Episode 41…Suicide, Stetson, and DeLand’s Ghostly Folklore

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Listen to Episode Episode 41…Suicide, Stetson, and DeLand’s Ghostly Folklore

As the summer moves on the Haunted Love and Cursed Central Florida projects heat up. The next hot spot for Christopher Balzano and Natalie Crist to explore is the town of DeLand, Florida.

The Trippers, using some of the oral and written sources on hauntings in the area, explore several of the ghost stories from Stetson University and other locations in DeLand to try and piece together some places to visit on their upcoming Summer Trip.

They also explore and debate some of the stories from Dusty Smith’s Haunted DeLand and the Ghosts of West Volusa County.

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.

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

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Travel Log…The Devil’s Tree in Oak Hammock Park, Port St. Lucie

The stage had been set for us to experience some of the what was being whispered about in Oak Hammock Park.  The rumors of dark figures, odd noises and cries, and mysterious visions had us on edge. We were hoping that such an active and well known area, coupled with the number of people we hoped were using the park for recreation, would provide us with interviews and information on the Devil’s Tree.  

 

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Click to read a detailed account of the legends at the Devil’s Tree and the story of Gerard Schaefer.

 

The weirdness began before we had even left the house though.  The night before, as we were going over the game plan on how to trip the site, we had gotten into a discussion of a Spooky Southcoast guest named George Case and his recent appearance on the show.  That led to us discussing the idea of backwards lyric in the song Stairway to Heaven and how Led Zepplin had been accused of making a pact with the Devil for success and riches. As we sat and ate our breakfast in a local diner, the song came on.  One of the driving forces of our adventures has always been following the signs, and this was definitely a sign that things were going to get interesting.

Oak Hammock Park is buried in a residential neighborhood and seems to come out of nowhere.  It would be hard to find if someone didn’t tell you it was there.

Natalie decided, out of necessity, to explore the first part of the legend.  It was safe to say she encountered no spirits in the ladies’ bathroom, where the ghost of the two dead hitchhikers are said to haunt people by banging and scratching on doors or being seen in the mirrors.  

We spent the next hour in the wrong area of the park carefully scrutinizing each oak we came across.  As we walked, we discovered a rock painted with the odd symbol of an eye. Having dealt with markers and symbols of cults who use woods like these, an idea that has been rumored to also happen in this park, my mind automatically thought this had been left by someone to mark a path to the tree.  I was ultimately proven wrong. The park, like many others in the country, was having a special “egg-hunt” type activity where local artists painted rocks and left them behind for people to find and share on social media.

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We eventually decided to shift gears, retrace our steps, and reenter the park from a new location with the hopes of following the directions to get to it.  As we walked by a set of swings and slides, we heard a little kid talking to a woman and her baby about the Devil’s Tree. He was trying to get the woman to go out with him to the woods to visit it.  We looked at each other and approached them. Both the woman and the young boy had heard the stories, and the boy, who we learned was named Christopher, eagerly offered to take us out and show us where it was.

 

Our guide walked through the woods, more concerned with the killer’s supposed house than the actual tree.  He shared with us several stories, mostly concerned with the house, and confirmed our theory that everyone in the area had heard the stories and knew the part as being a dark and haunted place.  We finally came upon it and immediately understood why the tree could be a target for urban legend.

 

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It’s thick trunk is scarred with burn marks and knots that mark where people have tried to cut it.  The tree was also cut up with designs, some of them common in occult practices. Over time, someone had filled in parts of the tree with cement, as if they were trying to practice that old wive’s tale of helping a tree grow by cutting out rot and filling it in.  It reminded us in retrospect of some of the fairy holes we discovered connected with some of the locations we explored in Indiana and which are often associated with Pukwudgies.

 

The branches themselves are a collection of mangled arms and fingers, most pointing down instead of up towards the light.  Someone coming upon the tree might mistake it for some kind of natural accident and be overtaken by how twisted and mutilated the whole scene appeared.  We were also struck by how many of the ends of the branches looked like devil’s horns.

