Post by Graveyardbride on Oct 18, 2016 12:55:08 GMT -5
Touring Haunted Pensacola
PENSACOLA, Fla. – For more than an hour, Mandy Johnson sat on the old, restored 1930 bus, taking in tales of fish-hook murders, jars of human fetuses found behind walls, sibling suicides, people buried alive and gruesome murders involving poison, axes and guns. “There’s a lot of sick history here,” said Johnson, a Pensacola resident, after finishing a ghost and cemetery bus tour hosted by Go Retro, a Pensacola tour company. “So there’s got to be something going on.”
She’s talking ghosts – spirits, poltergeists, residual hauntings, intelligent hauntings and all their paranormal co-inhabitants. Johnson is part of the 42 percent of Americans who believe in ghosts, according to a 2014 Harris poll survey. And in Pensacola, where pre-colonial European history is still being excavated off Bayou Texar, there are those who believe you can’t swing a black cat without hitting a haunted house, building, lighthouse, cemetery or railroad. From alleged hauntings at the Pensacola Cultural Center – formerly a jail and place of execution – to sites and sounds of shadowy figures at downtown theaters, Pensacola’s haunted history has been featured on national programs ranging from Ghost Hunters to Haunted Collector. It has been written about, most notably by historian Alan Brown in his 2010 book, Haunted Pensacola. The Pensacola Lighthouse at Pensacola Naval Air Station was the main Pensacola feature on Syfy’s popular Ghost Hunters, and was also been featured on America's Most Haunted Lighthouses and other paranormal programs.
“Pensacola is old and has a lot of history,” explained resident Sharon Renae, a Pensacola psychic who has participated in numerous paranormal investigations in Northwest Florida. “I know from my perspective, and from the places I’ve been, it’s one of the most haunted places.” She said she’s felt the presence of paranormal entities at the Saenger Theatre, the Pensacola Museum of Art, the Pensacola Little Theatre located inside the Cultural Center, Seville Quarter, the old Sacred Heart Hospital on 12th Avenue and St. John’s Historic Cemetery, a Pensacola cemetery tucked away in a downtown neighborhood, but filled with a rich and often dark history. “I’ve picked up a lot of activity in that cemetery,” she asserted. “Lots of [activity involving] children.”
And St. John’s Historic Cemetery is one of the stops visited on the Go Retro Ghosts and Graveyards bus tour that Johnson and some of her Pensacola pals embarked upon recently along with visitors from Kentucky, Indiana, North Carolina and other locations. The tour features video and audio dramatizations with each spot on the bus equipped with its own video monitor featuring historic information, as well as a spooky narration. Go Retro owner Wesley Odom is the company president and historian, and former vice president of the Pensacola Historical Society. He is also narrator of the tour and appears throughout the video presentation in dark, graveyard-like garb delivering sinister dark lines with as much campy spookiness as he can muster.
Tour-goers heard tales of twin brothers who committed suicide – one by train on Tarragona Street – and the “sad-looking man in a straw hat walking the halls” at the home near Aragon. And they heard Odom narrate the tale of an intruder at the Victorian home of American socialite Wallis Simpson who lived in Pensacola briefly after meeting a Naval aviator in 1916 and marrying him the same year. (You know the Simpson name from her third marriage to the Duke of Windsor, formerly Prince Edward VIII, in 1937 after he gave up the British throne to marry her.) The house on West Gonzalez was built in 1900 and is reported to harbor paranormal activity.
During the bus tour, Odom’s voice is briefly heard discussing quantum uncertainties that intersect the paranormal world with the world of science – or, as critics of paranormal thought and investigation would say – “pseudoscience.” He knows there are skeptics, but he’s not concerned. “There are worlds we know of now that we didn’t know existed before telescopes,” he said. “It’s a big crazy planet we live on, and we don’t understand now what we will in the future.”
Go Retro is but one haunted tour venture in Pensacola. While Odom’s company offers bus tours, Emerald Coast Tours, near the intersection of Main and Palafox, also offers walking and Segway ghost tours with guides offering spooky historical information. The tours take place nightly and is the company’s “most popular tour,” said owner Nick Shuck. The tours visit the Pensacola Little Theatre, the Cultural Center, Plaza Ferdinand and other downtown locations that allegedly bustle with paranormal activity. “Some people have really gotten some good hits on their photos,” Shuck related. “We’ve had people get creeped out.” During the spookiest month – October – the University of West Florida Historic Trust also offers walking and trolley tours of Pensacola’s haunted past.
“These things are cyclical,” said Renae, who claims a surveillance video taken inside her former Garden Street metaphysical store shows her reacting to an unseen presence. “A lot of this might be tied to the hurricane season, because I usually get the most calls from mid-July through November. It could be connected through energy.”
