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La Floridiana by Will Moriaty
   Now in our seventh calendar year
    PCR #325  (Vol. 7, No. 24)  This edition is for the week of June 12--18, 2006.

The Tampa Film Review for June  by Nolan B. Canova
A Ghostly Tour of A Jungle Prada  by William Moriaty
"Nacho Libre"  by Mike Smith
The Dark Side Winds Again....Speak Up....My Favorite Films -- Part 24: "Jaws 2"  by Mike Smith
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A Ghostly Tour of A Jungle Prada
of A Jungle Prada

Friday Evening June 2, 2006
Scrumptious Conch Fritters and delectable Jerk Chicken were the first course du jour of the evening for PCR publisher Nolan Canova and me before embarking on the Ghost Tour at Jungle Prada which is conducted by Ghost Tour St. Petersburg , billed as “the original Ghost Tour of St. Petersburg based on the book Ghost Stories of St. Petersburg, FL” by author Tim Reeser, who also penned “Ghost Stories Tampa Florida” (which happens to have a rather reconstituted version of my haunting at 3016 Villa Rosa Park which is featured in PCR #188).

After exemplary food by Chef Matteo and his staff, as well as excellent service by a waitress originally from Colombia named Yvette, at Saffron’s Caribbean Restaurant and Catering, Nolan and I left the restaurant and walked across the street to Jungle Prada Park, a City of St. Petersburg park located on Park Street along the shoreline of Boca Ciega Bay.

There waiting for us was Ghost Tour docent Bob. Bob, who also conducts the Downtown St. Petersburg Ghost Tour that I first attended on Saturday April 29, 2006 with Beth Blechschmidt, Jen Thompson and Josh Sullivan.

Ghost Tour St. Petersburg ghost host Bob forewarns us foolish mortals of what we can expect to see and experience in our Ghost Tour at Jungle Prada.
There was already a small crowd of people gathered at a picnic table around Bob and his sweet wife and assistant, Anita, when Nolan and I walked up just prior to our embarking into a journey with the unknown. The location was magical. The smell of the adjacent salt water of Boca Ciega Bay wafted in on a warm gentle breeze that belied the tropical nature of our environs. An ancient Indian mound covered with moss draped Live Oaks and lush Cabbage Palms rustling in the windward breezes lay to the south of our temporary gathering point.

The Indian mound was the center point of this journey where the tributaries and rivers of time culminated into a present day ocean of history involving many different players on many different paths of life…and death.

Dead Man’s Key
With all of us tourists present and accounted for, Bob struck a match and placed its flame onto the wick of a candle encased by a glass lantern. Our tour was officially starting. We stood up from the picnic table and walked into the setting sun onto a boardwalk surrounded by towering Mangroves growing along the fringes of Boca Ciega Bay. As we gazed to the west, we surveyed the sun setting over the black silhouette of an island called Dead Man’s Key. It is reported that ghost lights have been seen on this island, particularly during the month of August when a very terrible event occurred there in 1862.

Back during the Civil War the portion of Hillsborough County we now call Pinellas County had very few families living there. When the War broke out, Florida found itself siding with the Confederacy, being the third State to secede from the Union. Although Confederate sympathies ran high in the Sunshine State, there were pockets of support for the Union, nevertheless. One of these pockets of support for the Union came from the Whitehurst family that lived near Boca Ciega Bay.

Egmont Key, located at the mouth of Tampa Bay where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico, was a very important strategic location for the Union, as well as in later years. This was because if the Union could retain the lighthouse and encampment at Egmont Key, it could have an advantage in both providing a naval presence to blockade goods from being shipped to and from Confederate forces inland, as well as accommodating provisions for nearby Union sympathizers such as the Whitehurst’s.

Pinellas County’s Only Civil War Battle
On March 16, 1862, Union forces shot cannon balls from Big Bayou onto the land of Confederate sympathizer and blockade runner Abel “the cat” Miranda. Miranda was a mullet (fish) rancher who also raised cattle and citrus. Union soldiers then sailed to his land where they landed and took possession of his boats, burned down his house and forty of his citrus trees, as well as took as much of his livestock as possible, killing what remaining livestock could not fit back onto their boats.

