This is a story I’ve had trouble getting out. It has been two years since Tripping on Legends were invited to spend the night at Lilian Place, and I have had trouble trying to get the narrative right while making it my own. I was going to include it in Haunted Ocala, but feel it wasn’t there. I have told and retold this story at live events over the last year and now feel I have a handle on it a bit. There are so many moving parts to this story, more than even in the Mini-Lights story, so I hope I do it, and the work of Nancy Long’s book, justice.
In August of 2020, the night before the new Tom Staed Veterans Memorial Bridge was officially in Daytona, Zanne Marie Dryer, a murder mystery novelist and local, spotted a dark figure perched upon one of the high arches of the new bridge. It’s the kind of thing which was easily dismissed. The man seemed to reach into his bag, and most people who heard the story assumed it was a photographer, perhaps for a local paper, trying to get the first shots of the view before the official ribbon cutting. Others thought it might be an urban explorer seeking the thrill of being there first. There were rational explanations throughout the community for something which hardly was newsworthy, but there was also a moment of pause. The people in the area had become used to seeing odd things on the bridge well before the new one had been built and maybe even predating the one before that. For generations, regardless of what bridge crossed the Halifax River, people have been talking about the ghosts that walk it.
When you take a step back from it, it’s hard to tell whether this is a ghostly bridge story or a haunted house story. It’s a ghost story, that’s for sure. We tend to connect hauntings that are close to each other and assume that one causes the other or bleeds over, like whatever may be keeping the spirit one place may allow it to creep to another. Maybe there just happens to be two ghosts, or in this case more than two, who happen to inhabit the same space. Maybe a haunted place invites other spirits to come along because people are watching. Even a ghost needs a little attention.
A woman has traveled across the bridge for longer than anyone can remember, so long that no one can remember any tragedy that links her to it. There’s a rumor of an accident that might point to who the girl may be, but then someone steps forward and tells how their aunt saw her well before then. Like the famous Resurrection Mary in Chicago, the dark-haired woman is said to be trying to get to a dance, although rather than a dance hall, she is trying to get to the homecoming dance. What makes it even weirder is that there isn’t a high school particularly close to the bridge, and she gives the same story whether she is crossing to the island or over to the mainland. People who have stopped to pick her up say she’s plain and a bit pale, but with something overly attractive or unusual about her. Maybe it’s the fact no one can quite get a handle on what color her eyes are, an air of mystery which makes her seem alluring.
Only men have reported seeing her stroll across the bridge like she does not have a care in the world. She’s well dressed, or witnesses assume she is well dressed, due to the fact she is sometimes wearing an old fashioned black cloak, hood up and dawn down over part of her face. One odd tale says a man was walking the construction at the bridge a few years ago. He fell into a sinkhole and began calling out for help when a woman appeared above him. It was nighttime, so he could not get a look at her face but could tell she had a hood drawn over the top of her head. She said she could try and pull him out and reached out her hand, but when he extended his own to grip her, his hand went clear through hers, as if it was not really there. She gasped loudly, began throwing up near the top of the hole, and then vanished. Later the man was helped out, but he never saw the woman again and there was no mess where she had been sick above him.
All of these stories have been the product of oral tradition or Internet postings, so there might be a little bit of borrowing from more famous stories or misremembering details and filling in the gaps with stories people have heard before. The story of Mark DeGraves is something different and connects the woman on the bridge to a haunted house on one side of the river. According to Nancy Long in her book Ghosts of Lilian Place (she refers to him as Timothy, but DeGraves has retold his story using his real name in other places), DeGraves was driving across the bridge when his car broke down and he and his friend got out to push. He was struck by another car driven by a drunken driver and knocked unconscious. What comes next is both specific and unusual, which adds to its credibility. He claims he was able to see his damaged body, with one leg already severed from his body, on the bridge as he was carried up in the sky by a black mist. The next thing he knew, he was in the company of a beautiful woman with long brown hair and then on the widow’s walk in the nearby Lilian Place, the first house built on that side of the Halifax. The woman told him her name was Lucy and that he should not be afraid. He could see the entire scene from that vantage point; his friend trying to save his life, his body not responding, and the ambulance rushing to get to him in time. Without warning, his dead father appeared to him on the stairs leading up to the lookout and told him it was not his time to go yet. He resisted, but blacked out and woke up in the hospital.
The story has become lore on the bridge, but tells the story of Lilian Place just as much. He returned to the building some time later and recognized things even though he had never been there before his vision. His young daughter went with him and seemed to make contact with a ghost she called Lucy, waving goodbye to her and calling her name as they left.
In Long’s version of the story, the ghost’s name is Lucy, but that does not remain consistent. In other interviews he says her name is Lucille, although the other details of that night do not change. If someone hearing the story wants to understand what may have happened to DeGraves that night, they might be left more confused. Lilian Place, a Victorian home with a deep history of hauntings may have more than one ghost, but trying to clarify which ghost is which tends to like a school teacher trying to figure out who yelled out when her back was turned. Every story makes sense, but none of them give you an answer you can live with.
