Topsy the Elephant
Rumor has it that before midnight on January 4 of each year, a blood curdling trumpeting sound is heard coming from the building of the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center by local Fort Myers’ homeless, sleeping nearby in the courtyard of the public library. The cacophony of the trumpeting is followed by squeaking, chirping, rumbling, and roaring sounds that are commonly associated with elephants in distress.
Many a homeless person has arrived at the locally beloved Center’s iconic steps, only to have the noise abruptly stop. A handful of downtown residents have boasted, that while strolling by the Center in the early morning, they discovered a circus elephant on the steps’ landing begging for food. After leaving the scene and returning with bags of peanuts, the residents found the elephant had vanished.
Paranormal investigators, summoned to the scene, theorized the elephant is the ethereal manifestation of Topsy, an elephant electrocuted publicly on Coney Island in New York. The execution was carried out after Topsy, in an obstinate furor, accidentally killed a carnival guest, a young child. Topsy’s trainers staged the killing on January 4, 1903, as a publicity stunt to attract curious carnival enthusiasts.
Thomas Edison, being an opportunist, used the execution to advertise his new invention, the kinetoscope. His film, Electrocution of An Elephant, was the first film where an animal was killed on camera. Edison also used the spectacle, by associating the electrocution, with alternating current (AC) used in the execution. He thought it would help him win the much ballyhooed “War of Currents” he waged with George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla over his use of direct current (DC) in his power stations.
After weighing the evidence, paranormal experts decided that the apparition of Topsy chose to haunt Fort Myers because it was the winter home of Edison. The elephant roams the steps of the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center because it is the home of the much-celebrated Fort Myers Film Festival, which features documentary films.
Upon investigation, the paranormal experts have found the elephant sightings increase on Mondays after film showings, and activity reaches its zenith the week of the film festival. So, if you hear an elephant’s call coming from the hallowed steps of the famous Art Center, while taking an early morning stroll downtown, rest assured it is just Topsy fulfilling her ghostly duties.
Tony, the Alligator Man
Underneath the many bridges that cross the Caloosahatchee River lives a man the locals call Tony, the Alligator Man. It is rumored that he is the offspring of Emmitt and Priscilla Bejano, also known as Alligator Man and Monkey Lady. The Bejanos gained fame and fortune on the carny circuit as sideshow freaks, and later in a movie starring Gary Busey and Jodie Foster.
Tony loved his mother deeply. He treasured the times when she would perform a Spanish dance for him, as she was both nimble and graceful. She taught him the dances and they would bust a move together. He took to the streets after both his parents died in nearby Gibsonton, a town settled by circus and sideshow performers, leaving him saddled with debit. After bouncing around a bit, he wound up living under the bridges in the vicinity of Fort Myers.
Being a man with green scaly skin, he normally shied away from public contact, but that never stopped him from coming up big in emergencies. Many drunken boating enthusiasts who have fallen overboard have been rescued by Tony. Kayakers who capsize their crafts, floundering to right their boats, have been mysteriously lifted into their hulls safely.
On one occasion, an avid kayaker and his young son capsized while not wearing life vests, far away from the shore, and quickly began to drown. Eyewitnesses on the shore marveled about a green blur of a man, that looked like a lizard, rescuing both drowning victims. The Mayor of Fort Myers who caught wind of the courageous deed wanted to honor Tony’s heroism by presenting him with the key to the city. At the ceremony, everyone gasped in shock when Tony stepped up to the podium to receive his award, revealing his green tinted skin and his alligator-like features. Being embarrassed, Tony dropped the key, dashed from the confines of the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center where the event was held, never to be seen in public again.
Still, if one is adventurous, you can meander down to the Caloosahatchee River, look under the bridge, and catch a fleeting glimpse of Tony, the Alligator Man, dancing a Spanish waltz to imaginary music.
The Lady in Blue
Anyone who has stopped on a bench to read a book or eat their lunch in Riverside Park has probably had a chance meeting with a young woman wearing an outdated blue dress. She appears out of nowhere, introduces herself as Mary, and proceeds to talk immediately. Mary tells a tale of being left behind by her husband, Thomas, scolding him for not taking her along to Fort Myers. She warns him that his marriage to that dour other woman didn’t keep her from following him to paradise.
