Spirits are high at Halloween. But in Florida, you don’t have to wait for the holiday to get your haunt on. Just an hour south of Tampa, you can enjoy a good old-fashioned ghost tour year-round.
‘A lot of people who live in Sarasota have no idea what a haunted city this is,’ says Tom Jacobson. Tom and his wife, Janey own and operate Sarasota Ghost Tours.
‘We came up with the idea of doing ghost tours when we moved to the Rosemary District, which is near the city’s theater district and the oldest cemetery in Sarasota,’ explains Janey Jacobson. ‘And it was an ideal spot to do ghost tours.’
Before venturing off on their graveyard shift, the couple started researching Sarasota’s history. Soon, they discovered a plethora of curious stories. But do they believe in ghosts?
‘When this all first started, I was fairly skeptical,’ confesses Tom. ‘But there are certain events and happenings that have happened a lot on this tour that I just can’t explain. So I’m becoming more of a believer every day.’
Janey admits to being more open-minded. ‘I’ve never been skeptical. And we’ve become more and more open to the spiritual end of it. Instead of just being about history, our tour has evolved into adding more of the paranormal to it.’
The two-hour walking tour is part history, part hands-on, beginning with a lesson in paranormal gadgets used along the way.
‘We provide paranormal investigative equipment, such as K-2 electromagnetic field detectors and infra-red thermometers,’ explains Tom. ‘And the guests really enjoy that this is an interactive experience and not just traditional storytelling like a lot of other ghost tours are.’
With flashlights, detectors and an open mind, the group begins its adventure into the unknown.
The first stop: the old Sarasota Ice House.
‘This building is over 100 years old,’ Tom tells the group. ‘It was used to make ice before people had their own refrigeration units.’
Story goes, children played near the icehouse during the hot summers. But some say sounds of children playing can still be heard at night, with no children in sight.
‘Not only were there not any children playing, but when they looked down, there was a very large puddle with a set of children’s footprints right in the center and they had absolutely no explanation for it,’ says Tom in his ghost guide voice.
As a guest aims her infrared laser at the building, the temperature drops seven degrees.
‘They say the reason for temperature drops is spirits will draw energy for their use,’ explains Tom.
Guests are led through the city’s historic theater district because it appears that Sarasota ghosts, like its residents, appreciate the arts.
The Golden Apple Dinner Theatre is one particularly active venue, having featured more than its share of staged phantoms.
‘Paranormal groups that have spent the night found so many ghosts in that theater that there were enough to stage a whole production, including the director,’ says Janey.
Raised voices are common in the Sarasota Opera House. But above the stage in what used to be apartments, there are some inexplicable sightings.
‘Many people have seen women in 1920s period clothing, walking through the hallways,’ says Tom.
The tour winds through Sarasota’s oldest cemetery, where flashlights begin to flicker and energy sensors spike.
Tom and Janey tell the story of the Green children who were buried here in 1887. Guests wait intently for a sign as Janey tries to communicate with them using her flashlight.
‘Are there two of you here tonight? Blow that candle out for me,’ she asks.
The flashlight flickers, then goes out, stirring gasps and whispers among witnesses.
‘I think the most unusual thing is coming to this cemetery and learning the history of the people that are buried here,’ says Janey. ‘And actually starting to feel that they are not just laying here gone, but there actually are spirits that are in the cemetery.’
As the tour winds down, there is chatter amongst the guests. But did it change their perception about the paranormal?
‘Not all of them believe at the end. But we’re not here to try and make them believe,’ says Janey. ‘We’re just here to let them experience what is here in Sarasota.’
In a city rich in history, culture and beautiful weather, if there is such a thing as ghosts, can you really blame them for staying?