urban legends

Balloons in the Night!

We spend a lot of time wandering back roads, out of the way places and remote locations just to see what we can see. Sometimes, it happens that we stumble across something that makes us think “Wow, that is weird!” or “Boy, I wonder what that is all about?” or “Geez, that is kind of creepy!”. Well, this weekend, we ran into something in the woods that caused all three thoughts to surface at once.

So picture this, driving a lonely dirt road far from towns, homes or even lights. It is dark-the kind of dark that headlights struggle to pierce. Music is playing as the group talks and laughs. Then something catches your eye floating over the road ahead. As you get closer, the image emerges from the dark and you realize the pail ghostly orbs are, in fact, balloons tied to a tree overhanging the road obviously design to attract attention from passersby.  The closest thing is a public area along the river with a reputation for drugs, unsolved murders and general mayhem.

I confess I was hesitant to stop the first time we passed them because it seemed like something a nefarious person may do to get people to stop along a deserted road. However, once we drove for a while and turned around, curiosity got the better of us and we had to at least take a look.

The balloons were tied to a branch at least 8’ high that hung out over the edge of the road. While stopped taking pictures, someone was on watch for rampaging clowns or a disgruntled circus performer. Well, and a machete wielding hockey enthusiast!

I am happy to report that we took our photos and continued with our adventure without incident. Now, I am aware that there may be any number of logical, reasonable explanation for the balloons. A party, a signal to aliens, bored locals or candid camera are all possible answers, but was it unexpected? Certainly! Was it creepy? A bit. Was it the makings of a good story? Absolutely! The whole way home, we wondered if they were an invitation to Jason Voorhees Birthday Bash or Uncle Billy Bob’s Redneck Clown Extravaganza. Either way, we all got a good laugh, cool photos and a little creepy video.

Here are the photos and video so we can share the experience with you!

 

The Kingsley Plantation Ghost, Part II

In 1814, Zephaniah Kingsley moved to Fort George Island and what is known today as the Kingsley Plantation. He brought his wife and three children (a fourth would be born at Fort George). Drawing of the Kingsley mansion at the Kingsley PlantationAs you may recall from our previous post, his wife, Anna Madgigine Jai, was from Senegal, West Africa, and was purchased by Kingsley as a slave. She actively participated in plantation management, acquiring her own land and slaves when freed by Kingsley in 1811.


The plantation on Fort George Island produced Sea Island cotton, citrus, sugar cane, and corn. The Kingsley’s had an enslaved workforce of approximately 60 sixty people, whose labor was a deciding factor in the success of the plantation. Kingsley continued to acquire property in north Florida and eventually possessed more than 32,000 acres, including four major plantation complexes and more than 200 slaves.

Kitchen house at Kingsley Plantation - Jacksonville, Florida For a time, Anna moved in between Fernandina and Fort George Island, taking over managing the plantation while Kingsley was away on business. At some point in the 1820s, they built a separate kitchen connected to the main house by a covered walkway. Sometimes called the John “Don Juan” McQueen house, after the person who first built Kingsley Plantation, it had a room above it where Anna lived with her children. As odd as it may seem, this followed the common West African custom of wives’ living separately from their husbands, particularly in polygamous marriages. Kingsley took three other wives, all slaves, while at Fort George Island. Two of them gave him children.

On the island, the slaves were quartered a fifth of a mile from the plantation home in tabby cabins. Arranged in a semicircle, there were originally 32 cabins, 16 on either side of the road. This area was the heart of the slave community–the homes of the men, women, and children who lived and worked on Kingsley Plantation more than 150 years ago.

Drawing of tabby houses at the Kingsley Plantation

The enslaved people were barred from both reading and writing; without written sources recounting their experiences, a true understanding of their lives proves difficult. Archaeology, oral histories, accounts authored by Zephaniah Kingsley, official documents and photographic evidence help to provide clues, though.

In 1821, the United States purchased Florida from Spain in 1821. It’s important to note that Spanish society had relatively liberal policies with regard to race, but the new American territorial laws brought many changes. Conditions for Florida’s black population, free and enslaved, deteriorated rapidly and Kingsley, who was against the restrictive laws, found himself arguing that more humane treatment would ensure peace and the perpetuation of slavery. In 1828, he published these opinions in “A Treatise on The Patriarchal, or Co-operative System of Society As It Exists in Some Governments . . . Under the Name of Slavery.”

