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.   

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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.

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

Episode 38…Shadow People and Your Kids

 

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Listen to Episode 38…Shadow People and Your Kids

 

What the hell is a shadow person? It’s a question every investigator or legend tripper needs to eventually look at. Given some of our recent encounters, he examine some of the different ideas out there and how they have changed over the years to add to the mythology of ghostly legends

Before that, we dive into some of the recent discussions we have been having online with the role kids have in forming and spreading urban legends involving ghosts and how that allows us all to become believers as adults.

We also get into the ideal legend trip in our preparations for our 2018 Summer Road Trip.

Hear Last Years Prep Show

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Listen to Episode 15…Cool for the Summer

 

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

Follow us at: www.facebook.com/trippingonlegends

 

Twitter @naynaymyfriend @SpookyBalzano

Instagram @SpookyTripping

 

 

Episode 37…Haunted Children and Urban Legends

 

With Natalie Crist away, Christopher Balzano brings in another co-host for the week; his daughter Ella, one of the troopers at Tripping on Legends for Kids.

The two discuss what urban legends and ghost stories are popular with the kids these days and the difference between old school ideas and modern hauntings. They also focus on a some neighborhood legends involving a cursed statue and an ice cream truck.

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Listen to Episode 37…Haunted Children and Urban Legends

 

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

Twitter @naynaymyfriend @SpookyBalzano

Instagram @SpookyTripping

 

Other Tripping with Kids episodes:

 

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Listen to Episode 29…Tripping with Kids at the Koreshan State Park

 

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Listen to Episode 14…Tripping with Kids at The Singing River

 

Episode 33…Why Are All the Women in White

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Listen to episode 33…Why are All the Women in White

What’s your favorite scary movie?

After looking into two classic horror movies last week, Natalie Crist shows Christopher Balzano the movie that gave her nightmares as a kid, the 1988 classic The Woman in White.

They get into stories and legends Balzano has tracked down involving the Woman in White legends and explore some of the other folklore the movie uses to scare the audience.

You can contact us with questions, comments, and the details of your favorite scary movie at spookytripping@gmail.com.

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

Follow us at: www.facebook.com/trippingonlegends 

Twitter @naynaymyfriend @SpookyBalzano 

Instagram @SpookyTripping @NayNayV3

Listen to our show about Poltergeist and Ring:

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Name That Symbol

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Here are some of the grave symbols we discovered while looking over the Manasota Memorial Gardens with the kids during our Tripping with Kids Episode.

We have searched for some, but still can’t figure out the meaning of some.  We’ve tried to focus on the ones that we are still in need of, especially the wax-like substance and its meaning and the three Freemason Chair set up.

Please keep in mind; we’re not only looking for who the symbol belongs to but what the markings actually mean.

You can send your feedback to spookytripping@gmail.com

Listen to the episode here:

Story of the Singing River

The Singing the River Sings Back

Tripping on Kids