Accessible only by boat, Tampa Bay’s Egmont Key offers pristine beaches, abundant wildlife, and a historic lighthouse and fort. However, this idyllic island doesn’t just attract tourists. Legend has it Egmont is also rife with ghosts.
Egmont Key got its name after British surveyor George Gauld discovered the island in the late 1700s. Florida was under British rule at the time, and Gauld chose to honor Lord John Perceval, the Second Earl of Egmont, by naming the island after him.
Over the years, Egmont has served as a base for Union soldiers, a prison camp for captured Seminoles, and a line of defense against Spanish troops. Now, the island is a public park and wildlife sanctuary. Visitors may explore Egmont Key by day, but at night, only rangers (and ghosts) are free to roam about.
The Ghosts of Egmont
According to Greg Jenkins, author of Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore: The Gulf Coast and Pensacola, at least one ranger has seen a spirit on Egmont Key. In a 2006 interview, the ranger told Jenkins he’d been investigating banging sounds at the old fort late one night when he saw something he’ll never forget.
“I saw a man dressed as a Civil War soldier, complete with all the regalia,” the ranger said. “I began to think ‘okay, what is this — this had to be someone’s idea of a joke.’ But, when this character started walking toward me, stopping about four feet from me and just staring intensely at me, then turning around and walking away, only to finally vanish all together, that was it for me. I got the hell out of there, and fast.”
Union troops gained control over Egmont in 1861. If a Civil War ghost is roaming the island, it’s likely he’s from the Union side, and the soldier may have ghostly company in the form of an old nemesis: lighthouse keeper George V. Rickard.
Rickard, a Confederate sympathizer, fled Egmont Key as Union troops drew near, taking the lighthouse’s expensive lens with him. It’s not clear what became of Rickard in life, but legend has it the loyal keeper returned to Egmont after his death. Some visitors have seen a shadowy figure lurking around the old lighthouse while others have spotted a pale face peering from within. The lighthouse is now fully automated, so there’s no need for a keeper, but perhaps Rickard refuses to move on.
Screams in the Night
It seems Jenkins’ ranger isn’t the only witness to Egmont’s paranormal activity. According to a report posted on the author’s website, a troop of Boy Scouts camped on Egmont Key in 2011 and had a frightening experience.
The evening was uneventful, but at approximately 3:00 in the morning, the boys and their leaders awoke to voices and screams in the distance. The sounds drew closer and closer before tapering off at dawn. The troop never saw anything, but were more than ready to leave come sunrise. Egmont Key is off limits to visitors at night, so who, or what, did the Scouts hear?
During The Seminole War of 1858, the United States Army imprisoned several Seminoles on Egmont Key. Many prisoners perished on the island and were buried in a communal graveyard still around today. Though there are no specific stories about Seminoles haunting the island, Jenkins and other paranormal enthusiasts can’t help but wonder if the native’s spirits remain on the island.
Established during the Spanish-American war in the early 1900s, Fort Dade served as a line of defense against Spanish troops. Back then, over 300 people called Egmont Key home, and servicemen and their families enjoyed such amenities as a movie theater, a bowling alley, and tennis courts. However, Egmont’s population plummeted after the fort’s disbandment in 1923, and crumbling foundations and submerged ruins are all that remains of the once thriving community. Some people wonder if a few of the island’s former residents returned after their death.
By day, Egmont Key is a tropical paradise brimming with visitors and activity. But once the sun sets and the tourists leave, silence descends on the island, and, some say, ghosts rise from their slumber. Do you believe the creepy tales?