In this Halloween True Okee special… Stories of strange creatures and ghosts surround the area around Lake Okeechobee. But sometimes, the reality behind the stories can be more horrifying than the ghosts themselves.
The Sunshine State has no shortage of spooky tales - ghostly pirates still guarding their treasures, spirts of suicides who haunt the places they died and old buildings where something "just doesn't feel right."
Are the legends based on fact, or just colorful stories made up to scare children or entertain the tourists? Like some details in the ghost stories, it all depends on who you believe.
Kissimmee River: "Ghost Stories of Florida" by Dan Asfar includes the story of boating enthusiast Rick Selzer who had a strange experience when boating on the river just north of Bassinger.
He told the author he had heard stories that the river is haunted by the ghosts of pirates and by the ghost of someone who was eaten by an alligator. On one boat trip he was drawn by a splashing sound and followed an old oxbow to a pond he had never seen before. When he investigated, he found "the water was black - way too black to be natural," the storyteller claims. "Then the splashing started up again. But this time it wasn't so much a splashing but a huge watery upheaval. The center of the pond rose up with tremendous force and fell back on itself followed by a violent churning, like something huge was thrashing under the surface." According to Selzer, nothing in the wetlands was big enough to make that stir.
"But beyond its size, I could tell that there was nothing there - there was nothing under the surface. The water was churning on its own as if the whole bay was alive." He fled back to his campsite.
That night in the woods, he couldn't shake the feeling that something had followed him from the river. He was awakened by a moaning sound and went to investigate. When he returned to his camp site, it was destroyed, tent collapsed, belongings strewn about, some items even up in trees. But although his food was scattered, none of it was taken, "not so much as a bite from any of it." He searched for the prints of whatever animal might have done it, and could find no prints except his own.
Legend has it that on misty mornings, just as the sun comes up, a woman in white sometimes strolls through Evergreen Cemetery in Okeechobee. As the sun pierces the morning's fog, the ghostly figure evaporates. No one seems to know who she is or why she walks there
The Desert Inn in Yee Haw Junction was a brothel in South Florida's wilder past.
But visitors claim some residents of the upstairs rooms never really left
The Desert Inn: The Desert Inn, at Yee Haw Junction on U.S. Highway 441 at Highway 60 is connected with a number of ghost stories. According to "Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore," by Greg Jenkins, Yeehaw Junction started out as a resting stop for cattle drives and a depot for Flagler's East Coast Railway.
The upstairs of the building served as a bordello - and the Desert Inn has the distinction of being the only bordello on the National Historic Register. After the bordello closed, the inn provided lodging for weary travelers. Over the years, there were many deaths connected to the area including bar fights that turned into shootouts and automobile accident victims who were taken to the inn for shelter and who died before medical help arrived.
According to "Ghostly Legends," in the early 1990s a traveler who was staying in one of the upstairs rooms committed suicide by hanging himself from an overhead pipe.
Owner Bev Zicheck, who was interviewed for the book, found the body.
Mrs. Zicheck reported that some staff members refused to go upstairs alone because people have strange feelings and experiences there. Incidents include furniture apparently moving by itself, doors opening and closing and the sound of someone pacing upstairs when no one is up there - and the door to the upstairs is padlocked.
Published sources include: "Haunting Sunshine" by Jack Powell; "Haunt Hunter's Guide to Florida," by Joyce Elson Moore; "Ghost Stories of Florida, by Dan Asfar; and "Ghostly Legenda and Haunted Folklore," by Greg Jenkins.