Trust me. I’m not trying to convince anyone of the existence of ghosts. I’m just as skeptical as most. But I’m a curious person and welcome our readers to be curious, too, and open to a little something different for a night out, exploring the Darker Side of Downtown Bradenton.
The Paranormal Society of Bradenton’s authentic investigator and founder Liz Reed combines a bit of humor, a lot of history, and dozens of accounts of paranormal activity in and around downtown every Tuesday through Saturday evening at 8 p.m. Wear your walking shoes, bring a good camera (or cell phone with good camera), and get set to search for your own ghosts of the past.
Friday night at 8 pm I joined the Paranormal Society with Liz, the head honcho and longtime paranormal investigator and a nice group of other ghost searchers, including a sweet 20-something couple, an electrical engineer and his wife, and even a daring woman there by herself. It was an awesome dark and eerie night, with a light drizzling rain, gray clouds, and no moon…the perfect setting for a spook flick. Bear in mind there was NO MOON out that night when you look at the photos, which I’ll explain in a minute.
Liz was totally on top of her game, keeping things very informative, somewhat believable and also comical. The latter probably comes with the territory of trying to not scare the wits out of all of us before we finished the tour. Liz and her husband, by the way, have spent countless hours on research about each and every happening in Bradenton from the late 1800’s and beyond. And today the Paranormal Society of Bradenton is busy investigating cases of paranormal activity in the area.
Unfortunately, many businesses tell Liz to keep her distance, as it’d be ‘bad for business’ if the word got out the place was haunted. So rather than going inside the dwellings and bars, we remained on the perimeter, strolling cautiously down the dimly lit streets of downtown, almost as if we were criminals getting away with something. Rebels with a cause. Ghostbusters in training. By the way, several businesses, including Sign of the Mermaid on Anna Maria Island, have utilized the Society to investigate sightings (see actual stories on the website).
Our ghost search agenda was set. To explore The Hampton Inn (formerly known as ‘the Pink Palace’), the Old Courthouse, the former brothels and bars on Old Main Street, and wrapping up with an abandoned parking lot and the former Manatee Player’s Theatre.
Al Capone was said to have signed the registry at The Hampton back in the prohibition days, and he frequented the place just as other well-known socialites delighted in ballroom dancing on the actual roof of the place drinking moonshine and illegal liquor…then there was the man that plummeted to his death from that same rooftop…
I shot photos of The Hampton where Liz said I might spot an “Orb” – which is known by paranormal experts to be a spirit, sometimes brought to light by electronic devices or energy, in this case my Cannon Rebel. I couldn’t see anything but the building. But when I got home and looked at the photos – there were round, translucent white things that looked like moons. Excited, but still saying, ‘What,?!’ I sent these to Liz and she confirmed it: “you captured some orbs!” she said. Believe it. Or not.
We walked further and she told us about Bozo, a homeless man who was beaten to death way back when. Reportings of Bozo (his hair isn’t orange, but sticks out like Bozo’s) have run rampant as his spirit continues to roam the streets of downtown.
There are dozens of stories to delight historians, fright-junkies, or those just curious about death and the afterlife. Liz tells it all. And I won’t waste the surprise of the stories by telling you about them in case you dare to take the tour…but just a few tidbits:
An artist who lived in the current tattoo place painted a painting of her two daughters, shot them, then herself. The painting resides in McCabes bar next door. The bartenders report hearing footsteps at night before they close. Did you know there were three hangings that took place in front of the Old Courthouse? How about the Prohibition Balls on the rooftop of The Pink Palace (The Hampton Inn) where a man jumped to his death in a drunken slip? There were several ‘Seedy hotels’ and brothels on the second story of the businesses that line Old Main Street today with one account of ‘ladies in waiting’ fighting to death over money…the list goes on.
We were encouraged, as I mentioned, to take specific photos of places where Liz and her tour guests have witnessed paranormal activity. In the middle, top of the Hampton. On the last, top window of the Old Courthouse. In the hallway of a former brothel. Of the city’s oldest elevator, where the entrance’s ceiling is painted blue (a tradition in the south that was known to chase away bad spirits that still exists today). All pictured here.
We assembled in an empty parking lot where we were given K-2 EMF (electro-magnetic field) devices, the same tools investigators use, so we could do our own investigating of ‘activity.’ Liz knew of three different ghost families who frequented this space. And our fellow electrical engineer became the medium for feedback, selected by the ghosts, of course, as his EMF blinked wildly to questions the group’s members asked of the ghosts. He was quite proud they chose him, and said it stood to reason. He was an electrical engineer – and spirits become more active the more electrical energy that’s generated…hmm. The rest of us stood with disbelief. Still, I was skeptical (could be they rigged the instrument, right?).
It wasn’t until I got home and downloaded my pictures that I had a slight question whether or not those orbs I caught could actually be something more than a spot on my lens or an odd reflection of light (I wiped my lens every time). There was a slight possibility that there was something to this ‘orb” business. (According to another online source, ‘The orb is the energy being transferred from a source like power lines, heat energy, batteries, people, etc. to the spirit so it can manifest. This may not even be a conscious thing the spirit is doing, just a natural way it gets energy). Or orbs may appear very much like a cell under a microscope.
If you’ll notice, in the photos of The Hampton, the first orb appeared as a low moon on the left side of the building. There was no moon that night. Then a few steps later, I shot the top middle of the building, where the orb appeared again as Liz said it might. And then there was the orb at the Courthouse just above the window she said to look at. And the hallway of one of the former ‘seedy hotels,’ where you see a more cellular shaped image appear (yes, it could be nighttime light action)…or it could be the woman ghost that got killed by another woman ‘over money disputes.’
There’s something to be said for wanting to understand life after death. The delight of fright. Mortal curiosity. Or just experiencing plain, hair-raising tales. It’s a great diversion from the norm. Go ahead and try the Downtown Bradenton Ghost Tour and decide for yourself. Bring along a friend or mate and hold hands tight. Go see the Ghostbusters movie. Break out the old Ouija board. Watch a paranormal reality TV series. Plug in a good fright flick.
Whatever you do to explore the unknown, or the world of paranormal activity, it’s a great diversion. And believe it…or not.
Downtown Bradenton Ghost Tours run Tues. – Sat. at 8 p.m. and last 90 minutes. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 children 12 and under. You must register in advance by calling 941-704-0621 or make a reservation on the website at www.paranormalsocietyofbradenton.wordpress.com.
Photos by Patti Pearson