She complains of headaches, pain that has incapacitated her and she pleads for a dose of morphine to ease her misery. She takes from a knapsack a music box that plays upon opening, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, over and over again. When asked by her bench mate to stop playing the annoying tune incessantly, she slowly disappears into a fading mist, vanishing out of sight.
Upon hearing of this phenomenon, the director of the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center summoned the world’s foremost ghosthunters to investigate. Using EMF meters, the spook sleuths have determined that paranormal activity on the benches at Riverside Park are at abnormally high frequencies. After countless interviews of people who have encountered Mary, they have decided that she is the spectral manifestation of Thomas Edison’s first wife, Mary Stilwell.
Mary died in 1884 at the age of 29, of unknown causes, possibly of a brain tumor or morphine overdose. Historians will tell you the first recorded message played on Edison’s invention, the phonograph, was the song, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” So, next time you are in Riverside Park and you hear the familiar song, you might want to evade being like the lamb and avoid the benches.
The Fluoroscope Phantom
At Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers, it is difficult to get an x-ray. Not because the radiologists are slow or incompetent, but due to the antics of an active apparition. Technicians have reported that upon securing personal protective devices on their patients, they have become unloosened mysteriously. After the technicians have prepped the patient, the power to the equipment has been cut off magically.
There have been entire days where the radiology devices have refused to work, prompting the department to close for repairs. When device mechanics are summoned to mend the radiology equipment, it begins to work miraculously without a hand being lifted for repair. Radiologists have reported getting images that have the letters CD embossed over them, making them impossible to read.
In the 1890s, Thomas Edison worked on and developed a fluoroscope, the forerunner to the imaging devices used today. But by 1903, he abandoned the project because of the health hazards that accompanied use of the early devices. Clarence Dally, a glass blower of lab equipment and tubes at Edison’s laboratory was repeatedly exposed, suffering from radiation poisoning, later succumbing to an aggressive cancer.
Could the strange things happening in the radiology department be attributed to Clarence Dally’s avenging ghost? Has Dally’s spirit been unleashed in Fort Myers because it was Edison’s beloved winter destination? What about the initials, CD, being used to cover images making it impossible to give a diagnosis? Is this just a rumor perpetrated by Lee Memorial’s Radiology staff for their entertainment? Or, are the spectral manifestations the work of Clarence Dally’s ghost in a hell-bent attempt at sweet revenge?
The Curse of Tesla
Caretakers, night watchmen and tour staff believe that the grounds of the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in the City of the Palms is haunted. It has been reported by passing locals, that at night, the lights inside Edison’s and Ford’s houses go on and off without rhyme or reason. Night watchmen have reported that occasionally, ragtime music emanates from the Estates’ many gazebos. Tour guides have noticed a strong musty, putrid and decaying odor so strong that guests have complained of watery eyes, and have even been overcome with nausea, thereby forcing the guides to cut tours short.
Groundskeepers have noticed the Estates’ pool depleted of water one minute and upon returning later, found the pool satiated with water. Maintenance workers accomplishing their morning checks of the Estates’ garage, have found the vehicles parked mysteriously outside the structure. The museum curators have heard doors slam and have seen lights flicker in the rubber laboratory for no apparent reason.
This evidence of ghostly mischievousness has prompted the Estates’ director to conduct a séance at the site. After numerous sessions with a psychic, hailed from Casa Dega, Florida, known as the Psychic Capital of the World, it has been revealed that the naughty ghost orchestrating the spectral events is the notorious rival of Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla. The two feuding geniuses waged a “War of Currents” in the 1880s over whose electrical system would power the world – Tesla’s alternating current (AC) or Edison’s direct current (DC).
Tesla began his engineering career working at Edison’s lab, leaving when he was slighted over a monetary bonus Tesla felt was promised to him. Despite his genius and many compelling inventions, he always lived in the shadow of Edison’s success. Tesla to his dying day held a grudge against Edison. It appears that this animosity has extended past the grave.
The Corkscrew Swamp Ape
Visitors to Corkscrew Swamp, known as the gateway to the Everglades, have long reported the sighting of a 7-foot half man, half beast creature among the tall growth cypress. Archaeologists have found footprints in the sanctuary that measure as big as 24 inches long and 8 inches wide. Evidence has been found of campsites left behind that feature dozens of alligator bones littering their dusty floors. Also, makeshift cavernous structures have been discovered made out of cypress branches and palmetto fronds.
