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 announcements come on, just like any other day. The high schoolers are half paying attention, most too consumed by their ear pods and phones or the pretty girl next to them to even care what the administration is purring on about. It’s the same old thing; sports scores and yearbook deadlines and room changes for the FSA. It’s the daily drone, but the few awake enough to listen notice the other voice underneath. Only some of them can hear it, but it is the unmistakable sound of someone crying, the sobs that come from pain and the understanding no one is coming to take it away. Just as the teens strain to listen better, the other voice is gone in time to announce the lunch menu for tomorrow.
That’s a typical day at Pine Ridge High School, if there can be a typical day when your campus is haunted. It’s something some students live with and others never pick up on. Most who have been spreading the story since the school opened point to the nameless worker who lost his life building the school, but those in the town know the roots run a bit deeper and may go back to tainted ground dug out when the town was still being built. The people who founded it set one section aside for a purpose other than education.
Since its opening in 1994, there has been a persistent rumor of ghostly activity on the campus. It seems at times no school is complete without its resident ghost, but at Pine Ridge the story is a tradition passed on from student to student and staff member to staff member for over twenty-five years. Most of the activity is centered around the clock tower in the middle of campus. The bells used to signal the change of classes have a distinct sound. Students often hear another bell, lower and lasting for longer. It goes mostly unnoticed but happens enough to keep the story going. Some of chalked this up to malfunction, but a cause has never been able to be found and not everyone hears the phantom bell at the same time. There may be a type of mass hysteria around them. Hearing the bells is part of becoming a Panther. People hear it or say they hear it because it’s part of the culture there.
Of course, that area is no stranger to idea of a haunted tower or ghostly bells. Less than fifteen miles away lies Deland and Stetson University, home of Hulley Tower. Once measuring over a hundred feet tall, the base houses the mausoleum which acts as the final resting place of Lincoln and Eloise Hulley, two of the original founders of the university. Lincoln had hoped the building could become the center of the campus, a place for students to easily find and meet at while on campus, but also a place to house the bells, which were originally part of a Methodist Church in Pennsylvania, that would ring out the day and important events. Eloise was in love with the sound of them, and the building of Hulley Tower was in part to make her happy. Lincoln died in 1934 just before the tower was completed and Eloise died a few decades later in 1959. The couple may have found each other in death.
After Eloise died, the bells continued. The student who rang the bells was well trained and benefited from the honor of being part of the great tradition. It became common place for them to feel hands on their shoulders and to feel an unexplained presence rush past them as they climbed the stairs. Several even saw her in the tower, an experience echoed by other students who spotted her from the outside, usually at dusk. Most of them got into the habit of saying hello to the couple when they entered the building. At times, the bells would go off even if no one was there to set them off. When the majority of the tower was taken down in 2005, people continued to hear the bells. Also, different areas on campus which now house any of the original 11 bells, including the library and Elizabeth Hall, have their own ghost stories. The most endearing haunt associated with Hulley Tower places the couple on the lawn near it. The ghost of Lincoln and Eloise are seen walking hand in hand in the early morning hours before the majority of the students are up and the campus comes alive.
The history and ghost story associated with the tower at Pine Ridge High School is not quite the same pleasant love story. The legend tells of a worker who was horribly crushed while building the tower who then died on campus before the ambulance could get there. He is now trapped and trying to communicate. He is one of two men said to have died at the school during its construction, although no record of an accident can be found.
The story remains though, and the ghost is not confined to only the clock. A dark figure has been seen walking the halls in the connected buildings. He is more than a shadow but less than an actual person, and he darts out of the way when people try to talk to him or walk after him. Teachers and students have reported things randomly falling or being thrown across classrooms in those buildings as well. Things are also misplaced only to be found moments later in someplace that had already been checked. The elevator, open only to staff and students in need, malfunctions and is said to experience severe temperature drops. Some have even said it will open when no one has called it. Those same cold spots happen all around campus, along with the feeling of being watched. There is even a woman who whispers just low enough to not be understood.
Of course, all this activity happens when there are few people around to confirm anything, but it does create an atmosphere where these stories spread and things that might have natural experiences assume it is the ghost who does it. If you ask different people, you will get different reasons for the creepy happenings at the school. The most well-known might be man who died, but another reason lies only a few hundred yards away. Some say that distance is much closer.
