be known as King’s Road.  In that part of Ormond Beach it connects Bulow Creek State Park to Tomoka State Park. Bulow Creek has its own share of paranormal activity, including the infamous Fairchild Oak, otherwise known as the Suicide Tree.  There have been reports of lights and dark figures in the woods and several reports leading to the theory that a Bigfoot or skunk ape makes the grounds its home.

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The entire area, not just one section near the bridge, has a dark history and modern occurrences.

Take the mysterious fog that may have killed dozens of people in the 1950s and 1960s.  Around the same time the Ormond Ghost Lights were rising in popularity a mysterious pink fog was known to come in off the Tomoka River.  An unusual amount of people died in relation to it, and even more went missing to never been seen again. The locals, and legends, tell that this odd natural happening was given supernatural significance and directly held responsible for a rise of missing person cases at that time, and explained why there have been reports of people dying there in group for hundreds of years, including the disappearance of local Native American tribe, the Timucua, who had lived there previous to European settlement.

There is nothing to back up the specific claims of the pink fog.  Research finds that there are no reports of mass disappearances, although bones have been found in the forest sections of Tomoka State Park.  No one has been able to date them, and different stories attribute them to Timucua, slaves, or even modern residents who were said to have disappeared.  The bones, in fact, are continuing to be found. The same ranger said discovering them has been a constant at the location for years, even as recently as this century.  “We had slave bones washing out to the grounds here about 6 years ago. Slaves girls from the 1700s. There bodies were washing up on the grounds.”

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While done of this offers any kind of proof, the odd history of the area has to be taken into account.  There are shell mounds, which often point at burials and sacred lands. The largest mound is said to house 150-200 Timucua.  While the Timucua were described by the European settlers who landed in East Florida as giants, they were wiped out quickly by their new neighbors even though other tribes, and even Timucua in other areas of Florida, survived.  

The Europeans who settled that area didn’t fare much better.  They suffered rises and falls while people in other parts of the country flourished.  Richard Oswald was given 20,000 acres in what is now the state park to grow rice and indigo.  Although those crops were high demand, the plantation fell apart in less than 20 years. Bulow was once a striving was the crowning jewel of the area but was decimated by “strife.” until it was left in ruins.  That area then became the scene of murders, accidents, and suicide, leading to the notoriety of the Fairchild Oak.

IMG_4987Nothing seems to be able last there for long.  Plantations failed, settlements went up in smoke, and business ventures like hotels and attractions never got the momentum they did in other places.  Even the notorious Fountain of Youth springs in Tomoka State Park disappeared, until what was once a reflecting pond that brought in from people all around dried up and now has nothing to show for its once pristine past.  

The plantations in this area also have seen more slave uprising than other parts of the country.  Captain James Ormond for whom the area is named, was killed by a slaves in 1819. An overseer named Tom Addison was killed by slaves in 1825.  The most notorious of these murders is that of Samuel Huey, one of Oswald’s first overseers. He was known to be a harsh man and a drunk, as well as the kind of man who was rumored to be stealing from the boss.  According to several sources, Huey died at the hands of the slaves under his charge. Some accounts say they killed him directly while others say he had an accident, falling into the river and, probably drunk, unable to swim back to the boat or to the shore.  The slaves stood by and watched him drown.

There are historical records to back up that Huey did in fact die off the coast of what is now Tomoka State Park.  The records don’t report what has happened since then. Huey’s coast is said to haunt the banks of the river in the back of the park.  The ranger spoke of the ghost without being asked the question and says people have reported being watched while fishing or walking the area.  He says it is widely known to be haunted. “At the end of the peninsula there was an overseer who showed up with 70 slaves to clear it. He was so mean to the slaves they revolted against him.  They took him down to the end of the peninsula and drowned him. They replaced him with a mulatto overseer and things went on. You can feel the vibe down here at the end.”

In fact, the same ranger says, the whole place is said to be haunted and people report an eerie feeling in different spots throughout.  This Ormond Ghost Lights, while no longer seen on the bridge, are still seen in other places in the woods. Bones and bodies have been found on the grounds, making it hard to determine who the spirits might be there.  Some people feel the ghosts might all come down to Tomokie, whose large statue looms in one corner of park near where many of the mysterious lights and figures are seen.

