A few years ago, we stayed in the charming historic bed and breakfast in Florida. Chatting with the owner we asked about a story we had read about how it was haunted.
“Oh that? The previous owner made that up because people love to stay someplace haunted.”
I’m not naming the place, because it’s under new management and maybe it IS haunted now – or claiming to be.
But when it comes to haunted places, chalk me up as a skeptic.
Nevertheless, I love places that feel haunted. So-called haunted places in Florida are usually historic spots with lots of ambiance and character, and I love that sort of thing, haunted or not. I also love the stories and legends that go with it.
So, whether you’re a skeptic or believer, here are five so-called haunted places in Florida to explore in the spirit of Halloween. All are worth visiting any time of year, with or without ghosts.
Island Hotel on Cedar Key
This historic hotel in lovable little Cedar Key is so popular it has multiple ghosts vying for a room in the inn. There are 13 ghosts, according to the Island Hotel website, and the hotel only has 10 rooms.
With its sloping wooden floors and its historic mural of bare-breasted mermaids in the bar, we’d love the Island Hotel with or without ghosts.
Founded as a general store in 1859, it was used by Union soldiers during the Civil War for offices and storage until the Confederate forces retook Cedar Key and billeted at the Island Hotel.
Over the years, its guests have included President Grover Cleveland, Jimmy Buffet, Richard Boone, Myrna Loy and Tennessee Ernie Ford.
The ghosts include a Confederate Army guard, a moonshiner, a murdered prostitute, a former owner, two Native Americans, a fisherman and others. Here is an account of ghost stories from the Island Hotel.
Rooms at the Island Hotel range from $90 a night for a room with a shared bathroom to $155 a night.
Cedar Key, located directly west of Gainesville in an far-from-the-highway location, also has a spooky historic cemetery on the island of Atsena Otie, a ghost town on a barrier island that makes an excellent kayaking destination a half mile from Cedar Key.
Atsena Otie was the original location of Cedar Key until a hurricane with a 10-foot storm surge destroyed most of the buildings on the island in 1896. After the storm, survivors picked up what was left of the town and moved it to the current location of Cedar Key, including floating several wooden buildings from the island.
Key West cemetery
Cemeteries, of course, are probably among the most haunted places in Florida, right? And you won’t find a quirkier, more interesting cemetery than the one in the middle of Key West’s Old Town.
The cemetery was founded in 1847 after a terrible hurricane in October 1846 washed away the old cemetery, scattering the dead throughout a forest. As a result, the oldest gravestones in this cemetery — built on the highest point in Key West — are actually older than the cemetery itself. They date to 1829 and 1843 and were moved here after the hurricane.
Most graves are in above-ground vaults like in New Orleans, and for the same reason — the high water table.
The cemetery is like a town of narrow streets: Instead of houses there are rows of whitewashed rectangular boxes; instead of people there are chickens and iguanas. It is weedy and overgrown with a forlorn air of a forgotten, shall we say haunted place.
For a little Key West flavor, consider the headstones with humor:
A popular stop is B.P. “Pearl” Roberts (1929-1979) who famously had inscribed “I told you I was sick.” Nearby, the grave of Gloria M. Russell (1926-2000) notes: “I’m just resting my eyes.”
The most commonly sighted ghost is a Bahamian woman who approaches visitors who sit on graves or behave disrespectfully.
Here’s more on the Key West Cemetery.
Robert the Doll in Key West — with a ghost tour
Robert “lives” at the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West, and thanks to this creepy historic doll, the museum makes the list of most haunted places in Florida in many guides.
There are plenty of reasons to visit this lovely preserved Civil War-era fort in Key West – you can learn about the wrecking industry and cigar making in Key West, or admire art exhibits. There’s a beautiful view from the roof deck. But the biggest draw is probably Robert the Doll.
In the Halloween season, the museum offers guided ghost-hunting tours and a chance to get to know Robert. See details below.
Robert was made by the Steiff Company of Germany around the turn of the century. He’s a one-of-a-kind, handmade doll about 40 inches tall. He belonged to boy named Robert Eugene Otto, known as Gene, who brought him along everywhere he went.
There are myriad stories about Robert – how Robert could be heard eerily giggling or had been known to move himself from place to place. The family reports that Gene often blamed Robert for misdeeds. If some household item was found broken, Gene would say “Robert did it.”
The home where he grew up and where Gene, who became an artist, lived with Robert his entire life, is now a bed and breakfast called the Artist’s House, where visitors can stay in the turret where Gene and Robert spent much time.
Once Robert the Doll was exhibited at the East Martello Tower in the 1990s, some say his shenanigans continued. The museum reports: “Cameras and electronic devices malfunctioned in his presence, and soon letters began arriving addressed to the doll offering apologies for disrespectful behavior or asking forgiveness.”
Seasonal ghost tour: According to the museum website, the tour takes your through the dimly lit Civil War fortress constructed in 1862 that houses the largest collection of haunted artifacts in Florida and is home to the spirits of Civil War soldiers as well as Robert the Doll.
