Book Review: 31 Tales from Hellview Cemetery, by Mark Muncy and Elizabeth Abbott
Review by: Brandy Stark
Local crypt keeper and hell-spawn representative, Mark Muncy, has long hosted Hellview Cemetery. This local portal to another realm opened in 1996 and is a staple haunted house attraction found in the heart of St. Petersburg. Hellview manifests once a year around Halloween – only to vanish once the holiday has passed. Yet, despite the high-level scare factor, these hellions have a softer, gentler side: each year, proceeds earned are given to a charity. The haunted house, itself, is a fundraiser designed to do good.
The denizens of this oddly eclectic estate needed their stories told, and so Muncy pulled time from his schedule to flesh them out. Drawn from local urban legends and folklore, several of these characters have the ability to chill one with fear. There is the mysterious dancing figure, drawn from the stories of the casino in Gulfport, who tantalizes strangers with his offbeat moves in the dark of night. Madame Oar is a serial killing bordello operator, and even a swamp witch determined to drag visitors to the deep and murky depths of her abode.
Some of the stories are reworked reports left by visitors to Hellview. These include the mysterious story of Lilly, a child spirit who inserts herself into the lives of others, creating memories of remorse for a lost child they never had. There is the story of the drowning victim who wreaks havoc in the dreams of the living, and even the story of a mysterious neighbor with a penchant for breaking into homes to watch the occupants sleeping.
Finally, there are characters created for Hellview, itself. The Muncy family, as founders of the event, have literary license to give life to their characters. Find out about the girl so obsessed by horror movie characters that she becomes one, or little Emily who haunts the playroom. Even the Caretaker tells his tale as an introduction to the book.
This is certainly a unique collection of stories – eye witness accounts, reported mysterious experiences, urban legends, and characters unique to this space and place. Books can be purchased at Books at Park Place as well as on Amazon.com. It’s a great way to support local creativity, charities, and our own hell-mouth in Tampa Bay!
Vintage Greetings, by Christine Crews
Review by Brandy Stark
I met Christine Crews at an event at Books at Park Place. She was showing and selling her book, <i>Vintage Greetings</i>. The book, she explained, featured some of the post cards from St. Petersburg that she had collected over the years. They were vintage pieces and, I learned, there is post card collecting society. These mailed items are valued for their age, images, techniques, mailing dates, messages, and postage. It was a whole new world of research that I hadn't heard of before. She had awakened my curiosity and a few weeks later we met for lunch. I purchased her book and she got a copy of mine (<i>Spectral Musings</i>, the haunted history of the Suntan Art Center/Don Vista building available on <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Spectral-Musings-History-Haunts-Building/dp/1539522318/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1482335082&sr=8-1&keywords=spectral+musings+Stark" target="_blank">Amazon.com</a>).
I wasn't sure what to expect but what I ended up discovering was delightful treasure of local history. The book started off with a brief history of the post in this area. Remember that Florida was not always like it is today. This was very much an uncultivated land that was sparsely populated. It was very southern and this area was known for its warm winters, cattle farmers, and citrus/tropical fruit. The tourist industry was not what it is today, though some people did come through the area. Before internet and phones, the mail was an incredibly important delivery system.
The book is then divided into sections based on time periods. The earliest entries date to 1905. Crews not only posts the image on the post card but also the hand written messages located on the back. These allow for fascinating accounts of the personal experiences of those coming through the area. The earliest entry gushes over a visit between Dunedin and Tarpon Springs and thanks the host for a fine afternoon ride. Some of the images are grainy and post cards were often produced with the postage already affixed. However, the subjects depicted are quite true to today: pelicans, orange groves, sailboats and beaches. There are some other interesting tidbits for those of us who research this area: older images of the Detroit Hotel. This is the oldest hotel in the area and was built by St. Petersburg's father, John Constantine Williams. It still stands today and is alleged to be haunted. The hotel's appearance has changed, however, and now includes a more modern section built of red brick. Seeing the original layout of downtown, combined with the original image of the hotel, gives a different feel to what was there and who might have stayed there. It's also valuable for paranormalists because it gives context to what an entity residing there might experience.
