Category Archives: Southern Gothic

Southern Weekend: Tombstone Twitch

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I had a wonderful weekend, my dears. Saturday was an absolutely gorgeous day, one of those just-about-perfect April days we get here on the Emerald Coast (aka God’s Country, The Western Gate to the Sunshine State, Where Thousands Live the Way Millions Wish They Could) – sunny with a few puffy little cumulus clouds, 78 degrees, with a mild seabreeze off the bay. Heaven, I lives there. And I got to spend this glorious day doing one of the most cherished activities for well-raised Southern girls: hanging out in a cemetery, talking about dead people. Dear God, how I love it!!!

You have to understand, here in the South, we love cemeteries. Give me a good graveyard, especially one where I am related to some of the deceased (or at least know relatives of said deceased), and I am in hog heaven. I am obsessed with history and geneology, and nothing makes me happier than figuring out how and why long-dead people behaved the way they did. The fabulous Southern writer Florence King gave this craving for history and desire to spend our spare time gently wiping lichen off granite monuments a name: Tombstone Twitch. Yes, I actually get physical symptoms — rapid pulse, quickened breaths — when entering a good historical cemetery.

Saturday was “Get the Spirit Day” at Pensacola’s oldest cemetery, St. Michael’s. This lovely, eight-acre green space in downtown Pensacola is older than the United States itself, having been a burial ground since the mid-eighteenth century. It was officially designated as a cemetery by the King of Spain in 1807, though that was only a recognition that it was, in fact, the burial ground for the Spanish Colony at Pensacola.The oldest surviving markers at St. Michael’s date from the early eighteen hundreds. Unusually for a cemetery in the Deep South, St. Michael’s is not segregated; members of all races sleep peacefully together through the years.

I was one of the volunteers who told stories about the dear departed, and it was wonderful to see how many people came out to enjoy the beautiful day and learn about our town’s history. From 10 am to 2 pm, there was a steady stream of people wandering through St. Michael’s, and I told the story of Captain Joseph P. Fish, Scandinavian Sea Captain, over and over. Other volunteers were relating stories about Spanish Grandees, Irish adventurers, Scottish traders, African craftsmen, and German physicians. The ‘population’ (so to speak) of St. Michael’s Cemetery tells the story of America’s immigrant experience — all these people, from every corner of the globe, now united in death as Americans.

History is vital to our children’s education; if we don’t know where we came from, how will we know where we are headed? I’m glad that my Southern girl upbringing taught me to cherish the memories of the past and the resting places of our departed predecessors. Besides, St. Michael’s is one of the prettiest, most peaceful places in town. I love it.

A Southern Ghost: You Know He Likes the Girls

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Generations of naval aviators have enjoyed Pensacola’s Southern hospitality, and generations of Pensacola girls have enjoyed the naval aviators. They don’t call my town “the Mother-in-Law of the Navy” for nothing!

One of the happening spots for navy pilots in training over the years has been Rosie O’Grady’s in Seville Quarter. Where there are lots of young men in Navy uniforms, there will be lots of pretty young ladies. And where there are lots of pretty young ladies, even the guys without uniforms want to be there.

So a young fellow named Wesley always hung out at Rosie’s back in the 1990’s. He just loved the ladies he met — so much so that he got eventually got a job as a bartender there. There are slightly different versions of exactly how poor Wesley met his premature end — the most common story is that, while cleaning up after closing one night, he slipped and fell in the walk-in cooler. When no one came to his rescue, he died of hypothermia.

But however he died, there is one thing we do know — Wesley never left. He’s been sighted in the men’s room, the cooler where he died, and the bar area. But, given his preferences in life, it’s no surprise that he has settled in where the girls are — the second floor ladies’ room! Lots of women claim the water there turns on or off unexpectedly or the hand dryer switches on without warning. Some even say his spirit pinches their rear ends as they fix their makeup in the mirror!

One evening a while back, a young lady excused herself to go to the restroom. Naturally, her friends had to fill her in on the legend. While she was in the restroom, she began talking to another lady, telling her the story, but she couldn’t remember the ghost’s name! Frustrated, she said, “Oh, what the heck is his name?!?” And both of them clearly heard a soft male voice say, “The name’s Wesley.”

If you spend any time in Pensacola, be sure to have a drink — or several — at Rosie O’Grady’s. And ladies, if someone gets fresh with you, don’t slap that Navy pilot — It might just be Wesley!

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A Southern Story for Halloween

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Since it’s Halloween, my darlings, I think we need a bit of spookiness. For the past several years, I have managed to mix my love of history, fascination with weird phenomena, and story-telling compulsion into a fabulous gig as a volunteer tour guide for the Pensacola Historical Society’s Ghost Tours. I mean, I get to dress in historical costume, tell ghost stories, and be an absolute ham! What could be better?

So this week I plan to share a few of my favorite stories from Haunted Pensacola. Hope you enjoy reading them as much as I love telling them!

First, let’s talk about Stella Bedgood. If there was ever a gal whose name was her destiny, it was dear Stella. She was not what the good matrons of Early 20th Century Pensacola considered proper — she’d been married and divorced twice, and she was quite well known in the bars and dancehalls along Zaragossa Street that catered to sailors and timbermen. Not only that, but she had the reputation — apparently deserved — for supplementing her income by stepping out with married men instead of staying home and raising her two children.

She had been seeing Tony Gomez, a member of the City Commission and a married father of seven, but she’d ended it during the Summer of 1936. Some say she found a more appealing gentleman, some say she got religion. Whatever the case, Tony was not willing to accept Stella giving him his conge.

In the wee small hours of September 26, 1936, Tony crept in the second story window of the boarding house at 240 East Intendencia, where Stella lived with her children. As the children watched in horror, Tony slashed her throat. The children’s screams brought the other residents of the boarding house running, and it was the very definition of “caught red-handed.” Tony had one hand in Stella’s hair and the other held the handle of the knife in her throat!

So of course, Tony went to prison for life, or possibly received the death penalty, right? Oh, my dears! Did I not say he was a Pensacola politician? Prison wasn’t in the picture.

Tony claimed a combination of temporary insanity and being too ill to stand trial, and in fact he was never convicted of Stella’s murder. Perhaps that is why occupants of 240 East Intendencia say sometimes at night they hear the screams of a woman and small children.

The building is currently occupied by a realty company. But a few years ago, it was between tenants and stood empty during the annual Haunted History tours. In fact, the power had been disconnected. But as I stood in the street telling my tour group the story of Stella and Tony, a light went on in the upper bedroom on the west side of the building — Stella’s room.

Here’s a shot of 240 East Intendencia. The window on the upper left was Stella’s.

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Here’s a link to a 1938 article about Tony’s death:
http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1755&dat=19381220&id=Y-EcAAAAIBAJ&sjid=fWQEAAAAIBAJ&pg=4826,6596968