Tampa Bay's ghosts haunt us still

By Jay Cridlin
Published October 16, 2007


Did we scare you?

Well, you can't fault us for trying. Halloween is approaching, and the Tampa Bay area is a scary place ... if one knows only where to look.

Hillsborough and Pinellas counties abound with tales of anguished spirits, quirky ghosts and spontaneous combustion. Here's a brief look at a few local ghost stories and mysteries of note. Read on at your own risk.

The Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa: If you were a ghost, wouldn't you like to haunt a resort and spa? The Travel Channel once featured the Belleview Biltmore during an episode on haunted hotels. Over the years, various haunts have been spotted wandering the halls, flicking on the lights and riding the elevators. The ghost of a bride who killed herself by jumping from a fourth-floor balcony is said to haunt the fifth floor. In 2004, a Clearwater couple snapped a photo of what they say is a ghost.

The Don CeSar Beach Resort & Spa: Another luxury resort, another ghost story. The hotel's builder, Thomas Rowe, has been spotted wearing a Panama hat and roaming the grounds -- particularly the second, fifth and sixth floors -- with his lady. Some folks have seen nurses, since the hotel was a medical building during World War II. Hotel officials -- not wishing to tick off the undead, apparently -- have embraced the ghost rumors and offered tours to guests.

The Tampa Theatre: Former projectionist Foster " Fink" Finley died in this downtown Tampa landmark, but apparently he wasn't ready to move on to the afterlife. He jingles keys, moves things around, rattles the fixtures -- just your standard paranormal activity.

The Royalty Theater: What is it with ghosts and resorts and theaters? At this venue in downtown Clearwater, lights go on and off, objects move around, and a mustachioed man known as "the Captain" roams the halls -- or, at least, he did, before the place was blessed by a Greek Orthodox priest in 1999. They say the Captain may have been a former theater manager who was found murdered in the balcony in 1981. Some say the paranormal activity persists, in spite of the priest's blessing.

Ybor City's Cuban Club: Tampa police officers and Hillsborough Community College students say this 106-year-old club, located at 2010 Avenida Republica de Cuba in Ybor City, is home to the murdered, wailing wife of a past club president; ghostly elevator passengers in suits and bowler hats; and a piano that plays itself.

The Cinder Lady: Sixty-six years ago in a studio apartment at 1200 Cherry St. NE in St. Petersburg, 67-year-old Mary Hardy Reeser fell asleep in her living room. The next morning, firefighters broke down the door and found only a foot, a tiny human skull, and a pile of black soot. Some say she spontaneously combusted. Some -- like the FBI -- say she fell asleep holding a lit cigarette and burned like a candle wick. The Cinder Lady, as she's known, may not be a ghost, per se. But we sure wouldn't like to meet what's left of her in a darkened alley.