The Most Spine-Chilling Haunted Places in Florida
From ghostly hotels to a creepy doll that even Ozzy Osborne can’t escape.
As pretty much the entire world knows by now, Florida is home to a lot of weird stuff. Sometimes it’s a person walking an alligator through a supermarket—but sometimes, it’s a haunted doll that’s terrorized the likes of Ozzy Osborne. Florida’s haunted history is almost as captivating as its bizarre present, where ghosts roam everywhere from a luxury hotel penthouse to a spooky stretch of I-4. No matter where you are in this state, ghosts are never far away. Here’s a look at the most haunted places in Florida, which in true Sunshine State fashion, all have a little weirdness to go with them.
St. Augustine’s iconic lighthouse is a Florida landmark built in 1874. But climb up its 219 steps and it’s not just the views that will take your breath away. First, there’s the ghost of Joseph Andreu, the original lighthouse keeper who fell to his death while painting the 165-foot tower. Then, there are Hezekiah Pity’s two daughters, who were playing with a building cart when it broke loose and slid into the nearby bay, drowning them both. While visitors say the girls giggle and run up and down the lighthouse steps, Joseph has been reported smoking cigars at the top of the lighthouse, keeping watch over his forever home.
St. Augustine’s iconic coquina limestone fort is one of the oldest buildings in America, dating back to 1672. Its history is marred with soldiers and prisoners who died inside, including a mass grave that was discovered when an American cannon fell through the floor. It’s thought the buried chamber may have served as a torture room during the Spanish inquisition, and ghosts of those who died may still be lurking about.
Two ghosts stand out as most notorious, though. The first is Seminole Chief Osceola, who was tricked into capture through a fake treaty and brought to Castillo de San Marcos. He died of infection only a few months later in South Carolina, and his attending physician (who was also Osceola’s friend) decided the chief’s head would make a nice souvenir of their time together and the headless corpse is still allegedly hanging around the fort.
The second is the ghost of Delores Marti, the wife of the fort’s commanding officer. Rumor has it that her husband got wind of her affair with captain Manuel Abela when he smelled her perfume on the captain, and chained them both inside a wall until they died. Some say the lingering aroma of her perfume can still be detected inside as Delores’ ghost roams around.
This stately white mansion was originally constructed as the Cuban consulate in the mid-1920s, home to Consul Domingo Milord and his wife, Paula. The Cuban-born Paula was known to spend her days playing piano and drinking Cuban coffee, until she died from complications from a leg amputation in 1932. Legend has it that Domingo interred his late wife in a sarcophagus laid in the backyard. The sarcophagus is still there, now covered by ficus tree roots and nearly impossible to reach.
Whether or not it actually contains her mortal remains is debatable at best, but reports of her ghost persist. “It's said her ghost is in different rooms there,” says HistoryMiami’s Dr. Paul George. “People who’ve lived at Villa Paula since have had existential kinds of experiences.” Among them: Phantom coffee smells and piano playing… a one-legged woman roaming about.
The I-4 “Dead Zone”
Have you ever been driving on I-4 in Sanford and your cell service mysteriously drops as you approach the St. Johns River bridge? It could be that T-Mobile is slacking—or it could be the ghosts of an 1800s immigrant family who are buried under the bridge. The early Florida settlers died of yellow fever, and subsequent owners of the land who tried to disturb their graves had their houses immediately burned to the ground.
When I-4 was planned to run through Sanfords, massive amounts of fill dirt were dumped on the graves. That same week, Hurricane Donna took a quick turn and ran right up I-4 to blow the dirt off. The day I-4 finally opened, a shrimp truck driver jack knifed in this same spot and died. Beyond that, countless reports of lost service and strange apparitions have led people to call this stretch the “Dead Zone.” So much so that RV Trader recently named it one of the most haunted roads in America.
The oldest house in Fort Lauderdale is, not surprisingly, also its most haunted, where tour guides warn visitors a certain Frank Stranahan might just photobomb their selfies. The house’s original resident is said to still oversee the place, regularly showing up in guests’ pictures. Other members of the Stranahan family haunt the house, too. Ivy Stranahan, Frank’s wife, reportedly guides visitors up the stairs with a hand on the shoulder, while her perfume allegedly lingers in the air. Her sister, Ivy, hangs around, as well, holding a baby, and grumpy old Augustus Stranahan, Frank’s father, has been known to toss books around in an upstairs bedroom.
If nothing else, Cyrus Teed was ahead of his time. The late 19th century cult leader preached equality of the sexes and races long before the rest of America adopted these ideas. He was also one of the first people from Chicago to say, “these winters are the worst,” and convinced 200 of his friends to move to Southwest Florida where he promised a tropical utopia he dubbed “New Jerusalem.”
Long before Florida became a mecca for eccentrics and cults, Teed brought his followers to what was then a god-forsaken swamp. In the years they occupied the area near Estero, the cult thrived, building a self-sustaining space filled with gardens, performing arts, and even power generators. When Teed died, his followers displayed his body in the commune’s Art Hall waiting for his resurrection. Eventually, health inspectors forced them to move Teed to a beachside grave, where they held a vigil for years after. The ghosts of the Koreshans and their leader are said to still occupy their namesake state park, where you can visit what’s left of their one-time utopia.
