Sunday Favorites: The Ghosts of Spanish Point

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SARASOTA — In a city so rich with history, it’s no surprise that some souls were so connected to the area they never left even after physically passing from this world into the next. This Sunday marks the start of my annual Halloween ghost series! Read on ... if you dare.

After writing about Spanish Point for several Sundays, I was lucky enough to visit the historic area last week on National Museum Day. But this time, I was exploring the site for a different reason. Like other places boasting rich histories, Spanish Point has been a mecca for ghost sightings.

The history of Spanish Point dates back thousands of years. Today it is a 30-acre archaeological, historical and environmental site that features the only Native American mound you can actually walk through.

The mound was my first stop. I walked into a dark room and sat through a dated presentation about the different layers of the mound and how native lives impacted its creation. I found the most interesting tidbit of information outside on a sign, which described the origin of the cutout into the mound. Apparently a previous homeowner needed an adequate parking space for one of his cars. He figured the Indian mound was a good place and had a one-car garage carved into the side.

It could be this type of inconsiderate thinking that has sparked some otherworldly activity. The site was home to a sacred burial mound and guests have reported shadowy figures floating through the trees accompanied by strange noises which author Kim Cool describes as “akin to footsteps but softer with a discernible beat,” in her book Ghosts Stories of Venice. Could these be the spirits of aborigines scowling at the treatment of their sacred grounds?

In addition to the Native American middens, historic homes of previous settlers dot the property. Some of the cottages served as a winter resort, although the largest structure, which served as an inn to many visitors, mysteriously burned down sometime in the 1950s.

At certain times of the year, high tide creates a saltwater barricade blocking many of the pathways and rising up through the mangroves creating an ethereal effect and perfect conditions for ghost sightings.

On days like these, guests and volunteers have reported seeing a young woman in white lingering in the woods and listening intently to the conversations of guests.

The apparition is likely Mary Sherrill, a guest who arrived with her mother at the Webb’s Winter Resort in February of 1892. Mary, who was in her early 20s, had been diagnosed with tuberculosis. Her mother had hoped the warm Florida temperature would help cure her ailment, but after only five weeks she passed away.

While her physical body was taken back to her hometown of Louisville, K.Y., some say her spirit still lingers, enjoying views from the top of the largest midden near Pioneer Cemetery, just as she had done in her final days.

So apparent was Mary’s love of Spanish Point, her family had a chapel built next to Pioneer Cemetery, a resting place for early settlers including the Webb, Blackburn, Roberts and Guptil families.

Some say that Mary regularly visits the chapel, which bears her name as well as a bell donated by her classmates at the New England Conservatory of Music. On windy nights the bell’s chime can be heard in the distance. Could it be Mary who is ringing the bell?

The distant chime could also belong to ship’s bell of Captain Taylor, yet another popular apparition rumored to haunt Spanish Point. While Taylor, who used to pilot a fishing boat around the area, has been said to keep to Little Sarasota Bay, he has also allegedly been spotted at the Church of the Angels, in Venice, according to Cool.
The next time you visit Spanish Point, listen for the footsteps of the aborigines, look for the girl in white and take note if you hear a distant bell, for these prominent spirits may be trying to tell you something!