Thursday, March 26, 2015

HGB Podcast, Ep. 36 - Island Hotel and Restaurant

Moment in Oddity - Most Lightning Strikes

Roy C. Sullivan was a park ranger for the National Park System. In 1942, Sullivan was working in a lookout tower when a thunderstorm started raging. All of a sudden, a bolt of lightning rocketed from the clouds and hit Sullivan while he was in the lookout. The bolt shot through his leg and out his foot, blowing off the nail of his big toe. Sullivan survived. In 1969, Sullivan again found himself in the middle of a thunderstorm while driving a high mountain road. A bolt of lightning hit him again, knocking him unconscious and burning his eyebrows off. He survived yet again. A year later, Sullivan was walking to his mailbox to retrieve his mail and he was struck by lightning again, this time suffering burns to his shoulder. He survived yet again. In 1972, lightning set his hair on fire and he had to dump a bucket of water over his head to put the fire out. He lived. Within a year, his hair had grown back and was set on fire yet again by lightning when a bolt passed through the hat Sullivan was wearing. The blast rocketed him out of his truck and seared his leg as well. But he survived yet again. In 1976, he was walking around a campsite when a bolt of lightning hit his ankle. It didn't kill him. In 1977, Sullivan was fishing when a bolt of lightning hit him and burned his chest and stomach. He survived. In all, Sullivan was struck by lightning seven times and survived to tell the tales. One would think that the Human Lightning Rod was impossible to kill, but that was not true. It would be the heartache of losing a woman that would take Sullivan down. He killed himself in 1983. A human lightning rod certainly is odd.

This Day in History - Book of Mormon Published

On this date, March 26th, in 1830, the Book of Mormon is published for the first time. The founder of Mormonism was Joseph Smith. He claimed that an angel named Moroni visited him in 1823 and told him about ancient writings that had been engraved on gold plates. The plates had been hidden in New York and Moroni told Smith where he could find them. Moroni was the last prophet to add to the writings and he had hidden the plates, so that is why he knew where they were located. He directed Smith to translate the plates into English because the original writings were in unknown characters that Smith claimed were reformed Egyptian. The writings told tales of Jesus Christ appearing in the Americas and when Smith was finished, he named the book, "The Book of Mormon: An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon Upon Plates Taken From the Plates of Nephi." Many people claimed that the book was a fabrication and Smith never produced the plates that he claimed to have translated. Smith took his book to Egbert B. Grandin's printing press in Palmyra, New York and asked Grandin to publish the book. Grandin refused because he thought the book was a fraud and thus a financially risky venture for him. Smith took his work to Rochester and found a printer there willing to publish the book. Smith really wanted Grandin to do the job though and so he appealed to him one last time pointing out that another publisher was willing to publish. Grandin agreed to print 5,000 books, but only after he was paid $3,000. Smith got a friend named Martin Harris to give him the money. Publication continued and on March 26th, Gardin announced in the Wayne Sentinel that The Book of Mormon was available at his bookstore. Over 150 million copies have been sold and it has been translated into 108 languages.

Island Hotel and Restaurant


The Island Hotel and Restaurant that is located on Cedar Key in Florida was originally made to be a general store and it was built to last. The building material that was used was Tabby, which is a mixture of oyster shells, sand and limestone, and the structure has lasted 155 years. The building has survived severe weather, the Civil War, fire, passing through the hands of many owners, a stint as a brothel, foreclosure and death. It would seem that the spirits of many who have passed through the doors have survived as well. Island Hotel is not only one of the better known hotels in Florida, but it has a reputation of being haunted. The actual number of haunts seems to be thirteen ghosts.

Cedar Key is located just south of the mouth of the Suwannee River. The islands derived their name from the Eastern Red Cedar that once grew abundantly in the area. It is believed that the Timucua tribe were the first people to live on and near Cedar Key. The indigenous population was decimated by the Spanish when they arrived in the 1500s. The Cedar Keys would go on to be used by several groups including the Seminoles and pirates. The United States Army established itself on Cedar Key in 1839 by building a fort there where a garrison was headed by General Zachary Taylor. A hurricane in 1842 chased the army away. That same year, Congress passed a law called the Armed Occupation Act. The bill was a blatant attempt to run the Seminole off and bring more white people to Florida.

