Travel Log…The Devil’s Tramping Ground

There’s something to the Name Game, but there are times when a legend plants itself so deep into the minds of residents it forces them to actually name the place for the odd folklore born there.  We recently came across something like this with Bloody Bucket Road in Wachula, Florida, a road named after a story which then inspired a story which inspired an urban legend.  We’ve also found our way to places informally named after the weird happenings there, like the Devil’s Tree and Thrill Hill.  Rarely does a crazy story, known by the people living in the area if not fully believed, make the powers that be change the name of a place to reflect the popularity of a story.

20170711_113012The Devil’s Tramping Ground in Bear Creek, North Carolina is one of those places.  As we heard more about the story, given our obsession at the time with all things named after the Devil, we knew if we were going to North Carolina to look for phantom trains and hitchhikers, we were going to have to stop in and see if we could glimpse something unknown and supernatural making circles in the middle of the woods.

It started with a search into an area of North Carolina known as the known as the Piedmonts.  While looking for something else, I stumbled upon Craig Payst’s Web site North Carolina Ghost Stories.  He has a whole section of his site dedicated to the odd stories from that area, including a weird legend that has gained popularity among the people there over the last few decades.  Some of the details were familiar in that way a good piece of folklore should be, but one of the most interesting slants to the story was that the legend was shifting, adapting with the times to conform to changing ideas.  As we changed as people, the little tale of a patch of land where nothing would grown changed with them.

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The basics of the story should sound like something you’ve heard before.  In the woods near an area known as Harper’s Crossing there is a patch of land where things would not grow.  The infertile pattern was in an almost perfect circle, so people said there had to be something sinister and supernatural about it.  The first stories, which is said to date back at least two hundred years, tell of the Devil himself cast down, or up, to earth to contemplate what evil deeds to commit against the people of the Piedmonts.  Payst attributes this foundation to the strong religious ideas of the Scotch-Irish immigrants who made their way to the State.  No reason is given as to why these people should be a target for him, but there he walked in a circle debating and scheming what to do and tearing up the ground as he walked.   

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Listen to Episode 17…Trips, Triangles, and North Carolina Folklore

20170711_105007.jpgThere is more than just barren land in the story though.  Men and beast avoid the spot for reasons they can’t explain.  People who have dared to try and stay there at night have left with terrible visions.  It is also said that anything placed in the middle of the circle, living or dead, will be cast out by unseen hands.  Some have seen unexplained lights, and like many sites like this one, people have reported seeing hooded figures, either dark souls or Satanic cult members, walking the circle and the surrounding woods.  

If that was end of the story, it would make for an interesting tale.  But there is more to the story.  In the past few years, every trend in the paranormal has been used to explain the site or offer up a backstory for the unexplained.  According to Payst and some others who have looked into the stories, over the years the story has shifted to aliens, a witchcraft hotspot, and an ancient Indian burial location.  Each variation reflects the fears and the interests of the people who are making the story their own, evidenced by the newer idea that the spot is actually a vortex.  Whether to keep the deep folklore alive or just to claim a little ownership in the story, the little patch in the woods transforms itself into what people want.  

This, along with the idea of being pushed by unseen hands drew us to the site.

When we got there is a warm summer day with clouds and a slight breeze.  It was not hard to find, especially considering the street is named for the legend.  We set up a stationary camera to capture the whole thing and walked the perimeter of the circle.  It was littered with garbage, convenience store cups, and beer bottles.  There was a metal chair set up roughly in the middle and a makeshift fire pit.  Someone had been there recently, confirming the Devil’s  Tramping Ground as a party place.  

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We walked a ways into the woods and found evidence of other activity.  There were animal bones scattered in different locations, proof of either cult activity or people wanted it to look like there was cult activity.  Other than the bones and tarps, there was not too much to the area itself.  We spent time in the circle itself to see if we could feel anything trying to get rid of us, but our feet remained firmly planted.  Natalie had the idea to make a cross out of some of the local vegetation to see if it would get tossed from the circle.  We stayed for about an hour, mainly to say we had been there, and made our way to the hotel to get some much needed sleep.

