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Strange phenomena spook some old homes' residents

© St. Petersburg Times
published October 30, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- Days after a truck killed Van and Judy Sutphin's son in December 1968, the doors in their Old Northeast home opened and closed mysteriously.

"What would it take for you to believe it was (our son doing it)?" Judy Sutphin said she asked her husband about a year after the tragedy. "Does the clock have to stop or the chandelier have to fall before you would believe?"

The next day, Mrs. Sutphin said, the clock stopped and the chandelier fell.

St. Petersburg has had its share of odd and eerie stories. In the 1920s, North Shore neighbors speculated as to why a lamp shone night and day in the front window of a house. A grandmotherly specter is said to have prowled the Old Northeast for 20 years. Female phantoms allegedly prompted two couples to flee their northwest St. Petersburg home in 1973.

* * *

A lamp burned constantly at the Kuehmsted home at 1800 North Shore Blvd. (North Shore Drive today). Some said Mrs. Kuehmsted hoped the light would guide her runaway son home. Others said the light was for Mrs. Kuehmsted's wandering husband. Still others swore Mrs. Kuehmsted kept her husband's dead body there, awaiting her son's remains. She wanted them buried together.

The Evening Independent explained: "No crumbling ruins where ghosts might wander. No somber, isolated mansion, but an attractive and well-tended North Shore home." The light burned, the Independent said, for religious reasons.

"There are rooms in the cellar that have cage doors," said Mimi Farmer, 42, who lives in the home today with her husband and two children. "Who was kept there, I wonder?"

Said Farmer of the house that possesses a secret entrance to a vast closet: "Maybe the ghosts left. I've always felt I've lived in haunted houses."

* * *

From 1946 to 1966, an aged female ghost reportedly spooked seven different owners from an Old Northeast home. "She's gray and bent and she clutches her red flannel wrapper as she tiptoes through the empty rooms," the St. Petersburg Times wrote.

As the story went, the specter made noises and frequent appearances in 1966, moving objects from the mantle into the fireplace. If the family stared at the apparition too closely, it vanished.

The father decided to sell immediately and called his attorney. When the attorney researched the home, he found about 16 people who had seen the poltergeist but refused to talk about her.

"For Sale -- Two-story house in Northeast St. Petersburg -- THIS IS NOT THE HOUSE WITH THE GHOST!" said a 1966 classified ad in the St. Petersburg Times.

One person volunteered to exorcise the specter. Another wanted to stay at the house for a school project. "There were calls from so-called haunt chasers and from some who said they'd had similar experiences," the Times wrote.

* * *

In 1973, inside a northwest St. Petersburg home, Bob and Barbara Rollins and Ed and Ellen Murphy told the Evening Independent that they battled two banshees. "Ghostly pale blue clouds are haunting the city," the newspaper story went.

The six-day haunting began with swinging doors and footsteps in the kitchen. The specters laughed; Ed was tapped on the shoulder. When Bob was hit with a plastic cup and his clothes were mysteriously packed in a suitcase, the couples called a psychic. One of the spirits appeared. "She was beautiful," Barbara Rollins said. "Her skin was snowy white. She wore her (blond) hair in pigtails. She had a summery outfit on."

The banshee confessed to killing herself at age 16. Her sister, the other ghost, died insane at age 18. Both loved Bob and said he would die if they couldn't have him. When L-E-A-V-E was spelled out on the kitchen table with soapy dishwater, the couples fled.

* * *

The Sutphins didn't run in December 1969 when their chandelier fell and their clock stopped. "Maybe I put (the chandelier) up wrong," Van Sutphin told the Evening Independent in 1971. "It could have been a piece of lint in the (clock's) mechanism."

In December 1971, however, the Sutphins said they found two child-size footprints on the front doormat. They were framed in sand much lighter in color than the sand that surrounded the home. Nature was the cause, Judy Sutphin said, or God.

"I'm sure there is a logical explanation -- but it may be logic beyond our ken," Van Sutphin said. "Because something is unknown, does not mean it is illogical."

Today, the old Sutphin home at 756 Bay St. NE doesn't have a master. A metal fence surrounds the house. Tattered curtains cover the windows. "Bernard Ferry (the last owner) died two years ago this month," said neighbor Dan Wren, 81. "It's been vacant since." Wren then pointed to a mud-covered statue of a woman clutching a huge sword in the home's unkempt yard. "There's supposed to be a lady's ashes buried there."

-- Scott Taylor Hartzell can be reached at

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