One visitor of the sanctuary has claimed that he inadvertently fell into the swamp water filled with hungry alligators, but was lifted to safety by a hairy creature, and placed back gently on the boardwalk. Another visitor, after leaving the trail, became lost and confused, uncertain of how to get back to the trailhead. After stumbling around for two hours, dehydrated by the heat and without water, the hiker passed out. Upon awakening, the hiker found himself laying in a clearing, near the trailhead, with a primitive bowl of water and cooked alligator meat as companions.
Workers at the sanctuary have noticed that the swamp’s alligator population has thinned in recent times, prompting them to believe that alligator is the Swamp Ape’s main source of protein. They also fear, that if the swamp becomes devoid of alligators, the Swamp Ape may turn to alternative sources of protein. Prompting one to wonder if the “Beware of Gator” signs will be replaced with “Watch Out for Hungry Swamp Apes.”
In the courtyard of the Edison and Ford Winter Estates there is a life-size bronze statue of the famous inventor. Tourists often take pictures as a memento standing next to the iconic effigy. It has been rumored that an older distinguished gentleman dressed in a three-piece business suit, offers to take pictures for the eager and willing visitors posing next to the statuary. Upon checking how the picture has turned out, the tourists discover they are in reality not standing next to the image of Edison, but instead are next to the man who took the picture!
When trying to locate the culprit, the tourists find no trace of him. After repeated reportings, ghosthunters of renown contacted the individual tourists to examine the images on their cell phones. After doing research, they determined the image is of William Kennedy Dickson.
Dickson, while working in Edison’s laboratory, developed the kinetoscope, the first movie projector. Edison applied for and was granted the official patent. Despite Dickson being the true inventor, Edison is attributed as the creator of the history changing device. Dickson later started his own company that greatly improved the movie projection system. But he died without being given credit for his contributions to the history of modern filmography.
San Carlos Island Mermaids
Fisherman off San Carlos Island have complained for years about their catch disappearing from their boats. Sometimes, upon arriving at their vessels in the morning, they have found their nets cut mysteriously. Many frustrated trawlers have attributed the deeds to pernicious mermaids they have seen playfully swimming away from their boats in haste.
Some anglers have reported being pulled off their boats magically, only to wake up on a sandy beach, miles away, with no remembrance as to how they ended up there. Boating enthusiasts jetting through the intercoastal waterways have reported seeing the mystical creatures floating alongside of their craft, seemingly guiding them out to open sea.
Kayakers navigating Hurricane Bay have also reported mermaid sightings. On one occasion, a kayaker claims he was kidnapped by a tribe of mermaids. The kayaker was taken to their underwater lair where they proceeded to poke and prod him. The mermaids then fed him hand to mouth flounder and pink shrimp. After having their way, he was brought back to his abandoned kayak with a smile on his face, dry and safe. So, if you find yourself captaining a watercraft off of San Carlos Island beware of hitchhiking mermaids!
Anyone who has visited the Koreshan complex has noticed the many diverse buildings and extensive landscape that exists. There is a bakery, printing house, a meeting hall, a general store, concrete works and power plant, now just relics of the past. That is until the witching hour strikes, and the place is jumping with ghostly activity.
Onlookers and curiosity seekers have long reported visiting the grounds finding the spooks in full splendor. Spirits baking bread, printing presses engaged, and full-blown membership meetings in place. There seems to be one catch though, because if the ghosts discover the visitors, they disappear in the blink of an eye.
On one such occasion, a paranormal investigator tried to capture a “unity” ceremony on a thermographic video camera, and within minutes the participants of the ritual vanished. The whole complex became still and there was an eerie silence. Upon replaying his camera, the investigator found there to be no images or sounds.
The ironic part of the paranormal activity is that the Koreshans believe in reincarnation, that when they die, they have an immediate rebirth as another living thing. They do believe though, that ghosts exist in the ether to sort out bad karma. If that’s the case, then being good must not have been a prerequisite when they arrived in Estero to establish a utopia. Tourists walking the grounds should beware of stepping on cockroaches, lest they interrupt the metamorphosis towards reincarnation of the past Koreshan residents.
