Spirits In The Night
Costumed ghosts and goblins, revelers in all sorts of colorful and creative outfits, dominate the Halloween season, but in Downtown Fort Myers, it is Halloween all year round with the Haunted History Tour from True Tours Historical Walking Tours.
Photographer Michele and I set out into the evening on Saturday, October 21, to find out if we could see, experience or feel any spirits in the night, in a group of 30 people ably led by Lauri Grace, who made no apologies upfront that she is a true believer. She, however, made no promises that anyone or everyone would experience anything unusual throughout our 90-minute walk through downtown.
As we begin, Lauri described that the beautiful downtown Fort Myers of today did not always look so nice. “It went through a major renovation many years ago, to update the streetscapes, and nothing wakes up spirits more than when you tear something up! Since then, incidences of spirits and ghosts have gone through the roof. Not all of you will experience something paranormal tonight, but on almost every tour, someone will interact with or photograph some type of apparition or orb, or experience lights going on and off, and that is mind-blowing.”
Our first stop is the old Lee County Courthouse, now used by the County Commissioners since the 1980s. “The site’s history goes back to 1887, when the original courthouse was on this same spot,” explained Lauri. “During the renovation, an unknown workman came up to the crew and borrowed a hammer, then later that day, they found the hammer, but no sign of the worker. The crew later punched a hole in a wall and discovered a time capsule with 16 items, including a photograph of the original work crew, and the man who borrowed the hammer was in that picture! The window at the lower right of the 1st floor is the office of Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass, and people often ask him why he works so late at night in the dark, as they can see someone through the window, but he replies that it is never him.”
We proceed down an alleyway, kitty-corner from the old Courthouse, that was a hotel all the way back to 1914. Lauri described this as “the scariest location for me along the entire tour, and it brings fear to my heart! It is not uncommon for cellphones and cameras to go haywire here, and I often get sweats and palpitations as I stand in this location.” As if on cue, goosebumps pop up all over Michele, as she “definitely feels something spooky!”
“The original hotel was wood,” Lauri explained, “and it burned to the ground the following year, but no one died or was even injured. This was eventually rebuilt into another hotel years later, with a significate renovation in the 1970s, but work lingered on, as construction crew after crew would begin, then quit because they simply felt too afraid in the building, so the owner brought in a husband-and-wife paranormal team to investigate. In one of the little bathrooms, they discovered dripping red fluid running down the walls that looked like blood, and this disturbed them so badly that they immediately left. This ended up being the only job in their entire career they were unable to complete out of fear, with the wife bothered by horrible migraines after that. Before abandoning the building, they felt the spirit was a military man, and some people swear they see him staring out from one of the upstairs windows.”
We journeyed into the Cowboy Up Saloon on Hendry Street that was formerly a wig shop and ladies clothing store. “Wig heads are scary enough,” related Lauri, “but the owner placed them looking out, with all the wig hair perfectly styled, and the clothes hung neatly in place. The next morning, she came in and it looked like someone ransacked the place, with wigs and clothes everywhere, and all the wigs head backwards, facing the wall. She put everything back, but the next morning it was the same thing, only this time with a mannequin punctured through the heart, and she moved out.” As Lauri told this story, several in our group commented they felt a strange coldness surrounding them at that moment, and Lauri said, “Thanks for adding to the story!”
Scarier Than Ghosts
As we walk, the tales continued: at the original Robb & Stuckey Furniture Building that opened in the 1920s, people still hear the sounds of the big old clunky sewing machines from a century ago. Streetlights blink on-and-off in front of the Luis E. Insignares Attorney-of-Law Building without explanation, as the EMF detector that tracks magnetic fields and is thought to be able to spot the presence of spirits, jumps.
The 2nd floor of the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center was a hotbed for paranormal activity, until a burning leaves ceremony apparently drove away the bad karma. “This isn’t good news for our tours,” chuckled Lauri, “but I am happy for them.” We notice that many of the old apparently haunted buildings today are offices that share the same profession: “They now house something scarier than ghosts,” joked Lauri – “Lawyers!”
New Fort Myers Beach Executive Assistant Fire Chief Scott Wirth and his wife, Sonya, were coincidently on the tour. Prior to recently joining the Fire Control District, Chief Wirth was with the Fort Myers Fire Department since 1991, and has been in many of these buildings. “I never saw ghosts,” he reported, “but they sure are scary inside!”
While others photographed light orbs, Michele in over 500 photos came up empty, but we did experience goosebumps, unexplained blasts of cold air, blinking streetlights and uneasy feelings.
Even if you are not a True Believer, the Haunted History Walk is chockful of local history, including about Downtown artwork. Our evening was ideal for an outdoor walk, with temperatures in the mid-70s and a nice breeze to offset the humid air. Despite the size of our large group, Lauri wore a walking microphone and speaker, making it easy to hear every word of her presentation. She was outgoing and funny, knowledgeable and personable, making for a hauntingly wonderful experience!
In addition to the Haunted History Tour, True Tours offers programs on the River District History, Flavors of Matlacha, Legends & Legacies, and Fort Myers – a Modern Renaissance, as well as The Armchair Tour where they come to you, and the Step-On Guide program, where leaders come onto your small bus or motor coach. Reservations are necessary in advance at $14-per-person, with private tours for groups of 10 or more upon request, with guides allowed to accept gratuities.
All tours begin at the Franklin Shops at 2200 First Street in Downtown Fort Myers; contact True Tours at 239-945-0405, email at Info@TrueTours.net or see TrueTours.net. The Haunted History Tour is offered each Wednesday and Saturday evening from 8 to 9:30 p.m., with special walks nightly from October 27 to 31 in conjunction with Halloween.
“Have a Happy Halloween,” Lauri wished everyone at the conclusion of the walk: “After all, this is our season!”