 

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Christopher quickly took us to the foundations in the wood.  Before we had gotten to the location we had read nothing about possible houses in the woods nearby, but here was a collection of abandoned blocks of cement and twisted iron.  Some had the appearance of stairs while others were laid out as foundations. Others were at least three feet high. We tried to research several times what the buildings had been but have been unsuccessful.  The best theories are that the buildings might have been associated with Victory Forge Military Academy and Southeastern Military Academy or a failed development from the Atlantic Gulf Communities Corporation.

 

One of the odd elements of the forest was several locations near the Devil’s Tree that had circles often associated with cult activity and the remains of bird feathers nearby.

 

We talked to several other people who came across us as we circled the tree.  Most had heard of it before, although none of them had specific stories to share.  Christopher eventually left us to meet up with his friends, and Natalie went off to make sure he got to them safely.  I took the opportunity to put down the camera and recorder and sit against the tree to see if anything would happen. While nothing too dramatic happened, the recorder did pick up some voices and I had an uneasy feeling the entire time.

Much of what follows can be considered to be coincidence or some kind of cognitive bias.  How many odd things have to happen before you start to admit to yourself something unexplained is going on.  As people who who try and catch the tail of an unseen tiger, Natalie and I tend to make more leaps than I would have in my investigator days.

 

 

Deciding to go against one of our rules and jump into one of the legends, we took a part of the bark with us.  This would prove to be a mistake. We soon left, and as soon as we got back into the car, we instantly had car trouble.  As we made our way to Cassadaga to look into some of the stories there, night seemed to come out of nowhere and we decided to stop for the night.  We called ahead and no place was open. We made our way to the Orlando area, which is considered Hotel Capital of the World. There was no room at the inn.  There was something moving us on and forcing us to leave the area.

 

We eventually decided to make the three hour drive home despite the late hour.  As the car continued to clank and sputter, we stopped to refuel. I decided to get rid of the bark, slightly superstitious and eager to get rid of any bad vibes.  I reached out to throw the piece of wood away and it literally jumped from my hand into the garbage.

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Listen to Episode 8…Tripping the Devil’s Tree

 

We started on the road home downing coffee and singing to make sure we stayed awake.  Natalie decided to nap, but her sleep was disturbed. As she tried to doze, she kept hearing an old time phone ringing.  Not a cell phone with a funky ring, which neither of us have, but an old phone ringing. It happened for most of the car ride home, but it was not until the next morning I explained to her that a phone ringing was one of the first signs of oppression, leading to possession.

 

Odd dreams kept us both from getting a good night’s sleep.  Natalie spent most of the night hearing whispers and what sounded like a flute, to the point she asked me to turn the radio off.  Not only did I not have a radio on, but the flute as she explained it sounded more like a pan flute. Pan has a deep connection to our current idea of the Devil.

It’s difficult to say in any solid way that there is something to the stories that are coming from the Devil’s Tree.  For a few decades it has captured the imagination of the community, the dark figures like burn marks against the tree.  The legend of the hauntings there, true or not, and the mystique surrounding Gerard Schaefer will form the ideas we have of the park and the tree that continues to grow on the outskirts.  The Devil may not have made his way to Florida, but Port St. Lucie and anyone who follows the canal and the path to the Devil’s Tree knows there is something sinister there, watching and waiting to make itself known.   

The Legend of the Devil’s Tree in Port St. Lucie

 

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Click to read Tripping on Legend’s Travel Log at the Devil’s Tree

 

Some places are only evil in retrospect.  Something horrible happens and people see the act for only the events that took place.  Later, with time to contemplate what has happened and the benefit of hindsight, we see the stage might have had a bigger part in the play than the plot itself.  We look forward from that evil event and see the place as tainted somehow. The circumstance now becomes the cause of all the bad that happens after it, the trigger for the darkness that finds its way to the place.  Take a step back though. History usually tells us that what we thought was the cause of tragedies taking place is often just the effect of something that happened before, and with enough perspective, enough moving back of the camera, you can tell some places have been drawing this kind of thing in for longer than we know.  The places themselves might even just be evil.

 

Places like these often become infamous, like the Bridgewater Triangle and the Freetown State Forest in Massachusetts.

