It’s hard to describe my feelings in visiting Dinosaur World in Plant City, Florida. When Jurassic Park came out in 1993, it was the summer before I entered junior high. My family and I were visiting friends in Florida, and I was so excited I refused to change my Jurassic Park t-shirt until we saw it. That’s how much I loved dinosaurs. The 12-year-old me would have been in heaven at Dinosaur World.
I’m not sure why kids are so fascinated by dinosaurs, but they absorb so much knowledge about the subject it puts adults to shame. Kids can rattle off complex Latin names with ease. I’ve forgotten half of what I used to know about all the different species and popular theories. For a theme park like this to be successful, it’s got to be able to withstand the inquisitive questioning of an eight year old and ignite his or her imagination.
Dinosaur World does all these things. I couldn’t believe how many different dinosaurs and other prehistoric species they had on display. You could spend hours navigating the park. There are over 150 life-size dinosaur sculptures, created by Swedish businessman Christer Svensson. The sculptures are made from polystyrene foam, fiberglass, and putty.
Once part of the remote interior of Marco Island, Florida, Marco Island Cemetery stands as a testament to the resiliency of the island’s inhabitants. Spanish explorers named the island La Isla de San Marco, and it is the largest barrier island within southwest Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands region. Today, it is home to over 17,000 residents, as well as thousands of vacationers who visit every year to enjoy the beautiful weather.
In the early 1970s, however, less than 4,000 people resided there. Many had left earlier in the century due to economic hardship and the Great Depression. Old Marco Cemetery, as Marco Island Cemetery was called at the time, was all but abandoned, left to nature and the social outcasts who came there to drink and race dirt bikes and motorcycles along its trails. Then, in 1973, a tragedy occurred that triggered its renewal.
Linda Walters, 16, and Lisa Nankevill, 15, were staying at Lisa’s father’s home on Pepperwood Court, which according to newspaper reports was, at the time, located about two blocks from the cemetery. Lisa’s father awoke during the night to hear music coming from her bedroom. Thinking nothing of it, he went back to bed.
When he woke early the next morning, the music was still playing, and when we went to investigate, he found the two girls missing with a note taped to a picture of Lisa’s mother. He did not report them missing to police because they had taken off on their own before. Many teenagers on Marco Island hung out at the 7-11 convenience store a few blocks away, near Old Marco Cemetery, which was open 24 hours. Later, eyewitnesses placed them at a party that night. They left around 9pm.
A graveyard is not something many people expect to encounter while visiting the pharmacy at a busy urban intersection in one of the wealthiest communities in the United States, but that is exactly what you will find at the intersection of Tamiami Trail North (U.S. 41) and Pine Ridge Road in Naples, Florida.
For years, passersby have wondered about the origin of this small cemetery and the identity of the people interred there. Adding to the mystery are reports of paranormal activity and rumors that neighboring businesses inevitably close their doors after only a short period of time.
While only home to a little over 19,000 people, Naples, Florida is one of the wealthiest cities in the United States, with the sixth highest per capita income and the second highest number of millionaires per capita in America. Every year, tourists flock to the area, and Naples Beach was voted the best beach in America by the Travel Channel in 2005.
It wasn’t always this popular, or this populated. In the 1870s, reporters described the area’s agreeable climate, abundant fishing, and shoreline as like that of Italy. So when a U.S. Senator from Kentucky named John Stuart Williams and his partner, businessman Walter N. Haldeman, founded a city there, they called it Naples, after the city in Italy.
At the turn of the last century, deep in the pine flat woods of southeast Florida near the small village of Estero, a group of religious believers sought to build a new Jerusalem on the Gulf Coast. These followers of Dr. Cyrus Teed, called Koreshans, believed the earth and universe were contained within a concave sphere. At its peak, their New Jerusalem was home to 250 people. Today, it is the Koreshan State Historic Site. Some visitors report eerie encounters with the vestigial remains of the so-called Koreshan Unity. Even without these stories, it is one of the most interesting ghost towns in Florida.
