History and haunts: Everything you didn’t know about Orlando’s Greenwood Cemetery

American Ghost Adventures leads tours in the historic cemetery

Greenwood Cemetery at night. (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

ORLANDO, Fla. – The sun is sinking behind the trees of Orlando’s Greenwood Cemetery as people begin to wander in. Normally, the historic cemetery south of downtown, which is also a public park, closes around 4 p.m.

But on this night, people will try to find restless souls among the thousands who are otherwise resting in peace.

Greenwood Cemetery is Orlando’s oldest, established in 1880 by eight men with last names folks who have driven around Orlando will recognize, including Boone, Livingston, Delaney and Robinson. They pulled together the money to buy 26 acres of land as a way to consolidate burial spaces in the city.

Before that time people would bury bodies on their property, making it difficult to keep a record of the dead in the area.


Greenwood Cemetery as the sun goes down. (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

The earliest tombstones were made of cypress wood. A fire destroyed almost all of them (three survived). The wood gravestones gave way to stone and marble, and elaborate statues and mausoleums. The city took over the cemetery land, but families still have to maintain the graves.

The burial grounds have grown to over 80 acres, and tombstones mark the graves of some of the most important families in Orlando’s history.


A tombstone made of cypress wood, one of the oldest in Greenwood Cemetery. (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

“The cemetery really connects Orlando with the history of Orange County, really not just Orlando’s jurisdiction. There’s a lot of rich history here that people don’t know about or aren’t aware of,” said Danielle Abdul-Nabi, records and cemetery manager for the city of Orlando.

Among the notable names you will find, Harry P. Leu, who founded Leu Gardens. Hardware store owner Joseph Bumby and the Bumby family, for whom Bumby Avenue is named. Dairy company founder T.G. Lee. Early 20th-century baseball player Joe Tinker, for whom Tinker Field was named.


Harry P. Leu's tombstone at Greenwood Cemetery. (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

July Perry, the voting rights activist who was lynched in the Ocoee Massacre in 1920, was buried in an unmarked grave at Greenwood Cemetery in a section for Black residents. In 2002, funds were raised to erect a proper tombstone.

JA Colyer is also buried in this section. He was the first Black person to own a building in downtown Orlando. The Nicholson-Colyer building is now a club on Church Street.


July Perry's tombstone at Greenwood Cemetery. (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

As dusk settles, tour guides with American Ghost Adventures divvy up the crowd of guests under a street lamp near the cemetery offices. It’s one of the last street lighting sources these visitors will have for a while. Many are wearing glow necklaces, and as we move away from the street lamp and into the darkness, those glow necklaces at times are the only things lighting the way.

Brooke Dixon, a ghost tour guide with American Ghost Adventures for almost 10 years, says the cemetery is one of her favorite locations to tour.

“During the day, it feels very much like a park, right?” Dixon said. “It feels beautiful and luxurious and kind of an easy place to walk around at night. It gets very dark. There’s not a ton of ambient light coming into the cemetery, there’s not big power poles running through here to light it up. So it gets a little creepier and a little more active right at night, it’s quieter at night, there’s less distraction at night.”


A group of Greenwood Cemetery tour guests go into the darkness. (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

Dixon leads the crowd to one of her favorite spots in the cemetery, one of the “Babyland” sections, where children under 5 are buried.

“There are three different sections of this cemetery where children who are 5 years and under are buried all together. They find that it’s comforting for families to know that their little one is here with other little ones. And they’re able to kind of customize that area for them to remember them,” Dixon said.

Dixon and her assistant put out an REM pod, a cylindrical device with lights and an antennae that’s meant to detect changes in ambient temperature.

The guests, all clutching EMF detectors, spread out along the curb (visitors rarely go among the tombstones for safety reasons).

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“I’ve visited many times, and it’s a lot of fun visiting in this section,” Dixon said out loud to any potential spirits. “If there’s anyone here who would like to say hello to us, we would love to meet you.”

Dixon says the Babyland sections are often a site for spiritual activity. Guests will try to sing songs and play games to entice the children. Dixon said someone brought a ball once and the ball began rolling by itself.

Dixon said one time she brought her father on the tour, and all of a sudden a piece of equipment kept going off.


Tour guide Brooke Dixon tells guests about Babyland at Greenwood Cemetery. (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

“We did a little investigating and discovered it was who seems to be a little girl, right?” Dixon said. “That continued to kind of follow us and interact with us throughout the cemetery. And it was just this light-hearted fun, like she was just checking out what we were doing.”

