Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Human Interest

For Halloween season, these are Tampa Bay's creepiest, spookiest, real-life things

For Halloween, we asked readers to send us their thoughts on the spookiest and creepiest things in Tampa Bay.

Some themes emerge: mysterious houses, cemeteries and the Tampa Theatre.

Several people immediately pointed toward St. Petersburg’s historic Greenwood Cemetery, the resting place of city pioneers, Civil War soldiers and Almon Strowger, the guy who invented the dial telephone because he thought operators were ripping him off.

One longtime resident remembered running through the cemetery on Halloween nights growing up, but it was the large mausoleum with the rusty, metal gate labeled “Lewis” that stuck in people’s minds the most.

There’s an “indoor pump organ, where the widower would come every evening to play for his late wife, until he was no longer able,” wrote Todd McMullen. We were not able to confirm this, but Todd’s uncle, retired St. Petersburg police detective Don McMullen, said he remembers the story from his creeped-out days pedaling past the cemetery on his bicycle in the 1940s.

More recently, Myndee Washington saw a sign for the Spring Hill Cemetery in Brooksville and felt compelled to turn down the path. She got there, but quickly did a U-turn and left, because nope.

“I immediately had a very unsettling feeling,” she said. “After getting home and Googling the cemetery ... I feel like there are a lot of unsettled souls there.

Susan Ballinger wasn’t alone in saying the religion and metaphysical section in the 85-year-old Haslam’s Book Store gives her goosebumps (ghost hunters claim the books of Jack Kerouac, who lived in St. Pete, are particularly prone to falling off the shelves), but if you’re really looking for creeps of the retail variety, one reader recommended Dysfunctional Grace Art Co. in Ybor City. The oddity shop is packed with skulls, coffins and antique medical devices.

The spookiest places to go at night, according to readers: Weedon Island (especially the Native American mounds) and the quirky Driftwood neighborhood, where many homes were designed by artist Mark Dixon Dodd, who may have used a Ouija board to channel his poetry.

Readers are still spooked by the Bayou Castle, a former boarding house surrounded by 2,000-pound columns. It still stands at 5948 Fourth St. S. A Tampa Bay Times story from 2004 said “mystery and death enveloped” the place like a fog in the ‘70s, and included tales of witchcraft and ceremonial fires (investigated by the police!), the dismembering of several pets (including a penguin!) and an actual murder (the bloody knife sat on a windowsill for years!).

Across the bay, in Town N’ Country, it was a much more average-looking suburban home on Jackson Springs Road that several readers said gave them chills.

“I don’t know how true it is,” wrote Jonathan Frazier, who was scared to walk by there as a kid. “But there is a rumor that a father tried to burn the bodies of his wife and daughter in the garage.”

Tragically, it did happen, in 1983. The father got the death penalty.

Some were creeped-out by tourist attractions, like the St. Petersburg History Museum’s 3,000-year-old mummy, which arrived in the city on a circus boat in 1922, and “Half ‘n’ Half,” the museum’s two-headed calf.

Also receiving votes: the cave-like area at the Florida Aquarium that houses Madagascar hissing cockroaches and the Plant Museum on the University of Tampa campus, where one reader felt a sudden “presence.”

Some people in Tampa get spooked when they see the Sulphur Springs water tower from Interstate 275 or the historic but dilapidated Jackson House in downtown. They just “look haunted.”

Tampa’s Franklin Street might be the creepiest street in the area, with three different spooky spots. First, there’s the Paramount Wigs store (“those old mannequin heads staring at you from the dark behind those big metal gates”), and the old Exchange Bank, which is now an event venue called the Vault.

“It’s a series of sprawling passages, vaults and cages that were abandoned a long time ago,” Chris Lehmann wrote. "The creepiest part is ... a teller window that that has a bullet hole in it."

Tampa Theatre is also on Franklin, also creepy. There’s the “creepy baby head” sculpture in the back of the auditorium on the first floor. As Tyler Williams pointed out on Twitter, “You watch the film, #creepybabyhead watches you.”

And finally, a “secret room.”

“During movies we would sneak into it,” said Eli Cannon, who worked at the historic and supposedly haunted theater in the late ‘90s. “You had to shimmy through this small space and it opened into a room that had super old couches and junk from the 1930’s. Someone told me it was for drinking during prohibition. Anyway, that room is super creepy. It also had a weird safe-looking door that if opened revealed a long, dark chute that was about two by two feet. It was probably something innocuous as a garbage chute but we all knew about the ghost that supposedly haunted the place so we’d always feel on edge.”

Tampa Theatre could not confirm that the room was ever a drinking hideaway — "It was more like a secret but extremely inconvenient break room for the custodial crew," said marketing manager James DeFord — but did confirm that the attached tunnel was "very dark, very dirty and very creepy."

Keep heading east to Riverview where five longtime residents said the creepiest thing they remember was a building on Boyette Road near the intersection of Bell Shoals Road that urban legend said was a “satanic church.”

“We used to skate the ditch next to it,” wrote Chad White. “We called it the devil’s ditch.”

It’s now a strip plaza with a Subway.

Contact Christopher Spata at [email protected] Follow @SpataTimes on Twitter.

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