Every civilization and region has a few urban legends of its own. There’s Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest. Russia has its “Well to Hell.” And who can forget the elusive Loch Ness Monster in Scotland? Florida has a handful of creepy tales of its own. Here are our 10 favorite.
The Bloody Bucket Bridge
Wauchula is the county seat of Hardee County, just southeast of Tampa. It’s also the “Cucumber Capital of the World” apparently. But for our purposes, it’s also home to the Bloody Bucket Bridge. The details on this eery legend vary widely depending on the source. Apparently, around the time of the Civil War, a slave served as the town’s midwife. Haunted by the memory of her own child being taken from her, she turned to smothering the babies she delivered, telling the parents they were stillborn. She would carry their remains in a bucket to a nearby bridge and dump the remains in the river. Eventually driven mad by her murder spree, she would later see the buckets fill with blood on their own. Rumor has it if you visit the bridge on a full moon, you can see the river water running red with blood.
The Florida Skunk Ape
Also known as the Swamp Cabbage Man, the Stink Ape and Myakka Skunk Ape, this legendary creature has been said to inhabit Florida, North Carolina and Arkansas. The stories date back to the ‘60s and ‘70s - during the time of Bigfoot mania - when an ape-like creature running on two legs was spotted in South Florida. The creature gets its name from its pungent odor - said to be a byproduct of living alongside alligators and other swamp inhabitants. There’s actually an official Skunk Ape Research Headquarters in Ochopee where a researcher collects and investigates reports of swamp ape sightings. If you visit, maybe bring them an air freshener as a gift?
In Lake Wales, there’s a “gravity hill” that freaks out those traveling through by car. Stop your car in the right place on Spook Hill, put it in neutral and watch as your vehicle rolls UP the hill. (Just remember to turn your flashers on first; this is still an active road.) On North Wales Drive, a sign explains it: "Many years ago an Indian village on Lake Wales was plagued by raids of a huge gator. The Chief, a great warrior, killed the gator in a battle that created a small lake. The chief was buried on the north side. Pioneer mail riders first discovered their horses laboring down hill, thus naming it Spook Hill. When the road was paved, cars coasted up hill. Is this the gator seeking revenge, or the chief still trying to protect his land?"
Robert the Doll
Okay, on a scale of one to 10, this tale rates a strong 11. Robert Eugene Otto was a boy who grew up in Key West under the care of a nanny who practiced voodoo. In 1906, she gave him a gift: a 40-inch-tall doll stuffed with wood wool and wearing a sailor outfit. For whatever reason, Robert decided to give the doll his own name and chose to be called Gene going forward. (Creepy enough on its own.) Gene considered Robert the Doll his best friend and whispered secrets to it all the time. Friends and family became suspicious when they swore they could hear the doll talking back. Neighbors also claimed they saw Robert looking at them from the top window of its home. These days, Robert can be found at the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West, but visitors are encouraged to ask the doll for permission before taking his photo. Otherwise, cameras have been known to malfunction.
The Devil's Chair
Cassadaga (a small unincorporated hamlet in Volusia County) is known for two unusual things: being called the “Psychic Capital of the World (for a large number of psychics and mediums who made their home there) and for the Devil’s Chair. Located in a small cemetery, the Devil’s Chair is a wide brick bench that legend has it was built by the devil himself. Each night at midnight, the devil returns to lounge in his chair. Rumor has it that if you sit on it, he whispers evil ideas to you and you’re forever haunted by the experience. Oh, and here’s an even weirder legend (if that’s possible): If you leave a full can of beer on the chair (unopened) and return the next morning, the can will be empty - and still unopened. Now that’s truly evil.
Grave of the Tallahassee Witch
In 1889. Elizabeth “Bessie” Budd-Graham was buried in the Old City Cemetery in Tallahassee. The 23-year-old was a wife and mother, and yet her tombstone is among the elaborate in the cemetery. Could it be because she was a witch? That’s the legend (though no historical reports link her with witchcraft.) Among the clues: The grave faces west (contrary to Christian tradition) and the tombstone contains an unusual epitaph, adapted from Edgar Allen Poe’s “Lenore.”
“Ah! Broken is the golden bowl. The spirit flown forever! Let the bell toll! A saintly soul Floats on the Stygian River; Come let the burial rite be read. The funeral song be sung; An anthem for the queenliest dead that died so young. A dirge for her the doubly dead In that she died so young.”
Scholars of the occult say the passage is full of subtle hints. “Broken in the bowl” refers to killing a vampire. “Doubly dead” specifically refers to witchcraft, in that a witch can only be dead once she’s killed twice.
To this day, it’s said that fellow “witches” often visit the grave to leave gifts for “Bessie.”
The Ghosts of the St. Augustine Lighthouse
They’re built to keep sailors from crashing into land, and their keepers are often represented as lonely hermits. So by their very nature, aren’t all lighthouses pretty much haunted? The St. Augustine Lighthouse, built in 1874, is no exception. One favorite story involves one of the lighthouse’s early keepers, Peter Rasmussen. A big fan of cigars, Rasmussen’s ghost is one of the earliest reported phenomenons from the lighthouse. It’s said staff and guests can still occasionally smell the smoke of his cigars years after his death. One of the more macabre legends involves a pair of girls - Eliza and Mary Pity - who in the late 1800s drowned in the nearby water while their mother was working on lighthouse renovations. Laughter from the girls can still be heard at the lighthouse’s top late at night.
The Hanging Tree at Captain Tony's Saloon
Most Key West visitors know that Captain Tony’s Saloon was the original location of the famous Sloppy Joe’s Bar. Over the years, the building has also served as a wireless telegraph station, a cigar factory and - oh yeah - a morgue. It turns out the building was originally built around the city’s “hanging tree,” which was often used to execute pirates, hence the need for a nearby morgue. Rather than remove the tree, the original builders decided to just build around the tree. (It’s also rumored the bar sits atop a well that’s full of holy water.) During the 1980s, the flooring was replaced in the bar and the skeletons of more than a dozen bodies were found. Mysterious events have been reported over the years including ghostly voices and bathroom stall doors that open, close and lock seemingly by themselves.
Sunshine Skyway Ghost
The Sunshine Skyway bridge was a modern marvel when it opened in 1954. The bridge spans the mouth of Tampa Bay, connected St. Petersburg on the north with Bradenton on the south. But due to its height, it has also been an infamous spot for suicide jumpers over the years. (More than 200 deaths over the decade, according to some reports.) Drivers on the bridge have reported seeing a beautiful blonde hitchhiker on the bridge. When they pick her up, she begins to cry as the car approaches the top of the span. When the driver turns around to ask what’s wrong, the woman has vanished. In 1980, the bridge was struck by a freighter, collapsing the central span and killing 36 people.
The Fairchild Oak
Ask Florida wilderness fans, and they’ll say the Fairchild Oak is an awesome site. Located at Bulow Creek State Park in Ormond Beach, the ancient tree is a must-visit, with a wide trunk and lush canopy of branches and Spanish moss overheads. But urban legend also says the Fairchild was the site of two deaths (both of which are rumored to be suicides). Legend has it that a ghostly apparition of man haunts the site and that those who stand beneath it feel intense sorrow.