As a member of the Heritage Preservation Trust which saved the building more than a decade ago, Nancy Long has the inside information on the story of the family that built it, but even their details seem to crisscross and get muddied. The story of the family has just enough family intrigue and lore to it to give the ghostly legends a touch of secret to them. It begins as a look into the founding of Daytona but quickly turns into a ghost story.
The home was originally built in 1884, years before a bridge would be built there, by Laurence Thompson for his family. He had three children, including a daughter named Lilian. Along the way, Lilian inherited the house after her father died and her brothers moved away. She owned it until 1934 when she passed away. One of the legends of Lilian talks about how she never married because she had lost the only man she had ever loved. In one version of the story, he’s an Englishman and her parents do not approve of the marriage. He is forced to go away and never come back. Another says he went back to England to get his affairs in order and never returned. In both, Lilian, devastated at her lost love, walked the Widow’s Walk which used to adorn the tower of the house (the outside balcony has since been removed).
So begins the legend of her spinster side. She took in nephew after her brother was divorced by his first wife and later is said to have taken in local children who needed help, turning Lilian Place into a kind of orphanage or foster home. These children are said to be the ones who’s energy has remained and haunted the second floor. They are seen and heard running up the stairs and giggling from a room now known as the children’s room. It also accounts for who may be seen in a white dress staring out the window from the tower, even when no one is home. Although people cannot get a clear view of the woman, she is said to be looking out towards the Halifax River. The only time she is interested in other people is during the multiple weddings she has attended. The backyard used to be used for special occasions, and several times a woman dressed in white was seen looking down on the ceremony. The people running it, knowing they had locked all of the doors to the building to keep the gifts and reception materials safe, would rush to see who it was. The building would still be sealed tight and no one was in the tower.
There are also the multiple times people have heard noises up there and went to investigate only to find a semi-transparent woman standing looking out the windows. When approached, she dissolved without saying a word or turning around. Of course, in a haunted house with a long history like Lilian Place, it might be another one of the ghosts, perhaps Lucille.
That’s the name of the woman who began to be seen after the house was sold when Lilian passed away. For almost fifty years, it existed as a private home and a bed and breakfast, and always remained the source of spooky moments. There are the several times people woke up while staying there to find a woman pouring water out of a pitcher. She would tell them, “Don’t be afraid. My name is Lucille and I am not going to harm you.” This echoes the same thing told to Mark DeGraves when he was transported to Lilian’s Place’s tower after his accident. According to Long, one woman reportedly put her baby to sleep only to find it out of the crib some time later wrapped in a blanket. There are reports of the water turning on and off by itself and doors being locked and unlocked by themselves. One Christmas, new owners Mike and Suzanne Riccitiello woke up to find their entire tree knocked over, but with not a single bulb broken or ornament damaged.
Whoever is in the house can be helpful as well as mischievous. Several different owners say they would heard the vacuum being used in another room when they knew they were by themselves or knew there was no one in the room being cleaned. Brian and several other people who worked at the house all talk not remembering where a tool was or leaving one out in the car only to find it in clear view when they began to search for it. The same has been said for some of the historical documents or little trinkets which are now placed throughout the house.
Then there are the sightings of the American author Stephen Crane, most known for the book The Red Badge of Courage. Anyone who has sat through American Literature courses has also probably read his other classic Open Boat. The short story, published in 1897, was a fictionalized account of the time when a boat he was sailing in, the Commodore, sank and the men aboard had to float until rescued. What most people do not realize, even if they know the story comes from a real life experience where a man died, is there was first a nonfiction version published earlier that year. After Crane’s rescue, he was brought to Lilian Place to convalesce, where he began working on the first draft of that story. It was published a few days later, although no one is sure if he was still living at the house at that time.
More than one guest has seen the figure of a man in the room he had stayed in. Some say it is the man who died in the accident who stayed with the author for some reason and is now stuck in the house. Perhaps the intense emotion needed to conjure up the man to write about him did indeed conjure the man. Others say it is Crane himself. His ghost does have a tendency to pop up in places he was associated with, including his old house in New Jersey. This would seem to be confirmed by at least one witness who saw a picture of him on the wall of Lilian Place, the same one which now hangs in the room he is said to appear, and asked why that man had come into her room that night.
Tripping on Legends went to Lilian Place in late winter 2021. I had wanted to do something on the East Coast and discovered the bridge story on a Monday. On the Haunted Places posting was a misspelled reference to Lilian Place, which I had never heard of, and I began researching that. By Wednesday I was in contact with Nancy Long and by Thursday I was on the phone with Brian, the man renovating and looking after the place who was inviting me to stay the night. It all moved very quickly.
Deanna and I were able to go, vacuum in tow. There was not too much that happened while we were there, although some odd things came to the surface and there were a few moments. We stopped by McDonalds on the way there, and Deanna purchased a Happy Meal which came with a little puzzle. We set it up in the kids’ room, and every time we left and returned, it was moved or knocked over. There was also an odd smell that would come and go in one particular section of the downstairs. Deanna also felt dramatic temperature changes in the stone fireplace which rose up from the side porch (more on that part of the story in a bit).
