ORLANDO, Fla. – Hundreds haunt the bars and clubs in downtown Orlando every weekend.
Some never leave.
Don’t believe in ghosts? Spend some time with Ting Rappa, of American Ghost Adventures in Orlando. The Orlando native says she’s seen ghosts her whole life.
“We’re not trying to convince everybody that there are ghosts here,” Ting said. “We just tell people the history, we give you the stories and the evidence, and at the end of the tour, you tell us if there are ghosts here.”
A lot of the older buildings in Orlando started out as something else – hotels, shops, brothels, mortuaries. History leaves imprints, and some of those are spirits.
Downtown’s bars are not the only places with ghosts. Ting says many of Central Florida’s high-trafficked places are haunted, like courthouses, theaters, and attractions (Ting says even the theme parks are haunted). Not every spirit haunts the place where they die.
“(Places) get haunted because that is the happiest place or a great place they remember. Spirits can go anywhere they want to go. That term ‘heaven on Earth’ really is true,” Ting said.
Then there are places like cemeteries or scenes of tragedy.
“There’s three different kinds of haunts,” Ting said. “There’s residual haunts, which we can’t communicate with, they just are a broken record, they do the same thing over and over. Then, you have what you call the intelligent haunts, the genuine haunts. Those are the one that turn on the lights, slam doors, pull on your hair. The third one we talk about is object haunts. There’s a spirit attached to that object, and no matter where that object goes, that spirit most likely will go with that object.”
You may find these kinds of spirits at any of these Central Florida haunts below.
1. Historic Church Street
Ting says Orlando likes to hide its haunts in bars, and that is certainly true along Church Street in Downtown Orlando. Take Harry Buffalo’s. The bar and restaurant was originally a shop with a hotel on the upper floors at the turn of the 20th century.
Ting tells the story of one of the ghosts her team has encountered there. One is named Aaron. She knows because he told them over the course of several encounters. He’s a young man with an “alfalfa”-style haircut and a suit that is slightly too big for him. A tour guide first spotted him in one of the rooms, standing as if he was waiting for his picture to be taken.
“Over the course of the next months, we started seeing things,” Ting said. “One of the favorite things that he likes is puppy dogs. We have what we call trigger objects, and one of them is stuffed puppy dogs. And so he comes out every once in a while, and there’s no mechanical mechanism. It’s just a regular stuffed dog, but our meters will light up around it when we talk about him.”
The third-floor room is home to the tour’s haunted items too, like a wheelchair that’s been known to move on its own. There’s a table that is haunted by an elderly man as well, Ting said. She says the man’s spirit may actually have been captured on camera.
Ting says most of the buildings along Church Street are haunted. The former Ceviche restaurant, for instance, used to be a brothel, and ghosts have been seen there. Ghosts of travelers waiting for a train have been seen at the old train depot. Hamburger Mary’s, which used to be a hardware store, has the ghost of a young girl. The Kress building, home to Kres Chophouse, is also believed to be haunted.
2. Elijah Hand/Carey Hand buildings
A funeral home seems like a place you’d expect to find ghosts. And the first funeral home in Orlando is no exception. Elijah Hand opened a carpentry shop at 15-17 W. Pine Street in the late 1800s, but it was his talent in the process of embalming that became very popular because it allowed families to delay burial in time for a funeral with more loved ones.
Elijah Hand passed his business on to his son Carey, who opened the Carey Hand Funeral Home across the street. It had a crematorium.
Ting says 15-17 W. Pine Street is definitely haunted, and possibly cursed. She notes that the nightclubs and bars that have tried to open in the building have all closed after a short stint. She says there’s a window on the second floor where a man can be seen.
Meanwhile, the Carey Hand building is now a UCF building with its own haunted history.
3. Harp & Celt
The Irish pub on Magnolia Avenue has an urban legendary history, and a ghost believed to be from those times. Like the Ceviche building on Church Street, the Harp & Celt used to be a “neighborhood brothel.”