Most people will tell you Gerard Schaefer is the root of the evil that lurks in Oak Hammock Park in Port St. Lucie, Florida.  He fits the part well, having confessed or been linked to the killing of more than 30 women in a short time span in the late 60s and early 70s before being caught, convicted, and eventually killed by a fellow inmate.  His habit of physically and psychologically torturing his victims, often visiting them afterwards to be with them after death and keeping souvenirs, makes him one of the more sinister serial killers in American history, even for a murderer working out of Florida.  His friends in jail included Ted Bundy and Ottis Toole, the latter of whom was suspected of setting up Schaefer’s death. All of this from a man who was once known as a soldier, teacher, and officer of the law.

 

Schaefer’s actions, how many women he killed, how he killed them, what his motives were, are the sort of lies and blurry area serial killers often build around themselves after they are caught.  He was no different as his jailhouse confessions and contradicts seduced people in to listening to him and debating his place in the pantheon of other murders, but ultimately left people instead arguing over how much of what he said could be trusted or backed up.  It is no wonder then, all these years later, that the spot of one of one of his crimes should take on a life of its own and unfold as one of the most notoriously haunted locations in Florida.

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Listen to Episode 7…Tripping the Devil

Maybe its this embracing of the folklore of his own life that encouraged Schaefer to deny he had killed anyone in the one spot most closely connected to his name.

 

Tripping on Legends had first heard of the Devil’s Tree in the early days of the show.  I had found several location around Florida all obsessed with the idea that somehow there was something evil in these places.  

 

IMG_1944The Devil’s Tree is located in a corner of Oak Hammock Part in Port St. Lucie, Florida, and has been deeply rooted in the area since before there was even a park.  It’s a sprawling tree with branches that seem intent on trying to get away from the massive trunk they are connected to. It’s set off from the main area of the park, on a path between the swing sets and a canal Schaefer is rumored to have carried the two young women he killed in on.  If you were walking you might even ignore it if it were not for its intimidating size among the smaller trees that surround it and the odd blackened shapes on the trunk, as if someone had tried to burn the tree, which appear on all sides.

 

The tree acts as a sort of touchstone for the darkness that is said to lurk in the area.  Black figures have been spotted near the tree at night, and the rumors and folklore say they are not all human.  There have been reports of rituals being held there and men with robes wandering the woods nearby and near the great oak, but some have also claimed to see what they describe as people made of black smoke.  These figures, sometimes referred to as shadow people or shadowmen, are somewhat common in areas where there is heightened paranormal activity. Another theory, the one spread most by those who see them or hear the stories and are not as familiar with ghost television shows, is that these are demons or dark spirits who are drawn to the forest and feed of the negative energy there.

 

Either theory might be right, but only one horrible act can be confirmed as having happened there.  In April of 1973 the remains of Susan Place, 17, and Georgia Jessup, 16, were discovered on Hutchinson Island, a little over twenty miles from where the tree sits.  They had been missing since late September and suspicion quickly fell on a deputy for the Martin County Sheriff’s office. Gerard John Schaefer had committed a crime similar to it in 1972.  The two teens he picked up hitchhiking had been bound, threatened physically and sexually, and left hanging from a tree on Hutchinson Island. They had escaped when he was called on his police radio, and after they had made their way to the police station, the very station he worked at, he claimed he had done all of it to scare them into never hitchhike again.  He was convicted and served time for that attack.

 

IMG_1869The crimes were similar enough, and Schaefer’s rapidly deteriorating image was tainted enough, that he was brought in for questioning on the murders.  A search warrant was executed for the house he and his wife shared with his mother. Among the items found were fictional stories filled with details of unsolved murders, including the death of his former neighbor, personal effects and jewelry from crime scenes, and a torn ID and a book of poetry belonging to a hitchhiker from Iowa who had gone missing a few months before.  