The trip offered a chance for us to see what history and more recent endeavors had perhaps done to the stories there and to walk (and drive) the bridge in an attempt to connect. I was immediately struck by the cluttered decor, but more the odd floor plan. With rooms off of rooms and a staircase in the middle which felt almost like a New England split level than a traditional home, it might be easy to see things out of the corner of your eye or think something is somewhere it isn’t…or even lose yourself slightly in the landscape of the house.
In one of the bedrooms there was a mannequin placed in the corner wearing a white dress, an obvious nod to Lucille and her story. The whole place has become a holding ground for many of the historical society’s bits, and I wondered about bringing objects with their own history into an already haunted place.
We also ran into a woman who was with the historical society. She has been following what we were doing on social media and had come to make sure we were treating the whole thing with respect. Although she would not allow us to record or directly quote her, she said her granddaughter had seen things and the history of sightings was well known. Investigators had been there and gotten evidence.
One thing she said, which was also echoed by Brian, stuck out to me. While the most common name for the ghost in white was Lucille and it would be understood if Lilian was still around, they kept referencing Lucy. It was unclear if this was another woman seen in an already filled house, but they had gotten the name from a paranormal group that had investigated there. I was struck by how quick they were to abandon what had been the traditional narrative for what these people had found.
Then there was a comment by Brian. While most of the night’s recordings came out fine, it was his interview (which I believe also contained the story below) that was erased from the recorder by the time we got home. In it, he talks about the number of homeless people who live under the edges of the bridge, especially the ones on the Lilian Place side. He said they are not dangerous for the most part but there is still that moment of pause. I wondered if they might account for the stories of a woman walking the bridge and disappearing. Then, without any prompting, he talked about how it was well known by people in the area that the fairies owned the bridge, and they were liable to do just about anything. He said this so matter of factly and then responded people in the neighborhood spoke of it openly.
The woman making her way back and forth is not looking to get to the homecoming dance but looking to bring her little boy home. She is stuck in an endless loop crossing time and again, trying to reunite with someone who is no longer there. But maybe he is. There have been stories told of a young boy playing on the porch. He is seen darting around corners or jumping off the stairs. Some have even explained it as if he’s playing some odd game of hide and seek. Then there are the phantom doorbells and knocking. The caretaker confirms this to some degree. He says he sometimes feels like he is being watched when working on the outside of the house, a sensation he feels comes from a young boy. He even once swore some invisible source climbed up the ladder he was using to do some work, something he attributes to a child based on the sound of the steps.
It is clear that in recent days the stories of Lilian Place and the woman on the bridge have gotten mixed together and been influenced by other local ghost stories and basic haunted motifs. There is one story which connects so many of the dots (oddly, I do not remember where I read or heard the details of this part of the story, but it may have come from Brian) that it feels more like an urban legend crafted by knowing bits and pieces of different parts of the locations’ paranormal past. Years ago, a woman lost her son because she was deemed a bad mother. The father took sole custody, but unable to properly care for the child, he sent him to Lilian Place which was acting as a sort of boarding house at the time. Most of the children were girls, so the boy was forced to sleep outside on the porch, which may seem harsh but also has the flavor of adventure a young boy might actually find appealing. After some time, his mother had somewhat straightened out her life and wanted to spend time with him. She would sneak over the river and to the porch and talk and play games with him all night until the sun began to rise. It started with a monthly visit, but their meetings became more and more frequent. Then they suddenly stopped all together. The boy continued to wait for her at night, but she never came back. The story goes that she had been hit by a car crossing the bridge to see him one night and died there, never allowed to see him again.
It could be the two souls are doomed to never meet and never move on, both staying someplace where they found happiness once. It would be the very definition of unsolved emotions. Her not able to see him one last time, he thinking even his beloved mother had abandoned him again. No one is ever able to tell what happened to the boy after his time at Lilian Place, but most agree his mother’s name was Lucille.
It’s like so many of the details of Veterans Bridge and Lilian Place. Was the man who got hit by the car Tim or Mark? Was the name of this ghost or that one Lucy or Lucille or Lilian? Any lack of clarity adds to the story there in Daytona, which will continue to grow. The house recently had a haunted house there telling many of the ghost stories and it has opened itself up to ghost hunters and investigation events, all of which will add to legend and continue to draw people in. The more hands in the pot the more details get left behind so things can fit a narrative. It’s a interesting place to visit for anyone looking to touch history and be touched by the paranormal, a mix of pride in the past and awe of things otherworldly and the tricky highwire act of balancing the two. Dolls stare at you, and they can feed your fear of haunted objects or your love of historic toys.
Just don’t feel bad if you can’t get the names of the ghosts right.
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The Ghosts of Lilian Place: Haunted Daytona Beach