Volume 1 #26 (October 28-November 3, 1998)
Ghost Stories: Real Haunted Houses in Pensacola
BY KEN GAILLOT
"Glasses of red wine have flown off the bar. Not slid off the bar, not fallen off the bar, literally flown off the bar, as if somebody had picked them up and flung them," says Scott Sauls, a manager at Mr. Manatee's restaurant in downtown Pensacola. "We've had a wait station where, with no one near it, all the glasses will suddenly fall off the counter and go flying."
Pensacola this year celebrates its three hundredth anniversary. The downtown area, the Seville District, North Hill, East Hill and even the Navy base have many buildings over a century old. With that much history, countless deaths -- some tragic, some violent -- have shaken the walls of Pensacola houses.
As many residents will tell you, some of those deaths have left a mark.
Mr. Manatee's is located in a centuries-old building on Palafox Street south of Main. It has been in the center of town for as long as there has been a town here. And apparently, so has one occupant, a ghost that servers at the restaurant have nicknamed "Mattie."
"One day, I was standing at my station, no one was around, and all of a sudden, the coffee pot came flying at me. It flew off," says server Stacy Steacher. "When I started here, everybody was like, 'Oh there's a ghost in Mr. Manatee's,' and we all kind of just laughed it off. But as things happened, we were like, 'Hmmm.'"
Mattie's manifestations most often occur around closing time, and almost always are in the bar area. Flying glasses and unusual noises are the most common occurrences, but manager Sauls has had a more chilling experience.
"I was coming out through the kitchen, and I saw someone pass me, heading into the bar," Saul says of one time he closed the restaurant. "It was a woman, probably in her late thirties, wearing a long sleeved, light colored blouse, ruffled, kind of shoulder length hair, blondish color, with what appeared to be a long skirt. I came around and I thought I locked somebody in here. I was like, 'Hello?' and there was nobody here. And I know I saw what I saw. I know I saw somebody, and there wasn't anybody in the building. It really freaked me out, because I went around and checked the bathrooms, I checked the whole building, thinking, alright, somebody's trying to hide in the building here. There was nobody."
Mattie haunts the area in the bar and the manager's office above it. The motion detector for the bar area sometimes goes off without explanation. The manager's office alarm has gone off several times in the middle of the night -- with no one in the building, and without out setting off exterior alarms that would have to be crossed to reach it.
Mattie may be the most active ghost in Pensacola. Except, perhaps, for Captain Tom.
The Gray House at 314 South Alcaniz Street, now occupied by the architecture firm of Heffernan Holland Morgan, was built in 1883. No one knows what was on the property before that. According to generations of local lore, the property has been haunted for nearly two hundred years by the ghost of Thomas Moristo.Over the years, the Gray House has had many owners. Every one swears that the house is occupied by a friendly and protective spirit.
Peter and Edna Morekin, who raised their family there for thirty years, had many ghostly experiences. They would hear someone walking around banging doors, or find doors open that had been closed and lights on that had been turned off.
Once, Edna contacted the ghost through an ouija board. It told her that its name was Thomas Moristo, that he lived from 1718 to 1803, and that he was a sea captain. Many years later, when the adjoining property on the east was being researched, handwritten legal documents dated 1781 were discovered. They bore the name of a Spanish corporal: Moristo.
Many legends have been passed down the generations about Captain Tom.
"There are several different stories about why he haunts the house," says Jill Smith, who works with the architecture firm. "One is that he was waiting for his bride to come over from England, her ship was lost at sea, and he is still waiting to this day for her to show up. The other story is that he had his ship docked at the Port of Pensacola, and that it had paint on it. Paint in those days was highly flammable, and the ship caught on fire. He perished in the fire, and now haunts the house."
Smith says that many of the house's previous residents have stopped by over the years to share stories about the ghost. In one incident, a workman was painting inside the house.
"He was painting, and from right behind him, right in his ear, all of sudden this voice said, 'I don't like brown paint!' He turned around, and there was nobody there," says Smith. "It scared him so bad that he went barreling out of the house and refused to come back even to pick up his tools. He left them there and never came back into the building."
Smith has had her own spooky encounter.
"I had to work late, and I had left and come back. We have a security system, and everything was fine, and I disarmed the alarm. My husband was here with me because it was late at night, and I was sitting down here working, and all of a sudden I started hearing one of the chairs rolling back and forth across the hardwood floors upstairs. It was very distinctive. I knew whose chair it was, and it was rolling back and forth. My husband said, 'Jill, somebody is in here,' and I'm like, 'No, there's not.' He wanted to go upstairs and investigate, but I wouldn't let him, because I figured that if it was Captain Tom, that he could just have the upstairs, and I would do my thing, and then we would leave!"
Like Mattie, Captain Tom is most active at night.
"He doesn't bother us in the daytime," Smith says. "I think he really is kind of a guardian. He's a good ghost. He kind of watches over the building and protects it. So when we leave at night, it's like, 'OK, it's all yours.'"
Captain Tom apparently likes to be able to see out the house, because previous residents often found drapes and curtains opened or fallen and lying on the floor if they had been closed. The architecture firm leaves their blinds open all the time.
The architects sometimes hear someone walking up and down the stairs. One hallway beneath the back staircase is unexplainedly colder than the rest of the house. The occupants attribute both to the ghost of Thomas Moristo.
Other Ghosts of Pensacola
The Pensacola Historical Society, which operates the Pensacola Historical Museum on Zaragoza Street, has collected numerous tales of ghost stories, pirate treasure and other local legends in a book for sale at the museum. Each Halloween, the Museum conducts guided tours of Pensacola's haunted houses. The tours include a walking tour of the Seville District, and a trolley tour of North Hill.
The tour guides, dressed as ghosts, tell many stories collected over the years, from the Fordham House's eerie footsteps, to the Charbonier House's glowing lights, to the Dorr House's shifting shadows.
At the house now occupied by Adams Street Artists, even the tour guide has had an experience.
"The house was empty, because it was for sale," says the Historical Society's Peggy Krohn. "So the tour guide decided she'd open the gate and go up on the porch and tell the story, because it was dark, and it would be spooky. When she opened the gate, she heard a voice say, 'Don't bring any people on my porch.' She looked at her group, and they were all very expectant, waiting for her to talk. Obviously they didn't hear the voice. She shut the gate and changed her mind."
The tours will be given this Thursday, Friday and Saturday starting at the Pensacola Historical Museum. Volunteers guide the tours, and all proceeds benefit the museum. Walking tours are $5 and run every half hour between 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Trolley tours are $8 and run at 6 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets must be purchased by Wednesday, October 28. For more information, call 850-433-1559.