Cyrus Teed was born in 1839 in New York. He quickly gained an interest in science and medicine and opened a clinic in Utica. During one of his experiments, he was electrocuted and claimed a divine spirit had told him that he was the Messiah. He changed his name to Koresh and began to gather followers. This small group moved to Chicago in 1888 and established a commune. Apparently they were not well received. According to Jack Powell, author of Haunted Sunshine (2001), “The Chicago newspapers ran article after article on him. He was characterized to the public as the leader of a cult that took worldly goods from its followers and kept them enslaved through fear.”
Dr. Teed and his followers came to Estero, Florida in 1894 and acquired 1,600 acres of land through donation and purchase. There they held seminars for the public on Cellular Cosmogony, Teed’s own Hollow Earth theory. The group also believed in communal living, sharing property, gender equality, and various forms of celibacy. The Koreshan Unity was a thriving community with residences, gardens, a bakery, art hall, and store. The seven women who made up the Unity’s governing council lived in a large building called the Planetary Chamber.
Castillo de San Marcos, 1 S. Castillo Dr, St. Augustine, Florida 32084.
A narrow road called Tamiami Trail runs through Big Cypress National Preserve between Naples, Florida and the Miami suburbs. The 720,000-acre preserve was added to the United States National Park System in October 1972. An abandoned white, clapboard building sits conspicuously at the intersection of Tamiami Trail and Loop Road, beckoning travelers to pull over and contemplate its origin. For many decades, this small building was the only way station on the long journey through the wet cypress forest. Federal regulators forced it to close in the 1980s due to environmental concerns over its old gas pumps, and it has sat abandoned ever since. Now known as Monroe Station, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000 after being used in films like Gone Fishin’ (1997) staring Danny Glover and Joe Pesci.
This unique building has an interesting history, and is even rumored to have been a stomping ground of infamous gangster Al Capone. The Tamiami Trail was completed across the Everglades in 1928. Shortly thereafter, a man named Barron Collier built six stations along the road for motorists looking for somewhere to fuel up, relax, and get a bite to eat. One of these was Monroe Station. According to local legend, Al Capone owned a speakeasy and gambling den in the nearby community of Pinecrest. He left its management to a relative and occasionally returned to visit. On these trips, locals say, Capone stopped by Monroe Station. However, there is no evidence that the infamous Chicago gangster ever set foot in the area.
Originally, Monroe Station was one room deep, with a flat-roofed canopy extending out from the first floor over the gas pumps (pictured c.1933). It served as a way station for the Southwest Florida Mounted Police, where an officer and his wife lived. While the officer went on patrol on his motorcycle, his wife tended the store and gas station. William Erwin, the first officer to serve at Monroe Station, died in an accident along the road in January 1929. Just a few years later, in 1934, the Great Depression dried up funding for the Mounted Police and all six stations were closed and demolished or sold to private owners.
I had the opportunity to go to Fort Myers, Florida around Christmas last year and decided to take the local ghost tour. I have to say, it was one of the best I’ve ever been on–and I’ve gone on ghost tours and haunted walks all over the country (even one in Canada). The Haunted History Tour is part of Fort Myers’ True Tours. Check out some video below and then read my review!
I’ve gone on over a dozen ghost tours all around the country, and even Canada, but for some reason I never thought to review one until now. The Haunted History Tour of Fort Myers, Florida was one of the best. Our tour guide, Lauri, was upbeat and enthusiastic. I learned a lot about the history of Fort Myers as well as its legends.
I had the opportunity to go to Fort Myers around Christmas last year and decided to do something fun one evening. From talking with locals, I learned downtown Fort Myers has gone through a renaissance in recent years. In 1985, it served as a shooting location for George Romero’s Day of the Dead. The abandoned downtown seemed like the perfect locale for a zombie film. Today, it is beautiful, with brick streets, plenty of lighting, bars, shops, and restaurants. I spent some time at a trendy art bar, Space 39, and a cool 1920s themed bar called The 86 Room.
The Haunted History Tour is part of Fort Myers’ True Tours. It’s easy to see their commitment to quality. Its founder, Gina Taylor, was the first director of the Murphy-Burroughs Home, former director of the Southwest Florida Museum of History, a founding member and vice president of the Lee County Trust for Historic Preservation, Board member of the River District Alliance and of the Matlacha Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Southwest Florida Attractions Association.