When they felt that the political climate was irreversible, Kingsley, Anna Jai and their sons moved to Haiti in 1837. Kingsley reported that this was to escape a “spirit of intolerant prejudice.” Kingsley established a colony for his family and some of his former slaves. In 1839, Fort George Island was sold to his nephew Kingsley Beatty Gibbs. Zephaniah Kingsley died in New York City in 1843.


Stay tuned for our next post, when we start to really examine the tale of Old Red Eyes!

Tracking the Kingsley Plantation Ghost

A Tree found on the Kingsley Plantation in Jacksonville, FloridaOld Red Eyes

Local legends tell a harrowing tale of a ghostly spirit known to haunt the historic Kingsley Plantation. What revenant wanders the pastoral landscape and crumbling tabby walls of the slave quarters? If you believe the lore, it is the spirit of Old Red Eyes. Weird Florida shares the story on their website:

“Old Red Eyes is the wicked spirit of a slave that raped, brutalized, and killed, several of the plantation’s female slaves. He was caught by the other slaves and hanged from an oak tree near the entrance to the plantation. Although there are no historical records that document these events.”

The disclaimer they’ve appended to the end is found with nearly every description of Old Red Eyes. This, of course, leaves quite a bit of room for folkloric embellishment, which left us curious with regard to the life and times of those purportedly involved in this frightening tale.

If you’re a long-time fan of The GRIM Society, you probably already know what it means when our curiosity is peaked; if you’re a new visitor to our site, we hope you’re prepared to learn to love learning! We’re breaking this story up into a few posts, since there is a lot of history to cover and we have some really wonderful photographs to share with you.

Anna Kingsley: Senegalese Princess

Forget what you were taught about slavery. Rid yourself of preconceived notions of slave traders, plantation owners, and even of the life led by those held in captivity. Now imagine a young slave trader who, thanks to his growing wealth, is able to purchase a young black woman from the slave markets in Cuba.

Her name was Anta and she was West African, captured in present day Senegal. Her home country was ripped apart by warring factions and slave raids were frequent. There are rumors that Anna was born into the royal family, but these have yet to be substantiated. It is believed that Anna was 13 years old when she was purchased from the salve market in the fall of 1806.

Anna now belonged to a man who was both slave trader and plantation owner: Zephaniah Kingsley. Later, Zephaniah wrote that he and Anta,  were married in a traditional African ceremony “in a foreign land” (likely Cuba) and that her name had been changed to Anna. By the time she arrived at Kingsley’s plantation in Laurel Grove, she was pregnant.

The Kingsley’s Plantations: Slavery in Spanish Florida

The slaves at Laurel Grove worked under a task system. They were given a daily quota for whichever job they were assigned; once they reached this quota, they were free to pursue personal tasks. Many of the slaves had personal gardens, some were even craftsmen who sold their finished goods to neighboring plantations and kept the profits for themselves.

In 1811, Kingsley granted Anna legal emancipation. Kingsley also granted their three children emancipation at the same time. He later wrote of Anna, describing her as “a fine, tall figure, black as jet, but very handsome. She was very capable, and could carry on all the affairs of the plantation in my absence as well as I could myself. She was affectionate and faithful, and I could trust her.”

In 1813, now a free woman, Anna Kingsley petitioned the Spanish government for land and was awarded 5 acres across the river from Laurel Grove. To get the farm going, Anna purchased goods, livestock, and 12 slaves.

A New Start

Zephaniah Kingsley was kidnapped in 1813. His captors wanted him to endorse the Patriot Rebellion, an attempt by Americans to annex Florida to the United States. Americans and the allied Creek Indians raided towns and plantations in north Florida; any person of color who was captured was sent into slavery, regardless of their legal status. These Patriots seized Laurel Grove and 41 of its slaves. They used the facilities as a headquarters while carrying out additional raids.

Anna approached the Spanish and negotiated for her escape, bringing along her children and a dozen slaves. Then she did something so brazen it still rings with defiance: she burned Kingsley’s plantation to the ground while the Spanish watched, then asked the Spanish to escort her to her own homestead, which she also set ablaze, preventing its use by the Patriots.

