The 27th state admitted to the union, Florida was inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years before the first Spanish explorers came to its shores more than five hundred years ago. It remained in Spanish hands for a few centuries before being transferred to British ones, then went back and forth between the two nations a few times before eventually becoming part of the still relatively new United States. Today, Florida is known primarily as a place of beaches, theme parks, botched elections, and generally weird news stories of bizarre things people do there. The phrase, “Naturally, this strange story came from Florida” is becoming a common one. However, Florida is more than just this handful of things. It has a rich folklore history all its own. Here are some of the highlights.
The Oviedo Lights
In central Florida, near Orlando, is the town of Oviedo. It is the home of one of the most mysterious phenomena in Florida. When crossing over the bridge across the Econlockhatchee River just outside of Oviedo, people will often see weird greenish glowing lights rising out of the surrounding swamp, and these lights are said to sometimes chase cars. The lights have been reported being seen for at least the past fifty years, and were it not for their propensity to chase cars going across the bridge, many people would dismiss them as swamp gas. The fact that they seem to go after cars hints at another explanation. Sometimes, the lights only appear as one light, and sometimes there are as many as five together, though they usually appear in pairs. No one knows exactly what causes these lights, but they remain an attraction in the area to this day, especially with teenagers, who go out hunting for the lights.
Walt Disney is Frozen at Disney World
This is a popular tale regarding Walt Disney World, located just south of Orlando in Osceola County, Florida. Walt Disney, the founder of the Disney theme parks, was buying and breaking ground on what would be his second theme park when he died in 1966. His project, Walt Disney World (as opposed to his first park, Disneyland in California) was completed in 1971. The rumor ever since the park opened is that Walt Disney’s body was frozen and is located in a secret room at the top of one of the towers at Cinderella’s castle, waiting to be thawed and revived when technology is invented to allow this to be done. This means Walt Disney is always overlooking the park and its visitors from one of the highest points in the park until the day he is revived. It is a creepy tale and one that the park has long denied is true. Yet, because the top of Cinderella’s castle is not open to the public (so no one can independently verify whether the story is true or not), the story continues to be told and believed by millions of park visitors from around the world.
The Grave in the Road
In New Smyrna Beach, Florida, there is a strange sight to see on Canova Drive. There is a grave in the middle of the road. This isn’t a tale told to kids or as a ghost story on Halloween. It is a real thing. The grave is for a teenager named Charles Dummet, who was sixteen years old when he was killed in a hunting accident in 1860. His gun accidentally went off when he was hunting with a friend, killing him. His father decided to bury Charles where he fell, instead of in a cemetery. Back then, it wasn’t so unusual, or that big of a deal. About a century later, though, as the area became more developed and houses and businesses were being built, developers had a hard time getting permission to move Charles’s grave. So, they eventually gave up on getting through the red tape, and just split the road so it went around the headstone. It is still there today. If you drive down Canova Drive, you will find a grassy island in the middle of the road with some palm trees in it. On closer inspection, you will find a stone marker for Charles in the middle of all that grass and those trees.
The Evil Tree
There is an abundance of strange things in Florida, and one of them is a tree that is purported to be evil. Located in Port St. Lucie, an old oak tree sits in Hammock Park, and locals are convinced it is an evil tree. Two nineteen-year-old girls were murdered near the tree in 1973 and buried under it (the murderer returned to the scene several times over the next few days to further desecrate the bodies of the girls). The bodies weren’t discovered until 1977 when local fishermen spotted bones protruding from the ground beneath the tree. The murderer was found and sent to prison, where he was stabbed to death in 1995.
Ever since the discovery of the girls, locals have been reporting hearing disembodied screams from the park, ghostly apparitions near the tree, and cameras malfunctioning near the tree. Rumors went around that Satanic cult members were performing rituals at the tree, and a priest came in to exorcize it, erecting a cross there. Every time the tree has been attempted to be cut down, chainsaws have stopped working and axes have broken. Thus, the tree is still there, creeping out local residents.
The Legend of Skunk Ape
Florida even has its own version of Big Foot. Yet, like most everything else in Florida, this version is way more bizarre than the garden variety Big Foot. It has been seen in virtually every area of the state, but mostly woodsy or swampy areas, and is said to prefer to hang out near alligator dens. Those who have seen it say it is about seven feet tall and 450 pounds while having a strong stench that is like a mix of methane and rotten eggs… hence the Skunk Ape moniker.