BARTOW — Halloween season is coming up fast, and those Halloween events always start early at the theme parks in Central Florida, usually right after Labor Day weekend.
If you’re planning your Halloween activities this fall, have you thought about a spooky trip to jail?
In October, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office will once again host its annual Haunted Jail Tour, back by popular demand. For two weeks, the county’s historic former jail at 455 N. Broadway in Bartow (the Lawrence W. Crow, Jr. building) will once again be the site of eerie happenings and stories to get you into the Halloween spirit.
What is the Polk County Haunted Jail Tour?
Each year, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office opens the former jail for these ghost tours.
“This year’s spooky theme is ‘Resurrected.’ You won’t want to miss it,” noted Carrie Horstman, public information officer for the sheriff’s office.
What can you expect at these tours? Each year, the Haunted Jail Tours have different themes — the most recent one was “The Ghost of Calvin,” the legendary story of an inmate who committed suicide and still haunts the property, and before that it was “Asylum.”
The public is invited to take the tour for a requested $15 donation (per adult), which will be donated to The United Way of Central Florida.
“You can take the haunted tour, and children under 10 years old can tour for just $5,” Horstman noted. “But if you think the tour will be too scary for your little ones, don’t worry – we will have PCSO members there volunteering to watch your kids in a safe place while you tour.”
She added that this is a family friendly and kid-oriented event. In addition to the jail tours, the town of Bartow is shutting down Church Street for a street carnival which will feature arts & crafts booths, a dunk tank, bounce houses, and other activities suitable for the entire family. There will also be food trucks hosted by Newman BBQ Catering & Events which will also be selling non-alcoholkic drinks.
So mark your calendar: The Haunted Jail Tour will run four nights from 6:30-10:30 p.m. on Oct. 20-21 and Oct. 27-28, both Friday and Saturday evenings.
Is The Polk County Jail Haunted?
But is the jail truly haunted? That definitely seems to be the consensus, considering that over the decades there were inmates who stayed there on their way to execution and others who committed suicide in their cell. Over the years, both inmates and sheriff’s deputies have reported eerie sightings and happenings there.
In an article titled “Haunted Polk: A Brief History of Local Haunts,” author James Colter writes that the old jail is definitely on the list of haunted Polk County sites.
“Inmates have seen people walking the hallways before deputies were supposed to pass by, and officers have seen people in cells that were not supposed to be occupied. One ghost that has been seen many times is Calvin, an inmate that killed himself in the six-block area …. While one deputy was searching files, the back of a shelf flew off from across the room and nearly hit her in the head. Another deputy in a first floor holding cell felt her hair being tugged when no one else was there. While making their rounds, deputies have seen shadowy figures in the hallways that disappear once the lights turn on. One deputy claimed to have heard someone clicking a counter as if performing head count when officers no longer use such methods.”
What Else Is There To See in Downtown Bartow?
If you do decide to check out the Haunted Jail Tour, make a full night of it. It wouldn’t hurt to go a little early and check out Bartow’s historic downtown, which includes one other haunted hotspot.
Bartow itself is a very historic city, founded in 1851 as Fort Blount, then renamed in honor of Francis S. Bartow, the first brigade commander to die in combat during the American Civil War.
The old Polk County Courthouse Museum is at 100 E. Main St. in Bartow, directly across from the new courthouse. It was built in 1883 and has been a museum since 1997.
The courtrooms, now used for ceremonial events, have their own ghostly legends, including a Lady in White who haunts the building.
The basement, which can only be accessed by elevator, is also a special place, one where visitors and employees have heard agonizing screams – possibly from the victims of an explosion in the boiler room.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book A Christmas Eve Story. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.