Ghost muster: Walking tour visits Vero’s old haunts

PHOTO BY BRENDA AHEARN

Every town worth its salt has a few ghosts to keep things lively, and Vero Beach is no exception, according to Larry Lawson, owner/operator of Indian River Hauntings. Guests recently connected with the past at a History and Hauntings dinner and walking tour to benefit Main Street Vero Beach.

The evening began with a presentation and dinner at the historic Vero Beach Woman’s Club, which recently experienced its own share of paranormal activities.

“At Main Street Vero Beach our mission is to preserve and protect the historic downtown. Our office is over on 14th Avenue in another historic building, the Theatre Plaza,” said Janie Graves Hoover, MSVB board president, before introducing Larson.

“This is a great benefit for Main Street, because it’s organizations like this that truly keep history alive, and that’s really what I’m about. You cannot be interested in studying the paranormal if you don’t love and embrace history,” said Larson, who retired after many years in law enforcement and criminal investigations, and today uses those talents to investigate the paranormal.

Larson spoke about the history and growth of Indian River County and commented on some of the local buildings that had played a part in that history, such as the Florida Theater, built in 1924. At the time, Vero (no Beach at that point) was part of St. Lucie County, a bone of contention with city fathers. The last straw came when St. Lucie police showed up to enforce its blue laws forbidding the showing of movies on Sunday, and in 1925 Indian River County was established and Vero’s name was officially changed to Vero Beach.

He noted that many of the landmark buildings built by Waldo Sexton, who Larson called “the man who grew this town,” were among those experiencing prolific paranormal activities, including the Driftwood Resort and Sexton’s home (known as Waldo’s Secret Garden today). He said there are also numerous hauntings elsewhere in the county, particularly at the Historic Fellsmere School and at the Marsh Landing restaurant.

Of the Woman’s Club, Larson said he along with members of the Woman’s Club and his team gathered there on a recent evening. “We had a pretty exciting night right in this building and we didn’t expect anything because we had never had a report out of this place.”

Larson had phoned a friend in England who is a medium, and he related that he was seeing children running around and playing. Shortly thereafter, a team member, who knew nothing of the conversation, described the exact same thing. Later, a door that had been shut for an hour and a half suddenly swung open – without any human contact.

Following a dinner catered by the Edgewood Eatery, folks were taken on a walking tour of the buildings along 14th Avenue that Larson had spoken about, including the Heritage Center, which had its own spooky story to tell.

During a reading there, they posed the question of whether anyone had died on the property. No answer. Until, that is, they played the tape back. The answer, eerily clear, was “Alice.” Heather Stapleton, Heritage Center executive director, had run to her office and came back with the only Alice they could think of: a caged bear that had died in the roadside zoo immediately next door, in today’s Pocahontas Park.

Although theories abound about the paranormal, Larson said “the bottom line is folks, we don’t know. We have no idea what this phenomenon is. It’s the greatest mystery of all time.”

For more information, visit mainstreetverobeach.org or indianriverhauntings.com.

Photos by Brenda Ahearn

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