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The original plan was to go back that night and see if we could talk to some of the people who partied there or even interview the dark forces, but we spent too much time looking for the hitchhiking Lydia and were not able to get back.  A follow-up the next day revealed nothing else out of the ordinary and our cross was in the same place.  In fact, after the being molested by ghostly redheads in Greensboro and getting new Pukwudgie reports in Indiana, the Harper’s Crossing and the Devil’s Tramping Ground felt mundane.

IMG_3104It was not until we reviewed the camera some time later that things got eerie.  One of the things I noticed, and we had not talked about it at the time of the trip, was how little time we spent in the middle of the circle.  Most of the time we were there was spent trailing the woods, but we seemed to unconsciously avoid actually being where the Devil was believed to walked.  It was subtle.  We had travelled 1,000 miles and didn’t spend much time in the middle.

You can’t put your hands on that kind of idea or hold it up.  It could just be an overactive mind wanting to justify having touched a legend.  The camera, however, picked something up which almost defines the eye.  At one point the lighting completely changes (perhaps due to the clouds overhead), but then several odd noises are heard.  These climax with a clear clanging of metal.  At that exact moment, something flies through the frame and out of the circle.  We have broken it down and determined it was not a bird and was too big, even in perspective, to be an insect or something else hanging out in the woods.  This, mixed with the sound heard right before the movement, leads us to believe one of those beer or soda cans was kicked out of the circle while we played in the woods.

Like the legend itself, there is no clear cut answer to what we saw.  The Devil’s Tramping Ground has exist for decades, and if every bit of folklore is born from some truth, there might be more to the story than just some dead vegetation and some odd lights in the woods.  People will continue to tell their stories about the place, odd first hand accounts with their choice of background to give it context.  The legend will continue because we want it to, but just when you think it’s safe to sit back and think of it all as just a story, a swift kick and clang might happen and make you rethink whether a ghost story, or even a tale of the Devil, has more fact than fable to it.  

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Listen to Episode 19…Tripping Carolina in My Mind

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Listen to Conversations on Folklore with Craig Payst

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Travel Log…Oak Ridge Cemetery: Arcadia, Florida

Natalie investigating the difference between traditional Mary hair and the statue's

 

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Listen to the Tripping on Legends episode about it…

Some legend trips are about the excitement of the moment or the depth and mystery of the mythology behind the story.  Others are about the anticipation of being in the dark with the weight of what has happened there breathing down your neck and making your hairs stand on end.  At the heart of all of them is the hope that there is a connection between the history of the location and the ghostly stories that develop around them.  As we look into the stories what’s looking back at us are lost moments waiting for someone to pick them up again and share with the world.  They become more than legends or ghost stories.  They become a way for the dead to live again and for lost history to dust itself off.

As we started looking into legends throughout South Florida to begin our journey, we sent out e-mails to historical societies and libraries in the area asking for insight into their hidden treasure other people may not have heard about yet.  We didn’t get many responses, but one came from the coordinator of the DeSoto County Historical Society’s Research Library with a reference to an article in the September/October 2016 edition of Gasparilla Magazine.  One of the locations writer Marcy Shortuse explored in her Haunted Arcadia was Oak Ridge Cemetery in Arcadia, Florida.  Arcadia was a little over an hour away, not too far for a quick drive and a perfect training ground for Natalie’s first official, researched, legend trip, especially given its proximity to what we thought was a primary location for the Singing River legend.

What drew us in were stories that came out of the location.  The first was a talking Mary statue located in the cemetery.  According to Shortuse’s article and further research we conducted into the story, people had talked for years about a stone woman looking over a patch of graves who spoke to people who stopped to pay their respects or just spent time around her.  The article spoke of people having entire conversations, but most of the other accounts online were sporadic occurrences, happening randomly and with no specific connection to people or times.  This was of interest to me as I had researched haunted statues throughout the country.

img_1653The idea was to try and find the statue and get her to speak with Natalie.  Many of the reports involved woman speaking with Mary, so we hoped that whatever was talking to people would be more drawn to her empathic, almost psychic side.  Our plan was to also record the whole session with a digital recorder to try and gather some EVPs if we couldn’t hear anything with our own ears.

