The evening began with a fight. My girlfriend Amy and I were on our way to the site of the Old Wilton City Hall when she launched into crisis mode over an ad for an HIV clinic that she saw on the back of a bench. She argued that it didn’t make sense that the acronym HIV should be reversed in Spanish. Wouldn’t it be easier just to call the disease by a single, universal name, rather than having multiple monikers for the same affliction? I thoughtlessly informed her of my humble opinion: that her argument was quite stupid. She clammed up. The irony of my position was not lost on me, even with a head lightened by alcohol. Some might claim that the quest I was dragging her into tonight was equally stupid. We were going ghost hunting.
If we had known what we would find that night, maybe I wouldn’t have thought that. But it was only 9:00pm and barely dark. It was the time when skepticism haunts your mind more relentlessly than any specter.
The Old Wilton City Hall no longer exists as such in Wilton Manors. It has long since been replaced by a newer City Hall, just to the south. The previous site is currently occupied by a parking lot, which, on a Friday night in one of the largest gay communities in the country, tends to be quite busy. We both knew that there was little chance of encountering anything otherworldly under these conditions. Nonetheless, we proceeded to investigate.
The story goes something like this. A former maintenance worker named John Bold loved his job so much that when he died, his ashes were stored in the walls of the original building. Afterward, strange occurrences took place. Workers reported soft music playing through the halls late at night, and books flying off the shelves when nothing (visible, at least) was around to disturb them. One even claimed to have seen an apparition. We knew that a parking lot wasn’t exactly a haunted house, but we were hoping for evidence of some residual haunting.
We roamed the lot, but to no avail. There were no cold spots, no softly-playing music, no apparitions. Amy suggested that we check out some of the other buildings in the area. The Woman’s Club, she said, had been around for a long time. Surely someone had died there! Maybe we would have luck. So week took a closer look, but again no ghostly entities. It was the same with some of the old (occupied) houses in the area. Wilton Manors, it seemed, was not haunted.
Disappointed but undeterred, we headed back to home-base for an hour before continuing our quest. Our next destination was downtown Fort Lauderdale, allegedly one of the most haunted places in Florida.
A little while and a few beers later, we were on the road again. We parked around 11:15 pm, which was perfect for our enterprise. Reports say that the haunted areas of the city were most active between 11:00pm and 3:00am. If we were going to spot a ghost, this would be the time to do it.
The first stop on our journey into mystery would be the fabled Stranahan House, the city’s oldest standing building, which is said to be haunted by the spirits of Frank and Ivy Stranahan, as well as others. Frank was Fort Launderdale’s first postmaster and a leading businessman of his day. When the Great Depression struck, poor Frank lost everything and drowned himself in New River. His faithful wife stopped all of the clocks in the house at the hour of his death, where they remained for nearly half a century. She didn’t die until 1971, in the second story bedroom. Shortly afterward the house was turned into a museum, and the parlor clock mysteriously began to tick once again.
And that’s not even half of it. Apparitions have appeared to employees of the museum, going so far as to rattle the walls and touch the necks of the unwary. In our search for a haunted house, this one was a real find.
The grounds are thought to be quite active as well. One unfortunate homeless man claims to have been chased away by an angry spirit, whose relentless pursuit wouldn’t stop until he was off the property. Our access was limited, given the late hour, but we hoped to make contact with someone … or something.
We called out to Ivy and Frank, asking them to show a sign if they were around. We held conversations with them, asking them serious questions like how they were and what was up. But they must not have been around that night. Maybe they were up the road at YOLO, their smug sense of undead irony getting the better of them. Whatever the case, we left without incident.
Returning to Las Olas, we stopped by The Riverside Hotel, a point of some confusion for us. The internet — that bastion of accurate information — the ethereal entity that provides yours truly with a regular paycheck, had told us that this hotel was a hub of spectral activity. However, it had also told us that the New River Inn Museum was the site of the same hauntings. After a quick once-over, we decided that we were in the wrong place, and that the only beings that dwelled the corridors at the Riverside Hotel were paying guests.
It was time for an ice cream break. We wandered up the busy road, among the Friday night club kids and the German tourists looking for a place to eat and maybe some tacky souvenirs to bring back home. At one point we passed a bar with a cover-band belting out an off-key rendition of, appropriately, Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer. Unfortunately, we didn’t feel like we were half-way there, we just felt tired. Was a haunted house too much to ask?
We stopped at Yogurt Ur Way, where we witnessed two young Goths deciding on what kind of fro-yo best matched their mood of emptiness and despair. This seemed like more of a struggle than they had anticipated, so we contentedly observed their plight over some cookies ‘n’ cream and chocolate custard.
End Part 1.
Check back next Friday to catch a glimpse of a real ghost! And if you really can’t wait for a haunted house tour, check out our coverage of ghoulish NOLA here!