Thursday, April 7, 2022

HGB Ep. 430 - Heard Opera House

Moment in Oddity - Mithridates VI Immune to Poison (Suggested by: Chelsea Flowers)

Mithridates VI was the son of the ruler of the Kingdom of Pontus, which today is parts of the countries of Turkey, Russia, Romania, and Greece. His father's reign would end in 120 B.C. when he was assassinated by poison that was served in some food at a feast. He and his brother weren't of age to take the throne, so their mother served as regent. Mithridates feared that his mother would kill him, so he went into hiding and while doing that, he came up with a crazy idea. He was going to try to make himself immune to poison. He was paranoid that he would be assassinated in the same way his father was killed. He regularly consumed small amounts of poison. When he was old enough to rule, he returned and had his mother arrested and eventually executed. He began attempting to build an empire and turned on the Roman Republic. He orchestrated a mass killing of 150,000 Romans and Italians. The Romans warred with him and he lost. He fled across the Black Sea. Mithridates tried to raise a new army and was harsh on the local nobles who decided to kill him. Mithridates figured this out and tried to take his own life by poison. Unfortunately, his plan to make himself immune to poison had worked and he didn't die. He then asked his bodyguard and friend to kill him with a sword. There is now a term for this practice of gradual self-poisoning to create immunity called Mithridatism and that, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Marian Anderson Sings at Lincoln Memorial

In the month of April, on the 9th, in 1939, Marian Anderson sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Marian Anderson had one of the most amazing singing voices in the world. It was described as a voice that is only heard "once in a hundred years." She sang throughout the world, but America was home. And it was here that she was not welcome in many places. Places like Constitution Hall. This was because of her skin color. The irony is not lost on us that a place named for a document guaranteeing the rights of every human was discriminating against a woman of color. The venue was owned and operated by the Daughters of the American Revolution and many women quit the organization in protest, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The Secretary of the Interior at the time, Harold L. Ickes, invited Anderson to sing instead on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. And she did on that Easter Sunday in 1939 before a crowd of 75,000 people and a live radio audience of millions. And it seems that this was a more fitting place as it honored the man behind the Emancipation Proclamation.

Heard Opera House

The Heard Opera House is located in Arcadia, Florida. This building has served a variety of purposes through the years from bank to theater to retail business. Artifacts, antiques and collectibles have come through. The history is murky for this spot, but something has caused there to be a lot of spiritual residue here. Is it all the years of ghost hunts that have been hosted here drawing spirits from other places? We joined a group paranormal investigation at this historic site and we are going to share the results of that on this episode!

Arcadia, Florida is in Peace River Country and sits about two hours south of where we are located in Central Florida and sits near the West Coast between Tampa and Fort Myers. The area where Arcadia would be started was industrialized early and was first settled in 1883. The town had several names early on: Waldron’s Landing, Raulerson’s Landing, and "Tater Hill Bluff." The Rev. James Madison Hendry named the town after the daughter of early pioneers Thomas and Fannie Albritton. Their daughter Arcadia had baked him a cake for his birthday and this was his way of saying "thank you." In 1886, the Florida Southern Railway was built through Arcadia that would connect Bartow to Punta Gorda. This was followed by the Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railway that came through in 1907 and then there was the short-lived East and West Coast Railway to Bradenton. So Arcadia was becoming a railway hub. We passed the old railroad depot at 24 W. Oak just before we got to the opera house. The town was incorporated in 1887 and is the county seat of DeSoto County. This decision was made after the residents set forth a proposition to build a courthouse at their own expense. Clearly, they really wanted this honor. That building was finished in 1889. A school was built in 1887 and a church in 1888. Arcadia was an industrial town built on the backs of slave labor that worked in the factories.

The city grew slowly and steadily until tragedy hit on November 30, 1905. A fire burned down four entire business blocks in the heart of the downtown area. The fire had started at a livery stable and an inadequate water supply gave little help in putting out the fire. No one died in the fire, but insurance didn't cover much and the city was completely devastated. Arcadia would rebuild over time with Oak Street becoming one of its main streets. Water works were established and all new buildings were required to be built from brick, stone or concrete. All sorts of commerce would build up in the downtown featuring stores selling furniture, jewelry, fruit, dry goods, hardware, general merchandise and meat. There were lawyers, gunsmiths, dentists, contractors, barbers and doctors. There were also restaurants, land and insurance agents and wagon makers. Later there would even be a rattlesnake meat cannery. 

