The Haunted City of Fort Lauderdale: Part 2
You can read part 1 of this article here.
Fort Lauderdale is a ghost town in more than just the literal sense. Walking around the once-thriving city on a Friday night is a depressing experience. Sure, there are the few clubs and restaurants that cater to local nightlife, and those remain busy for the most part, steady with a stream of customers starved for the same late-night entertainment one would find just 20 miles south in Miami.
But these kind of places only exist in a very small stretch of road where people can feel safe to roam after 11:00pm. The Sun Sentinel’s Scott Wyman wrote of the city’s failed Riverfront entertainment destination back in 2010: “Visitors pass shuttered store after shuttered store emblazoned with for-lease signs. The place picks up only late at night when its few nightclubs open.” Things have not improved much in four years.
Las Olas has become the last bastion of the local club scene, existing as a kind of bubble of activity that constantly battles the darkness of urban decay coming from all sides.
Ok, so “urban decay” is maybe a little harsh, but the point remains that to move too far away from the safety of the bright city lights gives you a sense of impending danger, and not necessarily the otherworldly sort. This was the thought that crossed my mind as Amy and I made our way through the darkened neighborhood that held the location of our next ghost hunt.
Our next stop: The Fort Lauderdale Fire and Safety Museum. It’s said to be the favorite haunt of one Robert Leland Knight, a former firefighter who died back in 1940 after being electrocuted by a downed power line. His spirit is known to play pranks on employees, including the un-doing of the tile work of an unlucky firefighter because he did not like it. When the man returned to laying down the tile after taking a short break, all of the ones he had laid and cemented were stacked neatly in a pile by the door. Eerie, indeed.
The museum, however, proved to be harder to find than we had anticipated. Navigating a town at night whilst under the influence and relying wholeheartedly upon Google Maps were clearly not the best choices for finding ghastly characters and haunted houses. We searched the streets beyond Las Olas for half an hour, but to no avail. Eventually, we came to the end of the road – quite literally – when we reached the Tarpon River. We stared into the darkness of the moving water for a while, maybe to catch a glimpse of some poor soul who ended it all in the aquatic depths, or perhaps to reflect on our own eroding hopes of contact with the supernatural.
We were close to defeat, but still had one more investigation to make. The fabled New River Inn lay to the west, calling to us, like the tormented and restless screams from behind the invisible, delicate curtain that separates the world of the living and the land of the dead. The game was afoot, and we knew we could not stop until we had some answers about the most haunted place in the city. But first we needed beer.
Returning to the light of Las Olas we searched for the nearest open bar. It was around 1:00 am, and the nightlife was beginning to dissipate. We found our way into Big City Tavern, still alive with customers even at the late hour. We sat at the bar and ordered our drinks, contemplating our journey thus far. I thought of asking the bartender if he had had any ghoulish experiences, but he was busy and didn’t appear to be in a mood to chat.
We sat for a while, drinking slowly. We savored the chill of the beer, and we lamented the fact that we would soon be on the road again in the sweltering South Florida summer heat. Alas, all good things come to an end, and we were soon back on the street in search of a ghost.
Passing once again the Stranahan House and the Riverside Hotel, crossing 3rd avenue and the dueling college campuses, and finally making our trek through Riverfront – the most desolate of places – we finally crossed the Dixie train tracks that marked our destination.
The house stood just beside the tracks, in a quiet part of the city. Just to the north lay the western extreme of the Las Olas nightlife. But little of that reached the New River Inn. No, this was the place. We would make contact here, I could feel it in the chill that ran up my spine when we approached.
The Inn is said to be the center of ghostly activity in Fort Lauderdale. There have been multiple reports of a young girl who appears in the upper windows, from behind the curtains. A man – an apparition — in a long leather duster has been seen roaming the grounds. No one knows what he is looking for. But the one that I wanted to meet most was the young man who presses his face against the glass of the front door and slams it repeatedly to scare away anyone who gets too close.
Amy could feel it, too. That spooky, spinal chill that defined the house. She refused to get any closer. I approached the front door. I could hear from behind me the bells of the track crossing going off. A train was coming. There would be no escape. I moved forward.
As a kid I remember having a recurring dream. Late at night I would wake up to the sound of my bedroom door opening. As I watched the door, suddenly a shadow would appear. Vaguely shaped like a man, but largely amorphous, the figure would creep into my room to commit acts of evil. At least I think that’s what he wanted to commit. I remember very little beyond that.
But this was merely the strange dream of a child who slept with a nightlight until he was nearly a teenager, right? Overactive imagination, too much television. What’s really weird about it, though, comes when, years later, I told my brother about it. I had shared a bedroom with him for most of my life, and he certainly was not a fan of the nightlight. He told me that he had the same dream.
I don’t know if that is what inspired this unlikely quest throughout haunted Fort Lauderdale, but it occurs to me now that I’ve always been curious about the spectral man who invaded my bedroom. Would I find something on the other side of the door of the New River Inn that would change my understanding of reality forever?
I stood on the porch, but felt nothing except that constant chill. I don’t know if it counted as a “cold spot”, because it seemed to be coming from inside of me. I took a step closer. There was no ghost on the other side. I moved closer again. Still nothing. The train pounded on the tracks. Closer. I touched the window. I leaned in…
I saw a pleasant looking lobby with one lamp on in the corner. There was no activity of any kind on the other side of the door. It was just an empty room with charming, early 20th century décor.
I returned to Amy. We took a look around the building one last time. There was nothing. We walked back to our car, disappointed, and drove home. Our ghost hunt was a bust.
I have to admit that it’s disappointing to return home with nothing to show for it. I knew that it was unlikely that we would find anything supernatural, and that the only outcome would be going home empy-handed. Still, I couldn’t help but feel let down by what are supposedly some of the most haunted areas that South Florida has to offer.
But upon review of the pictures that I took, I came across something strange. It was in the parking lot that occupies the space of the Old Wilton City Hall. An odd, ethereal shape in one of the photographs. Who knew John Bold was so photogenic?