You’ll have a “25-minute sit-down lockdown with Robert,” during which, we are told, “paranormal activity is regularly encountered.” No kids under 10 allowed. Tickets are $45. There’s even an extended VIP tour for $85, where they turn off the lights and let you roam with a flashlight. The tours started at the end of August and continue through November. Here’s tour information.
Tickets to the Fort East Martello Museum
Adults: $17 ($15.50 online)
Senior/Local/College ID/Retired Military: $13 ($11.50 online)
Youth (Age 7-18): $9 ($7.50 online)
Child (Under 7): Free
Fort East Martello Museum
3501 S. Roosevelt Blvd., Key West 33040
Open from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily
St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum
The historic lighthouse built in 1874 couldn’t be more scenic or beautiful with its black-and-white spiral-striped tower. It’s worth a visit for its excellent maritime historic exhibits and its spectacular view.
But it has also become a destination for ghost hunters because of the tragic story of three girls who died here on July 10, 1873, and who some believe haunt the lighthouse.
Three white sisters and an African American playmate were playing at the construction site of a new lighthouse, riding in a rail cart that was used to bring supplies to the site. The girls would ride the cart down the tracks to the water like a roller coaster. At the bottom, a board would stop the cart from continuing and they would pull it back up for another ride. On this day, however, the board was not in place and the cart tipped into the water, trapping the girls underneath. The youngest sister was saved and the three others drowned.
Many encounters with the ghosts of these girls have been reported over the years, from giggling heard from the tower when no one is there to apparitions of a girl sometimes dressed in Victorian clothes. Here’s the complete story of the girls and the paranormal activity.
The lighthouse has a variety of tours and experiences for those interested in ghosts.
St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum
100 Red Cox Road, St. Augustine 32080
Tickets: Daytime admission to the lighthouse is $15 (seniors and children under 12 are $13.)
Ghost tours: The nighttime Dark of the Moon Tour, where the only light source are glowsticks and visitors go up into the tower, is $30 for adults; $25 for children, 12 and under. A Ghost Tails tour, which does not go up in the tower, is $20 for adults and $18 for children.
A haunted tree and spooky ruins: Bulow Creek State Park and Bulow Plantation State Park
One of the oldest and most magnificent live oaks in Florida is the center of attention at Bulow Creek State Park, a little-known off-the-beaten path Florida state park near Flagler Beach.
It was named the Fairchild Oak in 1955 in honor of botanist David Fairchild, whose name is well-known in Florida because of the botanic garden in Coral Gables. Fairchild had visited and admired this ancient tree.
The mammoth oak — 70 feet tall with limbs that stretch out to 300 feet across — is estimated to be 400 to 600 years ago.
But is it haunted? The legend goes that a well-known businessman facing mounting debt committed suicide under the tree in the 1880s, giving rise to its name as “the Haunt Oak.” People have spun tales around the oak ever since.
What we do know for certain: This is a spectacular tree, located along a beautiful hiking trail and is well worth a visit.
Five minutes away by car (or a beautiful seven-mile hike) is the evocative Bulow Plantation Historical State Park, with romantic ruins of a sugar mill. Now this is a place that looks haunted! And some say it is, that the spirit of Seminole Indians, who burned down the plantation, haunt the site. People have reported hearing voices on the trail when there is no one in sight.
The two state parks, both free, are five minutes off I-95. They can be visited as a half-hour break during a drive or an all-day hike and picnic or kayak outing.
Bulow Creek State Park
3351 Old Dixie Hwy, Ormond Beach 32174
Open 8 a.m. to sundown daily
Other haunted places in Florida
- Stranahan House in Fort Lauderdale is the oldest structure in Fort Lauderdale and was home to pioneers Frank and Ivy Stranahan. It occupies a beautiful spot on the New River, dwarfed by highrises all around it in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The home was the site of tragedy, however, when Frank, severely depressed over an economic downturn and the devastation of two hurricanes, committed suicide by drowning himself in the New River in front of his home. Many have reported paranormal experiences. Here’s a video with hoaky sound effects that includes interviews with people who’ve experienced what they think are ghosts. Stranahan House is a museum open for tours. Admission is $12 adults; $7 students.
- Coral Castle in Homestead is a strange structure in Homestead created by a mysterious man who built it single-handedly out of limestone, and nobody knows how. Visitors have reported seeing his apparition. This TV report explores the paranormal reports. Tours are $18 for adults; $8 for children. Here’s a Florida Rambler story on visiting Coral Castle.
- Deering Estate in Miami has been thoroughly investigated by ghost hunters who have recorded voices and other “evidence.” Historic ghost tours will be offered in September and October 2023. Guides will share stories of historic events, insights into previous inhabitants, and the record of paranormal activity experienced by visitors and staff. Ghost tour dates are Sept. 7, 14, 21 and 28 and Oct. 5, 12, 19 and 26, from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tickets for the tours are $40 per person. Space is limited. Tickets can be purchased online in advance. Here’s a Florida Rambler story on visiting Deering Estate.
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.