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The Great Spirit came to earth every night to drink of the Water of Life from a special cup.  It often overflowed or spilled from the cup, creating the spring which was said to have healing powers.  Tomokie, a Timacuan chief and giant even among his people, stole the cup and drank directly from the Waters of Life himself, defiling it and causing war among the people.  It is unclear whether this was a civil war or with another tribe, but the stories tell how he became like a Superman, able to fight off large numbers of men himself. A great battle raged between the two sides.  From the opposition rose Oleeta, a woman known as a great warrior. She shot Tomkie in the heart with a poison arrow, killing him before she was overtaken by his followers and killed herself. The two sides continued to fight, eventually killing each other off.  Oleeta is buried near the spring somewhere while the location of Tomokie’s body is unknown. The cup was said to be taken from the spring and is in the possession of a tribe in Florida and held scared and safe but unknown to the outside.

People contribute the bones and ghosts to this battle.  They say the lights are the souls who died in that fighting, the pink fog is a revenge on people somehow, and that the land is cursed because of Tomokie’s offense.  This story is spread as part of the origin of so much of the darkness and unexplained the area is victim to. For centuries, Ormond Beach was lived in the shadow of the chief’s sins.

Only it hasn’t.

Tomokie is not real and never has been.  Well, maybe sort of. Although his broken down and vandalised statue stands tall against the setting sun, his story only dates back to 1955 when a statue was created by artist Fred Dana Marsh and a false legend was concreted to commemorate the dedication of the statue and symbolize what many felt was an idealized version of the people that had lived there.  Although now a popular folktale, the story seems to just be repeated, almost word for word, by different sources, and no original source dating back before the 1950s exists. The name itself appears to be a corruption of the word Timucua and the participants act more like early 20th century ideas of Native Americans than what they actually thought, believed, or practiced.   

That’s the way it has always been in Ormond Beach.  There is something in the woods that can’t be explained.  There is something in the moon that makes the odd fogs that float in take the form of monsters and ghosts.  The fact that the stories exist, not whether they are true or not, tells us that there is a need to explain the shadows moving through the trees and the unexplained movements of the water.  Since we have been able to record history there the place has been cursed and the people have had to shelter themselves against a supernatural battery, one which can’t be explained but has to be experienced.  There is no need to worry about that though. There is always a new story to make sense of it all.

Travel Log…The Lady of Shiloh Cemetery in Sanford, Florida

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Listen to Episode 18…Whispers and Screams from Shiloh

Do you need to have your mysteries solved for you? The very nature of a ghost story, at least one where people believe the haunting to be real, calls for some kind of neat package for the reader to see all the moving parts and for things to make sense. We crave that, maybe because the very questions that these stories look to answer (what happens after we die, is there life after death, how to I find peace) are the ones that will allow us to settle our minds. If the story doesn’t make sense or doesn’t settle with us, we forget or change it to fill in the plot holes.

20170710_225255Yet, there’s something about those holes of an urban legend that separate it from the history we find comfort in. People might long to understand the answers to the questions they ask, but folklore and urban legend pop up and survive in a different place as well. The stories make sense and seem familiar, but there is something about not being able to get all the details straight that draw us in and keep the story rolling around in our head trying to connect the dots of it all. If we had a few more bits of information, we could crack the case open the way no one ever had before. It’s that engagement that makes the legend live.

There are no easy answers in Shiloh Cemetery in Sanford, Florida. There is a least one solid ghost there people report, which makes it easier to say the cemetery might be haunted, but that’s where any clarity ends. Who the ghost may be, why she is there, and what connection she might have to it are all up in the air. That may be why people continue to be obsessed with the faceless spirit walking among the rows.

Maybe the cemetery itself has something to do with it. Shiloh is one of five graveyards collectively known as Sanford Cemetery, the largest and most modern of which is Evergreen Municipal Cemetery which faces West 25th Street with a clean, majestic front. The resting place presents like a well-organized if generic small town spot, something you pass by without thinking too much about. In fact, if you didn’t know there was something older behind it, you would not be able to guess that behind the newer cemeteries lies two that are falling apart, highly vandalized, and lost to history for decades until recent interest has touch the community into calling for their rejuvenation
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20170710_225255Go in a little further and the graves start to become more cracked and overrun with growth. Trash piles up, as if the worst of the front cemeteries has blown back to the other ones, hoping that history can be brushed away as easily. The Page-Jackson cemetery is now hailed as a crucial link to the history of African Americans in the area, including the final resting place for Drew Bundini Brown, a corner man for Muhammad Ali who helped to craft some of his most famous taunts and an unused plot for Zora Neale Hurston. The land was donated by a local man, William Page-Jackson, who was either a gravedigger or a local farmer who allowed people to be buried there for free and maintained the property. His story is another local legend that adds to the overall story of the place.

