Finding Florida's Phantoms
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Florida! The land of sunshine and wide-open beaches. But even the Sunshine State has its dark secrets. Places where centuries old spirits remain tied to earth. Beneath the façade of fun and make believe lurks the real Florida.
Settled by often cruel conquistadors, Florida was Europe’s first stronghold in the New World. The blood of Spanish, French, English and Native American had stained its verdant woodlands and sandy beaches long before it became part of the United States.
Even then, greedy land barons and simple settlers battled the heat, hurricanes, insects and snakes to create the paradise we know as modern Florida. Is it any wonder that unexplainable tales and strange phenomena still remain just below the surface
It is still a great state for explorers of the modern persuasion. But if you want to enjoy it to the fullest, it helps to have some background and history before you begin your voyage of discovery. Here I have given you the bare bones of each place where I found spirits lurking. I have included places to stay, great eateries, fun attractions and most important, a ghostly preview. I have divided the state according to its natural geographic areas. Now it’s up to you. Join me as we go about Finding Florida’s Phantoms.
Excerpt from Finding Florida’s Phantoms
Almost from the first days of European settlement, Pensacola has abounded in spooky legends. The first white man to sail into Pensacola Bay was a one eyed Spanish explorer named Panfilo de Narvaez in 1528. He was followed by a settlement party led by Don Tristan de Luna, who arrived in the beautiful azure bay on August 14, 1559 with a thousand stouthearted colonists. But six days later, on Aug. 20th, their spirit was broken by a fierce hurricane. The terrible loss of lives and vessels caused the frightened Spaniards to cross themselves and whispers of "Devils in the Air" and "Evil Spirits" began to be heard. De Luna and the remaining colonists abandoned the colony in 1561.
Spain and France bickered over this piece of prime waterfront real estate during the 16th and into the 17th century. Then in 1821, it finally became part of the United States.
Government engineers realized that they had one of the finest harbors in the world but because of the darkness and often-turbulent storms, something had to be done to make it safer.
Finally, on March 3, 1823, Congress authorized construction of the Pensacola Lighthouse. It was the first along Florida’s Gulf Coast. They temporarily dispatched the lightship, Aurora Borealis, but the ship’s mast lacked enough height to be of any real help. In 1824 when Pensacola was incorporated and chosen as the site of the country’s newest navy yard, the powers that be decided it was time for a permanent light.
Pensacola’s first light was built on a bluff about 300 yards from the site of the old Spanish Fort San Carlos. This made it about 75 feet above sea level and visible for about 17 miles out to sea.
From the beginning, the lighthouse was plagued with problems. Some were easily visible to the outside world while others were secretly contained and waiting to cause a tragedy. The mariners were unhappy about the light’s similarity to the Mobile light. They also felt it was not visible far enough out in the sea. The brickwork was inferior and Florida’s humidity began to creep within the walls causing dampness and degeneration of the structure. The inside spiral staircase was built without a railing, making it very dangerous.
The first keeper, Jeremiah Ingraham, lived in the little red brick keeper’s house alone until 1826. After two years in his lonely position, he took a bride, a local girl named Michaela Penalber. Together they raised three children.
Like the light itself, the Penalbers appeared to be a happy normal family to outsiders. In reality, they were just the opposite. It is believed Michaela stabbed her husband to death in 1840 and then remained as keeper herself until her death in 1855. Her son-in-law, Joseph Palmes, then became the keeper.
Was Michaela doomed to hear and see her victim-husband’s cries in the night? No one knows. She was not in a position to complain but things went wrong with the light. That is a fact. In the late 1840s, the clockwork mechanism failed and two men had to be hired to rotate the lamps by hand, until the mechanism could be fixed. By the 1850’s, complaints about the light’s deficiencies caused the Corp of Engineers to construct a new taller light half a mile west of the original light.
It was first lit by Keeper Palmes on New Year’s Day, 1859. However if he expected the new light to be untroubled by his father-in-law’s spirit, he was wrong. To this day, visitors tell of mysterious objects flying through the air, laughter coming from unseen beings, forms appearing at windows in the uninhabited lighthouse tower, and the back door of the keeper’s house is often found open when it was closed and locked. The smell of tobacco and eerie cold spots are also experienced in the house.
Ingraham’s spirit is not the only one reported in the lighthouse and keeper’s cottage. Permanent bloodstains are found in an upstairs bedroom of the keeper’s house. No one knows for sure how they got there but since it was customary to bury drowned people near where they were found, many unknown victims lie near by. Many of the injured were taken into the keeper’s house to either die or to recover.
Other factors also contribute to the lore of Pensacola’s coastal ghosts. As stated earlier, the lighthouse was built near the old Spanish fort. The clash of the two cultures, Spanish and Native American, always resulted in treachery and untimely deaths for one side or the other and, in Pensacola, this was no exception.
