Florida is famous for its theme parks and perfect beaches, but our state also has a reputation for quirky charm and a general weirdness (which is not necessarily a bad thing). These unique urban legends and ghost stories are some pretty good examples.
1. The Fountain of Youth
You've probably heard stories that conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon was positive that the mythical Fountain of Youth could be found somewhere in Florida. The truth is that these rumors were only recorded after the explorer's death, but I like to remain hopeful that Florida's water possesses some magical powers that will slow my aging.
2. The Skunk Ape
The Skunk Ape is basically Florida's version of Bigfoot, with the addition of a terrible odor. Its leading researcher is Dave Shealy, who has spent his entire life living in the Everglades, searching for the mysterious beast.
3. The I-4 Dead Zone
There’s a stretch of I-4 between Orlando and Daytona that has had so much strange activity (as well as accidents and injuries) that it has been nicknamed the "I-4 Dead Zone." Legend has it this small stretch of highway was built over the graves of four German immigrants who died of yellow fever. This area has supposedly had an unusually high number of accidents as well as two hurricanes that seemed to follow its path.
4. Spook Hill
A lot of people know about this hill in Lake Wales where cars in neutral seem to roll uphill. The legend states that a huge battle with a Native American chief and a giant gator took place in this spot, ending in the death of both parties. A sinkhole formed in the area, and when the road was later paved, people noticed this strange phenomenon.
5. Pensacola Lighthouse
Supposedly an unhappy couple lived here in its early days. Many years later, the woman eventually chopped up her husband, but was never convicted due to lack of evidence. These days, the place is supposedly haunted, with reports of visions, sounds and a spot of blood that returns no matter how many times the floor is cleaned.
6. The Fairchild Oak
The Fairchild Oak sits in Bulow Creek State Park in Ormond Beach, and it has for centuries. I knew about this great old live oak, one of the largest trees of its kind in the South, but I hadn't heard about its urban legend. Apparently a man named Norman Harwood who owned the property a long time ago, before James Ormond II bought it, killed himself under the tree. Ormond also killed himself under the tree a few years after purchasing the property. It's possibly haunted, and supposedly fills anyone who stands beneath it with a great sadness.
7. The "Mexican Pet"
In this urban legend, a family vacationing in Florida buys or finds what they believe is a (very ugly) dog, possibly a chihuahua, and when they bring it home it immediately eats their cat. They take it to the vet and discover that it's actually some kind of giant rat. I'm guessing this story was invented by a local who wanted to keep more people from moving here.
8. Bellamy Bridge, Marianna
Built in 1914, this steel-frame bridge is over 100 years old, and the oldest of its kind in Florida. Elizabeth Bellamy and her husband, Samuel, had been married for three years when she died in 1837. Elizabeth actually died from fever, and her infant son died a week later from the same illness. Her husband became deeply depressed and turned to alcohol. 15 years after her death, he slit his own throat with a straight razor at Chattahoochee Landing. He was not buried next to his bride, despite his last request. Sightings of a ghostly woman near the bridge have been reported since the late 1800s.
On to a bug that most of us wish was a myth: the lovebug. There's a legend that lovebugs were somehow developed by the government to stem the mosquito problem you're all probably very aware of down here in Florida. Supposedly, they were trying to create only a female bug that would attract male mosquitoes, distracting them from actual reproduction. Unfortunately, they accidentally created a male as well, and the things bred like crazy.
10. Cassadaga Devil's Chair
Rumor has it that there is a chair in the cemetery in the spiritualist town of Cassadaga, where the Devil will visit you if you sit in it late at night. Apparently, he enjoys a good brewski. It's said that if you leave a beer on the seat overnight, when you return in the morning it will be empty...possibly without ever being opened.
11. Toilet Paper Spiders
There have long been rumors of women in Florida killed by some mysterious species of spiders that loves nothing more than hiding out in toilets and biting unsuspecting victims where the sun don't shine. It turns out this is just a good old-fashioned scary SPAM e-mail story that snowballed over time. Remember those?
How many of these Florida legends have you heard of? Do you know any others that we might have missed?