By the point Mark Muncy moved to Tampa Bay from West Virginia along with his household at age 13, he had already cultivated an abiding curiosity within the paranormal. He had corresponded with the well-known ghost hunter Hans Holzer (an Austrian parapsychologist who wrote greater than 120 books on the supernatural courting to 1963) and visited the haunted-object assortment of demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, later the topics of “The Conjuring” film sequence.
In 1984, his first yr in Florida, he attended a ghost tour in St. Augustine. “Ghost excursions have been at that time nonetheless a fledgling business,” he remembers. “The place I got here from, up within the hills, we informed the tales behind the fireplace. We didn’t stroll round and inform individuals this stuff. So it was a giant tradition shock.”
After faculty, Muncy took a part-time gig as a scare-actor for Common Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights, the place his lingering Appalachian accent led him to be forged as a “Deliverance”-style hillbilly monster. (“I used to be typecast, nevertheless it’s OK,” he says.) In 1998, Muncy began his personal haunted home, reworking his yard into an unsettling “Blair Watch Mission” tableau. This attraction would sprout into Hellview Cemetery, one of many preeminent haunted homes within the Gulf Coast for practically 19 years, attracting some 10,000 individuals each weekend, with all proceeds supporting native charities.
All of which is preamble to Muncy’s current profession as a historian specializing at the hours of darkness facet of the Sunshine State. Having gathered numerous Florida myths and legends whereas designing his elaborate haunts for Hellview, Muncy revealed lots of them, along with his spouse and illustrator Kari Schultz, in Eerie Florida in 2016 (revealed by the Historical past Press). It has been adopted by Creepy Florida and Freaky Florida—collections of the state’s spookiest tales, from the Flesh-Consuming Cloud of Daytona’s Tomoka Park to the Corpse Bride of Key West.
Muncy’s father, the pragmatist of the household, discovered his son’s passions unusual, and he didn’t dwell to see Mark’s success as an writer and lecturer on the paranormal. “Proper when this [hobby] was beginning to turn into a factor was when he handed away,” Muncy says. “He in all probability is proudest of me now from past as a result of [my books are] in Cracker Barrel.”
Why is it essential to go to all of those haunted or freaky areas that you simply write about?
Lots of people on TikTok or YouTube are simply studying from Wikipedia or from some haunted e book they’ve bought, and have by no means been within the state the place this factor occurred. You get a distinct really feel once you’re there, boots on the bottom. We’re not paranormal investigators or bigfoot hunters or UFO hunters. However we go together with these groups to those areas, and see what they do. And I’m getting their tales, and we’re getting their experiences with them. It does translate otherwise.
We have been in Spring Hill Cemetery in Brooksville. And we have been there with a pictures staff filming a documentary. I used to be telling them concerning the ghosts of the youngsters that play on this gravesite, and a man that was hanged over there. As we’re packing up, the cameramen have been joking, “I want one thing would have occurred.” I’m like, “nicely, not daily is Halloween. If we catch one thing on digital camera, we’re millionaires.”
As we’re packing up, immediately we hear kids’s laughter behind us. They’re all freaking out, attempting to get the cameras out; I’m like, “by the point you get them out, it’s executed.”
Isn’t that all the time the case? The UFO flies immediately over you proper earlier than you will have the digital camera pointed upward.
100%; I’ve seen it approach too many instances.
Realizing the right way to create sure haunted illusions for therefore a few years on your yard attraction, does it make you extra skeptical once you hear about a few of these myths throughout the state?
It makes it simpler to debunk, sure. I’m a giant fan of the Wonderful Randi, a magician who famously stored a $1 million verify for anybody who might show something metaphysical, and he by no means cashed it.
However, after all, there’s that want that we wish it to be actual. When [paranormal investigators] pull out the little field that scans radio channels to speak to the useless, you’re getting random radio channels; that’s not speaking to the useless. While you’ve bought a random phrase generator that the ghosts are manipulating, no—you’ve bought a random phrase generator. So these issues … No. However, I do really feel individuals see stuff. Folks expertise stuff. Folks have loopy interactions. So sure, I’m a believer. However I additionally am a stable skeptic. So I believe that places me in a novel place.
What’s the strangest or most surreal place you’ve discovered your self when touring for these books?
I’ve bought to say the place that was the scariest in Florida was the Dozier Faculty for Boys [a former reform school that, during its 111 years, gained a reputation for hideous child abuse and even murder of children—Ed.] up within the Panhandle, close to Marianna. We went up there for a ghost story, as a result of everyone talks concerning the youngsters and ghosts and all that, and also you learn the atrocities that allegedly occurred there—100 years of state-sponsored baby abuse. And also you stand up there, and also you’re not speaking about ghosts. You’re speaking concerning the tragedy, and also you simply really feel it. It simply oozes palpable evil. Each hair in your physique is like, no, that is dangerous.
Normally, are you delicate to such energies?
You simply get a sense in a few of these locations. You go go to Robert the Doll down in Key West; you simply stroll in a room with him and you’re feeling it. I believe it’s one thing primeval; the tiger is watching me, so I higher watch out. I get it strolling within the woods at night time. All people describes that feeling of being watched. It’s variations on that; I don’t suppose I’m empathic, however I get an odd feeling.
You’ve bought to respect these locations, as a result of even when it simply looks as if superstition or nonsense, what if it isn’t?
