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Ghosts of Brooksville's past stir up haunts of present

New ghost tours fuel the feeling that "there's something more here."

By MICHAEL KRUSE
Published February 16, 2007


Ghost tour guide Bonnie LeTourneau, 56, of Brooksville points out a postmortem portrait of an infant in the May-Stringer Heritage Museum. In the mid to late 1800s, it was common for portraits to be made of children who died to help parents remember them.
photo
[Times photo: Edmund D. Fountain]
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BROOKSVILLE - The group that gathered one recent Saturday night at the May-Stringer Heritage Museum included a reiki master from Largo, a hypnotist from Land O'Lakes, a local woman with the Florida Ghost Team and a man from Spring Hill who is half of a two-man outfit called the Enigmatic Anomaly Research Society.

They came to feel things most of us can't feel.

To sense things most of us can't sense.

They came to try to talk to the spirits of the long-since dead.

And they say this town is a good place to do these things.

This eclectic collection of the curious and the "sensitive" was invited to the mansion-turned-museum on top of the hill by a woman named Bonnie LeTourneau. She helped start the museum's ghost tours late last year with ghost team member Nancy Perron. The Saturday night tours cost $20 and last at least two hours and so far are doing pretty well.

"I think anybody who's at all sensitive should visit," said Casey McCarthy, the hypnotist. "Brooksville's just - if you just walk around downtown, you get a feeling, and you say, 'There's something more here.' "

"There's been a lot of trauma and a lot of turmoil in that area, a lot of suffering, and I get a lot of Native American energy there," said Renee Johnson, the reiki master. "It's a hot spot."

What to make of this?

City redevelopment coordinator Brian Brijbag likes to talk about trying to give a place an identity by creating themes out of features that are already there. Brooksville has ecotourism, the Bandshell Bash, now this new possibility of the Jack Kerouac Project of Orlando coming to create a "booktown," and also, well ...

Ghosts?

Tales of the paranormal, after all, are part of the draw to cities like Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga., and St. Augustine.

"You're creating a destination, and that could be a part of it," Brijbag said. "There's definitely enough stories to tell."

"I don't know if they'd like to be known as Ghost City," Perron said. "But there's a lot of money in it. Look at Savannah. Look at Charleston. They really play up the ghost stuff and they're packed all the time."

Brooksville is haunted. At least some spots. At least that's the rep.

No documents back any of this up, of course, but what fun would that be? According to talk around town, and there is talk around town, the following structures are haunted in some way, shape or spooky form: the Weeks house, the Hensley house, the courthouse, Rogers' Christmas House, Trish Springstead's arts and crafts boutique, Brooksville Cemetery, Spring Hill Cemetery, the train depot and Mallie Kyla's Cafe.

Some of these spots are listed on Web sites like hauntedflorida.com, floridaghost.com and theshadow lands.net. But not all of them.

"Brooksville's like an undiscovered place for paranormal activity," Perron said. "It's a really old city in Florida and the history is still here. It's concentrated here."

Like at the Weeks house. Which also happens to be Brijbag's house. He moved in there at the corner of W Fort Dade and Lemon avenues with his wife and three small children a few months back.

One night he came home from work and the attic door at the top of the stairs was open and the lock was broken off and on the floor. No explanation.

No more attic oddities since, but he has heard "a child's sigh" several times, he said, and his wife has too.

Also, one night not long ago, there was some strange banging of an undetermined origin.

"Maybe it was a raccoon," Brijbag said.

Yeah. Maybe.

Meanwhile, at the museum, say those who spend the most time inside, things most definitely go bump in the night. Phantom footsteps. Sounds in pipes and ducts. Cries for mommy from a certain toddler who died in 1872.

"I'm not going to deny it," Hernando historical association director Virginia Jackson said earlier this month.

"The house has a lot of energy in it," said Kevin Thomas Kehl, the man from Spring Hill who started the Enigmatic Anomaly Research Society.

There's a good reason for that, LeTourneau says: "At least" nine "entities" live in the house, including John May, the builder of the original structure in 1856, and Jessie May, the 3-year-old girl who wails for her mother in the night.

On the night with the reiki master and the hypnotist, some folks showed up with cameras, audiotapes and other equipment to capture any evidence.

McCarthy doesn't need any of that. He smelled apple pie being baked in the kitchen where food used to be prepared by servants.

Johnson went two stories up to the attic and kept looking at an old iron bed and asking who had been tied to it.

"Who is it?" she said to nobody in particular. "Who was tied to this bed?"

She started to move closer to it. Then stopped and backed up.

"Okay," she said. "I'm sorry."

"They don't want me in there," she explained.

Then, around midnight, everybody came together again downstairs in the living room, and the lights were turned off, and people sat on the floor, and held real, real still in the dark.

Quiet.

A short faint beam of light passed through the room from a passing car outside.

Quiet.

"Let's see if anybody wants to tell us anything," McCarthy said.

Nothing ...

... nothing ...

Click.

People looked up.

Kehl's tape was done. So was the night.

Most of the group went outside onto the wraparound porch. LeTourneau went upstairs. That's when she saw that the toys on the floor in the hall were pushed up against the wall and the curtains that had been up were now down.

Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or 352 848-1434.

[Last modified February 15, 2007, 23:15:21]


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