Ghouls, ghosts, things that go “bump” in the night: every town and every city has its own place or places where even the soberest, most respectable and level-headed people have seen, heard and felt things they couldn’t explain. Whether it’s doors closing on their own, footsteps making an empty staircase creak or images of some poor soul lost in the twilight between life and whatever is on the “other side,” Tampa Bay is no exception when it comes to haunted places. We’ve put together a list of some of the places that have become known as our local supernatural hot spots.
711 Franklin St.
Tampa, FL 33602
The Tampa Theatre has been a downtown landmark since it opened in 1926. When it opened, it was state of the art in almost every way imaginable. The design was ornate and at a time when living with Tampa’s intense heat and humidity was just a fact of life, it was the first major building to feature air conditioning. Foster “Fink” Finley was a projectionist for 35 years before collapsing in the projection booth in 1965 and dying a few months later. To this day, staff members tell stories of jingling keys, an odor of shaving lotion and ghostly sightings. But Fink may not be alone, according to Tampa Theatre lore, a psychic says that a woman whose image has been seen at times is a woman who is waiting for her fiance who died at that spot before the theater was built. Real, surreal or just a load of hooey? You can take a guided tour by contacting the theater and see for yourself.
501 5th Ave. N.E.
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
The “Pink Palace” dates back to 1925 and was a favorite rest and recreation spot for some of America’s most rich and famous. The Vinoy went into a long, slow decline after the war, bottoming out in the ’70s when it essentially became a flop house before closing in 1974. The resort re-opened in 2005 as part of the Renaissance Hotels. It didn’t take long after that for reports of strange goings-on to surface, especially from players on major league baseball teams who were staying there during road trips to play the Tampa Bay Rays. One pitcher reported seeing a transparent male figure standing next to his desk. There have also been sightings of a mysterious “lady in white” who, according to one legend, was a mistress of the great Babe Ruth.
Don Vicente de Ybor Inn
1915 Republica de Cuba
Tampa, FL 33605
The Don Vicente de Ybor Inn has one of the richest back stories in Tampa’s famous Latin district. The building dates back to 1895 and comes by its name honestly. It was built by Don Vicente Martinez-Ybor himself as a planning office for the city he wanted to build around his cigar empire. Around the beginning of the 20th century, it was converted into a public health clinic where it served the community until 1980. Legend has it there was a morgue in the basement and of course, with Ybor City’s “colorful” history of gangland violence during the Prohibition Era and some later years, there are plenty of candidates for unhappy spirits who don’t realize that they’re stuck in the shadows between “here” and the “hereafter.” People who take pictures inside claim there are odd images such as a man’s head intruding on their photographs.
Ringling College of Art and Design
2700 N. Tamiami Trail
Sarasota, FL 34234
Sarasota’s Ringling College of Art and Design is not only famous for its curriculum, but also for being haunted. Dating back to the early 1930s, the school was originally housed at the former Bay Haven Hotel, which now serves as the school’s administrative headquarters. The main spirit haunting the school is reportedly that of a young girl named “Mary,” a young prostitute who worked out of what was then the Bay Haven Hotel before circus impresario John Ringling bought it to serve as a school of art. According to the legend, “Mary” became despondent with her lot in life and committed suicide. She is often staring out of one of the building’s second-story windows. Students say she occasionally swishes their paint brushes in water jars. Most heartbreaking are reports that feet can sometimes be seen dangling in the stairwell where “Mary” allegedly hanged herself. When Ringling opened the school, he said that “life is short, art is long.” For Mary, it seems that eternity is even longer.
David Falk Theatre
401 W. Kennedy Blvd.
Tampa, FL 33606
According to theatre lore, every theatre has a ghost. The David Falk theatre is no exception. Built in 1928 as the “Park Theatre,” the Falk was taken over by the University of Tampa in 1962. The Falk seats 1,000 and since its 1981 restoration and renaming for a local businessman who served the University’s Board of Trustees, the Falk has been a perfect venue for student productions and live musical performances. Unlike many legendary hauntings where the haunter is in doubt, researchers seem to agree that the spirit of a vaudeville performer named Bessie Snavely is the most likely ghost. According to legends, confirmed by research, Bessie Snavely hanged herself in her dressing room during the 1930s after her husband ran off with a stagehand. Since then, credible witnesses have reported sudden drops in room temperature, doors slamming by themselves and one staff member claims he would have fallen off a scaffold if someone, or something, hadn’t grabbed him and pulled him to safety.
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Mike Hennessy is a veteran news man who has won Florida AP awards for feature reporting and covered almost every kind of story imaginable from on-the-scene coverage of Hurricane Andrew, to some of the highest profile murder and corruption trials in Florida history. Mike is versatile and has the curiosity it takes to get to the bottom line of any story. His work can be found at Examiner.com.