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Island Spirits

*The following is a transcript of Season 1, Episode 3 of the Ghost and Grub Podcast.


Southwest Florida is a popular vacation spot for those seeking a tropical, Gulf Coast getaway.


Explorers such as Ponce de Leon once roamed the area, while pirates like Jose Gaspar are prominent in the region’s folklore canon. And the Calusa Native Americans, who lived a prosperous existence for hundreds of years in the area, are now nearly forgotten to the resorts, gift shops, and bars that line the island streets.


But, tourism on the islands didn’t happen overnight.


Southwest Florida was slowly inhabited by American pioneers in the late 1800s, seeking a new beginning among island life. And, although some over time prospered, living out their lives among the sandy beaches and sun-drenched shores, others had a different fate, as paradise quickly turned to terror.


The Whale

(Source: Ghost and Grub©)


History

Fort Myers Beach sits on Estero Island. Although the area’s vibrant bar scene tends to attract younger adults, it’s still a vacation destination for couples and families with plenty of resorts, restaurants, water sports, and other activities typical of a Florida vacation.


But decades ago, Estero Island had a quieter vibe, typically catering mostly to locals, and yet, it still had a reputation for attracting the rich and famous, as well as everyday people searching for a new life in paradise. People like Jim and Mary Galloway.


The Galloways left their life in Detroit, Michigan and made the move to Southwest Florida. Searching for a business opportunity, the Galloways purchased the Mermaid Club - located at 1249 Estero Blvd. After making some renovations, the Galloways reopened the Mermaid Club in 1950.


Jim and Mary Galloway were well known and respected in the Fort Myers area. Jim was active in civic affairs, while Mary was a correspondent for the Ft. Myers News-Press. Both belonged to several clubs, while one newspaper article showed Mary participating in at least one fishing tournament. It seemed as if the Galloways had found their slice of paradise, selling the Mermaid Club sometime around 1952 and purchasing a cottage along Estero Island. However, fate would have other plans for the Galloways.


A convicted murderer named Earnest Moore had just been released on parole from an Ohio State Prison. On his way down south, Moore picked up Ted Smiddy, a 16 year old hitchhiker. Moore showed the teen a stack of cash and promised him a job once they arrived in Florida. However, their trip turned into a crime spree, from Jacksonville to Miami, where the two stole cash from several locations, as well as a gun. For reasons unknown, Moore had a change in plans to drive back north after first stopping in the Fort Myers area.


After spending the day swimming in the Gulf waters off Fort Myers Beach, Moore spotted Jim Galloway in his yard. At the time, the houses along Fort Myers Beach were far and few between, so to Moore, the Galloways’ home was the perfect spot to commit a crime. That’s when Moore reportedly suggested to Smiddy they go to the Galloways to see what they could steal.


Jim Galloway was in his home when the two men knocked on the Galloways’ front door. Fort Myers Beach was a safe, tight-knit community, so Jim most likely didn’t have any reservations when he first saw the two strangers standing at his door.


At first, Moore pretended he was interested in purchasing a home on the island. However, things escalated quickly, with Moore pulling a gun on Jim Galloway, then forcing himself into the home.


Moore handed Smiddy a gun then ordered Jim Galloway to hand over his wallet. Just then, Moore and Smiddy heard a car pull up to the house. It was Mary Galloway returning home. As Mary opened the front door, she screamed, and that’s when Moore shot her.


As Moore tied up Jim Galloway, Smiddy began to feel ill. Moore ordered Smiddy to go to the car then set the Galloways’ cottage on fire, leaving with nothing but $81. Jim and Mary Galloway, along with their dog, perished in the fire.


But Moore and Smiddy witnessed their own twist of fate that same day as they were pulled over by a police officer shortly after they had been at the Galloways’. Initially, the officer had pulled the men over for a burned out headlight, but chaos quickly ensued as the officer got out of his car, and Moore pulled out a gun and began shooting.


Moore shot the officer in the leg, and the officer fired back, hitting Moore at least two times before Moore ran off. According to court testimonies, Smiddy peacefully surrendered, and Moore was apprehended but died 45 minutes later at a local hospital. Smiddy was eventually convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor.


The entire event was a local tragedy, and the senseless murder of the Galloways and their dog left the community in shock. And, although the murders happened nearly 75 years ago, some say the ghosts of the Galloways still haunt the Mermaid Club they once owned, now known by locals and visitors alike as The Whale.