“There is a gentleman that we’ve met over and over in the past 10 years or so that we’ve done tours there, and his name is Maximilian,” Ting said. “He doesn’t like being called Max, but Maximilian, and he’s the caretaker of the building, and over the years, we’ve studied him, and he prefers women. There’s a certain corner that he’s usually spotted at, and women just naturally gravitate to that corner without even knowing it before we tell the story.” But Ting says Maximilian is not malicious about it. He’s a protector.
4. Orange County Regional History Center/ Wall Street/Angebilt Building
Most people know the Orange County Regional History Center used to be the county courthouse. There are several spirits that haunt the building (though maybe not the infamous Ted Bundy, who was tried there for murder), including guards, jurists, and a child. The hauntings extend to the buildings around as well. The jail originally sat where part of Wall Street Plaza is now, and ghosts from the jail and the bars that have existed throughout the years haunt the area.
Then there is the Angebilt Building, which used to be a hotel. Ting says there is a tunnel under the hotel that allowed law enforcement to transfer people between the jail and the courthouse. The hotel also played host to celebrities.
You would use a tunnel to go to the Beacham Theater across the street (which is haunted by a lady in white, Ting says). The building is now home to offices, where workers talk of hearing strange sounds of a party, laughter and doors locking on their own.
5. Greenwood Cemetery
Why would a ghost haunt a cemetery? Ting says one theory has to do with objects that are buried with the dead. Remember, sometimes ghosts imprint on objects. That may be the case at Greenwood Cemetery, Orlando’s oldest and largest graveyard, home to some of the most notable names in Orlando history. “That one has always been a very active location, incredible things there,” Ting said. “That is probably one of the locations I cannot guarantee you that all spirits are friendly because there’s just so many spirits there.”
Ting says the ghost of Orlando’s first fire chief haunts the cemetery. She’s connected with him because she’s a firefighter herself.
Another spirit haunting Greenwood Cemetery is July Perry, who was killed in the Ocoee Riots for registering Black people to vote.
How does she know it’s him?
“We don’t, we don’t. The information that we are given several times through our instruments indicates that it is July Perry who is still there,” Ting said.
“We try not to disrespect anybody… if it happens once, OK, that’s interesting. Twice, there’s a little bit more to it, three, four or five times and so on, there’s something to it,” ting said. “But you’re right, exactly how do we know. Spirits can live and have lied.”
6. Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition
Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition on International Drive is another place where the objects may contain spirits. There are nearly 200 artifacts from the Titanic at the museum, ranging from pieces of the hull to chairs and other furniture.
Other places along International Drive may be haunted. Ting and her team are currently investigating the Pirates Dinner Adventure theater for ghostly activity.
“Servers and employees say they see shadow figures when they know that the whole building is clear,” Ting said. “There’s a certain section in that theater where people are sitting and eating dinner and they ask ‘is there any way that you can turn the air condition down over there, is there an air vent?’ And they say no, there’s nothing there. But that section gets the most complaints, and that’s where they see the shadow figures and more of the objects moved in that area.”
7. Annie Russell Theater at Rollins College
Winter Park’s Rollins College has a haunted theater, and the college likes to share its story. Famed actress Annie Russell taught at the college and served as theater director until her death in 1936.
The college says her favorite theater seat folds down on its own and stays in position, and sometimes applause has been heard coming from the area in the balcony. The door to a closet that used to be Russell’s dressing room opens on its own. Every fall the new students to the Dept. of Theatre and Dance are regaled with these ghost stories so they know what to expect.
8. The Garden Theater, Winter Garden
Ting’s team conducts ghost tours in downtown Winter Garden. She says there are several haunted buildings, like the Railroad Museum, but the Garden Theater is definitely haunted.
“There’s actors and actresses that are still there,” Ting said. “There’s different entities that you can see walking in there. You can see individuals sitting in seats sometimes. They hear footsteps upstairs when there’s nobody else, so much so that one of the employees was actually armed, and he was in there cleaning up and shutting things down and he really thought someone was in the building. And he pulled out his weapon and said, ‘I am armed. Do not approach me at this point in time.’ And he swept the whole theater, and there was nothing there.”
