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…

The kids and I recently watched The Crow and talked about the supernatural symbol that birds fulfill in cultures across the world. Perhaps it’s their ability to fly from place to place seemingly with ease or the knowing look they give when they are close enough to glance into their eyes.  They are often the scavengers, telling us where death is, and that reputation might have transformed over the years to give them some kind of place in the folklore of the dead.

Either way, Tripping on Legends has a long history with birds, our often-cited example of #followthesigns.  There were the ones we encountered leading up to our visiting the Singing River, which led to us finding the old folktale of the mass suicide which unlocked another aspect of the story.  Or the fact we would often see cardinals or blue birds when we were on the right track of our research.  For a while, these were almost our guides, telling us we were on to something and that the legend deserved being looked into.  We would often then see these birds at the location, confirming in some way the paranormal aspect of the tale.

The cardinal has always been a front runner in the sign department.  They are considered the guide of those who have passed or the vessel the dead travel in before moving on.  I frequently get stories of people seeing them when someone they loved has passed.  Recently, a woman called me to talk about how it was their mother’s favorite bird, although extremely rare in the area they lived.  When the mother passed, one was seen on the back porch of the woman from the morning she died until her beloved mother was buried.  She saw that as a sign all was well, and that her mother had made it to heaven.

The day I went to Fort King for the first time was an odd experience.  I had originally planned to look into the story of the Morris and the haunted Ocala Civic Theatre, but was derailed when the Curse of Ocala hit me full force.  Rather than suffering through another tick invasion, it was another blow to my car.  I had already gone through rear end damage in Astor when I had tried to get a picture of the Ocala National Forest sign there, lost my GPS while looking for Dark Men near the site of Jeepers Creepers, and had some odd creature leave his hand print on my outside mirror in Astor.  This time the damage was a bit more severe, as I suffered a total blow out as soon as I crossed into Ocala on 75 and almost crashed on the highway.

I was able to make it to a tire store and get it replaced, but I had lost most of the day.  I decided to count my blessings and start by visiting Fort King.  I was able to talk to several chatty rangers who convinced me there was more than just a legend I had gone there to look into.  I was focused on the suicidal lovers who met at the spring there, but they told me that was just the beginning of the stories there and directed me to the front of the fort.  Soldiers had been buried there after Oceala had Wiley and several other soldiers station there ambushed.  I made my way to that part of the park where a plaque documents their temporary resting place and had in the back of my mind what the rangers had told me; there were also Seminoles or other Native Americans who had been buried there but whose graves had been disturbed during the construction of the fort.

There was an odd quiet, eerie given the lawn was directly on the main street in Ocala.  After snapping some pictures and saying a few words in my head for the dead, I started to leave to try and find the spring.  The ranger had given me directions.  If you know me or have listened to the show, you know that directions get lost in my brain very quickly.  I recently had a friend tell me several times where the bathroom in their house was, only to ask to be led there.  GPS is my close, close buddy.  I struggled to remember which way to go, but then the cardinal appeared.

She allowed me to get within feet of her, unusual for the bird, before flying away and landing on the path leading back into the woods.  I followed and she disappeared again.  It was a fairly cool day for Florida, so I was content to walk these trails knowing a general direction of where I was going.  Then I noticed more and more trails breaking off, and my backpack was slowly getting heavier and heavier.  But each time I was confused as to where to go (not my kind of crossroads at all), the cardinal would reappear on one of the paths, encouraging me to turn here and follow this track in that direction there.   

When I arrived at the spring, she was waiting for me on a rock which overlooked the banks of the water.  Again, she took a moment to look at me and allowed me approach before taking off and disappearing for the day. 

Legend tripping is usually about the signs and the single moment you know you were meant to experience. 

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