There’s no doubt Florida has a reputation for the weird. Not a week goes by when you don’t see some jaw-dropping headline. Since the 1800s the state has been part tourist attraction, part hideout for those who want to disappear, and part mystical wilderness; so it’s natural you’ll find plenty of legends, ghost stories and oddities in the shadows of the Sunshine State. Here are ten of the most popular.
28655 South Dixie Highway, Homestead
This National Historic Site is the story of love gone wrong carved in stone – over 1,000 tons of coral rock to be exact, including a 9-ton revolving gate. Latvian immigrant Ed Leedskalnin built it, supposedly by hand and all by himself (he was 5 feet tall and 100 lbs.) using hand tools over 28 years. It’s a monument to a woman who left him at the altar. But how did he do it?
The Vinoy Renaissance Hotel, St. Petersburg
501 5th Avenue NE, St. Petersburg, Florida
Guests at this opulent, 1925 waterfront resort have long reported fleeting glimpses of a man in tails and a top hat at the foot of their beds and in the hallways. Flickering lights, strange noises, and toilets and sinks that activate on their own have all been reported in the old wing. Could it be Marilyn, Monroe or Babe Ruth, or any of the other celebrities who stayed there during its earliest heyday?
5th Street south of Hwy. 17, Lake Wales
Drive uphill to a white line on a semi-rural road, put it in neutral gear, take your foot off the brake and your car will inch up the hill. Or will it? Thousands come each year to test out this so-called gravity hill. It may well be an optical illusion, but it doesn’t explain the tiny handprints some people report seeing on their car trunk. Sprinkle that part of your car with baby powder and see for yourself. Whether this spook is legit or an illusion, it’s so Florida.
Coral Gables Biltmore Hotel
1200 Anastasia Avenue, Coral Gables
This very upscale hotel has its share of guests who checked in long ago and never left. There’s a man who opens doors for the wait staff, sends the elevator to random floors, and a dancing couple in the ballroom. You might catch a whiff of cigar smoke with no one around, or hear disembodied laughter in the shadows.
Orange Street and Avenida, St. Augustine
This old settlement’s first non-Catholic cemetery houses many victims of an 1821 yellow fever epidemic. One victim was Judge John B. Stickney, whose body was later relocated to another cemetery, but not before grave robbers stole his gold teeth during exhumation. He is said to wander about unhappily. A young female spirit, known as Elizabeth, is said to have been another victim of the epidemic.
311 Adams Street, Pensacola
This hotel is a favorite stop among local walking tours, so it is easily accessible. Women have reported feeling a tug on their clothing while looking in the formal sitting room’s mirror. It’s said that the ghosts have a real aversion to rudeness, responding with cries from the sewing room and making other unexplained noises. You might also smell roses and feel cold spots inside the house.
Fairchild Oak Tree
3301 Old Dixie Highway, Ormond Beach
At 400 years old, reputedly the oldest live oak specimen in Florida, this giant tree is a magnet for misery. Two men were found dead at its roots in the early 1900s – one by suicide and the other whose fate was uncertain. The figure of a man can be seen walking near the tree. Visitors report feeling intense sadness when the apparition is near.
The Devil’s Millhopper
4732 Millhopper Road, Gainesville
The Devil’s Millhopper may be just another sinkhole – a common Florida phenomenon – or it may be the portal to the underworld. Indian legends claim a princess was sucked in because she refused to marry the Devil; more than a few old-time traveling preachers proclaimed it swallowed up sinners. Ancient bones found at the bottom feed the supernatural gristmill angle. Either way, this 120-foot depression offers a deeply spiritual, forested rest spot owned by the State of Florida.
Beach Street, Ormond Beach
Head toward peaceful Tomoka State Park on Beach Street at night and you might witness the ghosty lights that have been reported here for years. Also known as the Ormond Lights, they appear as glowing balls that slip in and out of the trees and even follow cars.
Fort Zachary Taylor
300 Truman Annex, Key West
While they never saw bloodshed, soldiers in Florida’s southernmost fort played a key defense role in the Civil War and Spanish-American War. Many of the soldiers died as a result of diseases that ran rampant in the swampy environs of 1800s Florida. Now part of a state park, Fort Taylor gives many visitors a deeply spiritual feeling; but others have reported seeing troops in formation and hearing the sounds of gun blasts and whistles.
Florida needs no introduction as a tourist state. Set your GPS and hit the road with family or friends. Wherever you plan to go – the beaches, the theme parks or the woods – you will find discount travel opportunities or something nearby that stirs, energizes, or just plain haunts.