Reviews for Finding Florida's Phantoms
From the Panhandle to Key West, the state of Florida offers its visitors far more than sunshine and warm temperatures during the year's colder months. Are you interested in a vacation that offers "history and mystery" as well as wonderful food, pleasant surroundings, and plenty of local color? If so, you can't go wrong with this combination travel guide and ghost story collection.
Florida, of course, has a right to more ghosts than more recently settled parts of the United States. As Author Walls points out, in 1620 when the Pilgrims reached Plymouth there was already a thriving settlement at St. Augustine. The state's paranormal riches date back even farther than that, though. The inhabitants of Crystal River State Archaeological Site's pre-historic burial mounds make their continuing presence known, as do those of the Timacuan Indian mound just north of the city in Ormond Beach.
Tragic lovers. A little girl playing jacks. A farmer who found a much easier (but horrific) way to get rid of his migrant workers than simply paying them for their labors. A doll that, imbued with its departed owner's personality, moves about its museum case and ruins the camera film of anyone who tries to photograph it. An old lady whose body left her beloved home when she died, but whose spirit continues to watch over the place with benevolent interest - except when a female guest's skirt is too short, in which case she tries to pull it lower by the hem! The ghosts that Walls describes are a varied lot, and an intriguing one. I believe I would take her advice about the places of which she says, "If you go there, it is wise to not go alone."
I would also take her advice about bed-and-breakfasts, inns, and eating establishments of all sorts. Her descriptions of these made me want to pull up stakes and head a thousand miles south, to sit on shady verandas and stuff myself with both gourmet and "plain old down home" cooking. Good reading even if you're not planning to travel soon, in other words!
Reviewed by Nina M. Osier
Author of "Love, Jimmy: A Maine Veteran's Longest Battle" and "Rough Rider"
Whether you’re a Pensacola-born Floridian like me, a history buff, a ghost chaser, or you’re simply planning your first vacation to Florida, Florida’s Phantoms is a must for your book collection.
Kathleen provides an enticing tour of some of Florida’s best recreation spots from a fascinating historical perspective with an emphasis on the ethereal inhabitants of some the locales, historic homes and buildings.
Her book is filled with the rich history of Florida intertwined with tales of hauntings by unrequited lovers, victims of tragic love triangles, spirits of Civil War soldiers, and even the ghost of a cat.
Florida’s Phantoms will not only entertain you, but also entice you to search out these historic Florida haunts to experience for yourself.
James A Graves, Jr. - Author & Songwriter.
James A Graves, Jr. Aftermath I: The Fight For Survival Aftermath II: The Deadly Game www.music-gms.com/author
If you thought you "knew" Florida, after reading Kathleen Wall's Florida Phantoms you will realize that you did not. I have been to Florida many times but it took reading this book for me to realize that there is much more to the "snowbird state" than sea, sand and sun - and Disney World. Ms. Walls takes you by the hand and leads you through the centuries of history - and ghosts - that make the beautiful state of Florida what it is today.
Kristie Leigh Maguire, author of Desert Heat, No Lady and Her Tramp, Emails from the Edge
Florida is a tourist Mecca best known for beautiful beaches and Disney World. In Finding Florida’s Phantoms, author Kathleen Walls provides readers with a unique twist to the tired old tourist guide. Walls challenges readers to explore the "other side" of the Sunshine State – a world of legends and lore that few have explored. The book is chock-full of wonderful ghost tales interspersed with interesting Florida history and folklore. Walls also includes comprehensive tourist information on locations throughout the state such as where to stay, places to eat and unique attractions. As a Florida resident, I found the legends and history included in the volume to be quite intriguing. I also learned about some tourist spots I never knew existed. Finding Florida’s Phantoms is a great resource for Florida natives and visitors alike and is fascinating reading even if you never venture outside your own living room.
This a book for anyone who has ever jumped at a bump in the night, or for anyone planning on visiting the "Sunshine State". Let me make it clear. You don't have to be visiting Florida to enjoy this book, but if you visit Florida without this book, you'll be sorry.
I sat down on a Washington cold and dreary evening to review "Florida's Phantoms". Before the first chapter ended I had been carried away to white sandy beaches, crystalline waters, where headless maidens ran on the beach trying to catch up to the pirate lovers. By morning I was trying to convince my family that we really needed a warm, winter vacation in a state where we could swim with the manatee, and visit haunted buildings in the evening time.
Ms. Walls book is one that will simply have to be stocked in every gift store, in every travel agency, almost in every gas station in the country! What a travesty it would be to visit Florida without seeing some of the rare or unusual sites that so completely pack this awesome book
I had no intention of visiting Florida when I reviewed the book. Now, I have no intention of not visiting Florida and soon! I enjoyed the book for the pleasure of reading, but I learned so much about Florida and it's inhabitants that I can't wait to go and meet them for myself!
Melissa S. James
Author of American Woman American Strong and Stolen in the Storm