The second legend was more connected to the history of the town and drove us into research mode before we arrived in Arcadia.  The real centerpiece of the cemetery is a memorial to the British Royal Air Force pilots who trained and died in Florida during the World War II era.  This was a part of Florida history neither of us knew anything about, and as we have spoken to more people over the course of the last year, we discovered most outside of Desoto County haven’t either.  In reaction to the Lend Lease Act, FDR decided to allow British pilots to train in the United States because the sky over their own country were a bit too dicey to allow new pilots to get the experience they needed.  Arcadia petitioned to use Carlstrom Field which had been opened during WWI but had closed after peace had been established and the need for American war pilots had decreased.

img_1635The first class of RAF pilots graduated in 1941 but were not without their issues.  Many of the foreigners were not used to the hazing which was a vital part of American troop training and that damaged their moral.  As explained in Wing Over Florida, many of the trainees also suffered from homesickness and overindulgence.  It seems the young men had come from a land of war into a land of plenty, and many became overwhelmed with how much food and Florida oranges they were able to get at a moment’s notice.  It would also seem they were distracted by the number of Florida women with “loose morals” in the area they also could find at a moment’s notice.

Even given the distractions, many of the airmen went on to distinguish themselves in combat.  23, however, died in training in or near Arcadia and are buried in Oak Ridge along with their commander who requested to be buried with his men 40 years after he helped to train them.  The cemetery is their final resting spot, along with a memorial commemorating Arcadia and the fallen pilot’s, contribution to history.

The stories coming out of the memorial are traditional haunted folklore for soldiers’ graves.  People are seen standing before the headstones and then disappear moments later.  A dark figure is said to move from grave to grave mourning each and leaving memorials, much like the legend of the man who leaves flowers at Edgar Allen Poe’s grave in Baltimore.   There are also reports of phantom planes, seen but mostly heard above the cemetery, maybe explained away by airports nearby, many of whom host airshows which feature older, WWII planes.  If these stories are not merely legend, it might make sense.  Part of the mythology of the paranormal includes spirits being at rest.  These pilots would be more likely to walk their graves because they are not buried in their own country but in a foreign one far from home and they may not be able to find peace or find their way back home.

img_1636One of the other unusual stories we unearthed mentioned the Union Jack flying at the memorial.  People have reported the flag sometimes disappears although no one is there to remove it.  According to reports, the flag was taken down and put up daily, but that no one currently moves it.  The flag is supposed to fly at all times.  In addition, many of these reports involve the Union Jack disappearing or being moved to half-mast while they are visiting although there is no visible caretaker present.  I noticed while we were there, however, that in certain locations on the grounds the pole was obscured by trees, perhaps giving the feeling it had temporarily disappeared.

We arrived at the cemetery a little after noon on a fairly windy Sunday.  We entered through the wrong gate, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it allowed us time to explore the cemetery as we searched for Mary.  One of the things we noticed was the seemingly segregated nature of Oak Ridge.  A large field separated the main part we entered through and a large section towards the back.  As we walked the graves it became clear that African American were buried in one part of the cemetery, separate from what might be considered the main section.  As a Northerner, I also was taken aback by the colored graves and how many graves had colored pictures built into the stone, something I had never seen in the hundreds of cemeteries I had spent time in while living in New England.

And all the time we kept our eyes on that Union Jack to make sure it was still there.

By the time we made it to the RAF memorial, the wind had mostly settled and it was a bit after 1:00 PM.  We had seen several stone statues of women but narrowed down which one we believed was the one from the story based on the description and the picture from Shortuse’s story.  First, we wanted to pay our respects to the airmen and see if we could touch some of the stories attached to them.  We spent some time reading the headstones and the memorials.  We said each airmen’s name and left a penny on each grave, a British military tradition.  To try and spark a response, Natalie read the poem In Flanders Fields, written by Canadian poet and soldier John McCrae, which has a deep connection to British veterans of both World Wars.  We also played the song “We’ll Meet Again” by Vera Lynn about English soldiers and pilots going off to WWII.

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Nothing unusual happened while we were at this part of the location, although the rope on the Union Jack, which never disappeared the entire time we were there, went crazy clanging against the pole even though the wind had basically died down.  On the recording you can hear it, but no wind.  When we read the poem, every noise, including the birds and the rope, stopped entirely.