 

This hitchhiker, Collette Goodenough and her friend Barbara Wilcox, both 19, had made their way from the Midwest in late 1972, last being seen in Mississippi in early 1973 on their way to Florida.   Their bodies were eventually discovered in 1977 a few hundred yards from the Devil’s Tree. The reports say they had been hung from the tree and then cut down and disposed of in the thick growth nearby.  Other reports say they were hung much closer to where their bodies were found. Although he both denied and embraced the attacks and murders of these women at different times for the rest of his life, the truth remains that at least five women were confirmed murdered, all connected to the deputy sheriff.  He was convicted in 1973 of the two murders on Hutchinson Island and was sentenced to two life sentences but died in jail after being assaulted by another inmate.

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If all of this seems confusing, you can understand why so much lore might develop around the murders and why people might confuse the details and fuse the events together.  There are even some details being left out. Schaefer accused the DA of setting him so he could marry his wife. He was accused of informing on serial killer Ottis Toole for the famous murder of Adam Walsh.  The definitive study of the case was written and published by an old friend of his. The list goes on and on.

 

It is that element of the story, that grasping at what might be truth, what might be lies, and what might be myth, that allows his acts to be so deeply associated with the Devil’s Tree.  There is just enough truth in all the stories for him to have killed the women at the tree and cut them down later to visit them. There’s just enough confusion for people to believe a bit of his evil is left in the woods there.  

 

The tree is now famous.  In addition to the reports of hooded and dark figures, people have reported seeing shadows of bodies hanging from the twisted branches.  They hear the whimpers and cries of the women in the public bathroom nearby. At times, people say, if you touch the tree the world seems to stop, that all the wildlife and noise around drops away, like you’re in a bubble.

The tree is also said to be indestructible.  According to news articles published, several times the tree has been slated for destruction and people have been unable to complete the task.  Saws used to try and cut it down have broken. The tree has been set on fire several times, but instead of catching and burning down, odd marks, like monsters and demons, have formed in the wood instead.  One of the most persistent legends about the tree is that if you take a piece of the bark, bad things will happen to you.

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Listen to Episode 8…Tripping the Devil”s Tree

Other details have added to the legend in the years since the murders.  Throughout the woods near the tree are the ruins of houses that have been torn down and forgotten.  People in the area, including the historical society, have no idea what the foundations are from, but their place in the area lead to the story that one of these was Schaefer’s house and was the location where the evidence was found.  

 

This points at something perhaps tainted about the area.  While most of Port St. Lucie exploded after its founding, something made this area fail.  Why was construction stopped there? More importantly, why was there a battle for the land between the town and a religious school which tried to use the area for their school.  The school lost the battle and set up camp only a few miles away, and since has been the target of multiple accusations of sexual and physical abuse.

 

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Click to read Tripping on Legend’s Travel Log at the Devil’s Tree

Little Brothers and Little Cars

This story is more than ten years old, and although I have picked it up several times and tried to get it right, this is the first time I think I have done it justice.  One day in the summer of 2007 I received a phone call from a crying woman.  She lived in a nearby town and wanted to share her story with me.  I remember sitting on the toilet in the bathroom, the only place you could smoke in our apartment, and writing down what she was saying frantically.  The call was over an hour, most of the time spent with her trying to convince me she wasn’t crazy and that everything she said was true.  The way she relayed the details and the emotion in her voice gave me no doubt she believed the events had happened.  

I asked to call her back the next day and follow up on some of the details.  She agreed but never picked up the phone again or returned my messages.  It seems that like her brother who had died the year before, she needed to get it out and then move on.

 

Brother and sister relationships are never easy. They can be as varied and complex as the people who are involved in them. The seesaw exists between those moments you want to kill them and those moments you’ll defend them with your life. You compete for the attention of you parents and spend quiet moments whispering about how to get one over on them. Through it all, in most cases, is an undying love built on shared experiences, close proximity, and a whitewashing of battle scars smoothed over by adulthood and the medicine only time can provide.

There is no doubt that Emily loved her brother Greg even though age had done nothing to encourage him to become responsible or take anything seriously. She had spent most of her life coloring within the lines and making sure she arrived 15 minutes early for every appointment. He spent his time making sure he didn’t have appointments. “I was always jealous of him,” remembers Emily. “He just didn’t care. Everything came easy to him because he had no pressure to do anything right, or do anything the way people thought you should do it. He just blew in like a tornado, made everyone laugh and cheer, and then blew out. But never on time.”

