Photo credits: Pensacola News Journal (PNJ)
Photo credits: Pensacola News Journal (PNJ)

The Hauntings and Folklores of Northwest Florida

April 25, 2023

OPINION — With Pensacola being the United States’ oldest non-continuous settlement, it is safe to say that all of Florida, specifically Northwest Florida, has seen its fair share of histories and haunts. There have been books dedicated to the hauntings of the Sunshine State. Some of these are by world-renowned authors Mark Muncy & Kari Schultz, who have traveled the entire state multiple times in search of Florida’s ghostliest stories. Some of their published works include Eerie Florida, Creepy Florida and Freaky Florida. These are not the only authors delving into the darker part of the paradise state, however. Local to us is a published book by Alan Brown, titled Haunted Pensacola. This book delves into the local Pensacola and Gulf Breeze area.

There are other books encompassing the whole state, but certain ones have chapters dedicated to only parts of Northwest Florida. One such book was found in the back of a thrift store in the backwoods of Tallahassee. Ghosting Hunting Florida by Dave Lapham takes readers along a road trip with Lapham as he uncovers the state’s scariest haunts. Not each book is dedicated to the historical haunts of Florida, however. The stories we hear in passing, or the “what happened here?” inquiries of places with an obscure past, also add to the creepy ambience Florida has to offer. A book that goes more into detail about this specific folklore storytelling is Spooky Florida by S.E. Schlosser. 

But the question is—what inspired these books in the first place? Is it the vast history and lore of one of the oldest states in America? The answer lies in the towns and backwoods country of this state, and the deeper one delves, the darker it gets. While Northwest Florida is known for its sunshine and sandy beaches, here too lies great haunts and mysteries. 

Starting off with Pensacola itself, one of the most common-knowledge historical facts of the oldest non-continuously inhabited cities of the state is that of the late Apache chief Geronimo. Captured along with the rest of his people in October of 1886, he was sent to Fort Pickens as a prisoner. The rumor goes, however, that one night, Geronimo managed to escape and take a boat across the Gulf to Texas. Unfortunately, he was recaptured not long after he made landfall. Upon his return to Pensacola Beach, Geronimo cursed the land, declaring that whomever dared to leave would eventually return. Whether this actually happened or not, there is no doubt that to this day, Geronimo and his people are still felt throughout the sandy fort when one visits Fort Pickens.

For those who grew up in the north Pensacola region, the hauntings of Coon Hill Cemetery in Jay, Florida may sound familiar. There is a diminishing brick wall surrounding the graves of Coon Hill, and rumor goes that those who walk along the wall will suddenly get pushed down by a mysterious force. Is it just a coincidence of the wind, or something more nefarious? Is it the children of the cemetery who just want to play, or a warning from something darker to stay out?

The Pensacola Lighthouse is another popular haunt of the area. So popular, in fact, that the television show Ghost Hunters filmed an episode there in 2009. The traveling site TripAdvisor also listed it as one of “America’s Most Haunted Lighthouses.” Lapham’s Ghost Hunting Florida delves deeper into the history of what makes the Lighthouse so incredibly haunted in the first place. The story goes that a mother died giving birth to twins in one of the lighthouse bedrooms, and you can still see blood stains on the wooden floors to this day. Another rumor goes that one of the lighthouse keeper’s wives murdered her husband in the lighthouse. The lighthouse offers public access and ghost hunts with a team to find out whether these stories and haunts are true or just tales. They are offered only a few times a year, so book your own tour quickly to see if you can see the twins in the bedroom or the woman in white dancing along the light of the lighthouse. For more information, visit tems=yes

Another common-knowledge lore for those familiar with the Northwest Florida area may be that of the UFO sightings in Gulf Breeze. In 1987, Gulf Breeze resident Ed Walters claimed he encountered a UFO that had a blue beam shoot out of it and managed to photograph it. This led to a type of hysteria around the town, and locals began to investigate whether Mr. Walter’s claims were true. In another instance, Walters claimed he saw a mysterious creature looking into his window one night. Ed and his wife even later released a book on the sightings, titled The Gulf Breeze Sightings. While Walters isn’t the only Gulf Breeze resident to claim sightings of unidentified flying objects, many still believe these pictures and stories are a hoax. Gulf Breeze is known for being in between two major military bases and the Pensacola Airport just across the bay. But whether there is actually life other than those on earth, the UFO frenzy has made its claim on Gulf Breeze. The next time you are out on a drive along Pensacola Beach, make sure to look out for the infamous UFO home. Maybe you’ll see a little green creature waving to you from the windows. 

Traveling east along the Panhandle, another haunted location is Fort Walton Beach. Despite being known for its beautiful white beaches, Eglin Air Force Base and successful aquarium, the town is still not immune to the folktales and haunts found throughout the rest of Northwest Florida. 

Starting with Garnier Bayou, locals say that on a full moon, you can see spirits amongst the pine trees and the swampy marshes. However, that is not the creepiest place that Fort Walton Beach has to offer. In the book, Eerie Florida, the author talks about the infamous Brooks Bridge. The steel bridge was constructed between 1965 and 1966 so that travelers on 98 could cross over the Santa Rosa Sound. This bridge is home, however, to a very specific haunt. Spooky Florida states that at midnight on the third Wednesday of every month, you can see an apparition of a pack of wolves running across the waters of the Sound. Many have claimed to see the pack, but the best way to be sure is for those to travel to the bridge and see if they see the ghostly pack themselves. 

Photo credits: Eerie Florida

Ghost stories and folk tales have been around since the beginning of time and will likely stay until the end. There is no doubt that Northwest Florida has a rich history and is filled with tales of the supernature galore. Whether these occurrences are factual or a tall-tale made up for the mere enjoyment of inducing shivers and frights, hauntings and history may very well go hand-in-hand. It is highly unlikely to have one without the other.

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