Ever since I filmed Camera Obscura, my horror web series, last year at the ACTUALLY haunted Linda Vista Hospital in East L.A., I’ve been fascinated with real ghosts and haunted places. So much so, that I spent several terrifying nights aboard the ALSO VERY haunted Queen Mary Ocean liner in Long Beach last March, just to look for ghosts.
So now, in addition to writing and filming horror, I've become a supernatural tourism junkie. I still dunno if I believe in ghosts, and I don't know an EVP from a PVP. If I were a ghostbuster I'd be Venkman, if I were on Scooby Doo I'd be Shaggy not Freddy. But nonetheless, I'm now hooked on checking out haunted places every time I go on a vacation, a business trip, or even head back east to visit relatives.
It's something I do now that I wish I'd been doing all my life, but learn from my folly, dear reader... it's not too late to start. You can go ghost hunting anywhere there's ghosts, which means just about anywhere.
So anyway, here's the cool thing. I just took a trip to Florida for my nephew's graduation and since he goes to college in Gainesville, and I'd be flying into Jacksonville, I thought I'd look up the most haunted places I could find in both cities.
And much to my delight, I found that there were hauntings a plenty in both locations, so I picked my favorite place at each and decided to go for it.
In Jacksonville, there's a place called The Homestead Restaurant, which boasts having been in business since 1947. They also have a seriously KICK ASS recipe for Southern Fried Chicken and Garlic Mashed potatoes with Cream Peas. (I had it. It rocks.) But what they DON'T boast is that the place has at least three very active, very sad ghosts running amuck.
The first ghost is that of Alpha Paynter, the original owner of the place, back in 1934 when it was a boarding house. Everyone in town swears she was buried in the back yard and that her cremation was a fake - that she wanted her soul to be forever joined with her beloved boarding house... and so it is that she has never quite given up walking the place, making sure things are in order.
The other two ghosts are related, quite literally. The first is a woman who hung herself in the restaurant in the 1960's. Then, exactly 10 years later to the day, her daughter, suffering the same malady of depression, hung herself from the same spot, just near the hearth in the old part of the restaurant.
And guess where I sat? Yep. Right under where they hung themselves. Oh how I was wishing that they'd appear, hanging ghoulishly from the lamp on the ceiling, dripping ectoplasm on my southern fried chicken. Okay, maybe not the dripping part. That'd just piss me off.
Sadly no ghosts were seen, heard or felt. Nor was there any sign of any kind of paranormal activity whatsoever... BUT... dinner fucking rocked.
In Gainesville, my nephew and I went on an urban exploration of the century-old, gargoyle-adorned Norman building at the University of Florida. Before it was part of the university, it was the P.K. Young Public School for grades K through 12. As the story goes here, several kids died in a horrific elevator accident in the building's antiquated wooden elevator, (which is still there by the way and it's creepy as fuck).
So now that the building houses the University's School of Education, people working late night often hear children running and playing in the halls, but when you go looking for them, everything falls silent.
And even though we creeped and crawled everywhere in the gothic structure, and the place was completely empty, we saw nary a thing supernatural.... but we did notice one hall had flickering lights at the end. And in one of the side rooms, for a second, but just a second, during the flickering of a light, my nephew startled BADLY and freaked out.
"What the hell's wrong with you?" I asked.
"There was a little kid's bed there, for a second," he said, chilled to the bone.
I missed it because I blinked apparently but it was enough to scare the bricks out of my normally completely composed cool cat of a nephew.
After that we walked past the monolithic Beaty Towers dormitory buildings, where a young woman leapt from the THIRTEEN STORY building to her death on the street below. She was later immortalized in by Tom Petty ( a Gainesville local) in his song "American Girl." Sadly, we did not see her walking the top of the towers as others have reported. But the buildings are super creepy in that Kubrickian 1970 modern architecture kind of way.
So those are the sum of my ghost adventures while in Florida. Enough to prove there's an afterlife? Oh hell no, but it makes for a GREAT time. Remember it's the supernatural journey, not the destination. The hunt above the kill.
My challenge to you? Next trip you take, google up some ghosts and goblins that reside in your destination, or along the way, and pay them a visit. They miss you.
And my questions for you? Where do you live? And what are your local legends? Maybe my next trip will be to your town... and we can go together. I'll buy the beer and Scooby Snacks, you drive the van.
Gaudium Per Atrox.