The mere mention of the name Sarasota is enough to cast fear into the minds of those who are aware of its terrifying past. No other place in the world is home to a more gruesome, bone-chilling history of blood-curdling horror and shocking tales of ghastly fright sunken deep within…
Ok, I apologize. None of that is even remotely true. But with Halloween just around the corner, I would be remiss to let this moment pass without researching and digging up the scary tales and spooky celebrations found throughout the Sarasota area. Turns out, our sleepy waterfront destination is more sun drenched than blood drenched, which is fine by me.
While we may not boast the macabre notoriety of places like Salem or Transylvania, you can rest assured that Sarasota does have some skeletons hiding in its tropical closet. Here are the top 10 most horrifying stories and scary places of Halloween celebration throughout the Gulf Coast area. Beware—some of these may cause nightmares. Probably not, though.
1. Ringling Remains! – More well-known for its vast collection of stunning art pieces, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art also allows guests to mingle with the ghost of Mable Ringling. Purported to haunt the mansion’s terrace, Mable has been seen by some to roam the plush Venetian Gothic interior. Sought by historians and mediums alike, perhaps she can be found in the courtyard, or among the Greek and Roman statues that dot the estate. Is John himself wandering around?
2. Lost on the beach? – On Coquina Beach, at the very southern tip of the island before the Longboat Key Bridge, there is a span of public beach that was once the site of a hotel. On the beach, a male figure dressed in black walks from the former hotel site to the shoreline and vanishes. This area has been known to have a number of wandering spirits at night, but this specter has been seen in daylight.
3. Check, please! – Believed to be haunted by the previous owner, staff members of the Pelican Alley Restaurant in Venice have been reported to hear foot steps, feel odd presences, watch the door open and close by itself, and see things move around by themselves.
4. After Lifestyles of the rich and famous – Built in the early 1900’s, the Ringling Towers hotel housed guests including the very richest of the rich. After its demise, satanic worship and black masses were known to be held there. In later years, the top penthouse floors have been known to have various cold spots and freezing room temperatures even in the hot Florida summer. Those were paired with the eerie feelings of being watched. This building has since been demolished.
5. Crazy disturbances – An abandoned Sarasota mental hospital near I-75 seemed to have activity denoting residents still enjoying its recreational amenities. At night, people have been heard swimming in the pool, which has been filled in with rocks. Screaming and laughter have also been witnessed, and sometimes folks even see shadows and strange things show up when taking pictures. Have no fear, this spot was bulldozed back in 2003.
6. Extra curricular activity – At the old women’s dormitory of the Ringling School of Art and Design, a ghost named Mary has been known to wander the grounds. When the building was used a hotel in the 1920’s, it has been remembered that she committed suicide in the stairwell between the second and third floors. She has since been observed walking the corridors and swirling the paint brushes of art students.
7. Curtain Call – Opened in 1926, the Sarasota Opera House has played host to Will Rogers, Tommy Dorsey and Elvis. Employees attribute things that go bump in the night to a phantom theatergoer who is still trying to collect his friend after a performance. The Golden Apple Dinner Theatre, which is separated from the Opera House by a pavilion, may also house a busy ghost. Florida Studio Theatre, built in 1915, was haunted by a bevy of riotous spirits until the space was officially exorcised.
8. Domestic issue – The first house ever built in Port Charlotte is located adjacent to the Restlawn Memorial Gardens cemetery. The house is said to have been owned by a farmer who murdered his wife. After the structure fell into a state of disrepair, the county decided to condemn the old shack. Since that time, many have reported hearing eerie noises coming from the area that the house is located in. Also, a ghostly figure has been spotted roaming around the cemetery late at night.
To complement the creepy visits from our former residents, the Sarasota area summons the little goblins and grown-up ghouls living among us to enjoy Halloween. The following are two of the celebration sites going on this spooky season:
9. House of Terror – The Sailor Circus presents its annual haunted house at Sailor Circus Arena, 2075 Bahia Vista St., Sarasota. Small groups of thrill-seeking fans will feel their way through the dark of the circus arena, assaulted by bright lights and sudden sounds, bloody limbs and gruesome scenes. It may be too intense for children under 12. 7 to 11 p.m. today through Oct. 31. $10. 941-361-6350.
10. Safe Walk – Set on the historic Dearborn Street in Englewood, The Halloween Safe Walk plays host to a family-friendly Halloween party involving costumes, trick-or-treating and contests for all ages.