Archive for the Florida Category

calling fink finley

Posted in Florida, orbs, photography on October 14, 2009 by Pat Padua

tampa theater, originally uploaded by a nameless yeast.

The most notorious haunted spaces are almost always associated with crime or tragedy – murders, hanging, disease, insanity. But sometimes a space is haunted simply by habit; the office worker who showed up diligently to work every day for decade after decade and finally passed away quietly, but whose spirit still lives on in these hallowed halls and such. Fink Finley’s is one of these spirits.
The Tampa Theater was built in 1926 and is one of the oldest continually-running movie palaces inthe country. The place has gone through changes over the years but was declared a Tampa landmark in 1988, and to judge by the sold-out audience at a vaudeville/silent movie program in August, when I took this picture, support is strong. Every town should have an old movie palace like this.

Foster “Fink” Finley was the projectionist at the Tampa Theater for over thirty years. He did not, as legend has it, die of a heart attack in the projection booth. According to theater docents, he succumbed at home. He is just one of the visitors said to haunt the Tampa Theater – a ghostly patron is said to be seen appearing and reappearing in the balcony.

We were walking around the theater before the vaudeville show was about to start and stopped in this hallway between balcony tiers. I saw a red figure down the stairwell moving through the viewfinder in my camera phone. But I didn’t see it with my eyes.

gravestone portraits

Posted in cemeteries, DC, Florida, photography, Washington on October 2, 2009 by Pat Padua

click here for my "gravestone portraits" set on flickr

See the full set of gravestone portraits here.

The graveyard is the final resting place of our corporeal selves, but these grounds, however hallowed, are not necessarily haunted places. What restless spirits wander the earth tend to do so in more emotionally charged places: sites of traumatic events like battlefields and murder scenes or the crossroads of horrible accidents, but also mundane locales like the workplace. Someone living or dead has likely shuffleboarded their mortal coil where you are right now; there are echoes of the living and the dead everywhere.

But I come here not to spook the living but to remember the dead. In my years of visiting cemeteries I’ve only this year begun to photograph the memorial portraits built into grave markers. The portraits may be of the deceased in the prime of youth, in a studio setting or in a favorite environment, as a way of taking the accoutrements of their hobby or profession into a hopeful afterlife. Some of the portraits I’ve seen are startling, some absurd, and a few make me wonder if that’s really how the dead wanted to be remembered. I only ask that you show them some respect.

cemeteries of pasco county

incident at spook hill

Posted in Florida, orbs on August 25, 2009 by Pat Padua

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I normally don’t take much stock in orbs. There are any number of ephemeral round things that can come between a camera and its subject: dust, lens flare, distant lights you didn’t realize were there when you took the picture. But I was processing pictures from Lake Wales, Florida, the other night when I noticed something I couldn’t explain at all.

About the dolls. V. gave me a Carol Channing ventriloquist dummy for my birthday a few years ago. She wasn’t sure I’d like it but I immediately took to the little star of stage and screen, opening up her mouth with the pull-hook at the back of her neck and making sandpapery hissing sounds at myself. V.’s sister gave her a Carol Channing ventriloquist dummy of her own, and the next time I visited her, we traveled to the Ozarks with two Carols in tow and posed them in various touristy cut-outs and other scenarios. As it it is our wont to visit supposedly haunted places, we sometimes take the Carols out in haunted places, and sometimes taking out the Carols brings out a weird energy that wasn’t there before.

On the night I took these photos we had been trying unsuccessfully to find Spook Hill, one of Lake Wales most noted tourist spots. The legend goes that an Indian or alligator curses the place, and when you put your car in neutral at a certain point on Spook Hill, the car begins to roll backwards uphill. Signs pointed to it from the road but they weren’t particularly clear, even though we’d found it once before, thanks to a friendly clerk from the Publix grocery store down the road. We’d gone down one long road that turned out to take us around a lake, so it was a long way back to Spook Hill and our hotel, and I really just wanted to go back to our room. And once we found it, I was reluctant to take out the Carols. You’d think we’d be more self-conscious, a young couple taking out two blonde ventriloquist dummies decked in fire-engine red and a gold lame rose. But they’re a good photo op and I look forward to seeing what we come up with next.

But on this night I was nervous that someone would find us. (Note: Carol’s pants don’t stay on very well.) We quickly posed the dolls next to the Spook Hill sign, which is at the edge of some dense woods, and went on our way.
incident at Spook Hill

Two months later I finally processed the pictures. When I saw that red light on the left, my first thought was it’s a tail-light. Except tail-lights come in twos. Could it be a traffic signal? No, it moves from one photo to the next – in the first photo, it’s behind the sign, in the right-hand corner. Besides, there was nothing behind those dolls but woods, and the road was back aways and uphill.

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The Carol on the left seems to be flirting with it.

cemeteries of hernando county, pt. 1

Posted in cemeteries, Florida on August 14, 2009 by Pat Padua

spring hill cemetery

G., the Cracker Barrel greeter in Spring Hill, gave us our next lead. He told us about the old African-American cemetery in the Old Spring Hill section of Brooksville. Elderly locals had a rather impolite name for it. The area was once known for Klan activity and lynchings. It was at the end of a dirt road in a secluded clearing in the woods, and kids would go there after dark to drink and get scared. G. told us that whenever he drove there with friends there was always some kind of car trouble – the engine wouldn’t start, someone would get a flat tire; there was also an old tree that, when you looked at it at sundown, you could see a body hanging. Down a back road there was an old slaughterhouse where the Ku Klux Klan would send people through the meat grinder.

We were on our way.

