This post is part of the Haunted Ocala National Forest, the now-defunct book project that was a part of Tripping on Legends. These stories were originally to be part of a book that was to act as a follow-up to our Haunted Florida Love Stories book, but that ship has sailed. Whether it is the nature of the forest or the nature of Tripping on Legends itself, the project did not work out. We are, however, left with these unfinished chapters which range from local legends to a rambling thread trying to make sense of people’s first-hand experiences. Either way, we present these chapters hoping to resurrect the project someday and continue the search for haunted legends.
Enjoy, and feel to contribute to the avalanche of the unexplained that is Ocala…
Please contact me with any corrections, additions, or clarifications. This project begs for it…
There are some ghostly legends that just don’t make sense, but the fact they are told and believed make them impossible to ignore. When you hear them, the commonsense trigger in your brain goes off. There are too many holes. The details don’t add up. The characters do this exact same thing somewhere else, and the setting is just too perfect.
But then there is the sincerity of the teller, passing the story down to you the way it was passed down to him, and you can hear the belief in their voice. Maybe the story doesn’t make sense, but the storyteller does. Then you get to the end and the person tells you their own experience. After taking a moment to think about how easily it is to have something happen when you already think a place is a haunted, you’re left with that sensation in your gut that something about all of it must be true. When you’re dealing with a haunted cemetery hidden in the trees of a forgotten town in the Ocala, you just nod and understand it’s true enough.
If you look at a map of Florida and search for the town of Rosewood, you’re going to be disappointed. Then search for it on the Internet and see what you can find, but you’ll spend time looking into the wrong place in a nearby community. Focus on a small town named Paisley and run your finger down Old Cemetery Road and know somewhere before you reach Lake Dorr there is a small cemetery, overgrown and unattended where a young woman once committed suicide because of lost love. Her death can’t be confirmed. The existence of the town of Rosewood in Lake County can’t be confirmed. The cemetery is there, however, and the story is still being passed down.
Young love is both pure and foolish, which may have been the reason why the young woman fell in love so easily and ignored that they both might be causing trouble by getting together. It was not that she was only 15 and he was almost a man at 17, but the fact that she was white and he was black. And it was not as if she came from a progressive family. Her father was an angry man, and when he found out they had been seeing each other, he threated to kill the young man. After cooling down, he tried sending her away or disowning her from the family, but the girl’s mother couldn’t stand to not have her close and fought to keep her at home. The father gave in but silently fumed, still demanding they stop seeing each other. So, the couple became careful.
The fire was still burning her father’s belly. One day he saw the teen in the center of Rosewood. He viciously beat him in front of onlookers who did nothing to stop it. He then brought the boy into the woods to finish the job. The young lover was never seen again. In later years, people would say he left for South Florida or left the state all together. Others say he died in the woods, either being hung or being buried where no one would ever find him. What is known is that the girl found out about the beating and made her way to town to try and find them. She was overwhelmed by the amount of blood in the town where the fight had taken place and the people walking around who hadn’t helped and were now avoiding eye contact with her. She vowed then to get her revenge.
Her father always kept a revolver in his nightstand, and when he returned home, he found his daughter standing in the kitchen waiting for him. She shot him. As the emotional girl began to think of a world without the man she loved and facing her mother having killed her father, she broke down and ran to a nearby cemetery. Her and her lover had met there several times after sneaking out of the house, and she waited, half expecting him to come crashing through the trees. As time went by, she cried and cried until her voice took on the sound of a coyote. She then laid on one of the graves and took her own life.
But that’s not where the story ends. Her body was never found. People say she transformed into a coyote and continues to walk the woods. She is known to attack and kill evil spirited people whom she finds in the forest, taking revenge on those who stood by and did nothing to save the helpless man years ago. There are some who even say she laid down a curse and that’s why the town burned down a short time later and has been erase from the history books. The howls of the coyotes in that part of Ocala are different as well. Those from the area, no strangers to unexplained sounds in the trees, say at times you can still hear her cries in their nightly calls.
Taylor tells the story with a mix of conviction and doubt often found when people are retelling something odd that happens to them, but which fits in with something they’ve been told. He has spent his whole life running into the unexplained in the Ocala, but this one sticks with him. “It’s just old folklore. I have no way to prove it, and it’s only hearsay around these parts. This is what I was told as a boy.” The story came down to him from the older generation who had the name of the town and the legend passed down to them. “It’s something we talk about when it’s brought up by the older generation, but most people my age or younger know little to nothing about it.”
The cemetery in question might actually have a name. There is only one along the path Taylor talks about, and until recently there was no way to find it unless you already knew it was there. If you know the trail he used to walk or drive his off-road vehicles and the trails the hunters still take, you might be able to find it. It is actually considered a road, although no one new to the area could tell that from the narrow path it takes through the thick trees, throwing passengers around as they make their way over random dumps and potholes trying to avoid thick tree roots that block the way. If your car or truck can make it there, you will come across Maple Grove Cemetery.
