GULFPORT — Veronica Champion lived at the inn for six months before she heard the knocking.
It was loud and heavy, like someone was inside her room, banging or hammering on the walls.
As the new owner of Gulfport’s Historic Peninsula Inn, Champion knew there was no plausible explanation for the noise. There was no construction scheduled and no contractors working outside.
“I wasn’t hearing it in the hallway,” Champion said. “It was only in the bedroom. And there was no one there.”
This was back in 2016. Champion said she heard the knocking sounds for two nights in a row and then never again. But about a year and a half later, the same strange, incessant thumping was reported by a guest from a room across the hall, on the third floor of the building.
Sometime after that, Champion said, she was watching television in her room when she heard the loud thumping of someone “heavily running down the hallway.” When she left her room to see what it was, there was no one in sight.
In the years since, several guests have reported similar incidents of sounds coming from the hallways. Patrons have also reported a phenomenon Champion calls “bed thumping,” where guests sensed small bumps and shifts on their beds during the middle of the night — as if a dog or cat had jumped up onto the blankets.
Champion said she was aware of a ghost named Isabelle rumored to haunt the historic property when she purchased it five years ago.
The British Colonial-style building dates back to 1905, when it opened as the Bayview Hotel, a 40-room inn designed to attract visitors to the area interested in fishing and beach recreation in nearby Boca Ciega Bay. The hotel was used as a hospital to treat wounded veterans during World War I and World War II and later became a retirement home for men until the early 1980s, when revised state guidelines for elder care facilities forced the owners to shut it down.
The building sat neglected for more than a decade before new owners bought it, renamed it the Peninsula Inn and Spa and ran the spot from 2002 until Champion took over.
Given the building’s history, Champion said it’s no surprise paranormal activity has been reported throughout the years. There was an awful lot of illness and death, after all.
Any kind of “entity” in the building is referred to as Isabelle, Champion said, but she doesn’t necessarily believe it’s all the same ghost. A few years ago, a service technician reported seeing the ghost of a bearded man with gray hair.
The building has attracted paranormal investigators and haunted history fans over the years, Champion said. The feedback varies, but the most commonly reported incidents are the bed bumps. Occasionally, dishes mysteriously fly off the shelf of the inn’s restaurant (which is named Isabelle’s), and some guests have reported a strange sensation of someone gently touching their shoulders. On one occasion, a tourist shared a photograph of his wife taken from their visit showing a glowing orb in the foreground, something he said he can’t explain.
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One thing everyone seems to agree on, Champion said, is that all ghostly activity at the inn appears to be friendly.
“They all say the same thing,” Champion said. “It’s very welcoming. It’s very content. There’s no anger. Nothing that happens here makes people feel afraid.”