People say that after he passed away the care for the land never switched over to anyone, and it fell into disrepair. Unlike the other cemeteries that make up Evergreen, the city does not contribute to the maintenance. Many of the graves are sunken into the ground or sprayed with graffiti, and the forest has claimed most of the land back until recent times. People who volunteer to clean it up find links to the past of African Americans in the area, so there is a touch of reverence now the place has not experienced in a long time. The larger family plots sometimes look like graverobbers have had their way with it and broke the fences and barriers down on their way in.

With the increased focus on maintaining the grounds, ghost stories have made their way out of it as well. Almost all are nonspecific and mundane. People have seen shadows or heard crying at night. There is one report of a man seen looking at a headstone and then disappearing when the witness turned away for a moment. The nature and tone of the reports are so generic you have to wonder if there is anything there or people just feels there needs to be.

When looking into a ghost story, it is often the things that are different about it that make it stand out. Every cemetery is said to be haunted, which often makes the stories feel like a rationalization of an odd feeling you had. In fact, if there is a backstory, it has more to do with a historical person, or at least a person who can be researched online, and the haunting conforms to the backstory instead of standing on its own. For example, a woman is seen in white and people assume it to be the ghost of a woman buried there who died on her wedding day.

Behind Page-Jackson is yet another, even older cemetery which is in even worse shape and does not have the gravity of being an important historical location to most. This means less people know about it and even less care or visit it. It is often mentioned as the sister cemetery to Page-Jackson, to the point that even some of the ghosts seen there are said to belong to the latter and have wandered into Shiloh for some reason. When you’ve reached the back of the Page-Jackson, and after you’ve taken a few moments to think about why we would ever let our dead be treated so disrespectfully, you’ll see a dirt road that leads to something even more heartbreaking and even more frightening.

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It’s the ghost that remains the biggest mystery. She’s so unusual and her descriptions so specific that it makes sense people need to create stories to explain her. If the Page-Jackson ghosts are so generic as to be unbelievable, than the woman seen in Shiloh is real because no one would make her up. Instead of a woman in a white flowing gown, the Woman of Shiloh is dressed in dark robes which hide her body and shade her actual height. Some of the stories say you can’t see her feet so she appears to be floating. Unlike other cemetery ghosts who are searching for something or guarding it, she wanders around aimlessly, usually not even noticing the people who spot her around dusk or late at night.

Often she is seen as a ghost light, something more like a large, visible, and glowing orb (it is odd that with so much activity in both of the cemeteries, some attribute only some specific ghost lights to the Lady). What really defines her however is her long hair which is said to be flowing, as if by an invisible wind, and the fact she has no face. Instead all people report is a skull, sometimes with parts of the skin still attached but usually not. They say she is a skeleton walking around the outskirts of the cemetery and sometimes seen walking aimlessly among the graves. Locals say she may be the most reliable ghost in the state, and that if you just wait long enough you will always see her.

She is much like the cemetery itself. Her decimated face mirrors the scattered nature of the graves and her interest in walking around the border give her the feel like she is trapped and forgotten.

They have given her a story, and it is the story which both draws people in and offers some of the biggest questions. According to BackpackerVerse, a psychic made contact with the spirit a number of years ago and was able to get a bit of her history. According to the man, she was murdered by a serial killer about twenty years ago (the article in not specific about when exactly the man is speaking about) and dumped in a body of water nearby. The fish ate her face on and now she is doomed to walk Shiloh.

Gerard_Schaefer2There have been murders in the area, so the tale does not seem that far-fetched, and there are several serial killers who used this part of Florida as a hunting ground. There have even been believers (me for one) in the theory that there may have been some involvement from Gerard Schaefer, although that does not fit the “about 20 years ago” senario. One of the likely candidates may be April Marie Stone whose dead body was found by the side of the road in 1991. The young woman was found stabbed to death and wrapped in a blanket on Painted Post Road near the Wekiva River more than ten miles away. Accused serial killer William Devin Howell was thought to be responsible for her death but has never been formally charged. The primary issue with this is that Stone was known for her long red hair, all of the news reports from the time talk about it, and if the spirit in Shiloh had red hair it seems likely that detail would be offered up.