It would be the Florida Railroad that would bring big changes to Florida and in particular Cedar Key. The President of the Florida Railroad was also a United States Senator, David Levy Yulee. Yulee was a Jewish Moroccan, making him the first ever Jewish Senator. Because he was the president of the Florida Railroad, he was nicknamed the "Father of Florida Railroads." Yulee had bought Way Island, which was part of the Cedar Key group, to have a place for the railroad's terminal facilities. Cedar Key would become the railroad's western end of the line. The first train arrived in 1861.

Because the railroad meant prosperity, several people took interest in establishing homes and businesses there. Major John Parsons bought some land and began construction on the building that would one day become the Island Hotel. He partnered with a man named Francis E. Hale and when the building was finished, they named it Parsons and Hale's General Store. Unfortunately, just as the general store was ready for opening and business seemed ready to grow in Cedar Key, the Civil War started. It brought a halt to all growth and it brought war to Cedar Key. Union troops invaded the area and they burned nearly every building. The general store was left alone because the Union saw it as a strategic point for a headquarters. Cedar Key was near a major port and the general store provided shelter, supplies and storage.

Major Parsons joined the war effort and he served as a commander of some Confederate volunteers. He and his men defended the Gulf Coast and soon the Confederates were able to take back Cedar Key and they then used the general store as a barracks. The war ended and Parsons returned to Cedar Key where he and Hale reopened the general store. Parsons and Hale ran shipping from the general store and supplied the area with everything from furniture to oil to hardware to food to building supplies. The Cedar Key Post Office and the customs house were also inside the general store. At some point, Parsons and Hale decided to offer boarding at their place as well and John Muir is one of the people who may have stayed there. Muir is considered the father of our America's National Park System. Cedar Key was the finish to his thousand mile walk, which he had started in Indiana and was his attempt to study and enjoy the natural landscape. He wrote of his adventure in his book "A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf" and in it he recounts stepping into a little general store in Cedar Key. President Grover Cleveland is also rumored to have stayed at the Parsons and Hale's General Store on a return trip from Cuba. Times were very good, but they would not last.

Parsons died in 1888 at the age of 71. Florida is known for hurricanes and a big one hit Cedar Key in 1896. Most of the town was destroyed and despite the fact that the general store was built from almost indestructable tabby, it did suffer damage. A fire roared through the town a few years later and then the cedar business collapsed. Cedar Key had hit rough times. Francis Hale died in 1910 and the property went to Langdon Parsons, Major Parsons nephew. He decided to sell the building in 1915 to a man named Simon Feinberg. Feinberg had no use for the general store and he turned the building into a full fledged hotel he named Bay Hotel. Feinberg added a second floor balcony and reconstructed much of the inside. Marcus Markham managed the operation with his wife.

On May 11, 1919, Feinberg died in the hotel under very mysterious circumstances. Feinberg was a religious man and he supported the efforts of the Temperence Society, a group heading up the effort to bring Prohibition. Prohibition had not been made law yet, but President Woodrow Wilson had already called for a temporary wartime prohibition in 1917. Feinberg had gone to the Bay Hotel to collect money from the manager and was dismayed to find out that the manager had been running a whiskey still in the attic. There was a false roof about twelve inches below the real roof and this concealed the copper pipes used for the still. The manager wanted to placate Feinberg, so he treated him to a wonderful meal and then Feinberg retired to the hotel a went to sleep. He never woke up.

