Join Tripping on Legend as they look into a typical roadside ghost in Dunnellon, Florida, that may be as far from typical as you can get. On a stretch of road in the middle of nowhere, with the Ocala Forest looming nearby, there are reports of ghost children walking alone and into the woods. Are they just imagination, something darker like Black-Eyed Children, or the remains of the spookiness of a film shoot?
And what does any of this have to do with Suzie and the Banshees?
After another odd, unexplained event in Natalie Crists’ house, her and Christopher Balzano decided to look into what might be going on.
The Trippers decide to take a break from the folklore of hauntings to introduce Natalie to the world of Ouija. The two discuss what’s been going on in the house and some of the traditional practices and folklore surrounding the spirit board.
What do Tom Petty, and dead janitor, and Ted Bundy have to do with each other…and what about that ghost in the bikini?
With the summer quickly approaching, it is time to start looking at far, far away Florida locations to include in Tripping on Legends Summer 2019 Road Trip. There may be no better place to look than with institutes of higher learning across the Sunshine State, starting with the two biggies. Florida Schools are haunted.
Natalie Crist and Christopher Balzano take a look at some of the famous hauntings and urban legends coming out of Florida State University and the University of Florida, including ones involving love, suicide, lightening, Ted Bundy, and Tom Petty.
Phantom hitchhikers are nothing new to the world of the paranormal. What makes Julia any different?
With the summer winding down and Florida’s Haunted Love Stories at the printer’s, Christopher Balzano explores two Central Florida legends that did not make the cut for the book. The first involves a white horse seen in haunted Sanford, Florida, where celery might have once been king but now ghosts are big business. The second is a lonely Woman in White in Lady Lake whose backstory can’t be nailed down, but not for lack of decades of trying. As we get more into the mysterious happenings it becomes clear there are signs that point to a dark cloud that has been popping up on our legend trips being involved in another one of our locations.
For a little more background, and some of the oddest and creepiest voices we’ve ever heard on tape, listen to our Sanford Episode…
Here’s our episode on The Woman in White which connects in an odd way to the story in Lady Lake
You can contact us with questions, comments, and your favorite legend or tidbit of folklore at email@example.com.
Feel free to call our new phone number during our lives
shows to get involved or whenever just to share a legend you’ve heard to ask a
question at ((813) 418-6822.
We’re still knee deep in the #hauntedlove project, so we’re especially looking for ghost stories with a love twist.
No one really can tell where
haunted legends come from. You might see
a reference to it on the Internet or have someone pass it down to you, campfire
in front of them or flashlight under their chin or a mention in the local paper
sometime around Halloween when there is a market for that kind of thing. That’s not the origin though; that’s how it
spreads. Why does one place inspire so
many stories, so many tales of ghosts whispering in the trees, and others don’t? Why do some places inspire fear and a similar
place inspire peace? It’s been said
everyplace is haunted a little, some just don’t catch on. When you look at why some of them become part
of the complexion of a community, you can’t find the why or the root, just the
tree and the reputation and a place where the story is stronger than the
There might be a reason Myakka
River State Park in Sarasota has so many legends attached to it, but it isn’t
clear cut. If you’re looking to spend a night in a tent
or camper, there are more than a dozen within a half hour of it, but there is
something about it that sparks the stories.
There are two ghostly legends with traction there, and as impossible as
the stories are to verify, the backstories are so muddled as to make the ghosts
just reasonable enough to maybe exist.
It all might start with Skunk Ape. Florida’s version of Bigfoot, the creature has had a reputation for stalking the area for decades, but in 2000 a woman sent a letter to a local paper complaining about the cryptid, and it launched off a firestorm. Debate raged across the cryptozoology community over what it was and whether the whole thing was a hoax, but enough papers covered it and recycled the story that the picture became famous. Books published on the subject usually tend to include it, and it made Myakka River the place to go to see Skunk Ape. According to an unnamed ranger, “They’ve shot movies here and TV shows, but I don’t know a single person who’s seen it. They just brought a whole bunch of noise about it and when it shows on TV the park will get busy for a while about it.”
Despite his claim, people are blogged enough about sightings to solidify the stories and make it one of the most popular Skunk Ape hunting grounds. This was reinforced with videos in 2013 and 2017, both have which have been analyzed and debated. The park is filled with animal life, including deer, bobcats, and dozens of species of birds. None can be mistaken for the cryptid.