After spending time at the memorial, we moved on to the statue, which seemed to be looking over a plot dedicated to the Hollingsworth family, who we researched later and found to be an important family in the history of Arcadia.  We determined, based on its location to the fence (some reports came from people who had played near the fence as children when they heard the voice) and the mere age of it, that this had to be the woman from the stories.

The first thing we noticed was how cold the statue was, especially in relation to the other headstones and statues we had touched.  The other was an abandoned wasp’s nest, which in at least one of the stories we had read was used as an explanation for the voices heard.  It was clear that the statue was not of the Virgin Mary based on the way she looked and was wearing.  Natalie, trying to get in touch with her sensitive side, got the name Agnes and went with calling her that, although an Abby Hollingsworth was one of the dominant graves in the family plot.  We spent about a half hour at the location, recording about 26 minutes of audio before leaving.  Natalie felt she heard some unexplained noises she was unable to account for, but nothing that felt like a voice speaking words to her.  She also was overcome at one point by the smell of incense.

 

It was not until we got on the road and listened to the recording that we fully understood just home much Mary may have been talking to us.  Even through the speakers of the car with no enhancement we could hear unexplained voices and noises on the tape.  Several times we hear an odd honking, more of a train whistle or harmonica or accordion than car horn.  It also sounds a bit like bagpipes, and there have been reports of ghostly pipes being heard at the RAF site.  The noise also seems to be deliberately interrupting what Natalie is trying to say.  At the time we heard nothing that resembled this, as we make a point to speak about noises we hear as they happen.  This could be attributed to the sensitivity of the recorder itself, as we have been amazed at some of the things we have heard from a great distance with it.  At several moments we also hear the recorder being played with although neither of us moved it.

Throughout most of the recording there are voices under what we are saying or under other noises from the cemetery.  At one point Natalie asks who is speaking to people and a voice is heard saying something like, “I’m a Hollingsworth” or a first name followed by Hollingsworth.  We also heard someone saying “Hey” trying to get our attention.

Please listen to the audio yourself to find out more…

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Listen to the Tripping on Legends episode about it…

We found some other connections in the research we did after we went, but nothing that was able to explain who might be looking over the graves or talking to people who spend time around the graves.  Of course, that’s the nature of the beast when it some to trying to track down a legend.  What is clear after being there and looking the history of the town and the cemetery is that Oak Ridge Cemetery is a crucial link to heritage of Arcadia.

And a damn good ghost story for them to be proud of.

 

My First Year as a Tripper

by Natalie Crist


This will be my first dive into the realm of personal online publication. Naturally  I’ve written previously, however it was always for the purpose of professional advertisement, or literature for product knowledge. In short I’ve never put myself out there for the world to read. Wish me luck!

 

In 2016 I was introduced to Christopher Balzano, and quickly learned about his ongoing Legends Project. Immediately I was drawn in by his enthusiasm, and extensive knowledge. Not only was I in presence of someone who truly had a passion for his field, but a highly educated individual who could offer fresh perspective and alternative opinions on the popular or widely accepted ideas the modern paranormal world had to offer. Hell, not even just the world of weird, he has an opinion on everything!  He asked me to join in on the Legends Project – specifically resparking the Tripping on Legends part, and of course I wanted in.  
shirt1At the time I didn’t even really realize what I was signing up for… I’ll never fully grasp why me, but I suppose it has something to do with my naiveté, my natural inclination to trust what’s given to me. Be it words, smells, sounds, or gut instinct, I have a tendency to blindly believe, and ask questions later. And I was a newbie into the paranormal, so I had no preconceived notions of right or wrong when it comes to stepping into the spooky.  


From the very beginning we hit the ground running. I had never been a part of such an engaging adventure.  Picking the theme song for the podcast was like destiny embodied. I’ll never forget that moment. Pure entrancement. Choosing artwork for the cover. (We argued here – for I’m not zombie fan!) We compromised. The picture of the spooky forest, was perfect for us in my humble opinion.. For me it stood as an allegory – a seemingly blank yet terrifying forest, with a touch of mystery – this was us. It calls to me. It has a luring quality, like you just have to know what lies beyond the blackness…  We had both undergone life altering changes in our personal lives, and we were ready for the next chapter. The empty spaces needing to be filled with adventure; paranormal adventures.

