Ghost chasers, history buffs and skeptics who plan to go ghost hunting Saturday nights at 8 and 10:15 p.m. at the Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa should arrive with an open mind wearing sensible shoes, and armed with their most trusted camera. Orlando Ghost Tours, Inc., owned by Emilio San Marten, conducts the two-hour tours each weekend. Soon the tour schedule will include Friday night tours at 9:00 p.m. in addition to the two held on Saturdays. According to the tour group, the Belleview Biltmore holds a strong attraction for the dearly departed, just as it does for us who still live and breathe and pay taxes.
The Belleview is the perfect place in the Clearwater area for a ghost tour, as anyone who has been there knows a sense of mystery permeates the hotel and grounds. The hotel was even featured in the past on the History Channel's Haunted Hotels program.
San Marten said he was struck by the Belleview Biltmore's dramatic atmosphere, "From the moment I walked into this amazingly beautiful facility I knew that it was a location that I wanted to spend a great deal more time investigating. I selected the Belleview Biltmore as a location to conduct tours and investigations because of several accounts of paranormal activity experienced there that I came across during research I was conducting."
Last Saturday, a friend, Susan, and I decided to take the tour for fun and a chance to have a genuine encounter with a ghost. Though we didn't gain any new insights into the spiritual world, the excursion into the hotel's outer limits and eerie side was fun. Our tour guide, Shawna, didn't set out to scare or humor our group with dramatics and costumes as some ghost tour guides are required to do, but instead she shared her knowledge of the hotel's history along with experiences from past tours she gave that revealed hauntings in the hotel. Though Susan and I learned a few things about the hotel's history we didn't already know, we didn't experience a sighting or a paranormal experience. Or so we thought. The next day I discovered a photographic anomaly on one of the random images I took during the tour. It's possible that while we were listening to Shawna's description of ghosts said to inhabit the hotel's 4th and 5th floors, the ghosts themselves were hovering along side us, listening too!
A sad and factual occurrence that occurred in the hotel in 1936 is highlighted during the tour. A bride to be, named Ann, learned of her betrothed's demise from a car accident on the very day of her wedding. Soon after the crisis, Ann persuaded relatives to leave her alone to rest but instead she donned her wedding gown and leapt off of the balcony of the hotel's presidential suite to her death on the lawn. "A reminder to all of us to not leave someone in crisis alone," aptly noted Shawna, our tour guide. According to San Marten and local folklore, hotel workers and neighboring residents to this day sometimes see the apparition of a bride wandering the hotel grounds.
Other hotel guests have checked into the hotel and even though their bodies checked out, their spirits have returned. Shawna said while conducting a tour with three psychic ladies from New Port Richey in attendance recently, a ghost of one of the army soldiers who lived in the hotel when the Army occupied it during World War II, decided to rattle the tour group. "We were in St. Andrew's Pub in the hotel's basement when leaves that had blown in a doorway started crunching, though no one was stepping on them," said Shawna. "One of the psychic ladies informed us that the ghosts of four soldiers reside in the pub and one of them got a kick out of my fear and decided to play a prank," said Shawna. Two others, who the woman said appeared to be locked in an intense game of poker in a small room adjacent to the pub, don't welcome intruders and give off a bad vibe when the door to the room they are playing in is opened.
San Marten is not afraid to open that door and others like it. "I have always had a fascination with all areas pertaining to the paranormal. From the time I was a child I have had a variety of psychic experiences and have maintained that ability into adulthood, which is frequently not the case when it comes to a person's psychic abilities. While it is not uncommon for children to possess a unique and intense level of psychic ability, by the time most of us reach the adult stages of our lives the ability usually diminishes by a large degree. It is never completely gone and we may have a few encounters that leave us puzzled along the way, but the intensity of the psychic awareness is nowhere near what it was during childhood. This is due, in large part, to the fact that when we are young our minds are very open to all ideas and suggestions...while as we get older, our minds are clouded by the rigid opinions we form throughout the course of our lives."
San Marten explains the current fascination with ghost hunting as witnessed by cable television's numerous programs showcasing ghost hunts and haunts: "It has been my experience that the popularity and curiosity surrounding paranormal investigation, or ghost hunting, seems to come in waves. Prior to September 11th, 2001, the interest in this subject matter would escalate every two years and you would see an increase in television shows and books dedicated to the world of the paranormal. After that horrible day, I feel that one of the primary reasons that the subject has and continues to remain so popular is that we, as living, breathing human beings really became aware of our own mortality in a very sobering and devastating manner. The question of what awaits us after we die is one that has haunted the minds of mankind since creation. When one's own mortality comes into question as it most definitely has over the past five years, one tends to gravitate towards anything that may provide either answers or comfort."
San Marten says the Tampa Bay area is well known for hauntings along with other Florida cities his company offers tours in. "The Royalty Theater in Clearwater, as you know, is another very active site and there are several others in Ybor City and the Tampa area. The energy contained within the property, the energy associated with those inhabiting the property, as well as a property's geography and history are all contributing factors with regard to the level of paranormal activity found in any building. Because we are dealing primarily with electromagnetic energy, coastal cities like Clearwater and Tampa can be tremendous harbingers of the energy necessary to promote paranormal experiences."
If you'd like to track the hotel's ghosts, phone the Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa to make reservations at (727) 373-3000. The tour group also offers the public weekend-long investigations at the Belleview Biltmore. Anyone interested in a prolonged event should contact San Marten at (407) 247-0452 or visit his website for additional information on the Belleview Biltmore tour as well as his nightly and special tours conducted in Orlando and other haunted cities at: www.hauntedorlando.com
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