The book also shows some fun insights into the area. There was an ostrich farm here at one time. People could drive ostrich-drawn chariots as well. That's something I hadn't considered an event until I read this book. Postcards also depict buildings that once stood but have long since vanished from the city landscape. One house became an attraction because it hosted a shell-built wall created by its owner from the localized shell mounds and beaches. Another shows the highly questionable turpentine mills that once dotted Florida landscapes. In a dark chapter of the state's history, inmates were rented out to work these mills which often produced harsh labor conditions. African Americans in this region were often pressed into labor with arrests on minor charges (loitering) with long terms of incarceration. There are even images of one of the earliest piers, the Electric Pier, so named because it was lit at night with rows o lights. The Electric Pier was dismantled after the construction of the Municipal Pier. (Oddly, when the debate on the new St. Petersburg pier started probably 8 years ago, I was teaching modern Humanities. I did have a slide show detailing the history of the piers in this area and why they were so significant. They have long been an attraction in this era. Let us hope that whatever new pier they [finally] construct continues this heritage!)
The chapters also detail eras of St. Petersburg history. Crews gives population numbers (4,000 by 1911), stages of construction (one of my favorite pages is the entry on 32 which shows the First United Methodist Church in 916. The building was already made of red bricks and the original wooden white-painted structure was gone. However, it had not undergone its radical neo-Gothic transformation that tripled the size of the church. That would come 10 years later and is the church that still stands today). Even IRS had post cards notifying folks of tax deadlines.
The book goes through local history through the 1960s. As imagined, the post cards change in clarity, format, and style. There were some special touristy pieces that included wooden postcards (this area was known for its woodworking). The tourist quality does increase, of course, as recreation becomes this area's main feature starting in the 1920s but escalated in the 1950s.
Review by: Brandy Stark
Book Review, Brandy Stark
“Haunted Baseball: Ghosts, Curses, Legends and Eerie Events”
By Mickey Bradley and Dan Gordon
Admittedly, I am not a sports fan. However, even I must acknowledge the spot that baseball holds in the hearts of Americans – so much so that the fans and players who give life to the game also give it afterlife. “Haunted Baseball” is a unique look at the haunted history, curses, and supernatural natures that fall into this pastime.
For the St. Petersburg area, and as I am the founder of the SPIRITS of St. Petersburg, three areas of the book particularly caught my interest. The first chapter had in-depth information on an investigation that we did several months ago on Huggins-Stengel Field. In fact, our interviews with various staff manning the park led us to this book; they recommended it highly to us. Indeed, it was worth the purchase. Not only had the authors interviewed many of the staff that we had, they presented comprehensive and well-researched information on the park. I was amazed to learn that a place I had walked by and observed for nearly 20 years was this remarkably historic. Huggins-Stengel Field is one of the oldest baseball fields in the United States. Founded in the 1920s, it was a Spring Training facility for the Yankees. According to the authors, Babe Ruth was so rowdy that the owners wanted to put him somewhere where he could not get into much trouble. St. Petersburg was a sleepy southern town at that time and, with the ballpark, was the perfect non-troubling Spring Training facility for the Babe (p. 4 – 5). Ruth’s legacy was joined by other greats over the years, such as Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Nolan Ryan, Wade Boggs, and many others. As we know, anywhere that history touches, ghosts are left behind. Babe Ruth has been seen at the field by one worker. Some also see baseball coaches of bygone eras. Even the old buildings, where the team locker rooms once were, still buzz with paranormal activity. Some claim to hear voices late at night, doors open and close, and even cigar smoke blows through when no one is around to smoke them.
Connected to the field is another chapter dedicated to the Vinoy. Rumor on the street has it that “Ghosthunters” is going to investigate this resort, which also housed, and still houses, numerous baseball players. The Vinoy is a local hotspot of activity. The ghost tour that I do talks about this “Grand Dame” of downtown as possessing a multitude of ghosts, including the “Nefarious Gentleman” and the “Lady in White.” Some players refuse to stay in certain rooms that they believe are haunted, though the Vinoy historian, oddly, is quoted near the end of the chapter saying that she does not believe the place is haunted.