After the war the Spanish government granted Anna 350 acres thanks to her actions.

We’re going to leave off here today. Next up, the founding of the Fort George Island plantation and Anna’s House. Don’t miss it!

 

Public Tours vs Private Property

I was just reading this article about a ghost tour group that had to shut down because one of the major locations they visit has been declared off limits by the owners.

When I read the headline, I assumed it was some narrow minded zealot that had over reacted, but after reading the whole story I can see both sides to this.

The church is completely within their rights to ask the tour group not to come onto the property. The church is responsible for maintaining the property and the safety of the graves there. I can also understand the church asking for liability insurance from the tour company. Let’s face it, when someone trips and falls in the dark, they will sue the deepest pockets. It’s just the way it is these days. That being said, it would have been nice if they would have given a little more notice.

The ghost tour company is trying to make a living. Most of the ghost tours rely on public access to places of interest. Rarely, do they actually own the property they guide people through. While most ghost tour operators are very conscious of being respectful of the neighboring houses and businesses, it is nearly impossible to guarantee the behavior of every person on every tour. People will be people.

Take a read of this article, I’d love to know your opinion.

-Jim

Morpeth church bans ghost tours!

Ghost Stories versus Historical Research

I love a ghost story. Any ghost story. My book shelf is loaded with books on Florida ghosts, Irish Ghosts, New England ghosts, lighthouse ghosts, battlefield ghosts; basically, I have a lot of books with ghost stories in them.

Likewise, I find myself often watching T.V. shows about ghosts. I enjoy the stories for what they are – entertainment. The problem comes when you start looking into the actual facts of these stories. Often, the tales are impossible to research because they fail to give important details such as names and dates.  Do stories that are unsubstantiated have less value than those with verifiable facts? I suppose it depends on your outlook.  If all you’re looking for is entertainment, then no.  But if you’re looking for something more, something deeper, you have to be able to weed out the urban legends and get down to the bones of a story.  That is where historical research comes in.

I know we don’t update the website very often, but that isn’t because we’re not active.  While you won’t find us posting endless hours of EVPs or countless orb photographs, that doesn’t mean we’re not hard at work.  We’re usually plodding away in search of a stray fact, some dusty truth hidden below the fantastic tales told by so many websites and books.  Here is where we conduct most of our paranormal investigations:

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Yep- we do most of our investigating at the local library.  You’d be amazed what you can find in there! The items in that image are the tools of the trade that often get overlooked when you drop by a ghost hunting website and check out their recommended equipment. A pen, some paper, old newspapers on film and a microfiche reader. They pair nicely with HeritageQuest, NewsBank and Ancestry.com. In fact, it doesn’t need to get much more high-tech than that to debunk most ghost stories we come across.  Fact checking the tales is tireless, often unrewarding work.  Often, we discover some tidbit of information in an old newspaper article or locate a headstone that proves without a shadow of a doubt that the tale we’ve been investigating is, well, complete make believe.  It can be quite a let-down, and being the voice of reason when everyone else wants to hear a good story can be daunting at times.  It’s a bit like being a detective, a genealogist, a historian and a lawyer arguing an unpopular case all rolled into one.

Despite all that, there is sometimes a reward; a pot of gold at the end of the research rainbow.  A good example of this can be found in the Boston House.  We’ve been researching the claims attached to the building for years.  Many of them have proven to be nothing more than a really great story to tell around a campfire.  Yet as we debunked those tales, a different picture emerged.  The Boston House has been dubbed haunted for many, many years- something well documented in the local papers.  Those reported paranormal encounters pre-date the currently popular explanation for the hauntings.  Even more interesting is the fact that the home played host to a number of tragedies, any of which could have resulted in paranormal activity.  Finally, as if it were icing on the cake, many credible witnesses have come forward over the years to share their experiences.  These experiences create the perfect situation for furthering the investigation; specific claims that can be investigated on site.

I often wonder how other groups work through their cases.  I find it hard to believe we’re alone in the stacks, the odd group out as we sift through the sensational stories to find the gems that call for further investigation.   I can only hope there are, and that groups with this methodology prevail in finding out the truth behind all the ghost stories we love to tell.