The hotel would filter through the hands of several owners after the death of Feinberg. The building became known as the Cedar Key Hotel and then later was renamed Fowler's Wood after a new owner. It was the hotel's tenure as Fowler's Wood that it would become a brothel and speakeasy during the 1930s. A Mr. Crittenden managed the hotel at this time. In 1932, the railroad stopped running to Cedar Key and economic depression hit the area once again. Times were so tough for the hotel that it went into foreclosure. The owner took the foreclosure pretty hard and tried to burn the building down three different times. His plan might have worked had he stopped to remember that the fire department was right across the street. The fire was extinguished every time.

Ray Andrews bought the property at the end of the 30s and had his sister and her husband manage the place. It was here that most of the residents of Cedar Key heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1945, the King Neptune lounge was added to the hotel. In 1946, Bessie and Gibby Gibbs purchased the hotel. It was in bad shape and they renovated it and reopened it as the Island Hotel. The couple added their unique flair to the place and Gibby kept bar. The townspeople loved to gather at the bar as well as visitors. Some of those visitors included Pearl Buck, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Frances Langford, Richard Boone and Myrna Loy. In 1948, the couple hired an artist to paint murals in the restaurant and bar and upstairs. The restaurant had a great reputation as well and was known as a place to eat the freshest seafood and vegetables around. Bessie created many of the recipes cooked by their chef Catherine "Big Buster" Johnson and she chastised any patrons who did not eat their vegetables.

In 1950, Hurricane Easy hit Cedar Key and ripped the roof off of the Island Hotel. The upstairs room was water damaged as well as the King Neptune mural in the bar. Gibby Gibbs died in 1962 and Bessie continued to run the place on her own until 1973. She sold the hotel to Charles and Shirley English. Bessie would die tragically in a house fire two years later. The Englishs did not last long and they sold the hotel to Harold Nabors in 1978. Nabors remodeled the bar and made that his main focus, letting the restaurant and hotel fall by the wayside. In 1980, he sold the operation to Marcia Rogers and she refocused efforts on the restaurant once again, hiring Chef Jahn McCumbers. The restaurant again became a place known for its food. Singer Jimmy Buffett became a frequent guest at the Island Hotel during the 1980s and gave impromptu performances in the Neptune Bar. The hotel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Marcia got a little New Agey at this time and closed the Neptune Bar to the public and made it into a coffee and juice bar where she hosted things like the Full Moon Wakefulness Retreat. Cedar Key residents burned her in effigy in front of the post office in response.

Tom and Allison Sanders bought the place in 1992 and cleaned it from top to bottom and reopened the Neptune Bar after they fully reconstructed it, covering it with a Cedar Key cedar top. The Island Hotel became a social center once again and the restaurant continued its reputation for good food still under Chef Jahn McCumbers. Dawn Fisher and Tony Cousins moved to Florida from England and they purchased the Island Hotel in 1996. The couple would focus on refurbishing the hotel and added private bathrooms to every room. Central heat and air was also added, bringing the hotel more up to date. Televisions and phones were still kept out of the rooms to retain the hotel's charm. While redecorating the dining room, the couple hired a colorist to help them decide which colors to use. They chose a lilac and plum with a pine ceiling. Dawn got the shock of her life when Bessie Gibbs' nephew came to visit and showed her a bunch of old photos. One of the photos was in color and featured the dining room. The colors that Bessie had chosen to paint the dining room were the same ones that the dining room was repainted with by Dawn.

Dawn and Tony got married and had a child and realized that the hotel was too much for them, so they sold it in 2001 to Bill and MaryLou Stewart. The Stewarts had been born in Florida, but they had both ended up in Texas. They retired and decided to return to Florida. Things at the hotel seemed fine at first, but in 2002, the couple abruptly fired the entire staff, boarded up the place and ran back to Texas. The Cousins took back ownership and reopened the hotel and restaurant. They then sold the place to Andy and Stanley Bair. They refreshed the place and have run it for the past ten years. Stanley writes of their adventure, "We returned to the States in August 2003 and began a search for 'that one last quiet, undeveloped spot' that might be still found in Florida. We stumbled onto Cedar Key and the Island Hotel. We immediately knew we had found what we were looking for. The wonderfully quaint island and the manner in which they welcomed us has been a bonus beyond our wildest dreams. We are greeted every day by friendly, smiling faces.
Our first few weeks were spent giving the hotel a face lift. We painted the downstairs lobby and replaced worn out furniture throughout the hotel. A new bath/shower was added for room #27. The hotel quickly came back to life, and I do believe even the ghosts are smiling. It is as if they had spent the day at a beauty parlor! Our staff is excited about the 'new look' and they have reason to be proud of 'their' hotel again."