A third chapter, listed under the “Curses” section, also hits one more home team point: The [Devil] Rays. I loved this chapter as it detailed questions that some Tampa Bay sports fans have been wondering for years: is the Tampa Bay area cursed? Our sports teams do notoriously badly in this regions, remaining years on the bottom of the roster, spiking every now and then to potential greatness only to spend the next eon back on the “bad” list. The “Devil” Rays (now just “The Rays”) fit into this history. The question falls to the stadium, which, rumor has it, was built upon tenement lots, which were, in turn, built upon former graveyards. While the remains were allegedly removed, some believe that the workers were not that careful in removing the dead. The cemeteries in the area were also known for poorly marked tombs; could someone have been left behind? Is the stadium haunted? Is it cursed? (If so, that really would explain a lot about the team!) Perhaps 2008 and 2009 will change that. The Rays, after dropping the “Devil”, did better this year than they ever have in the past…was it simply a quirk with the name?
The remainder of the book takes the reader all over the U.S. to various sports teams, haunting activity, superstitions (it turns out that ball players are quite superstitious), cremains, and curses. It is a fascinating journey for layman and fanatic alike through the dark side of baseball. After getting adjusted to the topic, the book was addictive. It is a fun and easy read, and comes highly recommended by this paranormal investigator.
“Haunted Baseball” is available in many bookstores and online through Amazon.com. The listed cover price is $14.95.
“Field of Screams” (Haunted Tales from the Baseball Diamond, the Locker Room, and Beyond)
By: Mickey Bradley and Dan Gordon
Review by: Brandy
The authors of “Haunted Baseball” are back with a sequel. “Field of Screams” is nearly three times the size of the original book, with more tales of baseball superstitions and ghost stories. As with “Haunted Baseball”, I continue to maintain that I am not a baseball fan. The last game I saw was a minor league game and, with the exception of the company present and the ambidextrous pitcher, I was not enthralled. Yet, according to this book, the very stadium that I was in had a death on the premises and is supposed to be haunted. Had I known, perhaps I could have slipped away to do a bit of para-investigation during the 7th inning stretch!
The book does detail several sites that the SPIRITS have investigated, including the Crystal Bay Hotel, Higgens-Stengle Field, and the Biltmore (investigation never posted). I actually have a cameo story in this book in the section on Babe Ruth, which is always a pleasant surprise.
The book, overall, is absolutely worth the read. Like the first book, it does hold reader interest. Note, however, that “Field” is considerably longer; I did find that there were times when my baseball intake was full and I had to take a break from the reading for the day. Nonetheless, it makes me appreciate this all-American sport a little more! I will say this, too: Unlike the first book, this one details teams outside of the United States. I was fascinated to learn of the Shinto-based rituals performed by Japanese baseball players. I also found the typical “vanishing hitchhiker” story repeated for Latin American teams to be equally fascinating, especially as a side interest of mine is urban legends.
The book has a very humanistic feel to it. The players seem down to earth, as do other guests quoted within. It is an excellent read, and one that I would highly recommend for both the sports enthusiast and sports newbie alike!
FYI: From Netscape.com:
Origin of Baseball may not be all American:
Baseball was probably derived from “Rounders,” a game played in Ireland since the fifteenth century.
By the eighteenth century, rounders incorporated many of the basic elements of modern baseball: two opposing teams with one in the field and one batting; successive batters trying to hit a small ball and then make the “round” of four bases to score. Three strikes and you’re out!
During the 1820s-1850s, Irish immigrants brought rounders with them to the New World, where local variations developed. In the Massachusetts variant, the batter stood between home plate and first base, and the opposing team could “out” someone by beaning them with the ball. Runners weren’t required to stay on the baselines, meaning there was an element of “tag.” The Philadelphia game gave us the familiar diamond-shaped field and nine players to a team.