9. Highland Manor, Apopka
This party venue in Apopka is better known these days for Southern-style weddings. The mansion was home to one of the area’s first doctors, Dr. McBride and his wife, Helen. In 1956, Helen McBride, an aviation trainer, reportedly confessed to shooting an airline ticket agent to death. Helen claimed they were arguing over property, but some say she was having an affair with him and shot him in anger. She was acquitted, and stayed at the manor until her death, and her husband stayed too. A woman is believed to be seen coming down the stairs. And Ting says it’s believed the doctor may be haunting the manor as well.
Orange County Commissioner Emily Bonilla featured Ting and a tour of Highland Manor on her show, “Emily Tells All.”
10. Hotel Forrest Lake, Sanford
Downtown Sanford has a number of haunted buildings, like Wop Hop’s Brewing or the Old Jailhouse. The Hotel Forrest Lake along Lake Monroe was built in 1926 and operated under several hotel names (including the Mayfair Hotel) before becoming headquarters for a missionary group (New Tribes Mission). In 2019, Sanford announced that the building was being renovated by Key Performance Hospitality Group and would become a resort-style hotel again, but it hasn’t happened yet.
A person who lived in the hotel when it belonged to New Tribes Mission says the building had several spirits. One likes to play the piano that’s in one of the large meeting rooms. There have been reports of footsteps, intense cold spots, and someone in white haunting the apartments.
11. Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp, Volusia County
In 1875 George Colby, spiritualist, followed his spirit guide Seneca into the woods of Central Florida and homesteaded the land that would eventually become the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp, a winter camp for his associates. Spiritualists say Cassadaga is a natural point of psychic energy. People come to perform seances, spiritual readings and commune with the dead.
So ghosts are not unexpected as you tour the historic homes in the camp, or at the Cassadaga Hotel, which is supposedly haunted by a ghost named Arthur. But if you are looking for things that go bump in the night, you might not find yourself welcome in Cassadaga. They take their beliefs seriously. For instance, the spiritualists seem to discount the so-called “Devil’s Chair,” a stone chair where the devil supposedly whispers to people seated there. Not everything is to believed.
12. Ma Barker’s House, Ocklawaha
If you’re a fan of Prohibition-era gangster stories, then you might want to visit Ma Barker’s House in Marion County. The house was owned by Carson Bradford, built as a summer retreat from Miami. Bradford rented the house only once – in 1934, to a Mrs. T.C. “Kate” Blackburn, who was looking for a place to spend some time with her sons during the winter. Blackburn turned out to be Ma Barker, the alleged matriarch of the Barker-Karpis gang, and the home became the site of the longest FBI shootout in history. The FBI killed Ma Barker and her son Fred during the shootout in 1935. It’s believed Ma Barker haunts the property herself.
13. Apollo 1 launch site, Cape Canaveral
Launch Complex 34 is where the Apollo 1 mission was supposed to lift off at Cape Canaveral. On Jan. 27, 1967, there was a fire during a launch rehearsal. Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were killed.
Today, all that’s left of the launch site is a concrete launch site, the blockhouse and flame shields. There is an eeriness at the site. People who have been to the site claim to hear loud cries there. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex used to host an early space tour that included a visit to Launch Complex 34, but that tour is not available right now.
14. Ashley’s Rockledge
The Tudor-style building has been Ashley’s restaurant since 1985, but it started out as Jack’s Tavern in the 1930s. It’s believed Ashley’s is haunted by a young woman named Ethel Allen, a tavern regular who was murdered in 1934. News 6 partner Florida Today investigated the haunting a few years ago. Allen was brutally murdered, and her death was never solved. Guests say they have felt a ghostly presence at the restaurant, though whether it’s Ethel Allen is up for debate. But Ashley’s freely accepts its ghostly history, with regular “Dinner and a Ghost” events.
15. Sugar Mill Ruins, New Smyrna Beach
The Sugar Mill Ruins is a historic park in Volusia County that used to be part of the Cruger-dePeyster Plantation, a 19th-century farm that was raided during the Second Seminole War. Seminole Indians pillaged the plantation and set it on fire.
The remains of the sugar mill are now available for picnics and hiking, and ghosts. Shadow people have supposedly been seen near sunset. Some claim to have seen Seminole Indians in the woods in the early morning as well.