Don’t let Sarasota’s balmy weather stop you from getting goosebumps! From vengeful spirits with broken hearts to mischievous graveyard imps, here are five supernatural stories of local lore to keep you up at night.
The Gator Club
Inside the Gator Club, stiff drinks aren’t the only spirits. The two-story brick building, which stands on Main Street and Lemon Avenue, was built in 1912 by William David Worth to be a grocery store with a family residence upstairs. Over the years, it has been a series of lively establishments, including a cigar shop, an ice cream parlor, a speakeasy and a brothel. Bartender Johnny Hernandez, who has worked at the nightclub for 30 years, has grown accustomed to strange reports. The brothel’s madam is still around, playing ghostly tricks on new hires to test their fortitude. A young boy in 1920s attire has materialized in photos taken on the dance floor, and the shadowy presence of an inebriated man has been sensed in the pool hall. However, the spirit who staff call Mrs. Worth, after the site’s original matriarch, is Hernandez’s favorite.
He’ll admit that the first time he saw the specter, she gave him quite the start. While closing up for the night, Mrs. Worth suddenly appeared on an upstairs loveseat. “She sat there, as though waiting for someone. Her hair was pinned on top of her head and her dress was long with a high collar and puffed sleeves,” he remembers. And she’s still there, staff say, contentedly watching after her home more than a century later.
Keating Hall at Ringling College
It wasn’t long after Ringling College of Art and Design acquired the once-glamorous Bay Haven Hotel that the crying started. Neglected during the Florida land crash, the luxury lodgings had become a house of ill repute before being converted into ladies’ dormitories in 1931.
Upon moving in, frightened co-eds began to hear anguished sobs emanating from the stairwell. When the bravest among them crept out to investigate, some would report the lingering smell of stale perfume, and others found themselves weeping, overcome by a crushing sadness, short of breath, hearts racing.
Most likely, it was Mary, a lady of the evening, who made the fatal mistake of becoming enamored of a client. Her feelings unrequited, she sought peace in the stairwell at the end of a rope. When hotel authorities concealed her passing, Mary, twice cheated, found herself in a vengeful limbo. Cursed to spend eternity with a lonely heart, she is known to rearrange the contents of rooms, place phantom phone calls to security and pinch those who have doubts that she’s there.
Though John and Mable Ringling had their mortal time together cut short by Mable’s death in 1929, the lovebirds were reunited in the afterlife. They’re still actively enjoying Ca’ d’ Zan, their Venetian Gothic retreat.
Guests on the grounds have spotted Mable at twilight, taking in the view from the veranda or strolling through the rose garden John built for her. The original master of the estate continues to make appearances, as well, particularly in his private quarters. Be careful not to disturb anything, as the watchful spirit tells careless interlopers to “Get the hell out!”
Night workers suspect the pair might not be the only ones who linger. It’s not unusual during the wee hours to hear the imprint of a grand soiree—old-timey music, the tinkle of champagne glasses and dancing high-heels across the floor. Time for one more Charleston before sunrise.
The rumor mill said it was another woman who inspired Delos Green, a local carpenter, to murder his wife, Ella, and three children while they slept in 1887. We’ll never know, as he met his fate shortly after, shot on a road while resisting arrest. He was buried where he fell.
Ella and her youngsters were among the first residents of the Rosemary Cemetery. Still broken up about the affair, Ella can be heard bemoaning her fate to the wind. The children, on the other hand, have rather taken to graveyard life.
Visitors to the cemetery often feel sharp tugs on their hair and clothing, batteries are curiously depleted, and items set down for a moment will never be seen again. Those passing through should be cautious if they hear laughter and the pitter-patter of little feet between the tombstones.
The Keating Theatre
No one is sure who—or possibly what—haunted Florida Studio Theatre’s Keating Theatre during the late ’80s. More than just mysterious footsteps and slammed doors unnerved the thespians. Stage lights flashed at inappropriate times, causing performers to stumble on stage. Large set pieces would shift on their own, poised precariously to crush a hapless passerby.
When no one was willing to enter the building alone, an exorcism was suggested. As legend has it, two priestesses chanted, prayed and rang bells for several months to drive the sinister energy away. Afterward, their efforts a supernatural success, the theater was declared spirit-free.
But is it? Recent reports suggest that something is still going bump in the night. Props are bizarrely misplaced and there are sudden cold spots in the air. Perhaps these spirits haven’t quite given up the ghost.