 

17626251_10212808826124518_9004207747878773194_nThis adventure came with a set of issues though – I’m prone to spiritual attack, or at least I think I am.  It could just be my empathic tendencies picking up strong emotions, and I can suffer.  Number two, I despise attention (Not really the personality traits of a Paranormal Podcast host, huh?). Thankfully we’ve worked around these issues!  Christopher is kind enough to shoulder my need for anonymity and does most of the publicity. I don’t really love to be seen on camera, and he respects that. (He’s also much more charismatic, and, er, enigmatic, so the role fits him) But, I am slowly stepping up.

 

2016-2017 was a hell of a year!

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Listen to the Tripping on Legends episode about it…

We’ve been to so many places I had never heard of, experienced so many things I never thought possible, had lengthy discussions about the philosophical meaning of legends, but in the same breath joked about them as well. We have had the cards stacked against us, and we’ve had to learn on our feet. We’ve shelled out hundreds, if not thousands of dollars just experiencing new places, and I wouldn’t want a dime back for the lessons, the connections, and the memories are invaluable.

 

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Natalie investigating the difference between traditional Mary hair and the statue’s

The next time I write I think I’ll delve into the what draws me in so strongly and what my reactions have been. One sentence kind of drives me – Often I forget the words that are said, however I feel forget the feelings.

 

Thanks for reading… I welcome feedback!

 

 

Tripping the Devil’s Tree

Natalie Crist and Christopher Balzano went out in search of the Devil’s Tree at Oak  Hammock  Park in Port St. Lucie.

We’ve got a full write up of the context and what happened coming later this week, but you can catch the two podcasts they did on the topic.  The first is a trek down different Devil legends and the second is their field report on the Devil’s Tree.

Epsiode 7…Tripping the Devil

Epsiode 8…Tripping the Devil’s Tree

 

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Horn Pond’s Little Demons

 

100_0203Most of the locals who walk along the picturesque trails  circling Horn Pond know little of its history. They do not know how it was once used to carry supplies in and out of nearby Boston. They look across its empty surface and do not know that boats and swimmers used to sail and play and laugh.

They do not know it is haunted.

Horn Pond has been a source of mystery since before it was settled. Native Americans in the area stayed away from the pond. Their legends tell of a great battle between the gods of light and the gods of darkness. The bad guys were winning victories all across the land, forcing the good guys to run and hide and try to regroup.   Finding a hiding place in Woburn, they made the mountains of Woburn their home until they got word the bad guys had found their hiding place.  They dug out a trench, waited for the evil ones to enter it and then filled it with water, trapping the demons beneath the surface but not killing them.

It’s not a new story.  In fact, there are several similar references to this kind of battle, including one in Lakeville, Massachusetts, where the legend is attached to Pukwudgies.  There the curse was responsible for the sketchy murder of  John Sassamon, the spark of King Phillip’s War.  The backstory is also responsible for haunted ponds and lakes in Minnesota, Michigan, and Oregon.

It may be the demons that have taken the lives of the people on Horn Pond, but it the human spirits people believe they see at night. In the past two hundred years the body of water has taken the life of over forty-five people, an amount made even more outrageous by the size of the pond. Most of the accidents involved boating errors or small children. There have been some reports of falling through the ice, but what is unusual is that there is no curse or negative Native American-settler story attached to the area. Most bodies of water considered this haunted in New England have a story of a settler taking the life of a Native and the pond becoming a source of death as revenge. Natives and modern Americans seem equally affected by the forces.

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The haunting happen at night and during the day. The pond is used for nature walks and has foot traffic even on the coldest day. Some people have said the mood changes when they reach certain spots. They have feeling fine and then need to stop walking and turn around. They often feel as if they are being watched. Dogs have been known to bark or whimper and then become normal again.

At night lights have been seen above the water. They have been described as bright blue, round, several feet tall and hovering above the water. Several people have seen people walking on the water, always with their back to the viewer. One local tells of a canoe she has seen several times. The canoe always is seen sailing to the middle of the pond and then fades away as she watches. The water itself is closed to both boats and swimmers.

