Sunday, January 17, 2016

American Ghost Adventures seeks the paranormal in Orlando

Ghosts are highly debated, as they cannot be proved, nor disproved.  There are skeptics and believers.  As technology increases, there are more devices used for ghost hunting, leading science into the realm of the paranormal.

For those who fascinated with the idea of ghosts, historic downtown Orlando seems to be a hotbed for paranormal activity.  American Ghost Adventures in Orlando takes the curious on tours around the infamous Church Street, walking a few blocks to visit buildings that have local ghost lore.  Ghost hunting equipment is handed out, so people can track paranormal activity.

We had a private tour with Ting Rappa, who also works as a fire fighter and shared many stories of paranormal activity she experienced both from being a fire fighter and from working on the ghost tours.  She said she became a fire fighter on a dare, and her partner, who is a journalist, helped her form the American Ghost Adventures, which visits Orlando and other surrounding areas.

The ghost tour starts with a history lesson.  The city of Orlando, FL, was originally named Jernigan, originating from the first permanent settler Aaron Jernigan.  Some say that the cattleman, who acquired the land along Lake Holden through the Armed Occupation Act of 1842, had a bit of a criminal past, and people sought to change the name to prevent any bad connotations.  While some theorize that Orlando came from a character in a Shakespeare play, others claim the name comes from Orlando Reeves, a soldier that supposedly died in 1835 during a Native American attack, but there is no official record of him - though there is a memorial by Lake Eola.

Strolling down Church Street, one will pass Gertrude’s Walk, which was named after Gertrude Sweet Newell, once thought to be the prettiest woman in Orange County.  On the corner, a window has been mysteriously broken several times, yet it was said to be broken from the inside out.  There are several locations on the tour, such as a 7-11, where employees have claimed to see a residual haunt of a man that simply disappears by walking into the cooler. 

Ting led the ghost tour and paranormal investigation through the historical downtown Orlando.  Handing out EVP meters, the meter went into the red one street over at a building which used to belong to a furniture and casket maker, the Elijah Hand Building.  The owner had introduced embalming to the area back in the day, and often had bodies on display in the window for people to marvel at the preserved condition of the people who had passed.

Later owners of the building had used blue material they found in the building to make curtains for the many windows of the building, calling it the Blue Room.  The blue material had previously been used to line coffins.  In a couple of the windows, remnants of this material still remains hanging in the building that is currently for sale.  

In this location, my meter quickly jumped into the red.  I had a strange feeling by an open doorway, and each time I went to the doorway alone, the meter was in the red.  Oddly enough, at the end of the tour, when we drove past the building, that same doorway was closed, as if it had been locked shut.
Across the street is the Carey Hand building, which was used as a funeral home by Elijah’s son Carey.  The letter H is still visibly stamped on the location, though it now houses Central Florida University’s downtown operation.  Ting said there are reports of people who have heard the noises of horses, as horses would often carry the bodies across the street.

More than a couple of the supposedly haunted buildings in the area were empty and for sale, as if the businesses could not thrive in the haunted locations; however, many haunted buildings did have thriving businesses with staff that regularly welcomed in the tour, such as a bar named the Treehouse, which supposedly hosts ghosts that like to dance.  This may have been part of the inspiration for the dancing ghosts in Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride.

Ting shared a story of a ghost named Max, or Maximillian, who has been very protective of ladies, especially blondes.  As a social experiment, she had asked ladies on various tours to pick a seat in the haunted establishment, and often, the ladies ventured to the same table.  Once, she had been testing out a potential tour guide, who claimed that he had been pushed by the ghost.  Later, she found out he had a history of domestic violence.  “It was like Max was trying to tell me not to hire the guy,” Ting said.  “He continues to look out for women, even in the afterlife.”

The Harp and Celt Irish Pub is not far from the corner of Magnolia Ave. and Pine St., which Ting said is considered the most haunted intersection in downtown Orlando.  Ting suggested the Orange County Regional History Center as a place to visit for people who are into ghosts, recalling several strange occurrences that have happened there.

The tour starts and ends at Harry Buffalo, a bar which used to be a hotel.  At the end of the tour, people can choose to go on a ghost hunt inside the establishment, going behind the scenes to the upper floors of the former hotel.  Flashlights and meters are set around the room, but the flashlights are turned off.  Ting calls out to spirits, and if they want to communicate, they can turn on the flashlight to answer questions.

On our private tour, my brother was too scared to go on the ghost hunt, so Ting and I venture to the upper levels of Harry Buffalo alone.  The meter began jumping in the dark hallway leading to a massive room, where Ting set up multiple readers and flashlights.  We asked a series of yes and no questions, and ghosts were quick to respond.  Only one of three flashlights came on, though Ting claimed there may have been three ghosts.  A couple merely watched, as Ting kept calling to one standing in the doorway, merely observing.

The ghost that chose to communicate said it follows the tour, and Ting explained the tour serves almost like a social hour when the ghosts can regularly be acknowledged.  Thus, she tries to run the tour around the same time, at 8 p.m., to build familiarity with the spirits.  The tour is not meant to conjure spirits, as the locations have a vivid history, with ghosts a plenty.

Next door to Harry Buffalo is Ceviche, which has a picture of a naked lady hanging in the window.  This establishment used to be a brothel.  “Back in the day, birth control wasn’t like it is today,” Ting explained.  When a prominent gentleman wanted to keep his affairs a secret, unfortunately, children met their demise, as did anyone who tried to cross them.

Ting said the intersection of Magnolia and Pine is said to be the most haunted intersection in Orlando.  Some claim the intersection was laid on the former church graveyard.  Many bodies who did not have living relatives or relatives that had enough money to pay for moving the bodies were simply left behind.  There's a ghost that appears in an upstairs window and waves, while downstairs, a lady in white has been spotted.  People have often claimed to see apparitions on the street brushing past them when nobody else saw the offending person.

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