In Search of the Devil’s Tree

Most people we talk to have never heard of Deputy Sheriff Gerard Schaefer- we hadn’t, and we’ve been residents in the area since birth. It took a rumor overhead by a friend to tip us off to the strange history of Port Saint Luice; a little digging led to the truth and the story of Gerard Schaefer. This twisted individual was responsible for the deaths of possibly hundreds of women, with his victims remains having been found at both Blind Creek and in what is now Oak Hammock Park in Port Saint Lucie. For a full history of this man, visit Michael Newton’s article, “All About Gerard Schaefer“.

The murderous past of Oak Hammock Park was compounded in the years after Schaefer’s horrific crimes took place. Soon groups of Satanic worshipers moved in, claiming the tree Schaefer’s victims had been hung from as their own. They held rituals under what was fast becoming known as the Devil’s Tree, despite the attempts of others in the area to prevent their activity. Here are a few excerpts from the local papers over the past years:

“With Bibles in hand and a can of paint at their sides, a team of pastors set out to rid an oak tree of evil Thursday after reports that the tree has been the site of two murders and several satanic rituals. Chanting “demons be gone” and “this is holy property,” four pastors and two church members joined hands around a 150-year-old live oak on Southwest Leafy Road.”
Author: TERESA LANE, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Date: March 5, 1993

“A 150-year-old oak tree slated for the chopping block because of folklore tying it to evil will not be razed, the tree’s owner said Friday. Instead, an 8-foot wooden cross will be erected near the tree to warn devil-worshipers they’re not welcome on Southwest Leafy Road, said Alan Weierman, administrator of the children’s shelter that owns the 30-acre tract in western Port St. Lucie.”
Author: TERESA LANE, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Date: March 6, 1993

The land on which the Devil’s Tree grew eventually found its way into the hands of the Parks and Recreation Department in Port Saint Lucie. As the story goes, the employees were instructed to cut the tree down in preparation for the land becoming a public park. Here is an excerpt from a standard “friend of a friend” accounting of what happened next:

“The city decided to remove the tree. They contracted the work out to a local tree removal service, who went in with their chainsaws and equipment to cut down the oak, however, their chainsaws wouldn’t fire up. Frustrated, but not ready to give up, they returned with some unused chainsaws, and were surprised to find they also wouldn’t start. All of the chainsaws worked properly later on.

The story got even odder because they came back again, planning to cut down the tree with an old fashioned two person pull saw, the kind made out of tempered steel. Oddly, the teeth broke off the saw.

At this point, the city felt they had run out of options and just decided to leave the tree. That is- until recently. I have heard rumor that perhaps the Devil’s Tree may have been cut down without anyone having been told. Since I haven’t been to Oak Hammock Park recently, I can’t confirm that though.”

In addition to the rumors of activity at The Devil’s Tree, it is said that the woman’s restroom at the park is also a spot with unexplained noises and other events. Today, we decided to take the chance and visit Oak Hammock Park in search of the infamous Devil’s Tree. We went off directions we’d found on another website, which pointed us towards the tree and explained that it was a very old, large oak with metal benches under its branches and a lot of Spanish moss hanging above. After following the directions to reach the tree, we came across one that seemed to fit the bill exactly. We took pictures and discussed the fact that none of us had an erie feeling from the tree, something everyone seemed to report. We continued on down the path, eager to explore the remainder of the park, which is an idyllic slice of ‘old Florida’.

It wasn’t long before we came upon the second tree. It was a very large, old oak. There were metal benches under the branches. The Spanish moss was there. All the signs, yet this was the second tree that fit the description. We thought it odd and, after taking pictures of this second tree, continued on down the path- where we found tree number three. There are five large, old oaks that fit the description of the Devil’s Tree along one path alone, making it nearly impossible to identify with the information we currently have.

Having said that, only one tree gave off an eerie feeling; only one tree seemed to be “creepy”. It also had a rather interesting branch, which you will be able to see in close up in the images below. We also took time to check out the women’s restroom, which didn’t seem like anything interesting during the day.

We’re not done exploring the Devil’s Tree- we are currently attempting to reach those who were involved in the original cases in an attempt to find someone who can verify which of these majestic oaks has the sordid past.