ORLANDO – It’s one of the things that definitely lures tourists to this state: historic buildings and sites that reflect the Sunshine State in a very different era.
Tim Brown and Shawn Porter search out these places, but not from the perspective of recording history – unless, of course, that history includes the people who once lived, and died, in there.
A fine example is the Italian Club in Ybor City, a historic property founded more than a century ago.
Porter and Brown were eager to visit the building – very late at night.
“In 2008, we were at the Italian Club in Ybor City, and there’s four different floors there and we had groups on every floor between 2:10 and 2:20 that night,” Porter said.
Then something unusual happened – which is exactly what they were expecting.
“I had a pair of girls on the third floor come down and say ‘We’re real sick, we have to get out of here,’ “ Porter said.
He understood immediately what was making them ill: ghosts.
“The spirits in this place don’t like women,” he said. “Back in its day, only men were allowed in there. Another girl came to me a couple of minutes later on a totally different floor, and she was also sick.”
Brown and Porter are members of Florida Ghost Team Inc., which tours the state looking to record the existence of spirits – “real ghost hunting without all of the hoopla,” the Web page notes.
Brown said he’s had some unusual experiences himself, the kind that would cause even supernatural skeptics to scratch their heads in wonder.
He was recording the sounds in an old building once, he noted, and heard nothing. But when he replayed the tape, he noticed something odd.
“Listening to my audio, I can hear myself say ‘Hey, is something going on,’ and when I listened back to it, I heard someone knocking on the microphone,” he said.
Brown and Porter took part in a program called “The Paranormal” at the Orlando Public Library, part of a series of public talks they give.
Established on 2003, FGT is a not-for-profit organization that promotes professional paranormal research and investigation.
They take on clients and remain in contact with them “until their issue is resolved,” the Web site notes. “All client information is kept completely confidential. FGT’s professionalism and dedication to our clients sets us apart from some other teams. We view the media as a forum that provides us an opportunity to inform and educate the community.”
It’s led them, Brown said, to some decidedly eerie experiences.
“With a group of friends, we went to the old Spanish Military Hospital in St. Augustine,” Brown said. “We heard knocking on the door. I said, ‘Come on in,’ and nothing happened.”
There was a second knock. Again, no one responded.
“I got it on audio recorder and video camera,” Brown said. “That was kind of interesting that we could catch that.”
It’s all a part of their investigations – of buildings and locations that seem to attract spirits.
“We do try to research locations if we can,” Brown said. “We can find out the area itself, what used to be there, and a lot of the historical nature of the place.”
Other times, not much comes out of their investigations, including the visit FGT made to the Titanic museum on International Drive.
“It’s a small hole in the wall shop,” Brown said. “Some people believe there is a spirit attached to it. We were there almost a year ago, and we did a live overnight investigation, but we didn’t really get much that night.”
Porter also runs GhostShop, selling ghost hunting equipment like motion sensor alarms, mini night vision cameras, Olympus voice recorders, and ghost meters. He said there used to be a social stigma attached to doing ghost hunting, but not so much anymore.
“I think it’s become a lot easier,” he said. “Years ago, we could never have done this, especially at a public library. When I first started doing this, you didn’t talk about it. You were burned at the stake. When people first started asking me what I do, I said ‘I’m in electronics.’ Now I say I make ghost hunting equipment.”
Brown added that realty shows like “Ghost Hunters” have helped by introducing a wider audience to this concept.
“If it’s done anything, it’s made the supernatural more mainstream,” Brown said. “With these TV shows, there’s more awareness now.”
People can be skeptical that ghosts exists, Porter said – until they get the proof caught on tape.
“Seeing something like that is one thing, but when you combine it with recordings and other documentation, that’s when you say, ‘Ok, there is something to it,’ “ he added.
That’s the good news. The bad news, he said, is that ghosts are totally unpredictable.
“I wish there was a pattern,” he said. “That would make it a lot easier for us to do what we do.”
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book A Christmas Eve Story. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.