It starts with a case of vanished history and a lost cemetery which really isn’t lost at all; it’s just a little hidden behind a wall of progress. Take Osteen Cemetery Road past the new development and you’ll find Osteen Cemetery, a place where cellphones stop working and odd ghosts are seen. They say the cemetery’s oldest burial is 1881 when M.F. and Annie Osteen buried an infant child but look around at some of the worn stone headstones and listen to rumors of unmarked graves and rotted wooden monuments and you’ll get a different story. Either way, the burial ground is inconvenient to outsiders who don’t know what to look for, but remains an active cemetery still frequented by mourners and still being used to trace tragedy in the town.
Locals say the cemetery was started by the Osteen family who made their money in cattle and then the railroads, and who are vital to the development of Volusia County. In addition to the town of Osteen itself, you can trace their importance in business and street names while travelling through most of the area. There is also a bit of lost history. It was originally known as Saulsville, after George Saul, one of the original settlers on the land who moved there with his wife Adeline in the mid-1800s. He and his family became intertwines with the Osteens, even going so far as to pool their money to educate their kids together. Both families prospered when the stagecoach line came through, but that changed when transportation shifted to the railroads which steered away from the area for stops a little further to the east and west.
They suffered from the change, but the cemetery stands as a reminder of their standing in the town. Some sections are immaculate, with fancy headstones adorned by elaborate elegies while other parts look like someone dug up a few mud-covered rocks and then gave up halfway through.
People often hear the crushing of leaves while visiting their loved ones. The footsteps are said to follow the people, stopping when they do. There is even the sound of someone running away and a strange feeling of being watched. A phantom mourner is said to put his hand on your shoulder when you stop by graves in the older part of the cemetery. People describe it feeling as if someone who is trying to comfort you rather than trying to scare you, and those who frequent Osteen know it well enough to not be scared. There are also reports of moaning, like a man suffering or experiencing immense pain.
This ghost might have another back story, however. In 2013, James Sheaffer was lured to the location by his friend Angela Stoldt. The two had a rocky relationship but shared a bank account with each other and were said to be fighting over finances. Once there she stabbed him in the eye with an ice pick before strangling his with a rope. She then wrapped his head in plastic, brought him home and chopped the body up in a kiddie pool and tried to boil some parts on the stove and cremating others in her oven. She then returned to the cemetery to bury the parts, although after she was caught and revealed the spots to dig, authorities never found the head. No one can remember when the moaning started, so assume it’s Sheaffer.
Listen to the Paradise After Dark episode about the true crime:
These are typical any cemetery, but there is something that sets Osteen apart from others, a difference whispering the other history of the town people hate to talk about. For reasons no one can quite explain, Osteen unofficially extends past the new development and into the parking lot and athletic fields of Pine Ridge. There are no markers or death records. There are just stories of bodies disturbed and souls confused about what is going on. According to a plague dedicated to the Sauls in 2006, “In 1884, Saul’s family members denoted this burial ground, along with an African American graveyard to the west.” The school, it seems, was built over the final resting place of the forgotten in Volusia County.
There is nothing that can confirm this. The immense groves needed people to work them, and the hundreds of slaves who died during those years never got headstones or memorials. Nothing has ever been proven about this, but it is something the locals say as fact. As the town has grown, much of this land has been developed, leaving their final resting places in question but most likely underneath some of the new building. Records are hard to come by and no one quite remembers there ever being headstones there before. There has been no rush to check the ground or search dusty archived records to give them names or claim ownership of the land. Was there even a large slave or African American population in the area before the Civil War? One of the oddest things is the plague referencing a graveyard. It might be a case of semantics, but the difference between a cemetery and a graveyard is the presence of a church, and there are no records of a church on that land.
But there are still stories. Unknown men are seen on the field who disappear or walk among the cars in the parking lot before vanishing. Mourners in the cemetery tell stories of wisps of smoke that linger along the fence to the new development before dissolving into the ground, as if someone is trying to get back to their grave, struggles with the boundary, and then just goes under it.
Then there is the Whistling Man. The most talked about ghost is one no one ever sees or feels. Instead, there is just this whistling that comes from the area near the wall which separates the burial area from the new development. Some say it’s a sad, somber song while others say it has a more upbeat feel to it, but all describe it as a man. People split over who the man might be as well. Some say the songs are old hymn and connect it to the lost graves of the rumored slaves. Other say it is the ghost of an unnamed man who lost his life down the street in an accident.
This crisscross haunting is like that, which is why so many of the stories sound the same and so many are easy to believe. The ghosts in the cemetery are from the school. The ghosts from the school are from the cemetery. The man who died was pushed by the unsettled spirits from down the street. Angela Stoldt killed her friend because the voiced from the hidden graveyard told her to. The stories shift depending on where exactly you sit down in front of the campfire to hear the story.
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