She remembers one time as a teenager when her car broke down a mile off the highway. She called him from a pay phone and he said he was on his way. After an hour of waiting for him, she called again and woke him up. He had hung up the phone and fallen asleep. When he finally arrived over an hour later he had stopped off at a local donut shop to get her a dozen of her favorites before picking her up. They laughed and ate the whole way home, and she totally forgot he had arrived so late and had taken a nap before picking her up.

“Everyone loved him. They knew he couldn’t be relied on for anything or to not loan him money if you wanted it back, but his spirit infected everyone he met. You just couldn’t help smiling when he was around, and when he wasn’t you swore about him up and down.” By the time she had married and had her first child, Greg had found his calling as a mechanic but has done nothing to become more responsible outside of work. Her son, Jeff, was the pride and joy of Greg’s life. “You knew he would eventually get married, but it was not something he looked for. He was a bit too irresponsible to be a good dad. He was a great uncle.”

Near perfect, says Emily. He still would forget to show up to birthday parties or make plans to join them at the beach and then never make it. When the two boys were together, they were inseparable, but Greg was still too much of a free spirit to write down the appointments and Jeff was too young to have expectations of his uncle being there. As he grew up, however, the young boy began to ask where his favorite relative was when the family would get together.
That’s what made his seventh birthday party so special. They were having some of his friends and the whole family over for a big barbecue, and Jeff had asked for a confetti cake with chocolate frosting because he knew it was his uncle’s favorite.

“I begged my brother for two things; get to the party on time and make sure he had a present. I even offered to get one and put his name on it. He laughed. He said he already had one bought and wrapped, which I knew had to be a lie. It was a week before the party and my brother never got anything ahead of time. He’d just show up with something he picked up on the way, unwrapped with the price tag still on it. No matter what it was, it was Jeff’s favorite gift. I remember that used to piss me off. There was no thought behind it. He just knew the exact thing that would make him happy and always seemed to find it on the road between where he was and my house. Of course, part of it was that Uncle Greg had bought it.”

The Saturday before the party she called him at home to make sure he remembered the barbecue was the next day. She joked she would come and pick him up, and he could spend that night at her place so he wouldn’t be late. He said he had some things to do that night, but he promised he would be there.

When her phone rang a little after 1:00 am that night she had just gotten to sleep after cooking for the party the next day and finishing some last minute wrapping of her son’s gifts. It took her a while to fully understand what her mother was saying on the other end of line.

“He was always a crazy driver. We all thought he would die in an accident because he drove too fast and too crazy. It wasn’t supposed to happen like that though.” Coming home from a friend’s house after a night of poker, Greg was hit by a teenager who ran a red light and was killed on impact. He had not been drinking or driving recklessly, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The next day most of the family walked around like zombies, tired from staying up all night to handle the details of the accident and stricken with grief. They had thought to cancel the party, but rationalized that Greg would have wanted them to celebrate his favorite person in the world. “I felt like he was there with us. I knew it was in my head, but I felt he was with us. ” Jeff asked where his uncle was, and Emily told him he had been called into work and might be there later. He was visibly disturbed by it, but asked them to save him plenty of cake.

Emily’s idea that her brother was in the house might have been an abstract idea, something more like his spirit was in their hearts and minds, but when she tried to light the candles on the birthday cake, the idea became a little more concrete. When she lit one candle, it would go out like someone was blowing it out. When she almost got them all lit, something unseen blew them out again, except they went out one by one. “It was just the kind of crap he would pull. He was always doing those little brother annoying pranks to get under my skin. Never anything too bad, just little things that would make you laugh thinking about them after. But the candles blew out one at a time. There’s no way the wind or something else would put them out like that.”

She finally laughed and told her brother to stop it. She was then able to light them without any trouble. Like her son had asked, when everyone was gone and he was put to bed, she took one slice and left it out for her brother to let him know how much everyone was thinking about him. The next morning the cake was gone, and no one in the family every confessed to having eaten it or having thrown it away.

