By Charlie Carlson
Over the last several decades, an endless number of ghostly events have been reported in Ashley’s Restaurant in Rockledge, Florida. And although strange things happen throughout the building, the paranormal pranksters seem to have an affinity for the ladies’ restroom.
Sandwiched in a narrow strip between US 1 and the Florida East Coast railroad tracks, this two-story, half-timbered, Tudor-style eatery looks much like an old English pub. It first opened in 1933 as Jack’s Tavern, an upscale, coat-and-tie dining spot that featured steak dinners for a buck and the first jukebox in Brevard County. In 1946, it became Cooney’s Tavern, followed by a string of name changes: The Mad Duchess, The Loose Caboose, The Sparrow Hawk, Gentleman Jim’s, and for the last twenty years, Ashley’s Restaurant.
“I know the place is haunted,” insists J.S., a former employee. “I worked there when I was eighteen, in the kitchen. Things were always jumping off the shelf and breaking. One time a knife flew across the kitchen like somebody threw it, but nobody was there but me and the cook.”
Ashley’s has a long record of poltergeist-type occurrences, everything from dishes flinging across the kitchen, to lights turning off and on, to windows opening and closing by themselves. One patron recalled having dinner with her husband when the window suddenly opened. “The waitress came over, closed the window, and latched it. A few minutes later that window flew open again. What was really weird is that we never touched it; it just unlocked itself.”
That’s not as bad as the woman who came running out of the ladies’ room, screaming. “The toilet exploded!” When the manager went to check, sure enough the commode was in pieces. Other women have seen images in the restroom mirror of a young girl dressed in roaring-twenties clothing, and there have been several instances of the toilet tissue spinning wildly off the roll.
Lynn, a bartender, related how she was fixing her hair in the ladies’ room when the faucets suddenly turned on. In other instances, the water faucets would reverse, with hot water coming from the cold and vice versa. After closing one night, a former manager noticed a pair of legs, wearing old-fashioned high-button shoes, beneath one of the stall doors in the ladies’ room. Upon checking, she found no one in the stall. The legs had vanished.
The strange restaurant has attracted several ghost hunters, as well as television crews looking for a good, haunted story. In 1998, filmmaker Ryan Lewis went there to shoot a documentary titled Paranormal Florida, only to find that something kept draining his batteries. Other TV crews have reported malfunctioning equipment and cameras capturing unexplainable images. When the famed psychic Sybil Leek visited the place with a film crew in 1993, she reportedly experienced “extreme cold bursts of air” and “sensed an unseen presence in one of the dining rooms.” During the same time, a television crew allegedly witnessed a chair levitate from the floor, rotate in midair, and then move across the dining room.
In 1980, after the restaurant had closed for the night, the police responded to a disturbance at Ashley’s to find the office looking like the aftermath of a hurricane. Books and papers were thrown about and the safe was standing wide open – with cash in it – but nothing was missing. The incident was written up as “suspicious.”
Several spirits share the blame for haunting this fine restaurant. One account has the place haunted by a girl killed in an auto accident out on the highway. Another insists a boy was killed on the railroad tracks out back, and still others claim the building sits on an old Indian burial mound or the site of a burned-down depot. However, research of old newspapers and local history has failed to substantiate these theories.
“We used to call the ghost Sarah,” recalls Jen B., a former waitress when the place was under another name. But according to historical documentation, Ashley’s may be haunted by Ethel Allen, who was allegedly murdered in the storeroom – now the ladies’ restroom.
Indeed, an old newspaper account revealed that in 1934, the partly decomposed, nude mutilated body of a girl was found in the Indian River near Eau Gallie, about thirteen miles south of the restaurant. She was identified as Ethel Allen, a nineteen-year-old waitress who lived at a local boarding house. The 1930 census indicates that Ethel Allen came from a family of eleven siblings. When medium Susan Thompson was asked by the author to contact Ethel in the afterlife, the only name to pop up was “Bernice.” This was chilling, because without knowledge of the census document Susan had no way of knowing that Ethel’s closest sister was named Bernice!
Ethel’s picture hangs in one of Ashley’s dining rooms, but her murder remains unsolved. Although there’s no evidence suggesting she was killed in the storeroom, in 1934 the establishment, then called Jack’s Tavern, was owned by Jack Allen – possibly a relative of the murdered girl. Ethel Allen’s spirit may still linger in the shadows of Ashley’s, but her body is in a simple grave marked by a homemade tombstone in the Crooked Mile Road Cemetery across the Indian River on Merritt Island. If you think Ashley’s management is bothered by the ghostly happenings, you’d be wrong. They’ve learned to live with it, and include a brief story of it on the back of their menu.
Ashley’s Of Rockledge, 1609 US Highway 1, Rockledge, Florida 32955