Old Haunts

 

A downtown walking tour is a spirited exploration of Orlando’s more lurid history. 




The brothel, funeral home and meatpacking company are long gone, but ghosts of their ghastly pasts still haunt downtown.

At least that’s what you’ll hear on an Orlando Ghost Tour, which since 2001 has hunted paranormal spirits in historic areas of downtown and, on a separate tour, in Greenwood Cemetery off Anderson Street to the east.

Tour guides Rob Davis and Carla Hicks style themselves after the intrepid folks on the SCI FI Channel’s Ghost Hunters.

“Everything we’re going to talk about tonight is backed by physics,” Davis announces as our tour begins outside a Church Street Station restaurant. 

So begin the lurid tales of Church Street, where meatpackers and women of the night lived out seldom-told stories of early 20th century Orlando.

Hicks points to a restaurant on Church Street, saying it was once the site of an “unofficial brothel” where men conceived and later murdered illegitimate children.  It’s a disturbing story to be sure, but its fear factor doesn’t match the heebie jeebies one gets at Halloween Horror Nights at Universal. 

Heading toward Pine Street, we pass vacant storefronts with paper in the windows. It feels a little ghostly.

We stop at Pine and Magnolia. “This is Orlando’s most haunted area,” Hicks explains, chalking up the creepiness to intersecting electromagnetic fields and a nearby Seminole burial ground where a sports bar now sits.

As though on cue, church bells start ringing, creating an eerie soundtrack. So far, the tour is long on history and short on ghost sightings. 

Heading to the old Orange County Courthouse, now the Orange County Regional History Center, we’re armed with electromagnetic field sensors to help find spirits.

In the courtroom, Hicks sets a teddy bear on the witness stand. As I walk around, my sensor blips a few times—probably because my thumb slipped.

We move to the grand jury room, where Davis sits down and plays with stuffed animals. He hopes to attract the attention of a ghost named Emily.

“If you don’t get anything else out of this tour, at least you get to see a fat man playing with teddy bears,” Davis says.

Some guests have smelled a judge’s tobacco here; others have taken pictures with orbs in them.

But no such luck tonight.

On the way out, our cable-operated elevator stops at the first floor, then returns to the third floor by itself.

A paranormal elevator? If so, it’s the most ghostly thing I’ve seen all night.

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