One of the buildings in historic downtown had been the Jake Wey Rexall Drug Store. The name Jake-Wey is still emblazoned on the tiles in the doorway at 25 W. Oak Street. Jacob Way had come to Florida in 1889 and opened his first pharmacy in Punta Gorda. In 1893, he moved to Arcadia and opened the pharmacy there. Ziba King was a cattle baron who financed the First National Bank at 34 W. Oak. This structure survived the fire and had a really cool tower that no longer is on the building. The coolest building on the street was right across from the opera house. We shared a picture on Instagram. This is the flamboyant pink Art Deco structure. This is known as the Rosin Arcade and was built in 1926 by Simon Rosin. There was a post office here and Rosin's Boston store. Later, this became the Koch’s Drugstore and Soda Fountain. Today, these are studio apartments on the upper level and retail stores and a bar and restaurant below, which is called Rattlers Old West Saloon. Another of the historic buildings here was the first to be built after the fire in 1906. The Heard Opera House sits at 106 W. Oak Street. Today, the Arcadia Historic District covers 3400 acres with 293 historic buildings. If you love antiques, this is a great place to visit!

There are some who claim that an orphanage had sat on the spot where the opera house now sits and that it burned down in the great fire. We haven't found any proof for this and the only orphanage nearby that we did find was The Florida Baptist Orphanage that was located one mile north of Arcadia. This opened February 1, 1904. So what was here? It seems to be a mystery. Whatever it was, burned down in the great fire. We do know that the property was initially owned by three couples: John Jay and Mary Philbrick, Raymon and Florence Alvarez and Peter and Malvina Williams. They didn't live in the city, rather Key West. On June 22, 1891, the attorney representing the couples, J.W. Whidden, sold the property to Andrew Green for $50. He worked as Arcadia’s postmaster. Three years later, he sold the property to Samuel Joseph Simmons for $1,000. Since this was a huge increase from $50, people believe a structure was on the site. But as to what that was, we don't know. Simmons was a merchant and served two terms on the Arcadia City Council. 

John J. Heard, a citrus baron, would buy the property on Oct. 12, 1905 for a $2,000 promissory note. Heard wouldn't have whatever was on the site for long because the following month, the fire ripped through. Heard lost that, his "dwelling house" and citrus packing house to the fire. John was married to Lowe and they had four children. They pressed on and Heard built the Opera House in 1906 and opened the South Florida Loan and Trust Co on the first floor. Heard would also found the Arcadia Electric Light, Ice, and Telephone Co. and he also owned the Carlton Block, the Central Hotel and the Arcadian Mercantile Co. Heard left for Jacksonville in 1911 and founded the Heard National Bank there. It would go bankrupt in 1918 and he was arrested, along with four other businessmen. They managed to get the depositors paid in full and the charges were dropped.

As for the opera house property, the Dozier’s Department Store moved in, which was owned by A. J. Dozier. The name is in the tile of the foyer floor. Then there was an Eaton’s Department Store that operated on the first floor. The upstairs had offices and the stage continued to be used for performances and as a civic auditorium. Films would be shown here later. So this building was a social center for Arcadia. James Crosby opened up the Bizarre Bazaar in 2009, which featured 9,000 square feet with dozens of rooms of antiques, vintage art and thousands of vinyl albums. Crosby ran the store for 12 years, but the Covid pandemic took it out. Now the building is under renovations and is back to putting on plays and the various rooms host classes and other events. The original stage is still here along with the ticket booth and gallery. Crosby hosted ghost hunts too and there are some ghost stories. One legend claims that a little girl fell out of a window and died, a few years after the opera house was built, but we have nothing to substantiate that. James Crosby who owned the Bizarre Bazaar told a paper, "There's a good story of a woman who was sitting at the stop light on the corner of Oak and Polk, who looked up and saw a little girl staring at her. And she sat through three red lights until somebody finally honked and when she looked back, the little girl had disappeared from the window." Another death that might have happened here involved JJ Heard and a woman he was having an affair with, later. This woman gave him an ultimatum that it was either her or the wife and Heard chose his wife. The woman hanged herself from the corner rafters."