Still, though 42 percent say they believe in ghosts, this means 58 percent don’t or aren’t sure. And the percentage of disbelievers is surely higher in the scientific world. Pensacola State College astronomy professor Wayne Wooten doesn’t give much credence to claims involving the ghostly realm of the paranormal. Is there any scientific basis for ghosts? “No,” he replied with a chuckle. Anything at all? There’s no evidence that would satisfy scientific inquiry? “No, there’s not much to it,” Wooten insisted.
Evidence or not, there are some who believe the celebration of Halloween is courting the dark side – or at least humanity’s dark nature. Many churches do not approve of Halloween celebrations, instead holding “fall festivals” that still feature many of the hallmarks of traditional American Halloween traditions – kids in costume, candy giveaways in the church parking lot – while eschewing the more spooky elements of the holiday, including its pagan roots. Still, Halloween has been associated with Christianity as well, as it precedes the holy days of “All Saints Day” – also called “All Hallows” (Nov. 1) and “All Souls Day” (Nov. 2).
“People say it’s harmless and that’s all well and good,” said the Rev. Lonnie Wesley III, pastor of Greater Little Rock Baptist Church in Pensacola. “But you can't be too careful when you’re talking about the dark and the light.” His church, like many others, will hold a fall festival, complete with candy and costumed children. “Kids, go ahead and put on that Spider-Man costume,” he instructed. “Have fun. But just remember to always seek the light. There’s too much darkness out there to go seeking it.”
Haunted Pensacola. There are dozens of locations in Pensacola where paranormal activity has been reported. We can’t list them all, but we can list some of the most active and popular locations. Here’s a good start to Pensacola hauntings:
The Pensacola Light, also known as the Pensacola Lighthouse, 2081 Radford Blvd. on Pensacola Naval Air Station, might be Pensacola’s best-known spot for paranormal activity. The Travel Channel featured the lighthouse on its Most Haunted Lighthouses segment, and the popular show Ghost Hunters filmed a segment at the lighthouse, which is supposedly home to as many as eight spirits. Ghost tours are available.
The Saenger Theatre, The Grand Dame of Palafox at 118 South Palafox Place, was built in 1925, and like any good old-time theater, it’s haunted. People have heard and seen strange things, particularly in the balcony. Local psychic Sharon Renae investigated the Saenger and claimed she heard disembodied voices.
Seville Quarter at 130 East Government Street is one of Pensacola’s oldest and most beloved nightclubs. According to Renae, a bartender named Wesley who died in a cooler has never left the premises and customers sometimes hear strange distant voices and laughter.
St. Michael’s and St. John’s Cemeteries. St. Michael’s Cemetery at 6 North Alcaniz and St. John’s at 301 North G. Street are both historical resting places known for paranormal activity. Strange lights and voices have been reported at St. Michael’s Cemetery and St. John’s is haunted by the ghosts of children and the spirit of “Railroad Bill,” a black 19th century outlaw buried in the graveyard’s colored section of the graveyard. St. John’s is also the resting place of notorious madame Mollie McCoy and it is said touching her tombstone will improve one’s love life.
Fort Barrancas and Fort Pickens. The spirits of Confederate soldiers who died in battle are said to haunt Fort Barrancas, located at 3182 Taylor Road on Pensacola Naval Air Station. Across the bay at Fort Pickens, where Geronimo and some of his warriors were imprisoned, people have reported seeing the ghosts of American Indians.
Landmark Skate Center. The old Warrington skating rink at 1002 North Navy Boulevard was built in the 1960s. An apparition in overalls, thought to be a previous owner, has been seen walking about the place. There have also been reports of a girl in a swirl skirt who slowly fades away and people have heard 60s music, that seems to turn on and off, emanating from a storage area.
Pensacola Victorian Bed & Breakfast. Located at 203 West Gregory Street, the old Queen Anne house (pictured above) is haunted by phantom music, giggling children, the smell of bacon (when no one is cooking) and the apparition of a woman in a flowing garment.
Old Christ Church. When the church at 405 South Adams Street was renovated, the graves of three former priests were disturbed. When their remains were reburied, a young man saw the apparitions of three men in robes and some believe the three priests still haunt the church where they once served.
Historic District. The Kennedy House is haunted by the spirit of a woman who died after her husband threw her down the stairs in a jealous rage. The ghost at Fred’s House is that of a former owner who died of influenza. The Gray House is haunted by the spirit of Spanish sea captain Thomas Moristo and there is other supernatural activity. A contingent of phantom British soldiers rush through Lear-Rocheblave House and a second apparition, called “The Officer,” is believed to be from the War Between the States era.
Emerald Coast Tours: /www.emeraldcoasttours.net
Photography by Allen Jones: www.photographybyallenjones.com/
Sources: Troy Moon, The Pensacola News-Journal, October 15, 2016; Go Retro; Kim Duke-Layden, VIE Magazine, September/October 2013; and The Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum.