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Weird! A magical mystery tour of three of Tampa Bay's oddest spots


Jogging through Philippe Park in Safety Harbor during the day is a breathtaking experience.

It's my favorite local park to visit, a twisting slice of Florida fauna with arching oak canopies, sandy shores and calm waters, plus a historic Tocobaga Indian mound reaching 20 feet high. The park is named after early settler Count Odet Philippe who introduced cigarmaking and citrus to Tampa Bay. He was buried in the park in 1869.

No one knows exactly where.

The park closes every night an sundown, and the families with the dogs and the soccer balls and hot dog buns leave. Everything settles into pristine quiet, total darkness except the distant lights of the homes across the bay.

I went running in Philippe Park on the first cool night of the fall, arriving minutes before it closed. I ran along the shore, where the still water looked like glass and every insignificant splash crashed like waves. I scaled the wide brick steps to the top of the Indian mound, then walked down them to get behind it.

There were two choices — a paved road, or a dirt footpath winding eerily into the woods.

No way.

I ran to read the information sign at the base of the Indian Mound, and took a few pictures on my phone. The flash raged through the trees, and something rustled from the branches and fell. My whole body stiffened. I turned to look behind me, and there was no one — not the park rangers, not the windowless van I'd seen earlier.

The sky was completely black.

I ran, ran as fast as I could back to my white car that shone like a beacon at the entrance.

I made my best time yet.

— Stephanie Hayes


From Interstate 275, the tower looks like something out of a fairy tale. Any time now, Rapunzel will let down her hair and a handsome prince will save her.

Up close, it's a different story.

Birds circle the Sulphur Springs water tower like vultures. Wind howls through the window openings. You half expect a bolt a lightning to strike the top.

The neo-Gothic style tower was built in 1927 and over the years has been part of various plans to spruce up the neighborhood plagued by crime. In 1989, the city of Tampa named the tower a historic landmark. At night, it lights up.

But on a cloudy weekday afternoon, the tower stands alone and ominous. A few homeless people sleep atop picnic tables. A brown van sits in the lot, black windows rolled down with no driver in sight.

I decide to carry my car keys, finger beside the panic button. I pray it would give me a long enough head start.

At the tower, evidence of misdeeds looms large. White paint that doesn't quite match covers graffiti markings. Cigarette butts, shards of glass and toilet paper litter the ground near a door, now blocked by a rusted, metal barricade. Stucco-covered doors look like upright coffins.

I look skyward to see rectangular peep holes, one covered with a solid grate and padlocked. I wonder who has the key? And why? At the very top, rusted bars bleed a brownish-orange like tears on the smooth, white walls.

Steps away is the Hillsborough River, fast-moving but strangely silent, hidden behind a screen of trees. On the lawn, the earth swallows an old oak, its huge limbs struggling to stay above ground.

Suddenly a sleeping man senses my presence and starts to stir. It's time for me to leave. Walking away, I imagine someone trapped in the tower, a silhouette appearing in a window, begging me to come back.

— Susan Thurston


Some time back, I was sitting in on a poetry reading at a small concrete amphitheater in Nations Bank Park Plaza, a featureless greenspace between Curtis Hixon Park and the Beer Can Building in downtown Tampa.

One of the poets pulled me to the center of the stage. Say something, he said. The second I did, my head was filled with the sound of my own voice. Eerie.

I was standing on the amphitheater's acoustic sweet spot, a single tile positioned so sound waves bounce off the concrete walls in unique, perfect unison. It's something like a whispering gallery or an echo chamber, an architectural quirk that's invisible to the naked eye, but irresistible to try once you know about it.

Our ears are so accustomed to the noise around us that when a voice creeps inside your head in a new, unexpected way, your whole body startles, and you grin and say, "Weird!" And it is unnerving, like you're speaking underwater, or inside a helmet deep in outer space.

Some of the most famous and majestic buildings in the world have whispering galleries — Grand Central Terminal in New York City, St. Paul's Cathedral in London, National Statuary Hall inside the U.S. Capitol. You wouldn't expect a tiny concrete amphitheater in downtown Tampa to have something in common with these architectural wonders, but it does.

The amphitheater is easily overlooked unless you're walking along the river, yet it's just a short walk from the gleaming Curtis Hixon Park (with its near-perpetual rainbows in the children's mist fountain, which is another oddity). Next time you're there, stand on the small tile in the center of the stage — it's just a tiny bit darker than the rest — face the stands, and speak.


— Jay Cridlin

Weird! A magical mystery tour of three of Tampa Bay's oddest spots 10/27/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 27, 2011 12:52pm]
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