As a historian I sit quietly while scores of television shows and movies and books describe flying saucers and uprisings from demons and zombies and witches and of course the Great Yeti hanging out at Disney Animal Kingdom when he isn’t roaming Big Cypress Swamp. But even I can experience the unexplainable and that is probably why I will always accept an invitation to ghost tours and big castles said to be haunted.
Since the age of a city seems to have an impact on the number of ghostly palaces and events, it is not shocking that America’s oldest continuous city – Saint Augustine – has more ghost excursions and landmarks than any other Florida city. Almost every old building and bed and breakfast has its story with the St. Francis Inn being my choice of creepy accommodations.
But I have to concede that my weirdest experience came in the May-Springer House, better known to some as the Hernando County Heritage Museum. Rising out of a small rise in the town filled with hills and history (Brooksville), the big house at 601 Museum Court, is used on ghost tours and as a Halloween house, but it is at least in the daytime a wonderful archive of the turbulent community history from the Civil War to the Cold War. Over 10,000 artifacts are organized and placed in various themed rooms.
The original four room square house was constructed in 1855 by builder John L. May for his wife Marena and their two daughters Matilda and Annie. May died of tuberculous before the Civil War started, but Marena stayed in the house and eventually wed local Confederate hero Frank Saxon. In 1869 Marena died while giving birth of a daughter Jessie May. She died of unknown causes at age three and it is this small child that is the explanation for this article.
As a Museum It Is Open Only In The Day Light
It is also a little gruesome to discover that John May, Marena, the infant son of Frank and Marena, and Jessie are all buried in the back of the property. Saxon sold the house to Dr. Sheldon Stringer who added ten rooms not just for his wife and three kids, but also to add a doctor’s office and turn the attic into a sanatorium for victims of smallpox and yellow fever. No one has records of how many people died on the property, but the downstairs room has an operating table and some ugly equipment, while the attic is a dark and dank unfinished place, not exactly where you want to be a patient. A man shot during the turmoil of Reconstruction died on the front porch before he could ring the doctor’s bell.
After many owners and a slow decline the “mansion” was obtained in 1980 by The Hernando Historical Museum Association, who began a slow process of trying to restore and preserve the structure, while accepting unique historical artifacts, including Civil War weapons and flags. The group has recorded since then dozens of strange events – not just sounds and shadows in the night, but ancient equipment starting up. A local police officer told me the house is an enormous pain in the neck. All the activity, of course, attracted a lot of ghost hunting TV people, but not a lot of financial contributions.
The last time my wife, my sister-in-law, and I toured the House, our guide was a high school student volunteer doing just her third tour. When we got to the bedroom which was Jessie May’s room where one may wonder if she died there, I noticed some activities that escaped explanation. There is a small closet behind the creepy crib with the Victorian doll said to be owned by the three year old. I must admit that the doll makes Chucky look like an angel.
Photo Taken By Florida Ghost Team: The Baby Doll
With the guide looking the other way, I watched the closet door open two inches as if someone was hiding there. I took a step toward the crib and the closet door closed to within one-half inch. I looked for loose, old floor boards, but the wood planks went in the wrong direction. As the group went to the far side of the bedroom to examine some items on a tall bureau, the closet door returned to the two-inch mode. As we piled into the hallway to visit the third floor attic, the closet door closed.
But I didn’t really leave the room; I stayed at the doorway and watched the closet door open again ever so slightly. I quickly went to the door, opened it to see only an empty closet. I saw no wires or electronic devices. When I mentioned this to the oldest volunteer, she said that at least a few times a month visitors mention that experience.
What my wife noticed was the ceiling paint was pealing and the wallpaper didn’t match. I had to write a large check so Jessie Mae’s bedroom can be restored. I just hope that Jessie Mae doesn’t track me down in Tampa to thank me.