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The haunting of Crown Colony

If the staff’s stories are true, staying in Busch Garden’s Crown Colony Restaurant after closing might be scarier than the roller coasters.

There are common claims of cold spots, flashing lights, falling trays and the elevator stopping between floors. The sound of children playing is also frequently reported, among other uncommon occurrences.

Kent Roy, who’s worked at the restaurant for 14 years, said he once saw an entity when he was watching TV in the brewmaster’s room during hurricane season. Feeling as though someone was watching him, he turned to his left and saw a female in a white nightgown.

“By the time I blinked, she was gone. Just very creepy,” he said.

Interested in reports of “paranormal activity” at the theme park, I joined a ghost-hunting team, Haunted South, to discover whether the eatery is truly haunted.

Led by married couple Ray and Lisa Abney, Haunted South was interested in investigating claims they’d heard about the restaurant. It was the first time Busch Gardens had allowed a ghost-hunting team on its grounds, said Jill Revelle, senior manager of communications at Busch Gardens.

Reports of strange activity began shortly after the Crown Colony Restaurant reopened in 1990. It was built in 1964 as a Valentine’s gift for the third wife of August Busch, Trudy, and had closed in 1982 for remodeling.

Sometime after the reopening, employees began to experience strange things while they were shutting down the building.

“There always seems to be a presence, mainly when you’re up in the fourth floor,” Roy said. “Almost any time you’re up there by yourself and go up to press the elevator button, you get this unexplained cold chill and the hair on the back of your neck stands up.”

The “hunt” began with the promise that the restaurant was not an extension of Howl-O-Scream, and nothing was rigged to jump out. That was too bad, because the investigation seemed to be off to a slow start.

Almost 20 minutes in, there was one cold spot and no excitement. The paranormal team had already performed various tests, such as using a digital voice recorder to pick up sounds inaudible to the human ear, known as electronic voice phenomenon (EVP).

“(Inaudible voices) especially come out on digital recordings for some reason,” Ray Abney said.

While the team’s psychic was picking up feelings of anxiety, members of the group appeared fidgety and bored.

Another tool used to investigate the scene was an electro-magnetic field (EMF) detector, which picks up electromagnetic impulses. One theory is that spirits are made up of energy, which is detectable by the EMF. Thus, the closer a spirit is to the detector, the more the lights on the device light up.

One of Crown Colony’s more chilling claims is of a man playing the piano, who has only been seen through the reflection in the dining room windows. When people turn around, there is no one at the bench.

However, Revelle said the primary spirit is believed to be an 8-year-old girl the staff has named Wendy. No one at the park knows the origin of the ghost.

There is also said to be an old bartender and a woman.

In an effort to make whatever spirits were residing in the restaurant feel less threatened, the group decided to split up a bit, taking non-researchers upstairs and leaving the researchers in the lower dining area. Surprisingly, the plan worked and both groups began having experiences of their own.

Dramatics ranging from flickering lights to a phantom cigar smell and orbs showing up in digital pictures were witnessed upstairs.

Researchers downstairs said a dark shadow was seen moving across the room.

Some were doubtful about anything they saw. Others said they didn’t have any experiences at all.

“I did experience the same flickering lights and cigar-smoke smell that several others in the same room noted,” Revelle said. “Although I cannot say for sure that it was the result of a paranormal experience, it was certainly unexplained at the time.”

Though intense experiences were lacking, the Haunted South team left with a good amount of evidence that they said would be carefully sifted through over several hours. Unfortunately, they had to consider how the size of the group — about 20 people — might impact the truth in their findings.

“The larger number of people can still drastically affect the outcome of EVPs by means of human contamination,” said Lisa Abney. “We are very serious about the credibility of our evidence and will only present evidence which we cannot debunk through intense scrutiny of video and audio that has been lined up to ensure any findings are legitimate.”

The evidence that Haunted South found, if any, while examining their footage is unknown, but they left the evening with high hopes.

Though no definite information was found, the team felt there was enough to suggest something’s presence in the restaurant.

I experienced the same things the investigation team did, but I am not convinced there was anything paranormal about what happened that night.

The Crown Colony Restaurant case is still open. Who knows? — maybe next time Wendy will come out to play.

To keep updated on Haunted South finds, visit their Web site:

Additional reporting by Amanda Moore.