Yeah, don’t poke the bear. We all the time say that. Robert the Doll has his checklist of guidelines. [Visitors are urged to introduce themselves to Robert, ask his permission before snapping any photographs, and thank him before departing.—Ed.] Why not observe them? Take a look at the letters of people who find themselves like, “oops, I screwed up, I’m sorry.” There are issues like aircraft crashes and automobile crashes and monetary break and divorces. One thing occurred to those individuals, and so they hint all of it to their assembly Robert the Doll. So yeah, there’s one thing there.
What’s probably the most direct expertise you’ve had with something paranormal?
I had one thing very uncommon occur, and it was on the Belleview Biltmore Lodge up in Clearwater. They have been going to tear it down … Once we went there, they’d everyone wearing ‘30s regalia. It was like a Gatsby-type social gathering. And so they had all these bellhops dressed up and operating round. Secretly we have been going to go as much as the third flooring to see if the bellhop ghost was there, who died up there and who everyone sees. I used to be there with a [ghost-hunting] staff. I believe it was Spirits of Tampa Bay. We have been like, oh, they’re all dressed up, that is going to screw issues up. However hey, let’s go as much as the third flooring as quickly as we are able to, we’ll arrange the digital camera, and we’ll see what we are able to discover.
We went as much as the third flooring and we get out of the elevator, and there goes the bellhop coming down the corridor. We’re all like, that’s nice, they’ve bought a man dressed up like him up there, that’s good. We’re all simply applauding. He walks by, and we’re all like, nice job, man. After which our colleague goes, “who have been you all speaking to?” She didn’t see him. I mentioned, “the bellhop.” And he’s gone. They’ve cameras, tools, and none of it was turned on but. However I’m going, it’s nonetheless a man in a go well with, as a result of that was stable, that was flesh. I’m going again downstairs. I’m going, “who was the man on the third flooring?” They mentioned, “no person. What are you speaking about?”
So, did I see a ghost? We noticed one thing uncommon that I can’t clarify.
Are there instances you’ve been personally frightened when visiting these haunted locations?
Just a few. There was a spot in Tampa the place I bought a foul vibe. We have been visiting a trestle bridge that supposedly had a monster hooked up to it. It goes over the Hillsborough River. A bunch of children have died there; they’ve been hit by trains or jumped into the water and killed themselves. It’s not very excessive; why are they killing themselves off this bridge, when there are many different bridges in Tampa Bay?
Once we bought there to take photos, once more, each fiber of my being is like, nope. Get out of right here. Run. My pretty spouse took a bunch of images, and I principally had a panic assault. I couldn’t transfer. I used to be so terrified. I nonetheless can’t clarify that one to at the present time. It was broad daylight and a busy road. It’s not probably the most scared I’ve ever been, nevertheless it was up there.
It looks as if there’s extra paranormal motion north of the Palm Seaside County line, and in additional rural locations than in cities. Any explicit motive?
They’re far and wide. Each city has its tales. I believe it’s only a matter of the extra rural, the much less you’re ridiculed about it. In Miami, you’ve bought the Biltmore Lodge; Fatty Walsh’s ghost is there, and scared a president! When your Secret Service notes that the president [Bill Clinton] was watching a soccer recreation and needed to change rooms due to an odd prevalence, and that’s the one be aware you bought, you already know one thing occurred. And that’s proper in Coral Gables, a giant metropolis. However is it talked about? No, as a result of no person desires to suppose they’re loopy.
However you go a little bit additional out, it’s a little bit extra accepted. You’re feeling like, I’m not the one one, and individuals are speaking about it extra.
You take a look at Florida from the night time sky, from area, and also you see these lights on the seashores. There isn’t any darkish seashore anyplace. Then you definately’ve bought massive shiny spots in there, which is all the massive cities—Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa, even Gainesville, Pensacola. Then you definately go a little bit additional inland, and it will get a little bit darker. And that’s all of the suburbs. Then it will get a little bit darker, and that’s the little cities. And then you definately get the darkness: the inexperienced swamp, the Everglades, the Ocala Nationwide Forest, the Withlacoochee Forest, these deep darkish nothings with simply pinpricks of sunshine. And that’s the place the majority of this stuff occur. That’s as a result of when it’s reported, there’s nobody to simply deny it and wash it away.
Is there one thing about the way in which this state was colonized that accounts for such a wealthy paranormal historical past right here?
I believe the conquistadors positively didn’t assist issues. When the conquistadors confirmed up at Key West, it was known as the Isle of Bones as a result of they noticed all of the our bodies buried there from the warring tribes. So why does Key West have so many ghosts? Properly, it’s been there for hundreds of years. St. Augustine is the oldest metropolis in America, so after all it’s going to have plenty of ghost tales and plenty of historical past.
I nonetheless suppose Amelia Island is the forgotten gem up on the Georgia border, as a result of that island was run by pirates for years. I believe Amelia Island has simply as many ghosts as St. Augustine, and it’s bought the oldest European cemetery in America.
Then we had the Seminole Wars with the settlements, and bloodbath after bloodbath, and horrible issues on all sides. It’s Florida; we have been handed round by each European nation that didn’t need something to do with us. It’s sizzling, issues sting you, and large inexperienced issues wish to eat you within the swamps, and everyone retains capturing arrows at you. “Simply take it, we don’t need it!”
To examine Mark Muncy’s favourite spooky South Florida legend, take a look at this internet further from our September/October subject of Boca journal.