Haunted Orlando: An Insider’s Guide to Orlando’s Top Ten Haunts
Are you looking for an authentic haunted house? Here is an insider’s guide to what’s real or a bunch of hype when looking for a ghostly experience.
It’s that time of year when columnists far and wide are compiling their top ten lists of local haunted spots, just in time for the Halloween season. Orlando magazine is no exception; and we’re raising the bar this year.
To make this list extra special and to give our readers an inside scoop, we’re reaching out to nationally known psychic Terri Rodabaugh. Terri is looking at Orlando’s most famous “haunts” and will let us know if it’s “the real deal” or a “bunch of hype.”
Terri comes from a long line of mediums. Some families pass down blue eyes, high cholesterol, or perhaps a musical talent. Her great-great-grandmother read tea leaves and scryed fire for her neighbors (to scry is to see or predict the future), a gift she passed down to her great-great-granddaughter. It’s a family business, much like farming or running a restaurant. The gene or ability was passed to great-grandma’s son, Terri’s grandfather, who had prophetic dreams. His daughter, Terri’s mom, communicated with spirit that appeared to her as angels.
When Terri came along, she thought the ability might have passed her by until she turned 27. “That’s when everything opened up for me.” Since then, she has been reading people, first as a sideline and now as a full-time career.
Currently living in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (you just know the spirits are knocking down her door), Terri spends her time teaching classes, workshops, leading Spirit Circles, and is in high demand, giving readings over Zoom and Gallery Events with Rhonda Russo, a fellow medium. Terri can be found on the popular podcast “Lifting the Veil with Terri and Rhonda.”
As we look at Orlando’s most famous haunted spots, Terri will give us her insight and rate each location. We’re introducing our new Orlando magazine’s “Ghost-ometer,” where we will score each location from one to five ghosts; one meaning “a bunch of hype,” to five “the real deal.”
Cassadaga and the Devil’s Chair
It’s not a real haunted list without Cassadaga. Cassadaga is a Seneca Indian word meaning “Water beneath the rocks” and is located close to Deland. Founded in 1894 by George Colby, they originally intended the town as a winter residence for Spiritualists who lived in Lily Dale, New York. Colby claimed to have been led to the location by his Native American spirit guide, Seneca.
Besides being a town filled with spiritualists, Cassadaga is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a lovely glimpse into what life was like in rural central Florida. From paved roads, picket fences, and the historic hotel in the center of the town, Cassadaga feels peaceful. Time seems to slow down as one sips their mimosa or mint julep on the porch of the old hotel.
While strolling the grounds of Cassadaga is a delight, steer clear of the cemetery where one finds the Devil’s Chair. Legend says it belongs to the devil, and you will hear whispers if you sit on it. He may appear in front of you and even torment you for days. Another more playful legend is that if you leave a can of beer on the chair overnight, it will be empty the following day. Interesting side note, the can is never opened.
“It’s not the devil who haunts it,” says Terri. “I see a man hovering over the chair or sitting in it. He just doesn’t like anyone sitting in his chair. I feel it’s someone who is buried nearby the chair. He has dark hair, and he’s been there a long time.”
Terri feels that he may have been a clairvoyant, perhaps a former resident, and is showing off. “‘See! I still got it!’ is what he says. I don’t think the rumor of it affecting you afterward is true.”
4/5 Ghosts – If you want to catch some spirits, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Cassadaga.
The Inside-Out House
There was a time in American history when people bought pre-fabbed homes, known as kit houses, mail order homes, or catalog homes. Prefabricated homes came about during the 19th century Gold Rush years, so prospectors could quickly construct a home and get to work. Sears & Roebuck popularized catalog homes in the 1940s.
The Inside-Out House was one of the original pre-fabbed homes. Built in 1873 in Boston, the Inside-Out House was originally the home to a retired sea captain, Captain W. Pierce. They shipped it to Florida and reconstructed in Altamonte Springs until 1973, when the Central Florida Society for Historical Preservation saved the home from demolition, moving it to its current location in Longwood.
Captain W. Pierce is said to live in the home to this day with his cat Brutus. Unidentified voices, footsteps, and cold spots have been reported.
Terri says that the captain is indeed haunting the Inside-Out House. “But I feel others, too. It’s an old building and seems to draw spirit to it.”