Holiday’s Ghostly Pants?

picture courtesy of iHorror

This story originally appeared in the book Ghostly Adventures.  I edited it slightly for modern consumption, but this seems like a great day trip for the Legends Project.

 

Check out the audio from the episode…

Laurie’s work as a paranormal investigator sometimes forces her to keep quiet around people she does not know. Many investigators are fine among their own kind, but the outside world is not so accepting. Spending too much time with people who believe in the paranormal makes you think everyone is open about that kind of thing. It only takes a few people giving you that look, the one where you know they will not invite you over for coffee sometime, to keep your stories and your ideas to yourself.

 

Holiday, Florida, is like that. On the west coast of Florida, halfway down the state but a world away from the lights of Orlando or the history of St. Petersburg, the town is bursting with untold ghost stories and legends. It just takes time, and the right questions, to get them out of people.

 

Laurie was not sure how her neighbors would perceive her experiences when she moved there. “When I first moved to this neighborhood I kept a low profile. No one even knew I was a ghost hunter for ten years. Over those ten years I heard lots of stories from neighbors about strange happenings around there, and since my ghost hunting pastime became known I have heard even more endless reports.”

 

One story stays with her. “About twenty years ago I went to a barbecue at a neighbor’s home, a fisherman who had lots of local yokel buddies. Someone started telling a story saying that he had seen a pair of pants with shoes, like a man from the waist down, run across a nearby road on a rainy night. Another man jumped in to say that he saw it too and pretty soon they were comparing notes, and even with all I have seen and heard myself, I chalked this up to just too much beer and a bunch of tall-tale fishermen telling yet another ridiculous tale.”

 

The story was a legend in the town, but like many legends, there was an air of truth to it. While many accounts came secondhand, there were also people who saw the mysterious pants with their own eyes, making the other stories more believable. Laurie saw the story as legend, but a while later she was confronted herself. “About two years later, I was coming home from a friend’s home. It was late and it was raining, there was a slight fog but nothing blinding. I saw my neighbor’s eighteen-year-old son on the side of the highway near the road that leads to my road. His motorcycle had broken down and he was soaked to the gills. I picked him up to give him a ride home as he lived four houses down from me.

 

“We were driving down the road that eventually dead ends to my road, and as we came over a rise and into the dip that followed I could not believe what I saw. I was driving my old Bronco, which was very tall, and I had my high beams on, which illuminated the road for quite a distance. There are no streetlights here and the road is very dark at night. The rain was still coming down but only a light drizzle now compared to the earlier downpour. There, about thirty yards in front of my truck, was what appeared to be a man from the waist down, crossing the road into a nearby trailer park.” The ghost had no upper body and she could not see its feet. There was only a pair of pants, suspended in midair.

 

“I locked my brakes and sat in disbelief and looked over to the boy beside me. He looked scared to death. The youth asked her if she had seen what he had seen. I said that of course I had and he replied, ‘I am so glad. I have seen it before and no one would have believed me so I never told anyone.’”

 

The clothes matched the description given by the men at the barbeque. “The pants were brown, uniform-style pants, with shoes and a belt, but there was absolutely nothing visible of the man above the belt.”

 

Although it seems most towns in America have some kind of highway haunting, they are usually full-bodied apparitions, not just a pair of slacks. In fact, it is unusual to see only the clothes of a ghost. While many people feel spirits can exists after death, one of the questions always asked is why they have clothes. That question cannot be answered except to say somehow their remaining energy consists of how they viewed themselves in life. Regardless, the phantom pants are a rarity in the field, even to someone with Laurie’s resume.

 

The experience made Laurie more open to legends and local folklore. “That evening I learned that no matter how ridiculous something sounds to me, I have to give the benefit of the doubt to people. I have heard several bizarre claims since. I can honestly say that even though I scoffed and shook my head when I heard the tale, I now have to eat my words on the ghost of the traveling pants. I have no explanation for what I saw that night. I haven’t seen it again even though others claim to have.”

