It’s hard to imagine Orlando in the days of hoop skirts and top hats, ladies of the night and wild west justice. Now, though the skyline is staggered with impressive architecture both new and old, lights, music, restaurants, the heartbeat of a city, and I-4 buzzing steadily nearby throughout the day and night, there are still haunts from times past that call downtown Orlando their home.
If you’ve ever found yourself peeking through your fingers while you binge on ghost hunter reality shows and wanted to know what it would be like in the action, well, you can. American Ghost Adventures is an Orlando-based ghost tour company that hosts a two-hour walking tour delving into the history of the area, ghost stories, and paranormal investigations inside some of the haunted buildings.
This “not just a walk in the dark” ghost tour has been voted one of the top ten in the world by TripAdvisor and guests, and is listed in USA Today’s 10 Best Tours for Orlando Visitors.
We started our spooky evening at 8 pm on a warm September night at the Harry Buffalo downtown. There we met our Ghost Ambassadors, Ting, founder of AGA and full-time Firefighter/ EMT by day, and Karleena who moved to Orlando from Seattle and has been in the ghost biz for a year now. First, they explained what we’d be doing and that the tour is not meant to convince you that spirits exist. They present the evidence and it’s up to you whether or not you come away a believer.
It was also important for us to learn about the three different types of haunts we could potentially encounter on the tour. One, a residual haunt – a ghost you cannot communicate with, one that seems to be caught in a time loop, like a broken record Ting said. Two, the intelligent haunt – this ghost can interact with you. They can move objects and even touch you. According to Karleena, they’re aware that you are there and sometimes try to communicate. And three, an object haunt – a ghost that is attached to an object. This could be a piece of furniture or jewelry, a doll, a family heirloom.
Next, we needed the proper investigatory equipment. Each of the members of our group was given a K-II Meter, which Ting explained is an electromagnetic finder, measured in MilliGauss (mG). It has a range of lights from green to red. The green light is always on, letting you know the equipment is working. The bigger spectrum and the brighter the colors lighting up on the meter, the stronger the energy. This means electricity from light fixtures and other electronic devices can make it light up. If you are able to replicate it, it’s just electricity. If it cannot be replicated, the energy passing by you may have been a haunt. We all put our cell phones on airplane mode to avoid any interference from them as well. “Spirits are made of energy,” said Ting. “We know that energy can’t be destroyed, it just becomes another form. For people that can’t see ghosts, this helps them out a little bit.”
We went into our first building – the Bumby Arcade which has been a part of the city since 1886. As our ambassadors told the history of the building and the Bumby family, we walked the arcade looking for spikes on our K-II meters. We did get some activity from light fixtures and such but discounted it as soon as we were able to replicate it. The group got pretty excited when we saw the first real action on our meters. We found ghosts!
Ting and Karleena brought out the next pieces of equipment that would be instrumental to our investigation – flashlights. They turned the flashlights on, leaving a gap between the battery and the spring, shaking them so we knew they weren’t rigged. They placed them in different areas.
Flashlights are used to communicate with any spirits in the room by asking them questions and letting them respond by turning the lights off and on. At every building we investigated, we each introduced ourselves to any potential haunts. At the Bumby Arcade, we didn’t get any communication through the flashlights.
As we walked out and passed Hamburger Mary’s, which we had eaten dinner at before the tour, we asked Ting and Karleena about the rumors of it being haunted. The purported haunt is a little girl that has been seen by staff in and around the restaurant, as well as tapping and knocking on the walls. Our ambassadors explained that the area is haunted and that a woman dressed in white Victorian garb has also been seen, though restaurants and businesses aren’t quick to admit that they are haunted.
We stopped in front of Ferg’s Depot where Ting told us more about the Victorian woman in white, whose name they found out, is Annabelle. At the depot, they’ve also captured photos of a man in a tophat thought to be the late train conductor, Earnest Mills.
Next, was the Elijah Hand Building. Hand was the second undertaker for Orlando, the first person in the southeast to practice embalming (which he did on the second floor) and ran a furniture shop in the same building because, according to Ting, “Who better than the furniture maker to make your coffin?” The building would go on to host a series of failed businesses. At one point, it was a nightclub, The Blue Room, named from the leftover blue velvet casket liner the owners used to decorate it with.
We got to stand at the most haunted street corner in Orlando, the corner of Pine and Magnolia. According to Ting, the reason it is so haunted is that it’s where the ley lines cross. “Ley lines are the longitude and latitude lines that run naturally through the earth and when they connect, it creates a field that is so powerful it causes a burst. That burst will create a vortex or a corridor for the dead to walk through,” she said.
They explained that there are always three things that can be found at a vortex: a place of worship, ghost sightings and hauntings, and a place of burial. What’s the difference between a graveyard and a cemetery? Extra Halloween cool points for you if you already know the answer.
Ting and Karleena continued at each stop to relay these compelling historical events and ghost stories like the site of the first Orlando bank robbery and a haunted cinema. Throughout the two-hour tour, I can’t think of a single moment I wasn’t engrossed in their stories and the experience.
The crescendo of the tour came when we had circled back around to Church Street. We made our way up the creaky stairs that lead to the top floor of the Hairy Buffalo. The ghost hunting was about to get real.
We got to an eerily silent, pitch black room so dark it took a few moments for our eyes to adjust. With flashlights set up and K-II meters in hand, we were ready to communicate with some specters. After a few questions, the light came on. Another question, off. Another, on. The hairs on my arms stood on end as people from our group continued to as questions… and get responses.
We made our way to another room, this one for children (ghost children), and again we got activity. This night was a singular experience.
This informative, thoroughly spooky, and fantastically entertaining tour is definitely worth doing and I plan to do it again. In the end, the question was ‘do you believe in ghosts?’ I know my answer. Do you?
American Ghost Adventures
Book online, Reservations required