Whether or not you believe in ghost stories, it can’t be denied that they keep city legends alive and teach us something about our history. We’re delving deep into some of the inconspicuous places residents of Gainesville believe are haunted. So turn off the lights and get your candles, because we’re getting creepy up in here.
The Hippodrome Cinema loves to present a few horror classics every October — but if you’re looking for a scary thrill the rest of the year, you won’t be hard-pressed to find one.
In fact, you might not be able to avoid it.
Employees of the Hippodrome State Cinema have claimed for years the theater is haunted by the ghost of a mourning mother. Some have caught glimpses of her roaming the halls, dressed in white, and her cries can be heard at night.
In the year of 1914, Gainesville was a young, budding college town. The University of Florida was only a few years old, and the Hippodrome was still the Federal Courthouse. With the passing of time, the true story of the mourning mother has become hazy at best, but according to legend a man named Clement Boyle was convicted of a murder. While awaiting his death sentence, Boyle wrote his mother a heartfelt plea for help from his cell. It’s rumored that his mother rushed to gather evidence that would exonerate him, but she arrived one day late.
At the news of his hanging, Boyle’s mother died from grief. For the last century, she’s wandered through the building with the ghosts of other male prisoners.
Most of the paranormal activity occurs in the theater’s changing rooms, which were originally the courthouse’s basements. Jorge Abujasen, a theater student at UF, had his own ghostly experience working backstage at a show last year.
“I’d hear strange footsteps going up and down the stairs into the basement, and a few times I would feel a sudden chill without knowing why,” he said.
So next time you sit down in the Hipp for a performance or movie, don’t be surprised if you suddenly feel a cold and heavy presence. If you stay around long enough, perhaps you’ll see the woman yourself.
Steak and Shake on Southwest 13th Street
Have you ever considered that your late night snack might come served with a side of something sinister? If you’re a UF student, chances are you’ve stopped by the Steak N’ Shake on Southwest 13th Street late in the night for greasy fries and sugary comfort. We’ve all occasionally overstayed our welcome at diners, but this one might come with guests who have stayed for decades.
The history behind the tale is a gruesome one. In the late 1970s, a convicted felon named Darren Sheppard walked into the diner and held three employees, Isaiah Griffin, 28; Todd Bidwell, 17; and Deanna Leudemam, 33 at gunpoint. After shooting all three in the back of the head, he left them in the walk-in freezer to die.
Leudemam was rushed to Alachua General Hospital after being discovered. She survived, but the others did not. To avenge their deaths, she testified against Sheppard in 1980, who was sentenced to die in prison.
Past employees believe that the freezer is haunted and have reportedly refused to enter it alone.
Jake Granger, a senior english major at UF, is aware of the rumors, but it doesn’t keep him from the diner.
“There was a very similar murder at a Waffle House in my hometown in Davie, Florida,” he explained, “and people like to say that Waffle House is haunted too.”
So do ghosts just have a penchant for breakfast diners, or are such rumors brought to life for the same reason we watch scary movies or ride roller coasters—the thrill of it? Is it the horror and memory of the murders that remain, or the spirits of Todd and Isaiah?
Formerly Gator City, formerly Purpose Porpoise, formerly College Inn
Ready for a haunted history lesson in off-campus dining and nightlife? For a little over a year now, The Social at Midtown, formerly Gator City, has graced campus with its exposed brick walls, upscale college atmosphere and rooftop bar where you can grab a drink and get a great view of University Ave.
Rewind 20 years prior, the Social was the iconic Purple Porpoise, a bar that was so revered locals held a candlelight vigil when it closed in 2002.
Rewind even farther—40 years into the past. It was the 1960s, and this popular hot-spot was a student hangout known as College Inn. On October 1st, 1965, a student named Kathryn Oliveros was found in the upstairs bathroom with a stab wound to the chest and a slashed face. She was rushed to Alachua General Hospital and died the same day. Chaos ensued, and a manhunt began, lasting for 11 days ending with the arrest of student Milton Lawson Luke.
