The stage had been set for us to experience some of the what was being whispered about in Oak Hammock Park. The rumors of dark figures, odd noises and cries, and mysterious visions had us on edge. We were hoping that such an active and well known area, coupled with the number of people we hoped were using the park for recreation, would provide us with interviews and information on the Devil’s Tree.
The weirdness began before we had even left the house though. The night before, as we were going over the game plan on how to trip the site, we had gotten into a discussion of a Spooky Southcoast guest named George Case and his recent appearance on the show. That led to us discussing the idea of backwards lyric in the song Stairway to Heaven and how Led Zepplin had been accused of making a pact with the Devil for success and riches. As we sat and ate our breakfast in a local diner, the song came on. One of the driving forces of our adventures has always been following the signs, and this was definitely a sign that things were going to get interesting.
Oak Hammock Park is buried in a residential neighborhood and seems to come out of nowhere. It would be hard to find if someone didn’t tell you it was there.
Natalie decided, out of necessity, to explore the first part of the legend. It was safe to say she encountered no spirits in the ladies’ bathroom, where the ghost of the two dead hitchhikers are said to haunt people by banging and scratching on doors or being seen in the mirrors.
We spent the next hour in the wrong area of the park carefully scrutinizing each oak we came across. As we walked, we discovered a rock painted with the odd symbol of an eye. Having dealt with markers and symbols of cults who use woods like these, an idea that has been rumored to also happen in this park, my mind automatically thought this had been left by someone to mark a path to the tree. I was ultimately proven wrong. The park, like many others in the country, was having a special “egg-hunt” type activity where local artists painted rocks and left them behind for people to find and share on social media.
We eventually decided to shift gears, retrace our steps, and reenter the park from a new location with the hopes of following the directions to get to it. As we walked by a set of swings and slides, we heard a little kid talking to a woman and her baby about the Devil’s Tree. He was trying to get the woman to go out with him to the woods to visit it. We looked at each other and approached them. Both the woman and the young boy had heard the stories, and the boy, who we learned was named Christopher, eagerly offered to take us out and show us where it was.
Our guide walked through the woods, more concerned with the killer’s supposed house than the actual tree. He shared with us several stories, mostly concerned with the house, and confirmed our theory that everyone in the area had heard the stories and knew the part as being a dark and haunted place. We finally came upon it and immediately understood why the tree could be a target for urban legend.
It’s thick trunk is scarred with burn marks and knots that mark where people have tried to cut it. The tree was also cut up with designs, some of them common in occult practices. Over time, someone had filled in parts of the tree with cement, as if they were trying to practice that old wive’s tale of helping a tree grow by cutting out rot and filling it in. It reminded us in retrospect of some of the fairy holes we discovered connected with some of the locations we explored in Indiana and which are often associated with Pukwudgies.
The branches themselves are a collection of mangled arms and fingers, most pointing down instead of up towards the light. Someone coming upon the tree might mistake it for some kind of natural accident and be overtaken by how twisted and mutilated the whole scene appeared. We were also struck by how many of the ends of the branches looked like devil’s horns.
Christopher quickly took us to the foundations in the wood. Before we had gotten to the location we had read nothing about possible houses in the woods nearby, but here was a collection of abandoned blocks of cement and twisted iron. Some had the appearance of stairs while others were laid out as foundations. Others were at least three feet high. We tried to research several times what the buildings had been but have been unsuccessful. The best theories are that the buildings might have been associated with Victory Forge Military Academy and Southeastern Military Academy or a failed development from the Atlantic Gulf Communities Corporation.
One of the odd elements of the forest was several locations near the Devil’s Tree that had circles often associated with cult activity and the remains of bird feathers nearby.
We talked to several other people who came across us as we circled the tree. Most had heard of it before, although none of them had specific stories to share. Christopher eventually left us to meet up with his friends, and Natalie went off to make sure he got to them safely. I took the opportunity to put down the camera and recorder and sit against the tree to see if anything would happen. While nothing too dramatic happened, the recorder did pick up some voices and I had an uneasy feeling the entire time.
Much of what follows can be considered to be coincidence or some kind of cognitive bias. How many odd things have to happen before you start to admit to yourself something unexplained is going on. As people who who try and catch the tail of an unseen tiger, Natalie and I tend to make more leaps than I would have in my investigator days.
Deciding to go against one of our rules and jump into one of the legends, we took a part of the bark with us. This would prove to be a mistake. We soon left, and as soon as we got back into the car, we instantly had car trouble. As we made our way to Cassadaga to look into some of the stories there, night seemed to come out of nowhere and we decided to stop for the night. We called ahead and no place was open. We made our way to the Orlando area, which is considered Hotel Capital of the World. There was no room at the inn. There was something moving us on and forcing us to leave the area.
We eventually decided to make the three hour drive home despite the late hour. As the car continued to clank and sputter, we stopped to refuel. I decided to get rid of the bark, slightly superstitious and eager to get rid of any bad vibes. I reached out to throw the piece of wood away and it literally jumped from my hand into the garbage.
We started on the road home downing coffee and singing to make sure we stayed awake. Natalie decided to nap, but her sleep was disturbed. As she tried to doze, she kept hearing an old time phone ringing. Not a cell phone with a funky ring, which neither of us have, but an old phone ringing. It happened for most of the car ride home, but it was not until the next morning I explained to her that a phone ringing was one of the first signs of oppression, leading to possession.
Odd dreams kept us both from getting a good night’s sleep. Natalie spent most of the night hearing whispers and what sounded like a flute, to the point she asked me to turn the radio off. Not only did I not have a radio on, but the flute as she explained it sounded more like a pan flute. Pan has a deep connection to our current idea of the Devil.
It’s difficult to say in any solid way that there is something to the stories that are coming from the Devil’s Tree. For a few decades it has captured the imagination of the community, the dark figures like burn marks against the tree. The legend of the hauntings there, true or not, and the mystique surrounding Gerard Schaefer will form the ideas we have of the park and the tree that continues to grow on the outskirts. The Devil may not have made his way to Florida, but Port St. Lucie and anyone who follows the canal and the path to the Devil’s Tree knows there is something sinister there, watching and waiting to make itself known.