Is Fort DeSoto Park in Florida Haunted?
Fort DeSoto Park
Sitting quietly at the mouth of the Tampa Bay, Fort DeSoto is a serene and beautiful place full of nature and mystery. It's a place that attracts almost three million people every year. Whether you're going for the day to enjoy the gorgeous beach or whether you're staying at the campgrounds, you will be sure to enjoy it.
But there's a darker side to Fort DeSoto that isn't known by many. Even though Fort DeSoto is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, the beauty can indeed change to fright after the sun sets on the horizon. Read on to learn a history of Fort DeSoto Park in Florida, and also learn the tales of a very haunted place in the sunshine state.
A Brief History of Fort DeSoto Park in Florida
Before the white man came to America, the Natives lived and ruled the land. There was no exception to this rule in the state of Florida either. At the mouth of the Tampa Bay and at the southernmost point of Pinellas County, Fort DeSoto was most likely inhabited and/or visited by the Tocobaga tribe in the 1500s and earlier. Given that Fort DeSoto is surrounded by water and was bursting forth with natural resources, the Tocobaga tribe was most likely very happy hunting and fishing there. The times began to change when the Spanish conquistadors came to Florida. They brought with them disease and more war, which unfortunately killed off the entire Tocobaga population by the early 1700s.
A famous Spanish conquistador by the name of Hernando De Soto was thought to have landed somewhere in Pinellas County, Florida and many people claim he explored the Fort DeSoto area. In addition to De Soto's landing in the area, Panfilo de Narvaez was also thought to have explored this land as well as made contact with the Tocobaga natives.
After the time of the Spanish conquistadors was over and following the death of the Tocobaga tribe, the purpose of Fort DeSoto began to change rapidly. Directly after the Union blockade set up at Egmont Key and Mullet Key during the Civil War, Fort DeSoto became a true military fort during the Spanish American War in the year 1900. It was named after the famous Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto, and it's establishment was complete in 1906 and consisted of a hospital, a large barracks, a guardhouse, blacksmith, mess hall, and a storehouse. There were two large artillery and mortar batteries known as Batteries Laidley and Bigelow. These were set up mainly to protect Tampa Bay from invading forces traveling up the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean.
Fort DeSoto was a very beautiful and serene place, but unfortunately the summers there were excruciatingly hot. The soldiers posted at Fort DeSoto battled with not only the extreme heat in the summers but also with massive swarms of hungry and aggressive mosquitoes. Misery was no stranger to the soldiers living in Fort DeSoto. How sad that they could not enjoy such a lovely place as this. There are many tales of soldiers writing of the illnesses and torment put on them by the mosquitoes and conditions at Fort DeSoto. There's no doubt at least a few died while living at the military fort. Though the fort saw a lot of change, there wasn't that much bloodshed in its history, that we know of today.
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Legends of a Haunted Fort DeSoto
There are a few particularly creepy legends of Fort DeSoto being haunted. The obvious legends entertain the idea that ghosts of soldiers from the Spanish American War can be seen all around this gorgeous state park. Dozens of soldiers died of Yellow Fever, an illness caused by the mosquito population back in those days.
A lesser known legend is that of a ghostly man who is thought to be looking for his lost lover. The last eyewitness claims this man was wearing a blue t-shirt and was wading out in the water as if he was going fishing. Then he disappeared.
Others travel from all over the state and elsewhere to investigate Fort DeSoto as a potentially haunted location. The popularity of the Gaspar legend circulates the Tampa Bay area and his ghost is said to sometimes pay a visit to Fort DeSoto. If you don't know who Gaspar was, let's just say that he is a pretty famous pirate in these parts of Florida. Is it possible that pirate ghosts and the ghosts of Spanish explorers still haunt the old island? I could definitely imagine Hernando De Soto visiting the place that is named after him on occasion.
Just across from Fort DeSoto is the island called Egmont Key. Egmont Key has a history all its own, but let's just say that its history is even thicker than Fort DeSoto's...if you can believe it. It was thought to have been a stop on the underground railroad, and so many people believe the ghosts haunting Egmont Key could also be haunting Fort DeSoto's beaches, as well.
Disembodied voices and heavy footsteps are heard in the old battery on Fort DeSoto, even to this day. Are they the voices and footsteps of the soldiers from the late 1800s/early 1900s or are they perhaps the footsteps of the Tocobaga natives who were here long before the white man came?
What I find rather interesting is that when you sit on the beach at Fort DeSoto, you can clearly see the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The Skyway bridge is a place that has seen tragedy, and more than once. The bridge has collapsed and has been run into by a ship, causing more than dozens of lives to be lost throughout its life as a bridge. More alarming is the fact that hundreds of people have committed suicide by jumping off of the bridge. Are there sad souls from these tragedies or trapped souls from suicides still haunting the waters under the bridge? Do they ever make their way over to Fort DeSoto?
My Ghostly Experiences in Haunted Fort DeSoto
With it's twisting old trees and quiet beaches, Fort DeSoto seemed to me like it could be a hot spot for ghostly activity. I recently spent two nights in Fort DeSoto camping in a tent, and I would just like to say that although it is a beautiful place during the day it gets rather spooky at night. After the sun goes down over the water, and after the beauty of the beaches has worn off, there is a darkness that can creep over you. When the wind whips through the branches of the palm trees here, it sounds like a tornado is coming through and ready to lift you from your place of slumber. You wake up only to find that it is a gentle breeze...the trees just seem to reject that notion.
God forbid you have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night by yourself. I walked that track more than once with a flashlight, and it always felt like someone was right behind me...watching my every move. It wasn't a warm or welcoming feeling, instead it felt downright invasive at times. During the day this feeling would fade, but as soon as the sun went down the uneasiness would return.
While I stayed in Fort DeSoto, I never came face to face with the ghost of a soldier, pirate, native, or otherwise. But I can tell you with certainty that the place has an air of mystery...the land itself has a consciousness and remembers what has happened there throughout the centuries. You can feel it the moment you step onto the land there. The trees tell their stories, and the beaches hide their bloody secrets. But the land remembers...and so do the ghosts.
Written and copyright © by KittytheDreamer (May Canfield), 2013. All Rights Reserved.
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