One of the most popular theories going around in the paranormal and supernatural landscape these days acts as a sort of unified theory. Places in the word, be it the Bridgewater Triangle in Massachusetts or a place like Skin-walker Ranch in Utah, draw the weird into it. A place that is known for Bigfoot or Skunk Ape, or even UFOs, will also be home to other unexplained stories. Some say this is because vortexes allow all of these types of things to come from another dimension or place. Others say disturbances in the physical world at these locations, often magnetic anomalies or theoretical ley lines, attract them. A folklorist might say that when one story catches on and gets retold it makes more sense for another story to use the same place as its setting. Any of these might be the reason why two other ghost stories have gained popularity in the last couple of years.
Big Flat Campgrounds is the perfect spot for a family outing. Consisting of two culs de sac with trails spidering off of them, a car or camper can pull in and have everything they need to stay the night. Fire pits and bathroom facilities offer a break from the modern world and a connection to Mother Nature. Trouble is there’s also a ghost that is said to disturb the people who stay there. Even more troubling, the ghost has no head. He, and he is always identified as a man, is said to disturb people in the night and be heard in the trees during the day. He’s been known to move objects left outside and at night people report him crying, both of which echo classic woods folklore and media like The Blair Witch Project. One of the saddest and spookiest parts of the rumors is that people hear him walking around in circles, like he’s searching for something, but people cannot see a person who is making the noise.
The story has traction because of
several reports online where the month of July is said to be more active for
the headless man. Big Flats is one of a
few camp areas in the park but the only one with a resident ghost. It might make sense given its geography. Although it seems secluded and a world onto
itself when you are there, it is only several feet away from the main road and
river itself. At night this might be mistaken
for something paranormal. “Most people are not familiar with the sounds
of a park like this,” says the ranger. “Even
if they go to other parks, each one has its own sounds.” He also claims another part of the legend is
hard to understand. “July is dead
there. We don’t even open it during the
week. Between the rain and the mosquitoes,
it’s not someplace a lot people are visiting in the summer.” If the ghost is a creation of someone trying
to fill the campsite during its slow time, it has not worked. The legend however is very specific, which
usually means there might be something to it.
Alligator are common in the park, as they are all around the Myakka River. The area known as Deep Hole, not far from Big Flats, has become notorious for how many alligators roam there wild. The story might act as some kind of warning to people to beware of these animals and some of the other wildlife that are active at night. It would make sense given the fear of gator attacks that a man would lose his head at the campground. There have also been rumors of homeless people in the park at night and homeless deaths, although none of these stories have been backed up. Those stories, for those that retell them, are as accurate as the ghost stories.
I went there by myself to see if there could be a reason for the story to catch on. Being July and the middle of the week, it was closed off like the ranger said. While there I was trapped in several beautiful but violent lightning storms and had to wait in my car for the storms to pass.
It gave me a chance to get some beautiful pictures, but also a chance to experience mysterious noises in the woods. It was clear there were some alligators in the swampy part near the camp by the crackle they make, or at least close enough for the echo to reach me. In fact, not knowing about the reputation of Deep Hole, I spent almost an hour there, observing them. A few times one walked less than twenty feet from me without me noticing them until they were right beside me.
There was something else caused
by the rain and swamp area. Several
times I tried to grab a branch to knock on a tree, which is a reputed way to
connect with Skunk Ape. Every time I
picked up a branch to knock, it fell apart in my hands from the dampness. It was then I focused on the sounds coming
from the woods around me and realized most of the trashing and footsteps were
these palms falling and hitting other threes before reaching the ground. It sounded like someone walking through the
Another popular ghost story in
the park revolves around the Canopy Walk, a bridge in the middle of Myakka that
has become a popular tourist spot. The
walkway is about 25 feet off the ground, but the two structures connecting it
loom 100 feet in the air and offer an amazing view of the surrounding area from
the top. The ghosts are said to look like everyday
people but disappear without warning and before people’s eyes. They are seen climbing the structures and
walking the area below, there one moment and gone the next.
The story goes that in the 1950s people came to this site to commit suicide, and that soldiers returning home from Vietnam travelled there to take their lives as well. While some stories do not mention the Canopy Walk alongside the story, it has been connected to it. Jackson Millen, a resident of Sarasota, has heard the story but always with the suicides taking place from jumping. “I don’t remember when I heard it. But they jumped from it after coming home.” While he admits the story was passed to him recently, he is sure of the time frame for the deaths. This, however, would be impossible. The bridge and supports were not built until 2000, long after the Vietnam War.