The next few days were full of plans, and Emily found some comfort in that. Instead of crying herself to sleep and grieving her brother, she threw herself into handling all of the details of his wake and funeral. She spent time carefully writing his obituary and making reservations at his favorite restaurant for a get together after the burial. She deflected Jeff’s questions about why she seemed so sad and where Uncle Greg was. She finally sat her son down Wednesday morning to explain to him as best she could that he would not be able to Uncle Greg anymore.

“How do you explain that to a seven year old. I tried my best, but I know I fumbled it. I was not in a place to tell him. I knew I had to, but I didn’t do it right.” Her son just stared at her and walked away. By the time she dropped him off for school he seemed to have come to terms with it and said he would miss his uncle as he kissed her goodbye and got out of the car.

That day was another storm filled with details and plans and running around town trying to make sure everything was just perfect for the wake and funeral. By that night she had run herself ragged, and when she got home late that night she found her husband had put Jeff to bed and fallen asleep himself. She slumped in the chair and opened a bottle of wine and allowed herself to really think about her brother and how he was now gone.

“I was having my own personal wake for him, remembering some of the dumb things he did over the years.” Between the wine and the running around over the last three days, she closed her eyes and started to fall asleep.

“I can tell you, as clearly as I am talking right now, that phone did not ring. I was right next to it, and it would have woken me up. That phone did not ring. ” Instead her sleep was broken by the beep of the answering machine. She had one new message.

“It was his voice. I could barely hear it, but it was his voice. He was laughing, that stupid laugh he used to do when he had done something wrong and I was called on it. I remember he called me ‘Em.’ He never called me that unless he was trying to keep me from getting mad at time.” Time has changed some of the details of that week for her. She doesn’t remember most of the things that were said to her by people consoling her or what kind of flowers were at the funeral. She does however, clearly remember what her brother said to her in that fifteen second phone message.

“Em, I told you. It’s in the closet near the front door. I told you.”

Emily still cries when she says the words, even all these years later. “He told me it was in closet. I had no idea what he meant, but I knew it was him.” When she went to listen to the it again, the machine said there were no messages. She rewound the tape and tried to play it again, but it was gone.

The next day was the day of the wake. She had taken the day off of work to settle some details but still dropped Jeff off at school. Her brothers words continued to play on her mind until she could not longer ignore them. She stopped by her brother’s apartment and used her key to get in. The place was a mess, just how she imagined her bachelor brother would have lived. She knew it would be her job in the coming days to go through his possessions and clean the place up, but today she was only concerned with the closet.

“When I opened up the door it was on top of a bunch of blankets. He had done the worst job of wrapping it, but there it was with a little name tag made from the leftover wrapping paper and a bag of Skittles taped to it.”

She sat down in the middle of the apartment and cried, talking to her brother and thanking him for the present. Thinking back on it years later she felt she was talking to the air. For the first time since the birthday party she didn’t feel the presence of her brother with her. “He had done the last thing he needed to do. Right there I felt he had moved on.”

Jeff didn’t fully understand what was happening at the wake. Instead of spending time in the room with the casket and the crying relatives, he mostly stayed in the room attached to it where people signed the book and went out to take a breather. The whole time he played with his new Matchbox stunt track and four shiny new cars, a present from his favorite uncle and munched on candy. When people would ask him what it was he would stop and hold up the cars, bragging that Uncle Greg had bought it and had worked on a car like the one he was holding up.

“It was the perfect gift. It was what the two of them shared. They loved to talk cars and play with those damn things. Whenever I stepped on one I knew it was a 50/50 chance Greg had left it there on the floor. He was like a kid sometimes, but that’s what you had to love about him.”

 

Travel Log…The Bloody Bucket Bridge

 

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Listen to Episode 31…Bloody Moons and Bloody Buckets

 

It was like fate that the Blood Moon happened to fall on a night when Natalie and I were both free of kids and had just heard of an odd little legend playing itself out not too far from us. As has been the rule since the beginning of Tripping on Legends, when the signs point to to something, we throw ourselves at it, and as the tumblers fell into place on this one, I became more convinced something important was going to happen if we followed up on this legend.

