When Madonna Jervis Wise was considering the opportunity to do a book venturing into the realm of the unknown, she wasn’t so sure she wanted to pursue it.
After all, she’d spent much of her life meticulously researching the history of the people and places in Pasco County, and she didn’t want to take any chances of damaging her credibility.
But the more she thought about it, the more intriguing it became.
So, in true Madonna Jervis Wise fashion, she soon was immersed in the hunt for ghost tales and other unexplained phenomena in Pasco County.
She used social media tools to solicit stories.
Wise said she had no idea she’d get the response that she did — adding, apparently there’s a huge following for these kinds of stories.
“Folks would call me up and say, ‘I heard this story. I wanted to tell you about it,’” Wise said.
Her book, “A Haunted History of Pasco County,” shares the tales, while not attempting to be a final authority on the veracity of the claims. She also mixes in stories about Pasco County’s history along the way — drawing from a vast storehouse of knowledge she’s built up through decades of research.
As a result, there are stories involving widely known community landmarks, as well as accounts of odd and unusual characters and events.
Wise said she used her discretion to exclude stories that seemed to be a bit too outlandish, but based on some of the stories that did make the cut, those must have been doozies.
She describes the story of Georg Karl Tanzel as “the creepiest story in the book.” So, we’ll start with an excerpt of that story, and share excerpts of other stories, too.
The macabre ‘Sleeping Beauty’ in Zephyrhills
Georg Karl Tanzler, a native of Germany and a medic in World War I, was living in Zephyrhills when he became obsessed with 17-year-old Elena Hoyos Mesa. After her death — he abducted her body from a private mausoleum he had funded — and meticulously reconstructed it, and experimented further with radiation in attempts to revive her.
“He serenaded her every morning with melodious organ music (on a pipe organ he built himself) and dressed her in bridal finery, jewels and daily fresh flowers.
“When police, with the help of Elena’s sister, Florinda Medina, found the corpse in 1940, it was a doll-like configuration of papier-mache, wax, cheesecloth, piano wire, chemicals and glass eyes.
“In the yard was a portion of a strange, dilapidated airplane fuselage that was labeled in his photo albums as ‘Elena’s air ship to heaven.’”
When the body was discovered, it attracted international coverage, with Tanzler reveling in the publicity.
It was one of the “darkest and most macabre chapters in Zephyrhills’ history,” Wise writes.
The demise of 109
Maj. Francis Longhorne Dade and his troops camped along Fort King Road on Dec. 25, 1835, near the site of the current-day Pasco High School.
It’s said that Dade had a dream that turned out to be a premonition.
During his dream, he confided to another: “He had seen images of deceased comrades from the War of 1812 marching hypnotically in front of him.”
Just three days later, on Dec. 28, Dade and his 108 soldiers were killed in an attack by the Seminole Indians, who waited in the palmettos near current-day Bushnell.
“The fatalistic ambush, later labeled the Dade Massacre, set off the Second Seminole War.”
The hillside where Major Dade camped is still linked to much mystery.
Historic Pasco County Courthouse
The ghostly form of Grace Maud Karney Evans has been glimpsed, or perhaps imagined, in the Historic Pasco County Courthouse, in downtown Dade City.
Evans was sentenced for a life term on Oct. 4, 1935, to be served at the Florida State Farm, in Raiford, for murder in the first degree, with recommendation of mercy.
“She had chosen to survive in the midst of unthinkable abuse from two men, in an era when women were to be seen and not heard,” Wise writes.
Evans was paroled in 1947, granted a full pardon in 1965, and lived a long and productive life, before passing away at age 96.
Since her death, in 1973, there have been reports of a faint illusion of a creature carrying the scales of justice — who could be any number of ghostly tenants — sporadically descending the staircase in the historic 1909 structure.
A historic and ghostly hotel?
The Edwinola, once one of Dade City’s most genteel hotels, also is said to have ghosts.
The original developer and owner, Seymour H. Gerrowe, was killed there, in 1911, after falling from a third-story window. After his death, his widow sold the unfinished hotel to Gerrowe’s brother-in-law, Edwin, and his wife, Lola Gasque. They completed it, and named it Edwinola, by combining their first names.
Gerrowe is believed to be an occasional phantom there.
There have been reports of soft murmurs coming from empty rooms and the faint smell of cigar smoke from former dining areas. Some also have reported the apparition of a female ghost, which quickly vanishes, as well as other mysterious sightings.
Not haunted, but part of Pasco’s history
Besides the unexplained stories in Pasco County’s past, this book also includes some stories that are simply unusual.
For instance, Pasco County was the film location for “Edward Scissorhands,” a film directed by Tim Burton.
The Carpenters Run neighborhood of pastel-colored homes, in Lutz, is one memorable part of the movie, but another setting, off County Road 41, outside of Dade City, is visually interesting, too. That was the setting for the film’s castle, complete with topiaries. The 1990 film featured actors Vincent Price, Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest and Alan Arkin, among others.
Lewis Van Dercar’s ‘Enchantment’
Lewis Van Dercar — the self-proclaimed warlock and prince of the Order of Magi — was known to welcome up to 3,000 people from across the country to his annual Halloween festivities at his Wesley Chapel hideaway that he called Enchantment.
The artist and sculptor, who came to the area from Miami, filled his forest with artworks, including gargoyles, statues and other sculptures.
Folks “remembered the advertisement he posted in 1961 to sell his poltergeist. He explained that he had purchased a new table for his study which had been used in a stage play, “Arsenic and Old Lace,” and discovered it was possessed by a female poltergeist. He said he tolerated the poltergeist until she started leaving marks on his paintings, which he wouldn’t have minded, if she could paint,” according to Wise’s account.
A murder that took on a life of its own
There’s also the story of a graphic murder of a nun at St. Edwards Hall, on the campus of what is now Saint Leo University. It turns out that story was concocted by local attorney Bill Dayton and a friend, as a Halloween prank, when they were students in the class of 1962.
The story is still making the rounds.
Blue Moon at the Museum
What: The event will include the book launch of “A Haunted History of Pasco County” by Madonna Jervis Wise, including book contributors sharing local, chilling tales. There will be lantern tours of the museum buildings; live music; a food truck; shortbread and hot cider; and drawings for door prizes.
Where: The Pioneer Florida Museum & Village, 15602 Pioneer Museum Road in Dade City
When: Oct. 30, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Cost: $10 for adults; $8 for seniors; $5 for students; free for kids under age 5.
Info: Visit PioneerFloridaMuseum.org.
- Carrying the coffin out of the house feet first, to prevent the spirit from beckoning another family member
- Taking down or covering mirrors, to avoid blocking a spirit from passing to the world beyond
- Hiding photographs, or turning them upside down, so spirits would not cling to impressionable family members
- Orienting graves with the corpse’s head to the west and feet to the east, as it was surmised that judgment would come from the east
- Positioning beds in a north-south orientation for luck
- Leaving doors unlocked and windows open, to ensure that a soul was not obstructed in its migration to heaven
Source: A Haunted History of Pasco County by Madonna Jervis Wise
Published October 28, 2020