It is possible the surrounding area was the site of suicides and ghost reports. There was nothing to make this particular section of the park standout before the bridge was there, and the rangers say there have been no suicides in there in the past. Perhaps the ghosts do walk the swampy area and the new canopy offers an excellent landmark for the stories, something to give the sightings more context. The idea of post-war suicide is a popular motif in haunted sites, including being part of the backstory for the Oviedo Lights, a famous spot for legend tripping about an hour and a half from Myakka.
My second trip to the park focused on the Canopy Walk, but this time I went with Natalie and my kids to do a segment for Tripping on Legends with Kids. It’s not a place for people with a fear of heights, but no one we spoke to had heard of the legends or seen anything, including the people at the gift shop and the restaurant. Climbing it did perhaps solve one part of the ghost story. With all of the twists and turns and the thickness of the woods surrounding it, someone can appear one moment and then not be there when you swing back around. It would be easy to lose someone and give you the impression they had just disappeared.
With nothing to backup any of the
stories, and the 2000 build date killing the suicide part of the legend, we
were sure the park was just an amazing place to see alligators, deer, and the
different birds who hung out in the water.
Then we saw the cage. Although people
have told me they are all over the park, we had not seen one until we were
circling around past the canopy. They
informed me they are for capturing wildlife for relocation, although it does
not make sense to me to capture something in a place with so much wildlife
running free. It was creepy enough that
we got out of the car to investigate.
After hearing the stories of tree
knocking, Natalie and Ella decided to try it out, hitting the trees in threes. As is her way, when nothing happened, Ella
yelled at the Skunk Ape. We immediately
heard three raps, as if someone was hitting the cage even though we could see
nothing. They tried again and got no response. We got in the car and decided to loop around
to the main area in the back of the park, and as we travelled, we continued to
hear the three raps against metal. No
matter where we went the next hour we heard them, three clangs right outside
the window, as of metal was striking against metal. We tried to recreate it, thinking there might
be something wrong with the car. We were
not able to find a reason for the sound.
It only stopped when we left the park.
It was unexplained. More importantly, it followed us the entire length
of the park, meaning there was either more than one of them or it was something
different from the Skunk Ape. A few
months later, while preparing for a library event, I went through the tapes to
see if I could get the knocks for the audience.
There is only one time they can be heard, although they really can’t. Right as they sound, the audio gets distorted
and only gets distorted in that one spot.
Sometimes tracking a ghost story
kills it. There is a natural reason for
what people experience or you find an article in a newspaper refuting the
backstory and explaining how people might get confused. Other times the mysteries add to the location
and leave you thinking. Almost every
condition that exists at Myakka River State Park can be found at any number of
other locations nearby, but this is the place the ghost stories stick. It could be something about the wandering
animals and narrow roads, but they repeat themselves over and over in every
park across state. Some places get the
reputation and some don’t, which forces all of us to think twice and understand
maybe that’s because some places are
Towers are meant to be monuments, and monuments are designed
to draw the attention of all who see them.
They mark great people or are meant to commemorate a moment in time
people feel is worthy to be relived and remembered. Standing like centennials, they are lightning
rods for ceremonies, meetings, and even dates.
They are lightning rods for legends.
Hulley Tower may be standing in the front of the Stetson
University campus in Deland, Florida, but for the students there it is the
center of the school. Once over
116-feet, it has been the home to several legends over the years, but not all
of them are haunted. For example, it
used to be said that students would go to the tower before a big test and rub
the brick hoping for good luck. If it
was a particularly tough exam, students were said to ask the two people interned
inside the tower for help. It’s also
said to be the meeting place of a secret, exclusive society at the college, but
no one has ever been able to get a firm handle on the real story.
One of the creepiest legends about the tower, and the one
that brought us to the campus, was the story of Susanna Brown. She was said to be the daughter of a Baptist
minister from Iowa. She attended Stetson
in the early 1890s as a finishing school, but in her first semester she fell in
love with her English professor. The two
quickly began to fall for each other, and over the course of the year they
would meet at Hulley Tower late at night to talk and spend time together. The affair continued through the summer, but
things took a turn in the fall semester.
While they were kissing behind the tower late one night, they were
spotted by a fellow staff member. He went
to administration, and by the next afternoon Susanna was thrown out of school
and her professor fired. She was destroyed. She would have to go back home dishonored and
without the man she had fallen in love with.
She cleaned out her room, making sure to take a ribbon her love had
given her and a poem he had written her.
She snuck off to Hulley Tower and jumped from the top after telling the
world that she would love her banished professor forever. To this day her voice is heard declaring her
passion at night during the fall. Her
ghost is also caught climbing the tower stairs and seen jumping from the top.