On this night, guests break out into a round of “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star,” hoping a little ghost will light up the EMF meters to sing along. No such luck. But the REM Pod does start to light up in different colors. Is it a ghost?

Dixon asks whatever spirit is attracted to the REM Pod to turn the lights all the way off. Nearby EMF meters seem to light up.

“Go ahead and turn the device all the way off for us so we know that it’s you and not something in the weather,” she said.

The device goes silent.

“Good job!” she said to the spirit.

The guests move on from Babyland. Phones and cameras snap away as the guests hope to catch a smudge, a shadow, an orb or even an apparition. One group is gathered around someone using a phone app that purports to be able to detect humanoid figures.

Dixon stops briefly at what appears to be a field with just a few headstones. This area holds the unmarked graves of people who were patients of Sunland Mental Hospital, which closed in the 1980s. She asks out loud if anyone wishes to say hello, but the spirits are quiet tonight.

Fortunately, the tour is not just about catching ghosts. It’s also about the stories, both of the historical and urban variety.

The moon, the distant glow of a downtown Orlando building, a few glow necklaces and a flashlight are all that light our way through the cemetery now. We’re in one of the oldest parts of the cemetery, and the darkest.

Dixon points out Harry P. Leu’s tombstone as we head for the mausoleum of Fred Weeks, one of two mausoleums in the cemetery.

Weeks was a northern businessman in the early 1900s who entered an agreement with a group of men for a piece of land that turned out to be useless swamp. Looking for revenge, Weeks bought a plot near the entrance of the cemetery and erected a tombstone with the men’s names on it, along with a biblical verse, Luke 10:30: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves.” The men bought the land back and had the tombstone removed.


The mausoleum of Fred Weeks at Greenwood Cemetery. (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

But Weeks wasn’t done. He bought another plot of land in the cemetery and built a mausoleum, by hand. It also had inscribed the Biblical verse and the names of the men. At some point, the names of the men were removed, but no one knows why. The obsession ruined Weeks’ personal life. His wife left him and took the children. He died alone and was interred in the mausoleum.

Dixon said his ghost can often be seen standing in front. She says she’s “chatted” with him before.

“I’ve rarely had a Greenwood experience where it’s the same thing all the time,” she said. “Sometimes it will be Fred Weeks, and it will be active and he would just be chatting, chatting, chatting or somebody else will be there just bringing those pieces of equipment to life, and then sometimes it’ll be totally quiet there.”

Weeks is apparently not in the mood to chat this night. But the cemetery sprinklers are going off – maybe the water is annoying him?

But no one seems particularly disappointed. As the group moves on, we pass the section where Civil War Confederate soldiers are buried. Some of the public monuments that were around Orlando are now in this section. There are other sections honoring Puerto Rican soldiers, soldiers who served in the Spanish-American War, and other wars, too.

This Confederate monument used to be at Orlando's Lake Eola. It's now at Greenwood Cemetery. (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

And more Orlando history. We pass the gravestone of William Slemons, whose Slemons Department Store on Church Street is the former home of Harry Buffalo restaurant and the current headquarters for American Ghost Adventures. News 6 spent some time with the tour company’s owner, Ting Rappa, in the Slemons building last year.

On the highest point of the cemetery, we see the tombstone for Samuel Robinson, a civil engineer and former mayor who helped design Greenwood Cemetery.

“It’s pretty unique for this area, because instead of moving in squares like many of our places do, this cemetery runs in circles,” Dixon said. “It’s like little islands. It’s kind of a unique design for this area of the country.”

Robinson also laid out downtown Orlando’s streets. One of them bears his name.

Samuel Robinson's tombstone at Greenwood Cemetery. (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

“So our intention is always to uplift folks, and to let them know about things they maybe don’t know about Orlando history, and the people that are here that maybe they would never see, or the stories they would never hear if they didn’t come with us,” Dixon said. “So truly, our intent is always to honor, right? And if we’re reaching out always in kindness, it’s always to learn more and hopefully tell their story better.”

American Ghost Adventures only offers tours of the cemetery to the public a few times a year. The tour for this Friday is sold out. However, guests with a large enough group can arrange a tour if they call the company. They are the only ones legally allowed to offer the cemetery tours and they’ve been offering the tours there for 18 years.

American Ghost Adventures also hosts tours in Mount Dora, DeLand and Sanford. More information is on the American Ghost Adventures website.

The cemetery is open to the public during the day. The entrance is on Greenwood Street. To learn more about Greenwood Cemetery and how to visit, go to the city of Orlando website.

Greenwood Cemetery at night. (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

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About the Author:

Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.