Ghostly Encounters

Employees at The Whale claim to have reported seeing Mary Galloway and her dog throughout the restaurant, going about their day as if they’d never left. Whatsmore, The Whale’s security cameras had caught several light anomalies dancing and floating throughout the restaurant after hours, leaving some to believe the orbs are none other than the Galloways’ spirits.


Over the years, the story of the Galloway murders went from fact to near fiction, with some claiming the Galloways were murdered at the Mermaid Club, and that Moore and Smiddy instead burned their bar to the ground. Newspaper articles confirm a small brush fire caused some damage at the Mermaid Club in 1951, nearly two years before the murders took place. Another fire occurred in 1961 from electrical issues, doing little damage to the structure and being extinguished within an hour.


Whatsmore, newspaper articles show that not only were the Galloways murdered at their cottage, but the Galloways were no longer owners of the Mermaid Club at the time of the crime.


Despite these facts, it’s possible the Galloways may still haunt the once Mermaid Club they owned. However, the Fort Myers Beach area has been the setting for a number of accidents and deaths since the Galloway murders, including at least two parasailing accidents, the murder of a Fort Myers Beach librarian, and several traffic fatalities.


Since January of 1990, autopsy files from the District Medical Examiner’s Office reported 15 traffic-related fatalities along Estero Blvd, the main road along Estero Island and Ft. Myer’s Beach. In 1995, a woman who’d been driving under the influence claimed a man fell from the sky on Estero Boulevard, hitting her windshield. The 28 year-old man had been walking along the side of the road when he was struck by the woman's car, dying instantly upon impact.


In its 40 years of operation, the Mermaid Club has also had its fair share of bizarre happenings, from a non-fatal stabbing inside the building to a hearse which was stolen from the parking lot of the Mermaid Club while the driver enjoyed some drinks inside.


And, although no cadavers were harmed as a result of the carjacking, it’s possible what some experience at the Whale today is a result of multiple spirits who roam Estero Island, as well as the energy leftover from generations past.


What to Order

The Mermaid Club meant a lot to the Galloways, as it did to many locals and visitors alike. Today, The Whale is an institution at Fort Myers Beach, serving up great drink specials and its signature brisket, served with black beans, rice, coleslaw, and cornbread. I love a good coleslaw, and the slaw at The Whale does not disappoint.


Enjoy the food, take in the history, and most importantly, remember the Galloways not as victims of a heinous crime, but as a couple who served their community well and whose legacy lives on at The Whale.


Local Folklore: Bowen's Treasure


It is said that Florida has more sunken treasure than any other place in the world, particularly on the Gulf Coast and near the islands of Sanibel and Captiva. In fact, the two islands and its surrounding coast are often referred to as the Buccaneer Coast, referencing its pirate past. However, there is one tale of treasure that makes no reference to pirates but does involve the ghost of an angry homesteader, searching for his lost fortune.


Oliver Bowen was born and raised in the deep south. He was a river boat pilot and then a naval pilot for the Confederates during the Civil War.


Once the war ended, Bowen left the US. It’s unknown what Bowen did while he was away. Several accounts state he left to seek his fortune in the West Indies, while others believe he may have been the supervisor of a South African Diamond Mine. Whatever Bowen did, he returned in 1887 wealthy and married to a woman he met while in Trinidad. They settled in the Wulford area of Sanibel Island.


Bowen also brought agave back from his travels, and he aspired to turn the succulent into a rubber alternative. However, those plans faded over time, as Bowen’s wife Mary became the sole caretaker of their 80-acre farm, as Bowen grew increasingly eccentric and obsessed with a well he built. It’s said Bowen would spend his days in a hammock tied right above the well.


Bowen mysteriously died in 1894, and he was buried at his request inside the well. But, when word reached an older son from a previous marriage about Bowen’s death, the son quickly arrived at the homestead to collect his inheritance. He ordered Mary and her youngest son back to Trinidad, then sent their remaining children to live with a relative up north. He then leased out the farmland to make a profit.


Over time, stories began circulating that Bowen had brought back treasure with him after being overseas, and that it was buried with him in the well. Some conclude that Bowen’s son had already found the treasure, but that didn’t stop others from searching for the lost fortune. In the 1980s, treasure hunters illegally exhumed Bowen’s corpse from the well. When the police arrived on the scene, the coffin was intact with Bowan’s full remains inside. However, no treasure was to be found.