In 1845 it was decided to standardize the rules of New York’s game. The Knickerbocker Rules decreed nine innings and said any “knock” outside the lines of first and third base was foul. In 1858 they added the “strike zone,” and in 1863 they added the automatic “walk” after four balls.
For a while, the Knickerbocker Rules also required underhand pitching. Of course, the biggest surprise might be that until 1865, Knickerbocker Rules also allowed fielders to out the batter by catching the ball after one bounce.
Pocket Books Fiction, 2016
Many years ago, I was contacted by an author who was interested in discussing paranormal investigation. This was before the boom of paranormal television that started in 2004 so I had a specialized knowledge at the time. We met over coffee and I brought my scrapbooks on the SPIRITS of St. Petersburg. It was then that I realized that I had not only filed articles and images in these collections, but I had added playing cards that I had found as I walked the pugs or ran errands in St. Petersburg. There are times when I am a believer in signs and symbols and I had collected quite a few. Rather than finding it odd, Ms. Unger thought it was fascinating. She was thinking about writing a paranormal fiction or supernatural detective book. In return for meeting her, she gave me the first three published books that she had written about a woman detective.
Fast forward at least 10 years. The rise of paranormal fiction has happened. The explosion of paranormal television has turned the cable network, Destination America, into 24 hours of cryptozoology, aliens, ghosts and demons. Ms. Unger has published at least a dozen books since our meeting. I am on her mailing list and still get updates about her career. I knew she had written a novel on a psychic character, and I was delighted to run across a signed copy of the book on the shelves of Barnes and Noble bookstore two months ago. With great anticipation, I brought it home.
The book does not disappoint. Unger’s unique writing style shows her grasp on humanism. The main character of her novel, Finely, may be endowed with superhuman psychic abilities, but she’s also a lost 20-something with troubles of her own. As a paranormal investigator, I have met several who proclaim sensitivity. They also struggle to find acceptance from others and a way to utilize these gifts. Finely is no different. Her gift manifested when she was a child; now an adult, she lives with her grandmother, a powerful psychic adviser to a private detective who takes last hope cases. Finely finds herself thrust into the role of the advising psychic with a case involving a missing girl.
Unger does use several plot twists to keep the book interesting. Finely isn’t perfect, nor are the people she works with. As with life, there are unexpected revelations that occur to keep the plot moving. The realities of the girl, ghosts, grandmother, the family left behind, kidnapper, and Finely intertwine to form a marvelous adventure. It’s enough to give the reader a sense of urgency to find out what happens in the end. The reader falls in sync with the characters and becomes caught up in the drama of the case. I felt that all of us, those comprised of words and those of flesh, got the final reveal at the same time.
This book is a great read if you have any interest in the paranormal. Be drawn into a world of fiction, mystery with a dash of realism. You won’t regret it.
Review by: Brandy Stark
My foray into this marvelous world was a fluke. I had entered the World Con art show and, as a participating artist, had a membership. This convention is sci fi/fantasy based with a focus on literature. Members vote on the next Hugo award so it's pretty hardcore. Months after the show was done a box of books came in the mail. Included was the first of the Jackaby series, aptly titled Jackaby.
This poor book sat on a pile of other books for another several months until I rediscovered it. I took it on my trip to Rome and fell in love with the series. It's the first time in MANY years that the urge to find out what happened caused me to purchase the rest of the series on Kindle so that I could read them in Rome. I knew that I could NOT wait for hard copies....I needed to find out NOW. Even though this was a work trip and I was teaching a college course to 20 students while in Rome, I found myself sneaking reads of the series late at night or if I work up, or even waking up early to read a bit more. Yes, it was that good.
There are four books in all featuring (see the link in the title) featuring the zany characters of Jackaby, a paranormal detective/seer who sees the worlds inside our world, Ms. Rook, his assistant, a were-dog police man named Charlie, Jackaby's file clerk who was once a man but is now a duck, and, of course, the ghost of a murdered woman who lives in Jackaby's house -- Jenny. What good paranormalist wouldn't have a spectral roommate?