After the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center was a Native American Calusa Settlement and a military fort, it became a United States Post Office. In 1933, a 23,000 square foot facility was built to replace the fort. It was a vibrant place where local dignitaries like Charles and Mina Edison retrieved and sent their mail.
Charles Edison, Thomas Edison’s son, visited the post office each morning, as part of his daily routine. He became smitten with a young postal clerk named Ethel Gertrude Sims. On his daily visits to her queue, he would flirt and cajole until she too became enamored. She began to respond with sweet nothings of her own and fantasized that her and Charles could be together. But Charles Edison was loyal to his wife, Carolyn, and began to spurn the romantic gestures of Ethel Gertrude Sims, who grew despondent. Ethel became so desperate that one day she leaped off the building’s rooftop to greet death below.
Late night strollers passing the building in the present day have reported hearing blood curdling screams emanating from the rooftops, ending with the sound of a sudden thump. On May 1 of each year (Ethel was a Communist Party member), people have reported witnessing a woman standing on the building’s ledge with a tortured look on her face, mustering up the courage to jump. The rooftop has long been earmarked to be opened for social gatherings and special occasions. Its opening has been plagued by endless delays and unforeseen obstacles. Locals have begun to believe that the rooftop is cursed by Ethel’s restless spirit in her attempt to protect her launching pad.
Calusa Lucy’s Shell Game
Staff members at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center have grown accustomed to “strange things” happening at their workplace. Many have arrived early to their workstations, to find that a row of shells has been placed neatly on their desktops. The shells always spell out the same message each time, AYUDAME, (HELP ME), in Spanish.
Also, female staff members have reported seeing a young woman’s face in the bathroom mirror, that quickly turns to a skeletal death masque, which emotes a scream from the bathroom visitor, and prompts the ghastly image to disappear in response. The administrators of the organization have established a policy whereby women are encouraged to use the bathroom facilities in pairs. They have posted “Use at Your Own Risk” signs outside the bathroom door to ensure the safety of their guests.
Historians will tell you that a few hundred years ago the site of the Center was originally a Native American Calusa Settlement that was also inhabited by the Spanish. They made contact with the native Calusa Tribe to convert them to Christianity.
Ghosthunters who have flocked to the Center to investigate have theorized that the otherworldly image is a young Calusa woman who is seeking help to fight off her Spanish captors. The “ghostbusters” believe she uses Spanish to communicate her message because the Calusa dialect is “dead” in the present day. Staff members have grown accustomed to the woman’s antics, and as a way to cope with their feelings of dread, have nicknamed her Lucy.
Arcade Theatre Annie
The Arcade Theatre of downtown Fort Myers is an old vaudeville house and theatre built by the Heitman brothers in 1915. The theatre has hosted vaudeville, magic acts, local talent nights, and plays. The locals who frequent the venue and actors who have performed there believe the theatre is haunted. Reports range from props missing, scripts torn, and curtains damaged to lights flickering, seats cut, and smells of decay lingering.
Guests have complained about a mysterious and beautiful usher who took them to a seat in the theatre, only to be accosted by another patron later, presenting a ticket proving the seat was in reality assigned to them. Actors have sworn that they have seen a woman in the back of the auditorium, dressed in a loosely worn pull over that was popular in the roaring twenties, tauntingly blowing kisses.
The theatre itself is known for being severely cold at times, even prompting the management to cut off the air conditioning during performances, despite Florida’s intense heat. Theatre guests have also complained of sour tasting cocktails, palate burning hot dogs and rancid tasting butter on their popcorn. Many patrons have become violently sick, having to leave performances after eating concessionary food bought in the theatre.
Historians and paranormal experts attribute the activity to Annie Semper Lennox, a magician assistant, notorious flapper, and failed actress that performed regularly in the Arcade Theatre during the 1920s. She is famous for poisoning three husbands in succession, in an elaborate scam designed to collect on life insurance policies and gain inheritances. She was finally caught in 1932, poisoning a neighbor’s cat which alerted suspicious Fort Myers homicide detectives assigned to the death of her three former husbands. She was tried and convicted in 1933 but poisoned herself after only three days of incarceration.
So, if you decide to catch a performance at the Arcade Theatre and are shown your seat by an usher, check your ticket. If you want to be comfortable bring a sweater or jacket to wear. It might be even prudent for you to eat before you come to a performance. You never know when Arcade Annie will return to her evil ways…
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