Deborah Frethem surveys the waters of John’s Pass, the haunt of some local ghosts.
MADEIRA BEACH – Picture John’s Pass and what comes to mind – a grouper sandwich, shops, deep sea fishing or maybe a stroll on the boardwalk.
While the area’s past has been celebrated to a degree with events, such as John Levique Days and GrouperFest, the ghosts of John’s Pass were mostly in hiding before the arrival of Deborah Frethem a few months ago.
Frethem, who recently began leading daily ghost tours out from Hubbard’s Marina, got her assignment as the result of a chance encounter with marina boss Captain Mark Hubbard while waiting for a table in a local restaurant. In a chat, Frethem mentioned her background in ghosting, which dates to her occupation as a ghost tour guide in her native Minnesota. Hubbard, as it turned out, had had a ghost tour on his short list of priorities for expanding the marina activities.
“I doubt you’ll find enough ghosts around here,” Frethem recalls Hubbard saying shortly after hiring her to explore the area’s supernatural past.
“I found ghosts all over the place,” she said, the result of long hours of research on the subject, and what she describes as an overwhelming response from residents who came forward with their own long-hidden ghost stories.
Hearing Frethem recount a few haunting tales, while seated in the close quarters of the Friendly Fisherman one recent misty morning, was enough to send chills up the spine.
While the surf tapped gently at the docks outside, Frethem told of the doings at the notorious Shanty Hogan Saloon, a den of dubious reputation that stood where Delosa’s Pizza resides today. Following a fire that destroyed a house of ill repute upstairs from the saloon, the recurrent sounds of footsteps pacing the nonexistent second floor continued to be heard, especially the “stomp-click” of a peg-legged man.
Across the way at the Marine Arena, performing dolphins Patty and Mike (namesakes of the Hubbard siblings) and Frank were a picture of camaraderie. Hard times in the ’60s forced the shipping out of Mike and Frank, leaving Patty to carry on in mournful isolation.
Following the Arena’s closure in the ’70s, passersby of the shuttered structure on cold clear nights reported hearing the echoing squeals of Patty crying for her lost mates.
A chilling tale arising from the area’s Civil War skirmishes was picked up by Frethem from an Internet site. The story involved two brothers, Union sympathizers, who were set upon by Confederate guerillas at John’s Pass while ferrying supplies from Egmont Key. The two were attacked, and one brother was mortally wounded.
In the pre-dawn hours following a new moon, fishermen continue to report sighting two emaciated figures crossing John’s Pass in their skiff, accompanied by the smell of decaying flesh.
Since setting up quarters in John’s Pass, Frethem has a tale of her own to add to the brew. While sitting in the information booth, Frethem said she sensed someone standing behind her, “an older gentleman looking over my shoulder.
“When I turned around, no one was there,” Frethem said, but she has a strong cognition that the presence was none other than Wilson Hubbard, the patriarch of Hubbard’s Marina who passed away in 1994.
“I believe in ghosts,” Frethem said. “As a result of believing, I have opened myself up to the sensations so that when I am around the supernatural, I feel the aura.”
Frethem’s ghost tour takes visitors on a trek through the Village to reported haunting sites, accompanied by a knowledgeable costumed guide.
“These are the actual sites where the ghosts are said to walk around ... the boardwalk, the beach, the Pass and the Village,” Frethem said.