The Peace River runs mostly along Route 17, which had slowly become a type of backbone for our travels for the past year. More and more we had found ourselves driving this road trying to avoid the dreaded 75 and trying to get a feel for the smaller towns in Southwest Florida. What we didn’t know was that there is a stretch of the Peace River that flows blood red on certain nights of the year, and as soon as we read the first reference to it, it became our goal to dip our buckets into one of the most elaborate bits of folklore, around for more than a hundred years, we had heard in a while.

The river is connected, even if not physically, to several of the legends in the area focusing on the power of springs and potential Fountain of Youth stories, but this was anything but that. It is said there is a stretch of the Peace River in Wauchula, Florida, that runs blood red under any full moon. Folklore logic tells you that must be even more so for a Blood Full Moon. The story also goes on to say that on those nights you can hear phantom splashing, babies cries, and on some occasions see empty buckets laid on the banks of the water fill with the tainted water.

It all is the fault of Ludmilla Clark, although she usually is not named in the story. There have also been references to her as Mary. She was a freed slave who came down from Georgia shortly after the Civil War and set up shop as a midwife for the growing town of Wauchula. She was good at her job and well respected for her work in the community, but somewhere along the line something changed. Some say she became obsessed with the overpopulation of the area, others that she saw it as her only way to strike at the heart of a people who had once enslaved her. The most convincing stories tell how delivering so many babies eventually drove her mad because she had lost children of her own, either to early death or being sold off. Either way, she began to suffer from a suspicious and growing number of stillborn children. More and more the women under her care lost their children and Ludmilla was forced to remove their remains and any evidence that a child had been born.

Ludmilla had started killing the children, and the more she got away with it, the more careless she became until the people of the town became suspicious. Child mortality was not unusual in those days, and sentimentality for the dead was dulled. Rather than burying the dead children in family or town graves, they allowed her to bury the bodies down by the river while she was disposing of the afterbirth and other indications of the tragedy. That was when the river started to become red at times, although back then only Ludmilla could see it.

She was eventually found out and lost her position in the town. This caused her to become more detached from reality. She still made her trips to the same spot, but this time she dumped empty buckets into the water. Try as she could to get it all out, the pails would fill again with bloody water and the crying voices of the children she had killed drowned out the voice of her husband telling her there was nothing in the water or in the buckets. She became obsessed, traveling to the bridge more and more often and trying to comfort the cries. It became too much and eventually she either committed suicide in the water or lost her balance, fell in the water, and died.

IMG_4702A few years later people began to hear her falling into the water every full moon, and the water in that part of the river would appear red on only those nights. Unlike her husband, other people heard the cries of unseen babies. It was around then people in the town renamed the stretch of road they knew as Rhinehart Road to Bloody Bucket Bridge and the crude bridge that ran into Main Street Bloody Bucket Bridge.

Red flags should be raised as soon as you hear this story, but it has become one of the more published stories coming out of this area of Florida. Why had she not been killed or at least thrown in jail for her crimes, especially as a black woman living in the South? Why had it taken so long to find her out? Why did the people turn her crimes into a tribute?

In Weird Florida, Charlie Carlson presents several witness to some of the cries from the woods near Bloody Bucket Bridge on nights of the full moon. It would seem several media outlets picked up the tale, including the backstory of a midwife killing children and making the water crimson with their blood.

When we went there during the Blood Moon we were hoping to see if any element of the story could be true. We were equipped with every reference we could find to the story, several buckets to get the best results, and a mindset nothing would probably happen because we already knew where the story had been born from. The street is now officially known as Griffin Road, the bridge Griffin Road Bridge, and the area which was once her dumping ground is a boat launch into the Peace River. The surrounding bank drops off quick with only large stones in the water to balance yourself to get under the bridge. The spot is anything but quiet with the continued traffic, slow but steady during our time there, and local animal life making itself known.

