The haunted Don CeSar is said to play host to several ghostly guests.
PINELLAS COUNTY – As darkness falls across the county, shadows slip from forgotten chapters of history like muffled echoes rippling across time. Long silenced, their stories are being told once more.
Tampa Bay Ghost Tours, under the umbrella of Hubbard’s Enterprises, offers a series of ghost tours on select nights at several locations throughout Pinellas County.
One Saturday evening last month, a small group gathered at the corner of Gulf Way and Eighth Avenue in Pass-A-Grille preparing to visit some of St. Pete Beach’s best haunts. With Halloween still weeks away, the enthusiastic ghost hunters seemed especially eager to learn about former area residents whose spirits allegedly linger in historic landmarks, along the beaches on misty mornings or as fleeting apparitions seen only by children.
The beach excursion, called Haunted Halls and Horrifying Hermits, features tour guide F. Scott Fitzgerald, played by Stephen Frethem. While familiarizing himself with his guests, he promised both an educational and entertaining evening. He even hinted that participants might witness some form of paranormal activity.
Photo by LEE CLARK ZUMPE
According to Tampa Bay Ghost Tours, the ethereal echoes of past tenants occasionally revisit Gulfport’s Peninsula Inn and Spa.
“Some guests have photographed orbs,” he told guests.
Orbs are small points of light that sometimes appear in pictures. Steadfast believers consider them spirit manifestations; skeptics label them dust particles.
From the starting point outside the Hurricane Restaurant, guests traveled on the Suncoast Beach Trolley to the Don CeSar Beach Resort where the guide recounted the resort’s history. Purportedly home to a number of ghosts, the resort’s most notable ethereal occupant is original owner and designer Thomas Rowe whose true-life lost love epitomizes Shakespearean tragedy.
Other eerie tales arise from the Don’s stint as a convalescence center for World War II airmen and regional office of the Veterans Administration through the 1970s. Tour guests are treated to a short walk through the hotel’s lobby before exiting a side door.
Frethem’s role as Fitzgerald was explained as the guide discussed how the Don CeSar welcomed the author of “The Great Gatsby” along with his equally celebrated wife, Zelda.
A short trolley ride shuttled guests back to Pass-A-Grille for more tales of the weird and wonderful. With the harvest moon hovering over Tierra Verde, glistening on the waters of Boca Ciega Bay, the guide conjured up the memory of historic hermit Silas Dent who, according to some, can still be seen rowing backwards across the waterway from Cabbage Key. There’s a catch, though: Only kids can see this spectral denizen.
Tampa Bay Ghost Tours also hosts the Gulfport Guys and Ghouls outing, beginning at the Gulfport Casino, 5500 Shore Blvd.
Deborah Frethem served as guide on a recent Saturday evening. This excursion included the story of a long-deceased honeymoon couple still seen walking the beach hand-in-hand, a heavy-footed haunter known for waking guests in a certain room of the Peninsula Inn and Spa and the late night echoes of a streetcar long ago decommissioned.
This husband-and-wife team has constructed Tampa Bay Ghost Tours from the ground up. Armed with extensive research and a growing knowledge of local history, the Frethems manage to make each ghost materialize through vibrant storytelling and vivid theatrics. Each excels at the role-playing that embellishes the tours. With continuing research, new stories are added to the mix whenever Deborah disinters them.
Tampa Bay Ghost Tours also offers Maritime Mysteries and Pirates of the Pass, at John’s Pass, Madeira Beach; and Dark Side of the Sunshine City, downtown St. Petersburg. Tickets are $14 adults, $10 children.