There are, of course, problems with all of this, not the least of which is that the information was given by a psychic who never got the woman’s name or her connection to that specific location. Saying someone died in a body of water is like saying someone died near an oak tree; there are just too many to make the place specific enough to use. In addition, the time frame fits into classic motifs for urban legends and folklore. Twenty years is just enough time for it to seem plausible but not specific enough to do any real research into it. That’s the beauty of the Lady of Shiloh though. There is enough information for you to hit the Internet and think you may have found who the suspect might be.

Here’s the thing though. The Lady of Shiloh is not like other ghosts, or at least she varies enough that her sightings have the feel of genuine encounters. Her half-eaten face or skeleton face is not often a detail attributed to ghost stories, and when it is the ghost is usually said to be more angry or even violent towards people. She doesn’t fit that, which leads people in the area who have not seen her to think she must be real. Perhaps the stories that have been used to flesh out her appearance are works of fiction, but there is someone there, lonely, wandering, and seemingly trapped.

When We Were There

Shiloh was a just a stopover for us, an interesting story for us to follow up on while we were on the road to the real trip. For an afterthought, it proved to be both an interesting historical site which made us feel sorry for the state of the grounds and a haunted location which provided plenty of debate but not many insights into what is happening there. In fact, with some of the other things occurrences over the next week, it was almost more as if something was following us rather than us experiencing something connected to the actual cemetery.

The broken fences and cracked headstone we saw on the way in, from both Page-Jackson and Shiloh, darkened our mood as we drove further away from the main street and nicer parts of Sanford Cemetery. It was clear by the piles of trash and natural waste that cleaning up was happening, but the sheer amount of it pointed out just how long it had been before volunteers had stepped in. Shiloh itself was open and the graves somewhat sparse, although as we got deeper in we realized this was due to some headstone no longer existing or being sunken into the ground. There also were an unusual amount of graves along the treeline of the surrounding forest, almost hidden.

From the moment we passed by Page-Jackson and into Shiloh, Natalie was uneasy. We got out of the car and she almost immediately began to hear what she described as knocking coming from the woods, a sound that would come to define other locations we were to touch along the road trip. Her unease grew as she heard inhuman noises coming from some of the plots within the cemetery. “It was a combination of movement and a nonhuman noise, like guttural. I was like get me out of there.” We ended up not staying too long, in part because of Natalie’s unease, partly because there was not much going on, and mostly because we had a long night of driving ahead of us.

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The impact of where we had just been didn’t fully hit us until we were on Interstate 95. As we drove we listened to some of the 30 minutes of recordings that we made. The first one that struck us as some kind of confirmation was a deeper, angrier voice chanting water repeatedly throughout the recording. That same voice is heard saying other things, such as “I’ve got you now,” and at one point the man taunts Natalie to come into the woods and calls her Angel. There are multiple times where the voice swears at her or grunts, seemingly in reaction to something she says. It even tells her to, “Die, whore.”

Another male voice, not nearly as threatening or dark sounding at one point says to us, “We’re dead and you come here. Rude.” A younger boy also says that he has us now.

In one section of the recording there is a clear high voice which can best be described as lamenting. Although most of it can’t be understood, she at one point say, “It was the whole thing.” Later, when Natalie tries to speak to whatever might be there, she says, “Ask,” and then either, “Tell them,” or “turn around.” At one point she asks, “What do you want from me. Pushing me, ” before being interrupted by a male voice asking, “Why?”

20170710_225150At different times two different voices are talking to each other. The way they relate to each other gave me the impression of an older, more experienced man ordering another younger man around. To me, and I have no evidence of this, the masochistic and forceful nature of the older man felt like a violent offender, the kind who would assault and kill a woman, training a younger man. He gives instructions and the second man is unsure of himself and questioning.

As folklorist, we usually do not spend too much time breaking down evidence. To us the story is why we are there. These recordings paint a picture of what is happening there, adding to the oral tradition that has grow up surrounding the phantom.

There is speaking through almost all of the recording and we encourage other people to break it down, evaluate it and get back to us.

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Listen to the episode Evidence from Shiloh Cemetery in Sanford, Florida

 

You can contact us with questions, comments, and your favorite legend or tidbit of folklore at spookytripping@gmail.com.

We’re still knee deep in the #hauntedlove project, so we’re especially looking for ghost stories with a love twist.

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