It’s as forgotten as the township nearby that use to bear the name of the people buried there. Shockley Cemetery got its name from the only remaining headstone left among the small markers too worn out to read. This is the spot where Hinkley and Anne Shockley are laid to rest. They came from Milan, Indiana, in the 1800s in a failed attempt to heal Anne’s tuberculosis, and the community known as Shockley Hill developed around their homestead. The fence which now surrounds the Shockleys is not an accurate border for all who might be buried there, as more were known to have been laid to rest there but are now lost to the forest. Two trees also fell years ago, crushing the fence and all but hiding what remains of the graves. All you can see as you walk by is a large obelisk, looking foreign among the trees. The Shockleys, and for that matter Shockley Hills, now only exist if people are willing to dig.
The same can be said about the town Taylor says his family talked about. There is no record of a Rosewood in that area either, something that is not uncommon in that area of Florida. As they boomed and failed, unincorporated sections would take the name of materials that came from area or the name of the founder. The name persists throughout Lake County and neighboring regions. You’ll find street and business names with Rosewood or apartment communities and retirement homes baring the name. It might even be a misremembering of names like Rosebush and Ridgewood, both of which can be found on old phosphorus and train maps.
Then there is the story of the actual Rosewood, Florida, a town which represents all that is wrong with race relations in Florida. In short, Francis Taylor, a white woman living in Sumter, accused a black man of assaulting her in her house early in 1923. While much of her claim was later refuted, it was enough to inflame the people in the area, and by the time the mob formed the charge included rape. Sheriff Elias Walker, the main character in many of the legends and folklore of the area, began deputizing the men. The crowd grew to over a hundred men and search dogs who travelled into neighboring Rosewood, a predominantly African American community, to retrieve the prime suspect Aaron Carrier. He was delivered safely back to the jail, but the still amped up mob returned to the town to get Sam Carter, a man accused of other crimes. Carter ended up being shot, his body hung as a message to the town. They then returned a few days later and were met with gunfire as they tried to storm Carrier’s aunt’s house. When everything was over, at least eight people were dead, although unofficial numbers put the death toll as high as a hundred dead. The town was also burned down, just like the forgotten town in Lake County.
It’s an often ignore moment in Florida history, brought up again in 1997 when late director John Singleton made a movie about it and shot parts of it in part in Lake County, not far from where the cemetery is. Some of details have played themselves out in other communities nearby, like the clash between white citizens and African American miners in Dunnellon in 1895. That story ended with the overmatched ranchers also fighting back only to be killed and dumped in the Withlacoochee River. Small incidents of racial tension ending in murder and burnings can me marked off on a map of Florida like stains on history.
It can’t be ignored in the story of the Coyote Woman. While the town probably would have existed before the massacre, the racial elements of the story may have adopted the famous town over the years. At first glance, the story feels like it should be a Native American story because of the coyote, but instead the couple is a white girl and a black boy. If there is some truth to the story (or at least a reason for the early storytellers to make a statement on race) it makes sense the unnamed town would adopt Rosewood.
There is another issue with the legend. The way Taylor tells the story, the woman died a long time ago, long enough for there to be no record of the story, the deaths, or the town. Yet coyotes are not native to Florida. In fact, the animals have only been in the area for a few decades, tracing the first consistent reports to the mid to late 1970s. If you ask hunters in that part of the woods, they will tell you there is something else which fits the description. Florida panthers, especially females, sound like other big cats but also register in a pitch which sounds very similar to the scream of a woman. It is the reason why so many locations across the country, including the Ocala, have rumors of banshees, the mystical women of ghost stories who lure men into the woods with their cries to kill them.
None of this matters to Taylor and other people who have experienced the strange woman. While there are no reports of people seeing her, they believe she hunts out there and may be responsible for some of the people who disappear in the Ocala. They have also heard her unusual cry. “I can only attest to us growing up there. You could be all alone and hear a crying howl or in a group and it would still happen. Could hear the sound of a girl crying within the screaming howl.” He’s not a tourist to the woods and has spent enough time there to be able to identify most of the animal noises he hears. Anyone who spends time in the forest near there will notice it is not like other places and the familiar can become unfamiliar quickly.
“The air feels different; it moves and sounds different. The best way to experience [the forest] is to stay out there a night or two, on a full moon when animals and nature are most active. You can ride the trails and hunt for years and still get lost and think you’re on a different trail, but never left the one you were on. Time even moves different there. It’s hard to explain but when you’re in the middle of it, deep in the wetlands or riding through the cemetery, you really do feel something.”
The young lover must know this too. She’s now walked among the trees and animals looking for the bad people and paying for her sins. Time is different for her because she is not allowed to move on or find peace. Instead, she cries, and the locals who can ignore the old burned foundations and the feeling of being watched, are forced to know her sadness.
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