Terri insists the spirits are not evil. “Just curious. I feel a portal is open at the Inside-Out House, which is a doorway to other dimensions. That’s why it’s such a draw.”
The Inside-Out House is now a gift shop, so if you visit and don’t experience a “spirit” encounter, you can console yourself and buy something nice.
5/5 Ghosts – A house that moved from Boston to Florida. A ghostly sea captain and his cat. A portal to another dimension. Inside-Out house is as “the real deal” as it gets.
Interstate 4 Highway
It may seem an odd choice, including a highway as a haunted location, but there are several spots on Florida’s I-4 that are considered highly active. The most infamous is the stretch of I-4 that goes across the St. John’s River into Sanford and is called by many the “Most Haunted Interstate in America.” If you’ve been caught in I-4 traffic, you understand.
Taking a page out of the movie “Poltergeist,” it’s believed that they built the bridge over the graves of German immigrants in 1886 who had yellow fever. The local priest died and could not give the last rites before they were buried, leaving their spirits to roam.
Witnesses have seen the ghostly pioneers along the side of the road, static interference on phone calls and radios, and even truckers have heard voices coming through their CB radios asking, “Who’s there?” and “Why?”
Even before Terri could tune in, she immediately felt that people were buried beneath the highway. “Yes, I think this is true. It’s too bad they can’t dowse for the bodies and retrieve them to give them a proper burial. They may never rest until that happens.”
3/5 Ghosts – We would rate it four ghosts if you could stop for a visit. Since this is a “drive-by” location, we gave it three ghosts.
The Oviedo Lights
If you have lived in Orlando for any period of time, you’ve most likely heard about the Oviedo Lights. Venture out to the Econlockhatchee River, under the Snow Hill Bridge canoe launch, and you have a good chance of experiencing the mysterious green lights floating on the surface.
Some claim that the lights are nothing more than swamp gas, but some tales and legends disagree. One story claims the lights are the spirit of a young Cub Scout who disappeared without a lantern and remains as a light to warn others to stay away. Some claim to have been chased by the green apparitions.
Terri’s take: “I agree that this is swamp gas. I don’t feel that this is a spirit haunting at all. But it sounds like something I’d like to go see,” she laughs.
1/5 Ghosts – “Bunch of hype” for ghosts, but an exciting place for scientific observation.
Orange County Regional History Center
Downtown Orlando, Florida
While theaters SEEM TO BE a popular haunting location, it makes sense that a History Center would feature a few spirits. The Orange County Regional History Center doesn’t disappoint.
Built-in 1927 and originally constructed as a courthouse, the popular History Center is infamous for being the location of one of the Ted Bundy serial killer trials. The name “Ted Bundy” can be seen carved on a table. Of course, anyone can carve a name on a table. But they have reported strange happenings from objects that move and levitate and even a ghostly sighting.
Terri wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of connecting with a serial killer. “That’s not my cup of tea,” she explains. “But I touched in and didn’t find him there. Why would he be? I think he’d rather be at the prison they sent him to.”
After a pause, “I get a yes on that.”
3/5 Ghosts – Likely “the real deal,” but unlikely for a Ted Bundy sighting.
Annie Russell Theatre
Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida
Ask any theater person, and they’ll be the first to tell you there is nothing more haunted than a theater. They say every theater has a ghost, which is why theaters are known for having a ghost light standing center stage when the theater is closed for the night.
This 91-year-old theater is well known for its ghostly activity, and it is believed that the spirit of Annie Russell roams the wings along with five fellow male actors. These spirits are believed to be positive, as Annie had a sweet soul.
Actors have reported feeling a pat on the back at the end of a show, yet no one is standing beside them. Students have seen a woman in a lavender gown suddenly disappear before their eyes. And Annie has a favorite seat on the balcony. Urban legend has it that if she appears in the morning between midnight and 1 a.m. on Wednesday before a show opens, it will be a success. If not, it will be a flop.
Terri says that it’s evident that Annie Russell is in “her” theater, but she refuses to take responsibility for the success or failure of productions. “She told me she doesn’t bring any kind of negative energy to flops,” explains Terri. “Flops are flops and are usually the director or writer’s fault.” Terri describes Annie as kind and generous and says the men that are there seem to be happy as well. “One death was a suicide, but not necessarily done in the theatre.”