Perhaps Bowen’s treasure was first found by his son upon his passing, or maybe it was stolen out of the well where he was laid to rest? Maybe Bowen never had any treasure to begin with? One thing is certain, those who live in and around the Wulford area of Sanibel Island say Bowen’s ghost haunts the area, searching for his lost treasure. Others have reported seeing strange lights and shadows in the Wulford area, including the sensation of being watched.


Years after Bowen’s death, a grave marker was erected on Sanibel Island by one of Bowen’s children. Once declared a historical landmark, it’s been unfortunately lost to the overgrowth of the island. However, brave adventurers can still find it if they know the correct coordinates. But beware of Oliver Bowen’s ghost, for he may think you’re looking to steal his treasure.


South Seas Island Resort (Old King’s Crown Restaurant)

(Source: Ghost and Grub©)


History

The islands of Captiva and Sanibel were at one time considered a single island until a hurricane hit in 1921, causing a storm surge, and separating the island into two.


In 1923, a man by the name of Clarence Chadwick visited Captiva Island. A Nebraska-born banker, Chadwick revolutionized banking by inventing a way to make checks forgery resistant. During Chadwick’s visit to Captiva, he and his wife fell in love with the island and purchased 400 acres, turning the land into a successful citrus farm named the South Seas Plantation.


As tourism in the area grew, with winter vacations especially becoming more popular with travelers, Chadwick made the decision to transform the plantation on Captiva into what is known today at the The South Seas Island Resort.


The 330 acre resort offers a number of accomodations, including traditional hotel rooms, beach villas, and private cottages. A golf course, tennis courts, and lots of other luxury amenities make The South Seas the ultimate island getaway. But, over the years, rumors spread that the area in and around the resort was haunted.


Ghostly Encounters

Now a banquet facility on the resort, the former King’s Crown Restaurant has been the center of several stories involving ghosts and paranormal activity. Several of the regular occurrences reported involve lights flickering, glasses falling from bar racks, and items suddenly disappearing. Whatsmore, several employees claim to never feel alone, even when they were the only living person left in the building.


Most of the lights in the restaurant had already been turned off when an employee was closing up for the night. As he finished up in the kitchen, he proceeded to the bar, noticing a light illuminating part of the dining area. As he looked closer, the light exposed two spirits sitting at a table, enjoying a spectral dinner.


Another story involves a former co-worker who reportedly died in a car accident. His spirit is said to have visited the former restaurant, especially after busy nights, and can be heard congratulating the staff on a job well done.


Other spirits are said to inhabit the property, including a former baker who reportedly haunts employee housing room 51. Employees who have stayed in room 51 have reported seeing balls of lights dance across the room, as well as hearing footsteps and feeling the presence of someone watching them. In addition to the spirits of former employees, a ghost nicknamed “the plantation girl” is said to haunt several areas of the resort.


What to Order

The Seven Seas Resort is located on private property, and therefore, it’s not recommended to venture around the grounds unless you’re a guest. However, you can still experience the beauty and mysteries of Captiva Island while enjoying gulf coast dining at Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille, located at 5400 South Seas Plantation Road. Doc Ford’s is independently owned, so a stay at The Seven Seas Resort isn’t required to dine.


Because grouper is tough to find on a menu back home, I typically order it a few times when I visit Southwest Florida. It has a light sweet taste with a firm texture and a large flake. Doc Ford’s cooks up a delicious macadamia nut grouper, served with a “Toasted Rum” coconut sauce.


While waiting for your grouper, order up some Yucatan Shrimp from the restaurant’s shellfish bar. The steamed, peel-and-eat shrimp is served with butter, garlic, mild chiles, cilantro, and lime juice. So good.


After dinner, shelling along a public beach is the perfect way to end the day. And, I’m sure you won’t be alone, since shelling is a favorite pastime of many on Sanibel and Captiva. However, keep a keen eye on those walking by. What may appear to be a living person might actually be a spirit from years past, paying a visit to the islands they once called home.


Tell Us Your Story

If you’ve been to any of the locations mentioned in this and other episodes, we’d love to hear from you! Simply send us a note at hello@ghostandgrub.com. Your story could be featured in an upcoming episode.