The Island Hotel has ten rooms and operates as a bed and breakfast, so there is a complimentary breakfast in the morning. All the rooms are decorated differently with antiques and each has their own private bathroom. There are no televisions or phones in the rooms, but there is Wi-Fi. The wrap around second floor balcony has several rocking chairs for guests to enjoy.

As one can see, the hotel has passed through many hands, but it has never lost its character. Its spirit has continued to thrive and now some say that spirits from the past remain here at the Island Hotel. Thirteen spirits to be exact. Let us introduce you to the thirteen ghosts. As described earlier, Native Americans lived in the area before the Island Hotel was built. Three spirits have not been described by anybody, but psychics claim that they are there. Two spirits of Native Americans have been seen in the hotel at various times. A fisherman has made an appearance and another specter that is described as tall and thin. None of these spirits is very well known, but the rest of the thirteen are seen more often and have made themselves known.

When the Island Hotel was Parsons and Hale's General Store, a young black boy of the age of nine was given the job of stock boy. He would stock shelves and keep the store clean. One day, something went missing in the store and the manager accused him of stealing. Whether the boy actually stole anything is not known, but he was scared and ran away and hid. The location he chose to hide in was a bad one. It was a five foot deep, 2,500 gallon cement cistern in the basement of the store and he drowned. No one knew what happened to him until his skeleton was discovered in the cistern a year later. The young boy's ghost continues to haunt the basement.

The most seen ghost at the hotel is that of a Confederate soldier who apparently died on the property for unknown reasons. Had he been wounded or did something sinister take place? His ghost seems to like to take early morning walks and is often seen in the early morning mist that blankets the coastal location. He is seen standing at attention near the doors leading to the stairs, also. Some have wondered if the apparition is that of Major Parsons who had led a Confederate garrison.

As we talked about earlier, Simon Feinberg had died at the hotel under mysterious circumstances. Had his meal been too rich and caused him to have a heart attack or was someone trying to protect their whiskey still and made sure he would not interfere with operations by killing him? Was he poisoned? Feinberg seems to be at unrest. Hotel guests have seen him walking the halls and heard disembodied footsteps. He has been seen in Room 27, which is the room where he died.

Room 27 seems to be the most active area of the hotel. Besides being haunted by former owner Feinberg, a prostitute from the brothel days hangs out in this room and the adjacent Room 26. She had worked here during the Depression and it is believed she was murdered. Male guests have had the most experiences with her. They not only see her, but they feel their bed being sat upon and occassionally a patron receives a disembodied kiss. When lights are turned on, she vanishes.

The manager who some think poisoned Simon Feinberg was Marcus Markham. He was drinking one night in the King Neptune Lounge when he got in a fight with a steamboat captain. The argument got very heated and a knife was pulled. When the fight was over, Markham had been stabbed to death. His spirit seems to have taken up residence in the bar. His apparition is most often seen behind the bar near the pantry. Bullet slugs have also been found in the wall behind the King Neptune painting. Were these just from some idiot shooting at the painting or did something else take place here in the bar?

The dominant ghost at the Island Hotel is Bessie Gibbs, whose tenure at the hotel is the most memorable. She loved the place and really gave it life. She still enjoys taking care of the place and has been seen attemtping to make beds, cleaning and rearranging furniture. She locks guests out of their rooms and occassionally comes walking through rooms in the middle of the night only to disappear through another wall.

One guest reported the following story:
"After being out many hours later, my husband wanted to go to sleep while I still wanted to hang out in the famous lounge. I told him to keep the lights on and I was taking the flashlight (having heard that the main ghost had sense of humor about flipping on and off lights).

