Halloween! Ghosts and goblins and all manner of spirits will again wander the streets of St. Petersburg, and there will be haunted houses by the dozen. So again I ask, “Do you believe in ghosts?”
For the first nine months of the year, I don’t really give the subject much thought, but when I do, I guess I would have to say, “I’m not a believer.” But come October, it seems more stories of wayward spirits come to light, and many of those stories revolve around historic buildings in or near St. Petersburg. Stories of haunted buildings range from a public restroom to a famous resort and a popular Italian market. With so many haunted places in our city, it’s difficult to know where to begin, so how about we start with that Italian market?
For years, patrons of Mazzaro’s Italian Market at 2909 22nd Avenue N., St. Petersburg, have claimed see a tall, strange-looking man in a long, black jacket. He looks as though he is just shopping, but often appears to disappear into thin air. Believers often say they spot him as he carries a paper bag filled with groceries and a long baguette. Do you believe?
Spirits are also rumored to walk the halls of the Vinoy Renaissance Resort at 501 Fifth Avenue N.E., including a tall man in a 1920s long coat and top hat. It has been said he wakes up guests as he stands at the foot of their bed in the middle of the night, and even touches or presses on their backs while they’re sleeping. Some staffers and visitors also claim to have seen a misty woman in white. Wow! I’m feeling a definite chill down my spine. Visiting Major League Baseball players from the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates reported ghostly encounters in two separate incidents in 2003. Hotel guests have also reported experiencing strange phenomena while staying at the Vinoy, such as water faucets turning on by themselves, doors opening and closing mysteriously, and lights flickering with no apparent cause. Supposedly, these pranks and more are due to mischievous spirits floating through the Vinoy. Do you believe yet?
From the “believe it or not” file, there is the story of the octagonal public restroom on the northeast corner of Second Avenue North and Bay Shore Drive N.E. The structure, once known as Comfort Station One, was built in 1927 and is said to have its own ghost. The ghost seems to be a female, and has only been seen on the ladies’ side of the restroom. There have been reports of cold drafts on very hot days and hazy images in the mirrors. In one reported encounter, a tourist went inside to use the facilities, while her sister waited outside the building. She stated that when she entered, all the doors to the stalls were ajar, so she could tell she was alone in the bathroom. Shortly after she entered one of the stalls, the stall door next to her closed, and she heard someone moving around. Believing it was her sister, she asked, “Heather, is that you?”
The reply startled her as an elderly woman’s voice replied, “No, it’s Agnes.”
Even though she was unnerved, the woman wanted to be friendly, and reportedly said, “Nice to meet you, Agnes. How long have you been in St. Petersburg?”
“A long, long time,” came the response.
Supposedly, the tourist could see old fashioned shoes when she glanced under the divider between the bathroom stalls. However, when the she finished up and left the booth, to her dismay, the stall next to her was completely empty! Once outside, she asked her sister if anyone else had come out—but the answer was no. To this day, the strange apparition has not been identified. Still skeptical?
Finally, if you stay at the historic Beach Drive Inn Bed & Breakfast, located at 532 Beach Drive, ask for the Montego Room, and rumor has it, you may hear unaccompanied footsteps or the sound of beautiful music. Maybe you will even see a rocking chair that rocks back and forth on its own. Only real believers should stay. Are you a real believer yet?
These are but a few examples of haunted St. Petersburg. You may also be interested in stories of hauntings at the St. Petersburg Coliseum, Martha Washington Hotel (now known as Hotel Indigo), St. Petersburg High School, Haslam’s Bookstore and many other mystic hot spots around our city.