IMG_4718There were no cries from the darkness and no blood red water. There was no filling of buckets with blood or shadows of a woman falling into the river. The water traveling under the bridge did sometimes take on the sound of voices, like most Cry Baby Bridges, and you could see the how some of build up of mineral in the dirt and water could be confused for blood stains. The closest thing we came to ghost lights were the police lights as they pulled up on us wondering why we had left our car on the side of the road and were wandering around the boat launch at night.

One had never heard of the story before, although he listened intently as we told it. The other offered us an explanation for why the road had become known as Bloody Bucket Road, one which we had already connected to the story. “It was a tough bar. Every night there were fights…people being hauled off. People hated to work there, because every night when it closed they had to clean the floors and the wash bucket was filled with all the blood.”

20180131_230927It was the rough and tumble bar named the Big Apple at the end of the street, now just a slab of concrete overgrown with grass and covered with trucking equipment, that gave the street its sinister nickname. In fact, the more we looked at the research the more we noticed there were no witnesses to the bloody water part of the legend. The bar was eventually closed and the road went back to being Griffin Road to the locals, although a few still passed around the old name as a reminder of the good old days before the town was dry. By the turn of this century, enough people still remembered the nickname to give the stories a ring of truth.

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Listen to Episode 31…Bloody Moons and Bloody Buckets

Of course, this doesn’t account for midwife or the dead children written about by Carlson and other modern accounts.

We were able to track that down, and it’s a great example of how you should always read the fineprint. On Halloween 2003 a poster known as Cindi published a ghost story on the Web site Country Living, Country Skills entitled The Legend of Bloody Bucket Road. This is six years before the next published reference to it in Weird Florida. She explains how an old, disabled black man sitting outside the 7/11 nearby told her the story. She is brought to task in the comments of the story about how many of the physical details of the story are off until she eventually comes back with how the story is fiction and her version of how the story got its name.

The majority of people who respond to her seem to be fans of her work and understand this without being told, but enough don’t that the story takes on a life of its own. It’s unclear whether Carlson, the man who really solidifies the story, was working from Cindi’s blog or whether he was a victim of hearing someone repeat the story they had heard from someone else. Unfortunately he is no longer with us, but everyone I spoke to, including his son, say he was an honest reporter of the unknown and a respected researcher.

With a story like this it’s to understand why the backstory survives and what purpose it serves. The idea of a natural phenomenon needing to be explained, like singing rivers or ghost lights, can take part of the blame and a fear of retribution, especially on our children, for our sins is always in play. What it is instead is an example of how folklore transforms in our modern times. An old story, a blog post, a published account and a rumor becomes a haunting. Once the story is out there, the paste is not getting back in the tube, and no matter how many people point out the obvious inconsistencies in the story, someone will always be there to back it up and point out every legend has a shred of truth.

Is ‘Picnic At Hanging Rock’ A True Story? The Amazon Miniseries Has A Haunting Inspiration

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Tripping on Legends Live…Graveyard Etiquette

 

 

This week’s live show looks forward to Natalie Crist hooking up with a ghost and debates what is right and wrong in a cemetery.

First Tripping on Legends recaps their upcoming legend trip to Fort Desoto near St. Petes. While there, Natalie will look to see if she can catch the eye of a flirtatious ghost known to hit on the ladies.

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Listen to Episode 39…Dating the Ghosts at Fort Desoto

 

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Listen to Episode 40…Fort DeSoto is Haunted, But Not Like You Think

Then her and Christopher Balzano debate what is proper and not proper when in a cemetery.

Follow their scale and post in the comments specfic things you’ve done and how you would rank it on our offensive scale:

Red…clearly inappropriate

Orange…Kind of sketchy and borderline inappropriate

Yellow…you’re safe, but approaching the line

Green…all good

Blue…You’ve gone out of your way to go above and beyond

You can follow the actual trip this weekend by following the hashtag #haunteddesoto on Twitter and Instagram.

You can reach us at spookytripping@gmail.com or post something to us at www.facebook.com/trippingonlegends.

We’ll be keeping track of them on our site at: www.trippingonlegends.wordpress.com.

Twitter @naynaymyfriend @SpookyBalzano

Instagram @SpookyTripping