We arrived in Arcadia around 7pm. We had traveled through some areas of Florida we hadn't been through before. This was definitely cattle country with lots of open space and small towns. We found Oak Street and parked a half block down from the opera house. The buildings here are really cool. We put some pictures up on Instagram. We went inside to check in and wandered around some of the rooms before the hunt began. There was a room that is clearly used by a chess club, another where stained glass is made, several with antiques inside them and then the main stage. We found some seats in front of the stage and listened to the customary introductions and such. We were on our own, which is fine and even preferable sometimes so the waters don't get muddied with wrong information. Our biggest disappointment was the number of people allowed on the hunt. This was a big building, but not big enough to handle a crowd of over forty people. We were thinking this was going to be around 25 people maximum. We did manage to find a couple of quieter corners though and we think we got some evidence.

Our first stop was a room that had padding on the floor that is used for karate classes. We were told a little girl spirit liked to hang out in here and so we set up the K2, the flashlight and Kelly got out her dowsing rods. The dowsing rods confirmed we were talking to a girl, but we weren't sure on age. We think we caught an EVP despite the noise contamination. There was only Kelly and I in this room. We had two recorders going because I had our more elaborate recorder on the entire time and then a smaller handheld doing brief sessions. Here is the recording from the session recorder. (EVP Opera 1) I'll play it again. Here it is on the better recorder. (EVP Opera 2) And then here it is isolated. (EVP Opera Isolated) Diane says, "Can you say your name again?" Kelly says, "We want to know your name." And we think there is a third voice there. Sounds like, "Do you really want me to?"

This spirit also indicated that another spirit was in the room and she pointed the rods towards the other side of the room to show us where it was. She also lit up the K2 a couple of times. We decided to wander around a bit after this. We stopped in one room where it looked like a couple of women were using a doll as a trigger item and they had a K2 next to it that was going crazy. That seemed exciting until we saw that one of the women had her cell phone right near the K2 and it clearly wasn't on airplane mode because it dinged the arrival of text messages and she started reading them. We searched for another quiet spot because we wanted to conduct an Estes Method with the Spirit Box and we found a staircase leading to a roll-up delivery door with a ladder type shoot on the side to transport stuff. It was pretty quiet, so we set up all our equipment. 

We started the first of three Estes Method Spirit Box sessions we conducted. (Estes 1) Kelly felt as though her hair was being touched. We continued the session. (Estes 2) We get the word monkey. Later in the evening we would find something that made us think this meant something. We found a monkey lamp in a room. (Estes 3) On this one, we hear Mom for the second time and it seems that we are talking to a seven year old girl and the K2 went off as well almost like it is telling us that was right. And how about the Laaadies? (Estes 4) I asked Kelly to ask something in Spanish because I felt like I was hearing voices talking in Spanish and we got adonde - where to? (Estes 5) We get Eve for the first time. There is "careful" and "okay" - are the kids talking to each other about the K2 and touching it? And then they pegged it to orange. And "careful" again. "Out on the street"- because of the siren going by? And then we get Chuck for the first time. It comes up a second time too. We actually get it again later.

We did some dousing rods and Kelly was having trouble because she felt like multiple spirits were talking at once. We ask if it was the toddler playing with Kelly's hair. (Dousing 1) So at the end there, it almost sounded like a name being said. We'll play it here again (EVP Em) and one more time. And now just that section amped up. (EVP Em Amped) On the stairs, we sang Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star with the children we thought were with us. (EVP Opera 3) And as you heard there at the end, they lit up the K2 to let us know they liked it. We then did our second Estes Session (Estes 6) We got the name Eden. And Kelly got touched again. Then we got (Estes 7) Apple! And the crazy thing is that we do this thing called a Human Pendulum later and the name Adam came up during that. We got Genesis going on here - lol! We continue (Estes 8) We got lots of names and there was Chuck again. 

We joined the group in the main room where the stage is and they did this thing called the Human Pendulum. I don't trust pendulums, so I really don't trust this. We did a Facebook Live in the Crew featuring this, so you can watch that and see what you think. We're going to play this little clip from it. (Pendulum Adam) And then we were told this story (Story 1) Pretty interesting.

It was nice to get out and investigate again and see some more of Florida we hadn't seen before. Our evidence seems to indicate that there was a number of spirits running through this place. There isn't much history to suggest as to why. Is the Heard Opera House haunted? That is for you to decide!

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