The tiny town of Port Salerno may hold the distinction of being the most haunted place, per capita, in all of Florida. Its most famous otherworldly resident is notorious bank robber John Ashley, who met his untimely end—along with his entire gang—not far outside of town. You’ll also pass a tree near the Pirate’s Cove resort, where a wealthy man’s mistress hanged herself after, rumor has it, learning she was pregnant. Other remnants of more contemporary barflies reportedly still stumble “home” down Port Salerno’s streets, making mysterious noises and tripping alarms along the way.
This historic theater in Clearwater dates back to 1921 as one of the grand performance palaces that opened during the roaring ’20s. Its haunted history, however, didn’t really start until 60 years later, when renovations exposed the body of former manager Bill Neville, who’d been beaten to death inside. Despite his violent demise, it’s said that Bill’s friendly ghost still hosts patrons in the theater, sometimes grabbing their hands to lead them to seats.
The Capitol is home to two other ghosts as well: A salty sea captain who allegedly roams around in a blue coat, and a small mischievous girl who plays with patrons while she waits for someone to pick her up. The place has gained such a haunted reputation it hosted a performance of Ghost Files Live! back in June.
Gambling in Miami is rarely a good idea. And gangster Thomas “Fatty” Walsh—who was fatally shot over a gambling dispute at The Biltmore Hotel in 1929—most likely agrees. While staff hoped he’d be over it by now, it turns out he isn’t. As legend has it, ol’ Fatty still hangs around, mysteriously shaking glasses at the bar, chasing good-looking women, appearing in bathroom mirrors, opening doors, and sticking particularly close to the 13th floor, where he was killed.
If there is one rule all Floridians follow, it’s “do not mess with Robert the Doll.” The four-foot figurine has terrorized anyone who hasn’t taken him seriously since he was gifted to artist Robert “Gene” Otto in 1904. Otto blamed any mischievous act around him on Robert The Doll, effectively coining the oft-repeated mantra, “Robert did it!”
The doll currently holds court inside Fort East Martello, where he lives inside a glass case surrounded by a constant soundtrack of haunting xylophone music. The room evokes a heavy air immediately upon entering, and the walls are papered with apology notes from cocky tourists who’ve dared cross the world’s most haunted plaything. Even the Prince of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osborne, felt Robert’s wrath when he suffered a series of health mishaps shortly after dissing the doll on his reality show.
Non-believers always want proof of paranormal activity, and The Plaza Resort & Spa has it. In August 2013, security cameras captured late-night footage of a shape-shifting ghost roaming the hotel’s Veranda Bar & Grille. But that’s not the first or only spooky story at the hotel. The original building was destroyed by fire in 1909, and current staff will testify that they’ve seen the ghosts of victims caught in the blaze, including a little girl who now spends her nights messing with the elevators and raiding the restaurant kitchen.
St. Augustine’s fanciest hotel is also its most haunted. In fact, this five-star, Mediterranean-revival haunt is a hotbed of paranormal activity. Guests have reported children running along the fourth floor, but no one is there. The radio in the Ponce de Leon Suite randomly comes on, but no one is there. Guests of Room 411 wake up to people staring at them, but no one is there.
But it’s the three-story Flagler Suite, high in the tower, that’s most haunted. Maids have seen a child’s handprint appear on the first floor bathroom mirror, and after knocking, one heard a man say, “we’ve been expecting you,” from an empty bedroom. Its spookiest claim to fame, however, is the male ghost staring out of the top tower window. He’s believed to be the ghost of one of two people: either Franklin Smith, the architect who built the hotel, or Henry Flagler, the man who purchased it.
Florida is weird, so perhaps it’s no surprise the psychic capital of the world is right here in Cassadaga. The historic community of spiritualists was founded in the late 1800s by medium George P. Colby and is now a 57-acre camp made up of just 55 homes. It’s been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1991, and attracts believers from far and wide for spiritual healings, drum circles, group meditations, and more. Whatever you do, if you visit the town cemetery, don’t sit in the Devil’s Chair—it’s said to be haunted by Satan himself. Leave a beer there, and some say he’ll even drink it, leaving you weirded out and thirsty.
The Blue Anchor Pub
This pub was built in 1840s London—during Jack The Ripper times—so it should be no surprise that it’s haunted. The story goes that the bar was razed in London, but its facade and wooden interior was sent to New York City, then onto this sleepy South Florida town in 1996. Little did anyone know that the pub’s original elements came with the ghost of Bertha Starkey, a cheating wife who was murdered by her husband. Today, some say she can be heard rattling pots, knocking things over, and wailing in the middle of the night at The Blue Anchor. Every night around 10 pm (the time she was murdered), Bertha likes to remind everyone she’s still here—so the current owners ring the “ship's bell” to scare her away.