New Family Moves into Haunted Florida House Dec 14, 2015 11:20:44 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Dec 14, 2015 11:20:44 GMT -5
New Family Moves into Haunted Florida House
PUNTA GORDA, Fla. – When the Chupkas decided to relocate from Virginia Beach, Va., the boating family wanted to stay on the water, but not the Atlantic Ocean. Dr. Paul Chupka took a job at Fawcett Memorial Hospital in Port Charlotte earlier this year, so Florida's Gulf coast it would be. This week, the Chupkas tclosed the deal on a house in the Punta Gorda Historic District that they had been eyeing since the summer. The $1 million mansion at 401 W. Retta Esplanade, has several elegant features: century-old stained-glass windows, chandeliers in the bathrooms, a rock spa next to the pool, and a widow's walk on the second-story roof overlooking Charlotte Harbor are just a handful of examples.
But perhaps the most character comes from the ghost of a little girl who has been haunting the house since 1909, as legend has it. "I didn't know about it until a physician at (Fawcett) told me, 'Hey, you know that's the house,'" Paul Chupka said. "It doesn't matter to us. I've been telling people my kids don't do chores, so (the ghost) might help. And maybe I can write her off when I do taxes."
The ghost of Mary Leah Sandlin. A north Florida native born in 1858, James Sandlin was forced to live with an uncle in Georgia after his father was killed in the War Between the States and his mother later passed away. Sandlin felt mistreated by his uncle, so he ran away when he was just 15 years old. In 1886, he turned up in the frontier town of Trabue, which would become the city of Punta Gorda a year later. Sandlin, who would go on to a successful real estate career, served on the first city council, married 19-year-old Mary Lula Seward in 1888 (it was Punta Gorda's first marriage), and became mayor in 1889. Shortly thereafter, the Sandlins built the massive residence at 401 W. Retta Esplanade. "The Sandlin House," as it's been dubbed, is about 5,600 square feet today. The Sandlins had four sons and two daughters by 1898. Their firstborn son died just three days after birth in 1889, and another son died from illness in 1902 at age 11. James Sandlin, also gravely ill, died in 1903.
The family tragedies didn't end there. In 1909, Mary Leah Sandlin – one of four surviving children with her mother – lost her life after a freak accident at the Sandlin House. The 14-year-old girl was using a gasoline iron that burst into flames, catching her clothing on fire. She was severely burned and died hours later.
Many locals, past and present, say the ghost of Mary Leah wanders Sandlin House. The landmark is featured on the cover of a book by ghost story researcher Dylan Clearfield called Floridaland Ghosts. Mary Leah's headstone at Indian Springs Cemetery in Punta Gorda is next to her parents' tombstone. Some say the graveyard also is haunted. James Sandlin, who had a family farm on the property, donated the land for the cemetery to the county.
History of haunts. The Chupkas officially got the keys to their new home Wednesday. Paul and his wife Janice have a 13-year-old son and 8-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. Paul started his new job at Fawcett in February, working one week and having the next off, and had commuted back and forth between Virginia and Florida. His wife and children will move down over Christmas break, so the kids can finish the current school semester.
So Paul has had some alone time in his new haunted house. "It's an old house, so it's going to have some creaks," he said. "But it was dark (Wednesday) night when I was shutting the lights off to leave. That spooked me for a second."
While his oldest son was unfazed when he heard about the ghost, Paul says the twins won't be informed for a while. "That might be a little too scary," he concluded.
Paul hasn't met Mary Leah yet, but those who have say she's more like Casper than Slimer. "She was a friendly ghost all along," said Laura Hollander, who grew up in the Sandlin House. Laura was just 9 when she moved to Punta Gorda from Illinois in 1970 with her family. Her father, Robert Hollander, served a decade as city manager.
For five years, Laura was aware of a poltergeist. "It would be really scary going upstairs because things would clamor and bang around," she admitted. She recalled that sometimes laundry that had been tumbling in the drier would end up on the floor, wrinkled, forcing the family to iron the clothes and the iron would turn on by itself. "I sensed and felt things every so often," she added. "In my bedroom, I'd feel a pressure on my bed, like someone was sitting on it. And she would rattle things outside the door. All of that stopped when I was 14. She stopped messing with me when I was older. I think she wanted someone her age to play with. I know this all sounds crazy, but it's true."
Sherra Lee Simes remembers a sleepover at the Sandlin House in the late 1960s, when it was her friend's house. She was in middle school at the time. "You could hear what sounded like someone going up the stairs to the [widow's walk]," Simes remembered. "I live in a 100-year-old house; this wasn't just creaks."
The Sandlin House has had several owners through the decades. The Chupkas are the fourth since 1993. The most recent buyer's real estate agent, Regina Sedar of Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate, said she's come across places like this before. "In Denver, where I'm from, there were a lot more haunted houses," said Sedar, who has been in the real estate business since 2004. "If (buyers) are superstitious, it can make a difference (in a transaction). It's okay, as long as it's a friendly ghost, which this one appears to be."
Frank Desguin, a local historian and former property appraiser, said there are several area houses alleged to be haunted. "But I can't tell you where they all are," he admitted. "Because I don't know if the current owners would be comfortable with that." Some information in this story originally ran in a 2013 Sun column written by Desguin.
Source: Adam Kreger, The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, December 13, 2015.