Dolls, devils, and ghost stories to freak you out in Florida

Dolls, devils & ghost stories to freak you out in Florida

Photo courtesy of Susan Smith via Flickr (creative commons)

By Tyler Francischine

October 23, 2023

From a real-life doll that inspired a classic horror movie to a chair that allegedly conjures up the devil, here are some of the most bone-chilling episodes in Florida’s history.

The leaves won’t turn shades of red before falling from the trees, and the wind may not blow breezes so icy that the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, but that doesn’t mean spooky season isn’t in full effect across the Sunshine State.

With a historical landscape full of complexities, Florida offers adrenaline-seeking adventurers a plethora of mysteries to uncover this fall. By no means an exhaustive list, here are five haunted locales, urban legends, and ghost stories that you can explore this season—if you dare.

The Devil’s Chair, Cassadaga

Dolls, devils & ghost stories to freak you out in Florida

Photo courtesy of Dylan Gentile

Maybe it’s just a bench built to console mourners as they visit their loved ones’ graves, or maybe it’s a portal to another dimension. Lake Helen-Cassadaga Cemetery is a place rife with mystery, as it sits adjacent to the central Florida community of psychics and mediums known as the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp. Yet, one urban legend reigns supreme—that of a throne belonging to the Prince of Darkness.

According to Charlie Carlson, author of Weird Florida: Your Travel Guide to Florida’s Local Legends and Best-Kept Secrets, many accounts have told that sitting in the Devil’s Chair—a mostly nondescript, large, red-brick bench among the gravestones at Lake Helen-Cassadaga—can bring voices that belong to any number of spirits, including the devil himself, into one’s head. Legend has it that as soon as you stand up from the chair, the voices disappear, leaving you to decide whether your mind was playing tricks or you just engaged in an interdimensional phone call. Multiple reports also confirm that if you leave an unopened beer can on the Devil’s Chair, it will be emptied—yet still unopened—by sunrise.

Excited to share a brew with the big guy? Whatever you do, don’t drop by on Halloween, as VICE reports that local police officers station in the area to deter visitors on the holiday.

Robert the Doll, Key West

You’re probably familiar with Chucky, the red-headed doll who stars in a handful of horror movies like Child’s Play and Bride of Chucky, but did you know the character is based on a real-life doll from Key West’s history? As British culture magazine Far Out reports, Robert was a straw-filled doll given to a young Key West boy named Robert Eugene Otto in 1906. Otto developed a reputation among his family for blaming mishaps on the doll—always explaining away mutilated toys or bedroom furniture overturned in the middle of the night with the excuse, “Robert did it!” Multiple accounts say Otto spoke to the doll, treating it as a living being for his entire life.

When Otto became an adult, he positioned Robert on the front windowsill of his home and local children reported seeing the doll disappear and reappear at random. When Otto died, the woman who moved into his home—where Robert the doll still remained—reported two decades of strange occurrences, including Robert moving around the house all on his own.

Brave visitors can pay their respects to Robert at the Key West Fort East Martello Museum, where the century-old doll rests behind temperature-controlled glass—but respect is a must. Cori Convertito, curator of the museum, says her staff has received scores of letters, emails, and calls from prior museum visitors expressing their regrets for poking fun at Robert during their visits, as harm or misfortune befell them shortly thereafter.

Koreshan State Park, Estero

Dolls, devils & ghost stories to freak you out in Florida

Photo courtesy of Florida Memory

Cyrus Teed told his followers he could never die. The members of Teeds’ communal, religious sect believed he would be resurrected because he held the key to immortal life, so when the self-proclaimed messiah—a proponent of celibacy; believer in a “hollow Earth” cosmology; and leader of Estero, Florida’s Koreshan Unity group—died in 1908, his followers found themselves mired in confusion and crisis. In fact, Teed’s Koreshans left his body untouched for days, waiting for his spirit to return until the health department forced disposal of his body.

The Koreshans built a mausoleum for their leader on Ft. Myers Beach and kept a 24-hour watch over it for 13 years until a 1921 hurricane took it. Legends say the wails and whispers of Teed’s followers can still be heard today in Koreshan State Park, about 20 miles southeast of Fort Myers.

What once was a thriving community of 250 people who believed they’d formed the “new Jerusalem” is now a state park housing 11 historic buildings constructed by Koreshans in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some modern travelers find the sprawling site a place of peace while others report hearing voices inside of the buildings and seeing shadowy figures and orbs on the nearby trails.

The Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables

Dolls, devils & ghost stories to freak you out in Florida

Photo courtesy of Chris Joy

It’s a luxurious hotel where 150 acres of lush landscaping and a 23,000-square-foot pool combine to make any guest feel like royalty, but what lurks behind the glitz and glamor of this national historic landmark? Coral Gables’ The Biltmore Hotel, built in 1925 as a home-away-from-home for golfers and fashionistas, has a storied history, including its evolution into a military hospital during WWII, then its degradation into an empty shell following its closure in 1968.

As South Florida public radio station WLRN reports, today’s guests to the Biltmore experience echoes from the building’s long past, including returning to their rooms to find lights have been unplugged even though their sockets hide behind immoveable pieces of furniture. One guest heard raucous, live music playing in the room above her in the middle of the night, but when she called hotel staff to complain, she was informed that the room above her was unoccupied.

Skunk Ape, throughout Florida

Dolls, devils & ghost stories to freak you out in Florida

Photo courtesy of Skunkape Headquarters Facebook page

In the mountains of the western United States, he’s known as Bigfoot. Canadians call him Sasquatch. In the swamps and glades of Florida, when sightings surface of a half-man, half-ape, wholly hairy creature roaming about, he’s affectionately referred to as the Skunk Ape. According to the Bigfoot Field Researchers’ Association (BFRO), more than 300 sightings of the Skunk Ape have been reported throughout Florida over the last century.

Though many run-ins have occurred in or near South Florida’s Everglades or Big Cypress National Preserve, you may not need to go far from home to spot a glimpse of the Skunk Ape. As BFRO reports, a family in Gainesville reported seeing the face of a hairy, beast-like man peering into their bedroom window one night, despite the window’s lower sill being located more than 6-and-a-half feet above the ground. Later that same week, the family received a gift of four dead rabbits carefully placed in their mailbox.

Ready to join the Skunk Ape’s fan club? Make the trek west along Alligator Alley to Ochopee, where the staff of Skunk Ape Research Headquarters gather mind-blowing tales and souvenirs of their beloved Florida man.

 

READ MORE: 6 Delish Vegan and Vegetarian Restaurants in Florida

Author

  • Tyler Francischine

    Tyler Francischine is a journalist who writes about travel, arts, culture and community. She's passionate about social justice, the Atlantic Ocean and live music.

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