G. told us the turn off from Cortez Ave. was at a Jesus billboard but we weren’t sure if we’d passed it. I looked up Spring Hill Cemetery in my GPS but it wasn’t listed in a search for “cemetery”. So I did the next best thing: I looked up “funeral home” and called the first name I found. A woman answered the phone and I explained that we were photographers looking for Spring Hill Cemetery, but she couldn’t help us, and I thought that was that. But a few minutes later her husband called. He gave us more specific directions to the African-American Cemetery and explained that the place had been under police watch lately because some kids had been there graverobbing. He also told us that, if we were photographers, we had to visit the Lykes cemetery, just across the way. It was the family cemetery of an old local family who’d made a fortune in, depending who you talked to, cough drops and cigars. The funeral director told us that the cemetery had remarkable stonework and that as photographers we had to see it.

I was given good directions to Lykes Cemetery but when we found Spring Hill Cemetery I completely forgot everything the man had told me.

cemeteries of hernando county

When we first stepped out of the car we immediately felt this negative energy all around us. The place was recently desecrated, after all, and between that and the roaming bands of drunk teens, any ill will from residents living or dead was understandable. But we weren’t there to disrespect the dead. As we started to take pictures the heaviness in the air lifted. The area around the cemetery was long neglected and became dumping grounds for trash and old furniture – and, as G. hinted, bodies. But we were there to remember the dead and document their final earthly resting place. We’d like to think they were happy to have us visit. So happy, in fact, that despite going down one wrong road after another, trying awful dirt paths that may have led to the slaughterhouse, we could not find the Lykes cemetery. It was as if the residents of Old Spring Hill didn’t want us to go there.

cemeteries of hernando county

the bloody cracker barrel and the vanishing hitch-hiker

Posted in Florida on August 7, 2009 by Pat Padua

franchise porch
Last week I wrote about a haunted hotel in Naples, Florida. Rested but spooked after one night at the inn, the next morning we headed for the Cracker Barrel across the way.

I’ve been to Cracker Barrel restaurants in at least a half-dozen different states. The name doesn’t make the mouth water but its dependable comfort food, and I always find something of at least ironic if not genuine interest in the gift shop: a toy accordion, a box of Moon Pies or Goo-goo clusters, a book of black and white art photography by Kenny Rogers that features Reba McIntire posed on a Zebra skin. The restaurants are all decorated with what seem to be genuine old photos and advertisements. It could all just be ersatz Americana, but the details seem right, and I was told recently that there’s a company that raids old farms for exactly these details.

Cracker Barrel gift shop

The Cracker Barrel in Naples has it’s own history, and it’s a bloody one. On the morning of November 15, 1995, police discovered three bodies on the floor of the freezer room. You can read much more about the sordid case here, it was a botched robbery by two disgruntled former employees. The victims and perps weren’t much past twenty years old, if they were past it at all. Legends persist among current employees of the Cracker Barrel. The spirits of the victims are reportedly playful, re-arranging the decor against carefully determined franchise instructions. I can’t say we witnessed or even felt anything beyond the kind of sadness one would ordinarily feel at the site of a brutal crime, but whatever it was we were too spooked to eat breakfast there and ended up at what appeared to be a thoroughly unhaunted Waffle House.

As we got back on the highway ramp out of Naples, a hitchhiker sat on the side of the road. He was disheveled and shirtless and not somebody I could imagine anyone feeling comfortable enough to take for a ride anywhere. I tried to take his picture but instead got this turned over shopping cart.

the vanishing hitchhiker

This wasn’t the first time we’d had a haunting in a Cracker Barrel, and according to our next guest, it won’t be the last. Earlier this summer on the way back from a mermaid show in Weeki Wachee, we stopped at a Cracker Barrel near Brooksville, in Hernando County. We were browsing in the gift shop when a Kenny Rogers CD suddenly fell off its rack. The young Cracker Barrel greeter stationed by the door stopped to pick it up. V. asked him in jest if a ghost had knocked down the CD. Thus we struck up a long conversation with G., who believes that all Cracker Barrels are haunted with the spirits of the old authentic photos and ephemera. He told us where kids go after dark to drink and get spooked. So of course we went there …

Next: Cemeteries of Hernando County

Haunted Holiday: Naples, Florida

Posted in ectoplasm, Florida, hotels on July 29, 2009 by Pat Padua

pingo-702lev

We’ve visited a lot of historically haunted towns, from St. Augustine to Key West (home of the best ghost tour we ever took) to Gettysburg (the single most haunted city we’ve seen – and on the anniversary of the battle, yet). But our first haunting experience happened in Naples, Florida, a town with no particular reputation for the paranormal – or anything, for that matter. Nevertheless, it is one town I hope never to set foot in again.

We were looking for room at the inn after a Gulf Coast vacation. The H——, and the neighboring chain, was all sold out except for two handicapped rooms. Since we had earlier up and left a picturesque but flea-bitten motel in Sarasota, we were happy for a clean chain hotel room, albeit with no personality. But despite the best laid plans of corporations, personality sometimes finds its way into the banal. We felt and heard something not right, especially an eerie chill in the shower, whose stream sounded like a heavy breathing was emanating along with the rushing water. I took a picture of the shower with Pingo, a toy camera in the shape of a penguin (it was the only film camera I had with me) and found classic ectoplasmic flashes. See the two streaks near the the upper right corner (the rest of the marks are scratches); they can’t be light leaks – there was hardly any light in the room and this is the only frame on that roll with these flashes.

Did this hotel room have a violent past? We never figured that out, but it was just across the street from an unlikely scene of terrible bloodshed.

Next week: Murder at the Cracker Barrel.