It’s the kind of story you’ve heard before. At least you’ve heard something like it whenever you’re from. The legend was made popular in Dusty Smith’s Haunted Deland and the Ghosts of East Valusa County. The only trouble is, it never happened. Unlike other bits of folklore or legends, this one seems to be the creation of the author herself, although it is unclear if she was told the story by another source. It falls apart on a basic level, although all who hear it want it to be true. Brown is said to have attended the college and committed suicide in 1892 or 1893. Hulley Tower was built by the second president of the university, Lincoln Hulley, who served Stetson between 1904 and 1934, 12 years after the suicide.
He and his wife Eloise donated the building to the university, mainly as a source for the 11-bells she loved that rang out over the campus, and both are laid to rest in the mausoleum at the base of the tower. Lincoln Hulley died right before it was completed in 1934, and the bells continued to play there for decades after Eloise had died as well. There is no way Brown could have killed herself from throwing herself off a tower that didn’t exist.
So maybe the suicide happened somewhere else on campus and the tower, being a touchstone for things at Stetson, became the new site of the death. According to Kelly Larson, archivist at the college, there have been no suicides on campus. When Natalie and I went there we spent the day diving into the records of the school, and we could find no death that matched Brown’s or any reference to her attendance or expulsion from the school. Furthermore, the picture published in Smith’s book identified a man as the professor who was having the affair. In fact, that man acted as an interim president for the college a few decades after the picture was taken. He was not quietly thrown out or even a professor at the school.
The real haunting at the tower is actually much more
romantic. Lincoln and Eloise are said to
still walk the grounds near the tower in the early morning hours. Although they died at different times, they
have found each other in death and return to the place they loved in life. At times they are said to be seen with
walking a dog, although it is more commonly said to be Lincoln Hulley walking
the dog alone. It is more likely this is
another potential ghost who has been connected to Hulley because of the tower
and the popularity of the love story.
This legend is repeated on campus and retold by people who attended the
school. There are written references to
it in the paper, and most people who went to school have seen the couple or
know someone who has. There have also
been reports of the bells sounding even though no one is ringing them, an
amazing feat considering they are not even housed in the tower anymore.
This is the legend we wanted to trip. Not only did it fit in perfectly with our Haunted Love Project, it was also something we could do on campus without specific permission or without breaking the law. One of the reasons the bells are no longer in the tower is that it is not really there anymore. In 2005, 94 feet were taken down due to safety reasons, and the bells were dispersed throughout the campus. The bodies of the couple are still at the base, their coffins visible through the windows, but the building is locked and there is no reason for staff to go inside.
We had woken up at midnight to try and capture the Oviedo Lights and returned to the campus at 5 o’clock AM. The grounds were dead but lit up by the yellow street lights of the campus. After walking the grounds in front of Hulley, we went to the building itself to try and talk to whomever might take the early morning walks. The feeling was different than it had been when we had visited earlier in the day, cooler but with an odd electricity in the air.
Then it happened. As we focused on the yard behind the tower, something dramatically changed. As we stood watching the main buildings, the supposedly haunted Holler Fountain and Elizabeth Hall, we were suddenly in a bubble. There was no air, no sound, as we watched several dark figures move across the grass, weaving in between the trees. These were not like the shadowy figures we had seen during the Ghostly Pants legend trip or the Mini-Lights. These were almost like the negatives of a photograph like I would later see at Arbuckle Bridge. There was nothing malevolent about them, but rather it felt like we were watching a moment that had happened long ago but inversed somehow.
And then after a few moments, it was over.
The air was humid again, and the noise of the early morning
birds came back. Both of us looked at
each other at the same moment and felt we had been brought back to the real
world. It was not the couple we had
seen, or maybe it had been in some way.
We had perhaps viewed the impression of students going to class, year
after year and decade after decade, leaving an impression on the environment
around them. We got back in the car,
knowing there would be nothing else that would happen, and drove off.
Legends give birth to other legends. We need them, and we need them to be ours, so
we take the best parts, the ones that really speak to us, and add details that
make them our own. Every generation
borrows the greatest hits from the one before until the original story, the
truth of the details, is lost. Not that
it matters much. A great story is always
better than the truth and always better when you yourself can be part of
it. Hulley Tower inspires that kind of
borrowing. Still looming large on the
campus of Stetson despite its new, small stature, it continues to be the kind
of place students come to feel the electricity at the school and be part of
something bigger than themselves, like a living yearbook that isn’t contained
to one year. It would seem some keep
coming back for the bells even after they die.
We’re still knee deep in the #hauntedlove project, so we’re especially looking for ghost stories with a love twist.