After the arrest, the information that emerged from newspapers around the country seemed to come straight from a horror film. With seemingly no motive, Luke confessed to killing Olivero, saying he felt disoriented and wandered into the bathroom by mistake.
Since then, Kathryn has become a legend, mainly used by bartenders to scare new hires. There have been whispers of girls being confronted by a presence in the upstairs bathrooms, which are now only available to employees. New owners have denied anything supernatural, but you may be prompted to think otherwise if you suddenly feel a cold breeze down your neck the next time you find yourself walking past The Social on a weekend night.
You may have passed Antique Emporium once or twice while traveling north to Gainesville. Overlooking I-75, the large building resembles a red barn rather than an antique store. But beneath the kitsch of this beloved antique store lies a very grim history.
In 1984, the antique shop was known as Wayside Antiques and housed thousands of dollars worth of unique antiques.
But on June 27th, 1984, over $500,000 dollars worth of antiques were stolen and the bodies of the managers, David and Betty Branum, were found bound, gagged and handcuffed to the safe inside of the office with small-caliber gunshot wounds to the head.
The shocking deaths shook Marion County and remained a mystery for years. The story was depicted in a novel written by crime writer Anna Flowers in her 1999 novel “Murder at Wayside Antiques.” Investigators later found nearly all of the stolen antiques in Las Vegas, and were eventually led to the two killers—drug mules Lewis Wesley Barnes and Pedro Covarruvias.
After the killers were convicted, the story of the Barnums took a bone-chilling turn. Employees began noticing something dark happening among the antiques—whispered voices coming from the back of the store and lights ominously flickering on and off.
Apparently, there have even been sightings of a ghostly figure dressed in period-clothing wandering the shop.
However, some think the strange, eerie activity could be explained by something other than the murder of the Branums—the antiques themselves. Many antique stores are accompanied by rumors of hauntings, mainly because some believe that spirits tend to linger around possessions they once held dear. Perhaps the Antique Emporium is riddled with spirits distraught over the stolen antiques, or maybe the Branums themselves watching over their store.
Sweetwater Branch Inn
Off University Avenue lies a Victorian complex restored from two mansions known in the Victorian Era as the McKenzie House and the Cushman-Colson House.
This quaint bed and breakfast with creaky wooden floors, a fireplace, sprawling gardens and even a koi pond sounds like every Victorian literature buff’s fantasy. You’ll likely be inspired to take out your dusty copy of Jane Eyre to read while sitting on the inn’s ornate porch.
You may, however, find that your stay is less of a picturesque victorian dream and more like Mr. Rochester’s mansion. Striking similarities could include ghostly laughter, a chill and vault-like air—or as Jane Eyre describes, ‘cheerless ideas of space and solitaire.’
But rather than a madwoman in the attic, you’ll likely find that your charming bed and breakfast experience is accompanied by a ‘pleasant ghost.’ Aside from reports of general ‘uneasiness’ from guests and heaviness on their chests, rumors haven’t gone farther than maids hearing doors opening on their own or the owners’ claims of seeing spirits in the upstairs windows. Call it a unique guest, Victorian poltergeist, possibly one with a lot of southern charm that enjoys crashing weddings in the reception hall.
If you’re looking to ghost hunt between classes, UF might be the right college for you. Next time you’re walking around the university, listen closely if you pass Norman Hall.
Rumors say that UF’s own Norman Hall is haunted with the ghosts of five children that died in an elevator accident over a hundred years ago. Despite the lasting rumors, no solid stories have been found verifying the event.
Here’s what we do know: Norman Hall was built in 1932 and was previously P.K. Yonge Elementary School. UF students have reported hearing the laughter and footsteps of children traipsing around the third floor and even having a strange feeling of being watched as they walk past the hall’s large windows.
Norman Hall may have just fallen victim to a classic gator haunting story, but it could be the voices of children running and laughing at night. •