The series is remarkable in the way that the characters evolve. Bits and pieces of their histories and character are dropped throughout all four books. They are not perfect by any means, but remain quite easy to like. Each has a secret that is revealed....and each plays important roles within the series. As a ghost investigator, I found Jenny's transformation most remarkable and certainly a unique interpretation of what a ghost can become. (No more hints on that one!)
Some of the plot twists are predictable, but several are not. And I had to read the last pages of the last chapter of the last book a couple of times....then search the internet to see if there are any MORE books because I wanted to see how things worked out. (Alas, there are not. There is a short story called "Maps" that you can find on Kindle, though). It is my hope that the author
This is the first time I have felt an awakening of such desire to read a series in many years. I liken it to the first time I read the Watchmen years ago. And the series is quite affordable -- there is no reason not to try this out. If you do, I hope that you become an addict like me and maybe we can put a bit of pressure on Mr. Ritter to add another short story or two to let us know how the characters are doing!
Women and Ghosts
Review by Brandy Stark
This book was initially given to me from a friend and fellow supernatural sleuth. I have to say that I really enjoyed it. There are nine short stories within its covers of women dealing with ghosts, mostly in a metaphorical sense. One woman is in a borderline abusive relationship and sees the ghost of her fiance's former wife sitting in the kitchen, looking small and defeated. Another belittles house contractors working on her pool; both men lose their jobs and both are killed. And both might be haunting her house.... A third describes a woman who encounters Lakshmi during a desperate journey to adopt a child.
The book does describe relationships between men and women as an element of tension for several of the stories. Others focus solely on the relationships between women -- how to deal with that annoying friend (who might possibly haunt you later) or that crazy relative who talks to the spirits of her antique furniture. Each story is unique to its approach to the supernatural and its approach to how the living deal with one another.
Honestly, I was not sure that I would enjoy the book but now that I have finished all nine stories I realize that I will miss reading it at night before I go to bed. It is up for sale on Amazon for a modest price and a copy of the book will be added to the SPIRITS of St. Petersburg Little Paranormal Library (see the SPIRITS office in studio 202 at Art Lofts, downtown St. Petersburg). I do recommend it if you like creative interactions with ghosts and stories that are not run-of-the-mill spooks.
The Lamb Was Sure to Go
I met Ms. Sonnenberg at Necronomicon. She was dressed up as the main character in this book, Mary, a demonic harbinger born to release evil into the world. The author also has a life size sculpture of the devil-spawned lamb that Mary bonds with that she takes to conventions. With an introduction like that, I simply had to know more.
The book was inspired by a nursery rhyme, but given a dark twist. That is what Ms. Sonnenberg does – she creates horror fiction based on items from a more innocent past. I am not a horror fan, but I wanted to see what this was about.
The book is interesting. One must do a bit of suspension of disbelief to go with the idea of an antagonist born with a “birth defect” in which her mouth, filled with jagged teeth, is on the back of her head. Her poor parents are burdened with this child. While pregnant, the mother attends church and a priest in “infected” with visions of the demonic…and a drive to end the evil. Mary impacts almost everyone negatively. She brings out the worst in people as she ages into a little girl. Nasty acts and impossible misadventures happen to anyone that comes in contact with her. The Lamb is a bit worse. As a person who loves animals, I do not like this lamb. Let’s just say that it is a carnivore and leave it at that.
The book gets a little long in some parts, but does have a quick wrap up. If you like horror suspense, this is the book for you.
Placed in the SPIRITS of St. Petersburg’s Paranormal Little Library June 2019.
Ghost Key (The Hungry Ghosts)
Trish J. MacGregor
This book was a gift given to me by another paranormalist. It is part of a series (there is a book before this one) that picks up with the story of Dominica, a hungry ghost, whose evil plans were vanquished in the prior book. In revenge, she takes possession of a young woman’s body and flees to Cedar Key to lay low for a time. Her new plan is to take over the area and rebuild a community of hungry ghosts to possess the people living on the Key. The citizens are not quite so thrilled with this idea, especially as possession can lead to strange behaviors (sex in public places, inappropriate groping, and forced subjugation of the body possessed) and bleed outs (death by the explosion of capillaries in the body).
