The year 1996 heralded the miracle on 34th Street (aka US 19 North). While doing some pruning, on the property of a bank building, an image of the Virgin Mary was discovered covering two floors of windows. As the building was located in Clearwater off of a well traveled highway, she became the Virgin Mary of Clearwater.
People debated the miraculous nature of the image: millennium fever was on hand and folks looked with excitement and trepidation to the year 2000. Perhaps Mary was a sign to get ready for the return of Jesus? Or perhaps she was ushering in a new age? Others said that the image could easily be explained: reclaimed water (or well water) from a sprinkler right outside the window was the likely culprit. Water shooting from the sprinkler was blocked and channeled by a palm tree -- the same tree that was removed to reveal the image -- and created a chemical reaction. Other buildings with similar window/sprinkler connections had also discolored in this manner elsewhere in the area. They believed that the image was a massive example of pareidolia fueled by suggestion.
At least one skeptic seemed to make the point by throwing chemicals on the image -- the lovely rainbow hues were erased where the fluid touched the Mary. However, when the chemical scar faded and the colors returned, believers claimed that the image "healed" itself, proving that it was divine.
The SPIRITS of St. Petersburg did go out and investigate the Mary of Clearwater. The team was young and newly formed, and equipment was less advanced at the time. However, the duo who checked the site found no EMF or unusual readings. The Mary offered no paranormal evidence that could be recorded.
There was one kerfuffle from our investigation, though. One member of the duo brought a film camera and developed the film. When the images came back, she discovered a white rectangular shape in multiple blurred images on one photograph. She swore that the rectangular and blurred shape was an angel's wing, and turned the photograph to the side to prove it. The other team member who investigated the site strongly disagreed: the square shape matched that of a white pen cap that was likely inadvertently held and moved in front of the lens. A slower shutter speed or hesitation to press on the camera button could easily produce the image, which she believed was another form of pareidolia combined with suggestion. The disagreement continued as the first argued that there was nothing in her hands at the time of the photograph and the second pointed out that they were not in optimal conditions: they stood in a crowd to get some of the photographs. This debated image met a sad fate, however, as it was placed on the SPIRITS team's MySpace social media page. This page sat unattended for years and was later closed before the image was retrieved. (Editor's note: Yes, I did say MySpace. This team is THAT old).
One team member wrote for the local newspaper at the time. She did a brief article on the piece which allowed her an additional level of research. A rosary-making religious group bought the building and claimed the Mary was the site of at least one miracle: the spontaneous healing of varicose veins. A woman who had come to pray at the Mary for a successful surgery to remove these veins later reported that the veins had vanished -- she did not need the surgery.
The local bishop's office held a different opinion. Though the bishop would not speak directly to the reporter, his assistant revealed that the bishop did not endorse the Mary as a miracle. The office cited likely scientific explanation (the chemical reaction between the window film and the water).
Other word of mouth reports surfaced. At least one former Florida resident remembered that the office building had been a used car lot. During one Christmas season, the owners of the building had painted a large nativity scene on the windows. Meanwhile, the religious group inside the building reported removing more religious figures were manifesting on the building -- that Jesus, himself, was manifesting on another window.
Sadly, the debate was ended with the Virgin Mary of Clearwater was destroyed. Bored teenagers used a bee-bee gun to shoot out the window containing the head and shoulders of Mary. The Mary did not recover from this and the remains of the window were removed and replaced. Mary did not re-appear.