 

Venice’s Phantom Train

If the folklore of a town is both a reflection and the building block of that community, what does it say if a local legend can’t be confirmed, embarrassed or even really defined.  Venice is a strange area of Southwest Florida, not unique in its complexion or population from its neighbors, but a more of a mix of the personalities of the surrounding towns.  Like  the places that neighbor it, there is a balance struck between the old and the new, between generations of Venetians and recent transplants who seem in search of something the coastal towns of the Gulf promise.  Businesses drift between a touch of rundown quaintness and neon glitz, giving the whole area a sense of identity crisis.  However, anyone who is not new to the scene understands this is an identity, a bit manufactured based on what tourists expect but at the same time thumping with a heartbeat that connects the communities up and down the coast.

Listen to our first ever episode of Tripping on Legends where we went there…

The story of the Phantom Train of Venice had that feel.  It was referenced in a book, but no one seemed to know about it.  Last year I spent the weeks leading into Halloween trying to track down the details and sent feelers out to the writer of the book and the historical society who maintained the site.  As I reported last year, no one was forthcoming with information or knew what I was talking about.  I still can’t make sense of the e-mail I received from Kim Cool when I asked her to allow me to walk in the footsteps of her research to try and track details down.

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I had given up on it and moved on to other ideas.  The legend was not done with me, however.  In the weeks leading up to Halloween this year, some odd tumblers fell into place and seemed to draw me to Sarasota County.  The first was born of my own paranormal confusion.  Frustrated by what I was working on, I challenged the universe to give me a sign.  What followed was a series of random song generator moments.  In other words, I would start thinking about wanting to hear a song, and my Ipod would randomly play just the song I was looking for.  Hardly the concrete research of the Rand Institute, but it got my mind moving.  In the few days leading into the holiday, this happened so often I could not overlook it.  I was also seeming references to trains and Venice all over the place.  Cognitive bias to be sure, but the fact my mind wanted to see these things felt like a sign in and of itself.

Then came the dance.  I had written previously about the connection between Ringling and the two dollar bill.  To show the people of Venice his employee’s impact on the town, it is said he paid them all with two dollar bills.  At the end of the day, count them up and see how much they were pouring into the local community.  I became enamored with the idea of making that part of my trip there.  I would use the money as a type of offering or tulpa to jump start the activity.  Problem was, in the past I had a hard time getting my hands on one.  During my schools Halloween dance though a student paid for their candy and soda with a two dollar bill.  I pocketed it, making sure to stick two ones in the drawer, and was convinced this was the last sign to go out.

img_1243img_1209   After I had said goodbye to my kids and their candy haul, I met up with my partner for the Legends Project, Natalie Crist.  It was an hour ride out to Venice, and we were cutting the time extremely short.  I gave her a recap of the legend and a brief outline of what we were going to do.  Natalie has an amazing passion for research and is a sponge for information, so speaking with her often allows me iron out the details of what needs to be done.

We got to the Venice Train Depot around 11:30 and decided to tour the area around it, including the nearby bridge that goes over Highway 41, a major freeway through Southwest Florida.  Our purpose was to get into character, but also to understand the sound complexion of the train station.

We were unsure of what we might see and hear and wanted to be able to tell the difference between a train blast and a siren or an elephant trumpet and any geese in the area.

We went live on Facebook counting down the moments leading into midnight.  We placed the two dollar bill in between the rails of the track, in between us, and placed our hands on the rail to notice any change in vibrations.  In retrospect, this would have also been a good time to do an EVP session, but I had not planned the night too well due to its suddenness. After about 10 minutes we left that area and walked the tracks before touring the whole area again, shooting a second Facebook live video, and heading home.

img_1233Here’s where the story gets exciting and I tell you about the lion who jumped out of the ether and the train lights that threatened to run us down.  Only, that’s not this story goes.  We did hear unexplained train whistles and later confirmed that no trains were running at that hour in Venice or the surrounding cities.  Natalie did get an odd scent of cinnamon at one point which was out of place, sudden, and fleeting.  But that’s about it.

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…and also not really the point.  As an investigation, the trip would have been a failure, but as a legend trip, it was a complete success.  The difference between the two is hard to tell at times, like trying to split hairs over whether something is a legend or folklore.  The main separation might spring from the intention and what is considered a victory.  Tripping is about the journey and the moment, both of which were rich and satisfying.  Nothing happening is not a notch in the paranormal investigators movement to determining whether someplace is haunted.  Something did happen.  We touched a local legend and become part of it.

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