As we make our way through another colorless and humid Florida fall, many may find it hard to muster any sort of excitement for that night of mischief that comes just once a year in Halloween.
Only two weeks away, students scrounging for some spooky festivities don’t have to spend all their Halloween money on Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights or Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream. All they have to do is make their way to downtown Tampa for an intimate walk with the city’s spirits.
While a ghost tour may not offer the same production values as a haunted maze, for those with an interest in the city’s past and a particular fascination with the paranormal, Ghost Tours of Tampa Bay has much to offer. By visiting ghosttour.com, you’ll see that the company hosts these haunted tours all along the East Coast, with four different paranormal hotspots to explore in the Bay area alone.
If you choose to take the tour of downtown Tampa, many tales of heartbreak, loss and man’s shortcomings await, punctuated by the tour guides’ frequently wry blend of humor. Starting at the local independent coffee brewer Indigo Coffee & Teas on Franklin Street, the tour heads for one of Tampa’s most recognizable locations.
The Tampa Theatre kicks things off in the manner of all things Grand Guignol, where those taking the tour will learn much about this 84-year old theatre’s haunted past, which includes an obsessive projectionist who has a history of being a little too forceful. Yet that isn’t all. As the tour stretches across the downtown area, stories of ill-fated murder and phantom ships on Tampa Bay will certainly rouse those looking for a good thrill.
Along with a stop across from the silver minarets of downtown’s University of Tampa, supposedly still home to the lingering spirit of previous owner Henry B. Plant, the centerpiece of all these macabre dealings takes place in a parking structure that probably wouldn’t even catch your eye unless it was pointed out to you.
Attached to a row of office buildings and the bustling Hyatt Regency hotel is the spot that Tampa Ghost Tour guide Tonya Follic refers to as “ripe for paranormal activity”- the Fort Brooke parking garage. A seemingly inoffensive structure, Fort Brooke is the name of the historic military outpost that once stood upon the ground where the current structure now resides.
The common paranormal factor between both the fort and current parking garage has been spurred by Native American culture, as Fort Brooke served as an integral holding area for Native Americans during the Seminole Indian Wars and the Civil War. The fort now sits atop the remains of an unknown number of deceased Native Americans, as well as an ancient burial mound.
While the less said about the rest of the fort’s story, the better, for those looking to join the tour, it’s certainly a vital and haunting piece of Tampa lore. The last few stops are quite frightening as well, as the tour guide introduces several gadgets capable of picking up electromagnetic waves emitted by ghosts (for all those “Ghost Hunters” viewers out there), though it becomes increasingly difficult to top a story whose themes still resonate with the city today.
And that’s exactly what Tampa Ghost Tours offers those willing to brave the night: a series of well-told ghost stories that encapsulate the eerie quality of this city, as well as the more historic nature of its colorful past. While it may lack themed mazes and rides, it’s a bit of old school fun that’s both tantalizing and informative.
Ghost Tours of Tampa
When: 8 p.m.
Running Time: 75-90 minutes
Reservations: Required and can be made at ghosttour.com or by phone at (727) 398-5200.
Price: $15, $8 for kids 4 to 12. Save $2 per adult ticket if ordered online.