4/5 Ghosts – It’s “the real deal.”
It seems like a no-brainer to include a cemetery on the list. Greenwood Cemetery is one place that has experienced a complicated history with an excessive amount of grief.
They established Greenwood Cemetery in 1880 and was the official resting ground for Central Floridians for years. Before 1880, there was no official burial location in the area, leading to numerous lost and unmarked graves. To make matters worse, many patients who died at Sunland Hospital were buried in Greenwood.
Inside the cemetery are sections “Baby Land 1” and “Baby Land 3,” which house the remains of infants and children under five. Visitors have reported hearing sounds from music boxes and even children’s laughter. Some have reported the feeling of a child standing next to them, the feel of a child’s touch.
“This is so sad,” says Terri. “Many children die having no one to claim their souls. Children are taught to stay away from strangers, so when a family member who has passed comes to help them cross over, they may not go with them because they don’t know them. A guardian spirit usually watches over these children, but that’s not always a good thing. I call them Soul Collectors. I also see quite a few dead there with no gravestone; no one even knows or remembers them. Very sad situation.”
4/5 Ghosts – Greenwood is “the real deal,” but I’m not sure about hanging around a cemetery.
Pine Hills, Florida
Sunland has to be the most tragic of all the locations on our list. Sunland Hospital, or Sunland Mental Hospital, was originally in the Pine Hills area as a hospital for patients suffering from tuberculosis.
While several Sunland Hospital facilities were throughout the state, the Orlando location had an especially nefarious reputation. During the 1960s and 1970s, the hospital cared for profoundly mentally and physically disabled children and adults. After years of neglect and horrific abuse, which led to several investigations, the hospital finally closed its doors in the 1980s. They demolished the main building in 1999, leaving only the administration building with a children’s playground on the site of the hospital remains.
It is said that the spirits of the children haunt the playground at night; the swings seem to move on their own. Even though the hospital is now gone, people claim to have heard moans, cries, and shadows of former patients.
Terri says that Sunland sounds like a treacherous place to investigate and agrees that it is haunted. “There’s a lot of grief there. I believe they didn’t have the funding to care for the number of patients they had. In such establishments, there are always bad apples. I think the place started with good intentions, and over time it just got darker and darker. I’m glad they have this sealed off.”
3/5 Ghosts – It might be “the real deal,” but it’s far too sad.
The Haunted Mansion
Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom
“Welcome, foolish mortals, to the Haunted Mansion. I am your host, your ghost host.” Who isn’t familiar with these words? All Disney-lovers can recite this spiel in their sleep.
Maybe it’s the stories about people wanting to scatter ashes of loved ones in the theme park ride or the suggestion that it’s “home to 999 happy haunts, but there’s room for one more” that started the rumors. But some Disney guests claim to have witnessed an actual ghost at the Haunted Mansion. Cast members have encountered glowing orbs; one evening, a street sweeper reported lights in the windows disappearing as quickly as they appeared.
Terri says that believe it or not, this one seems valid to her. “I have heard that people have seen Walt Disney in and around the area. I think good old Walt likes to walk his property. It was his dream, after all.”
3/5 Ghosts – It could be “the real deal.” Either way, it’s a fun ride.
The Enzian Theatre
The FINAL location on our list is another theater, the trendy art house movie theater in Maitland. The Enzian hosts the Florida Film Festival along with several other film events and is the go-to place for your indie, foreign or classic film experience. It’s also known for the occasional brush with spirit.
It is believed that a ghost manifests on moonless nights, usually around 1 a.m., as a disembodied head and apparently prefers the north corner of the building. Screams have been reported, and the ghostly apparition has been known to disappear into the kitchen.
Terri says that the Enzian feels like a residual haunting. “‘Residual’ means that it’s the memory of a tragic event and keeps looping. There’s not a ghost there, but a memory or imprint. Obviously, a tragic event occurred there or nearby the theater.”
Terri says, “Unlike other hauntings, residual hauntings are impossible to get rid of.” What’s a little disembodied head between friends?
3/5 Ghosts – It might be “the real deal,” but it’s far too sad.