The lights were still on though when I went upstairs.

I still felt strangely calm (and I'm rather intuitive and sensitive so if I hadn't been feeling peaceful I would not have even fallen asleep). After several hours of good sleep, I immediately was awakened by a LOUD BANG. It sounded like a book had been slammed to the floor. That was all I heard I waited a while longer and then woke my husband up and asked him to check to see if the Bible that was right next to the bed was still there. He said it was. He got up and turned the nightlights on and we both discovered that a Kleenex box that was on a coffee table across the room had been thrown down across the floor. Just to rule out any possibility of a breeze doing this we did all sets of tests placing the box under a fan and everything but knew it had to have been thrown..."
Our friends over at Peace River Ghost Trackers have investigated the building and the following were their personal experiences:
*We entered the basement at 4:30pm and was also accompanied by Derrick from channel 20 news out of Gainesville. The basement had a lot of dust so any pictures from down there are hard to prove. Scott did have a heavy feeling at one point near the cistern where a 9 year old boy had drowned in the 1860’s. Scott had to remove himself for a moment from that area. Sprout also felt the heavy feeling in her chest and also chose to leave.
* Sprout was entering the room behind the bar at around 1:30am which was where a man had died of a knife stabbing. While entering I had a very cold breeze sweep over the top of my left hand and could fine no explanation for it.
* At 2:15am Toni, Sprout, Janice and Scott where in the kitchen using dowsing rods to communicate with a man who is connected with the pantry. Many staff have seen and felt his presence for many years. We were standing in the order stated above when the activity occurred. Janice was facing the pantry and using the dowsing rods, she asked where the spirit was and the one rod swung around and pointed behind her. When Janice asked for the spirit to move in front of her Toni said “here it comes”. Toni said she saw a dark shadow of a figure of a man coming towards her then making a sharp turn in front of all of us. One at a time we all said “oh” as the coldness swept passed us. I saw Janice shaking from the cold and Scott said it went down his arm.
* Scott’s camera at 2 different times had taken pictures and his flash did not go off. Once in the basement and once in the lobby. This in not normal behavior for his camera.
*We had laid down for bed at 4:30am and shortly after I (Sprout) heard what I thought to be the piano down in the lobby. It was about 7 or 8 hits on the high notes of the keyboard then Lori started to talk. (her first time in a haunted hotel she was a bit nervous ) then I heard it again about 4 hits this time. That's when I asked Scott if we would be able to hear the piano in our room. He said he hopes so because he had just heard it. Didn't get up cause we were pooped and had enough for the night. I can say I believe we were the last to go to our rooms for bed and didn't hear anyone else up and moving about the hall.
* In the morning we were getting the 2 sets of keys together for check out but could only find one set. The key was finally found in the Velcro sealed left pocket of a pair of shorts in the suitcase. They were Scotts shorts and he does not use the left pocket they were also folded up and unworn shorts. Lori watched her video from the night before and saw Scott take the key out of the door. He put almost everything on the dresser so it was assumed that is where he set the key. There were several incidents of room doors being unlocked by themselves told to us by other investigators. Sprout even witnessed room 23’s door unlock twice by itself. The occupants of the room were inside during the first time and were sitting on the opposite side of the room when the door unlocked.
* Lori sent us her video that was done in our room. At one point Scott is communicating with a dowsing rods and a spirit is thought to be in the corner of the room that is being video taped. During this time the video is having a hard time focusing, until Scott said “where did you go”. Knowing the spirit had moved from that spot. At this time the camera functioned properly.
Other occurences at the hotel include lights flickering or turning off and on without assistance, doors open and close and cold spots are felt. Some claim that Bessie's old room is a portal. The television show "Haunted Inns and Mansions" featured the Island Hotel in 1999. Is the Island Hotel home to more than just living guests? Are some of the previous owners still hanging around? Is the Island Hotel haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes
*To book your stay:  http://www.islandhotel-cedarkey.com/

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