A small band of humans are left to battle the evil ghosts. They are aided by a shapeshifter named Wyra, a mysterious eagle named Liberty, and a Bible fanatic named Zee. When word of the mysterious deaths and odd behaviors leak out, government-employed distance viewers/psychics also get involved – and then it gets into a whole new level of death and destruction.
There is a bit of attempted romance in this novel – the characters fall in love and hook up with each other pretty easily. There are some predictable romantic keening scenes as well. However, the overall concept for the story makes up for this, and the excitement levels remain fairly consistent in the book.
Placed in the SPIRITS of St. Petersburg Paranormal Little Library July 2019.
Whispers on the Windowsill
by Sadie Blackburn
This is by a local author who writes young adult fiction. It fits well within that category as the protagonist, Addie, is a young teenager whose mother has left her father for another man. Her father, a scholar, wins the opportunity to live at the residence of a world renown 20th century author whose enigmatic life was filled with tragedy when his only child died in a freak accident. Addie soon discovers that the mansion is haunted by the spirits of both the author and his daughter. Both ghosts are trapped in the mansion and unable to communicate with each other. Addie takes it upon herself to help these forlorn individuals find their peace, no matter the cost.
The story is filled with rich descriptions that make the reader almost feel the story. It does come from the perspective of a female tween/teen working through her own issues of loss and isolation, an irony that she realizes as she attempts to help the ghosts around her. It is well set for its audience and there are a few unexpected literary twists to mix in to the drama of the text.
Added to the Paranormal Little Library on 7/24/19.
Secrets on the Shoreline
Though I enjoyed Whispers on the Windowsill, I really REALLY enjoyed this book. While Whispers read like young adult fiction, Secrets was more in the line of the soft romantic paranormal mystery books that I find myself reading these days. Allison McKinley is a recent divorcee who retreats to a small seaside town. The cottage that she rents has relics from old ships -- and one of the items was used to murder a sailor returning home to his daughter over 100 years ago. Desperate to unite with his child, the ghost haunts Allison with visions, dreams, and mysterious apportations. Allison has an ally when a local author takes interest in her story. Together, they uncover the truth of a murder hidden for 100 years, though it may cost Ally her life.
The only drawback to this book is that the Stark family mentioned contained both antagonists in the book. My first point is that the Stark clan is awesome -- we get Tony and Bran, after all. Also, Starks ALWAYS finish what htey start.
Other than this small item, this book had me hooked. As I neared the end of my book I could not put it down -- I found it worthy to give up sleep in order to learn how everything ended. This one gets two thumbs up from me, AND it is written by a local author (see link above). Worthwhile read!
Added to the Paranormal Little Library on August 14, 2019.
Haunted Florida Love Stories
This year has certainly been one of star-crossed EVERYTHING, so why not include some star-crossed love? Haunted Florida Love Stories is written by Christopher Balzano, a high school teacher and collector of folklore stories. He regularly does live feed/video podcasts of various legends, and his attempts to track down the source of the story, around the state.
The language is certainly conversational, and each chapter strolls from one story to another. There are loose themes that tie the stories together, but what makes this an interesting read is the background that he reveals on each legend. Some have some small truth while other stories are out of sync with the time period. One of my favorite parts of this was a legend about a woman who committed suicide from a tower located on a university campus. She and her love, a professor, were caught in their affair. He was fired, she was expelled. In her grief, she ended her life by leaping to her death....but the place were it was said she died (and thus haunted) was built nearly two decades after she attended the school. As the area changed, the story transformed as well.
Urban legends and folklore are absolutely imperative parts of a paranormalist's toolkit which makes this another valuable tool. Stories range from across Florida. A few of the chapters, like Robert the doll from Key West, are well known while other legends are certainly more obscure. The SPIRITS of St. Petersburg research was used for three of the locations in the book which, of course, ties it to local lore as well.