By Dusty Smith
Built in 1871, the stately structure at 444 S. Beach Street in Daytona Beach, Florida, was once the destination of choice among the city’s elite overnight guests. Members of the Wannamaker, Gamble, and Vanderbilt families were regular visitors, as were the well-to-do railroad moguls, cattle barons, and lumber mill owners of the time. Now a historic bed-and-breakfast, the Live Oaks Inn’s amenities include fourteen guestrooms, a spacious salon, breezeway deck – and a host of highbrow spirits who remain loyal patrons of the antebellum estate.
The Live Oaks Inn has a reputation among those in the paranormal community as a haunted hot spot. The Daytona Beach Paranormal Research Group, Inc. (DBPRG), which I founded in 1991, was doing an ongoing investigation at the inn when a production company contacted me, and I agreed to take part in a documentary focusing on the inn’s haunting.
Two nights before filming started, I received a frantic call at about three thirty AM from Rosanna, the woman who leased and ran the inn. She was staying alone in the caretaker’s building, located just behind the inn, when she had been awakened by a voice. Opening her eyes, she saw the shadowy figure of a man standing at the foot of her bed. She left the room in fright and headed down the staircase outside. As she fled, something pushed her down the stairs. I drove over to the inn to help, and when I went into Rosanna’s room I saw that the lights were flickering. It was March and unusually warm outside, but the room had an eerie chill to it.
I returned to the inn the next day around sunset; as I pulled into the parking lot I saw a man standing in the window of the second-floor kitchen. When I told Rosanna what I had seen, she turned white. There were no guests in the building, and her fiancé was out running errands. Rosanna and I were the only people there . . . supposedly.
I bolted up the stair case and headed down the hall to the upstairs kitchen. The door was locked. Rosanna brought the keys, unlocking and opening the door. Nobody was in the room, but there was a heavy scent of cigar smoke and one of the gas burners was on full blast!
We shut off the gas and then checked all the rooms on the second floor. When we opened the door to Room 12, Rosanna gasped and said, “I was up here this morning and made all the beds, and now look. Someone has rumpled the pillows and blankets . . . .” In Room 14, the door slammed shut behind us. Then the TV turned on, and at the same time the phone began to ring. Rosanna said, “A call can’t come through to a room unless I’m downstairs to plug it in from the switchboard.” When I picked up the receiver, all I heard was static.
At the top of the staircase, we noticed that the pictures on the west wall were off kilter – a common occurrence at the inn. We straightened them out and I jumped up and down to see if my weight on the floor would move the pictures on the wall, but it didn’t.
When Rosanna’s fiancé returned, I said good-bye and told them I wanted to return the following night with equipment and a few team members to document the new activity. Since only two couples were staying at the inn, Rosanna agreed.
The following evening, the crew split into teams of two and rotated through the various locations that had been identified as paranormally active.
There were two phantom phone calls in Room 14 – one in which a guttural growl was heard. In Room 12, a rocking chair rocked back and forth on its own, a small child’s voice sang nursery rhymes, and the wrought iron bed frame made a squeaking sound, as if someone had sat or lain down on the bed. This sound was recorded, and at the same time the team members also documented a temperature drop and a reading on the EMF meter that indicated to us the presence of paranormal energy.
In Room 9, the ceiling fan kept turning on and off by itself, even after the room’s breaker was cut, and two metal tile panels on the ceiling flew off toward the researchers, who were frightened but uninjured. The team members on second-floor kitchen duty smelled cigar smoke, and one experienced a severe headache that made her so nauseated that she had to leave.
By two thirty AM, we took a badly needed break on the patio and sat down to talk with Rosanna. We were interrupted by one of the inn’s guests, who appeared at the front desk, fully dressed, demanding his money back. He said his wife was upstairs packing because they awoke to see a clown standing over their bed, staring at them. A clown? I couldn’t help but listen as he described it: six feet tall with a white painted face; huge, glowing red eyes; painted red lips with rotted teeth; a blue and white clown suit; and long fingers that reached out to the couple while they were in bed.
“Then he vanished!” The man yelled. “I don’t know what kind of games you’re playing here, but I paid good money to stay here and don’t appreciate these kinds of tricks!” It was April 1, after all. Rosanna agreed and tried to calm the man as she scrambled to give him a refund. His wife appeared and told her husband to forget about the money – she just wanted to leave, and they did. In tears, Rosanna told me her other guests had left earlier that evening because the faucet in their room kept turning on by itself.
After a short rest, I began a room-by-room tour of the property with a psychic and the film crew. We started at the inn, and the psychic gave her impressions of who was haunting it and why. At the top of the staircase, she felt the spirit of a young girl who sang nursery rhymes and played pranks on guests and staff. When she looked at the pictures on the wall, she said the girl liked to turn the pictures around. I was impressed.
We moved on to Room 9. The phone rang and when the psychic answered it, all she heard was static. She offered help to whoever was at the other end of the line, and then suddenly pulled the receiver away from her hear. We all heard a deep growling sound, and the room got very cold. On the second floor, the psychic felt the spirit of a man who, in life, liked to start fires with his cigars.
As we left the main building, one of the film crew looked up at a window above the restaurant and asked, “Who is that up there?” We all looked up, saw a woman standing at the window, and quickly made our way there. The door would not open for the psychic, but others opened it with ease. The room was frigid. As the film crew entered, a rocking chair began to move, and the bed looked as if someone had been sitting on its edge. We heard footsteps on the attic stairway, and as we walked up the narrow stairwell we heard low, muffled singing. Upstairs I pulled out my flashlight, and the three of us saw the figure of a woman walk through the wall to the attic.
Hen our group descended the main staircase into the bar area of the restaurant, the psychic went into a trance and began speaking about many men gathering in the room toward the back of the bar for secret meetings: “I don’t know what all of these secrets were about but they had a ring, a book, a symbol, and held these meetings.” I wondered if maybe it was a meeting place for Freemason members. From the bar, we herd glasses clinking together and noticed that bottles of liquor that were behind the bar when we first entered the rooms were now on the bar.
It took nearly three hours to walk through both buildings, and with what we knew and had experienced previously at the inn – now confirmed by the psychic – we were confident about getting some hard evidence for paranormal activity.
We tried to capture the footprints of the little spirit girl at the top of the stairs. To do this, I laid out a couple of large black garbage bags and sprinkled them with flour. The framed photos at the top of the stairs were all leaning in different directions again, so we straightened them and headed back downstairs to wait. We heard footsteps and when we arrived upstairs to inspect, there were three small footprints in the flour! This was awesome evidence of the little girl. Additionally, one of the picture s we had just straightened out was off-kilter again.
Rosanna finally came to terms with the spirits at the Live Oaks Inn and embraced them to the point of promoting it as haunted; but she was still leasing the building, and the owner didn’t feel the same way she did. The inn was closed and sold to new owners, who reopened it in December 2007. They have since reported some otherworldly experiences at the inn, and only time will tell which direction they’ll take in promoting, or denying, the existence of the spirits at the Live Oaks Inn.
Live Oaks Inn, 444 S. Beach Street, Daytona Beach, Florida 32114