PCR publisher Nolan Canova (on right) walks with some fear and trepidation along with others as Bob leads out on the boardwalk of Jungle Prada park to Boca Ciega Bay for our first ghostly encounter.
Enraged over this act, Miranda took revenge by mortally wounding brothers Scott and John Whitehurst in August of 1862. The brothers were in a boat that was filled with provisions at Egmont Key and were heading back up Boca Ciega Bay to their homes when Miranda fired upon them, instantly killing Scott who died near present day Dead Man’s Key. Scott was subsequently buried at Mullet Key (now known as present day Ft. DeSoto). John later died from his gunshot wounds and was buried on September 2, 1862 at Egmont Key near the lighthouse.

Dead Man’s Key is only accessible by boat, as is Egmont Key where John Whitehurst is buried, but Ft. DeSoto, now a Pinellas County park, is accessible by automobile, although the burial place of Scott Whitehurst is unknown by this author.

The Jungle Prada Indian Mound
As orange skies gave way to creeping hues of cobalt blue signaling the advent of night time, we walked inland from the maritime murders of Miranda toward an even more significant event in history - - the advent of the European in Florida.

The shrills of peacock cries filled the air as we walked up the western escarpment of the ancient Tocobaga Indian mound now known as the Jungle Prada. Two of our touring members were already “lost”. .. Anita, and a lady sensitive to psychic phenomenon, had not yet joined our group. We had made our way to the top where amongst other things, we experienced the silhouette against the final rays of zodiacal light of a peacock nestled in one of the sprawling Live Oak trees.

Bob next presented us with tale of the Tocobaga people and their wholesale slaughter at the hands of the Spanish.

The Tocobaga Indians
The Tocobaga Indians numbered at least 20,000 and lived from the Charlotte Harbor area to north of Tampa Bay between 900 and 1,500 A.D.

A beautiful sun sets over Boca Ciega Bay and Dead Man’s Key where the spirits of John and Scott Whitehurst are said to be seen as ghost lights floating over the island at night.
Tocobaga villages had a centralized public area that was used as a meeting place. Their houses were typically cylindrical in shape with wooden poles holding up a roof that consisted of palm thatches. Mounds were built within these villages and consisted of earth, shell and stones. The Chiefs houses and the tribal temples were built on these mounds. Such mounds were once as large as 100’ long by 30’ tall. Burial mounds for the Tocobaga dead were by comparison typically located outside of the main villages.

In addition to these mounds, there were similar, yet smaller structures called middens. Middens were located next to tribal kitchens and consisted primarily of discarded shellfish, as well as discarded game and kitchen pottery. Tocobaga villages were known to exist in present day Safety Harbor, Ballast Point, Terra Ceia and Tierra Verde, as well as Maximo Point and of course, the Jungle Prada.

April 15, 1528; Panfilo de Narvarez Arrives
Imagine if a fleet of alien spacecraft arrived in your neighborhood with an array of advanced weaponry wielded by beings with vastly superior scientific abilities. That might be how Tocobagan villagers felt when they saw five ships filled with 400 Spanish explorers or conquistadors (other sources cite between 250 to 600) sail upon their shores at the Jungle Prada on April 15, 1528.

Appointed by the Spanish governor or adelantado of Florida, Emperor Charles V, Panfilo de Narvarez (also known as Panfilo de Narvaez, born Castile, Spain 1470 A.D.), a cruel, stupid, incompetent and ruthless man, led this ill-fated expedition in what would end up being the first exploration by Europeans of North America.

Immediately upon his arrival, de Narvarez proved to be disastrous for the Tocobagan people. When he visited the village at Safety Harbor (adjacent to present day Philippe Park) he immediately got into a dispute with the village Chief Hirrihigua. In the dispute, he injured Hirrihigua, whose mother was incensed at the act of violence and intervened. She was immediately hacked to death with the disgorged and dismembered pieces of her body being fed by de Nararez to his pet greyhounds.

Within 100 years of de Narvarez’s arrival, the Tocobaga became extinct, either by being murdered or dying from diseases as a result of the arrival of the Europeans.

Regardless, de Narvarez, who also helped conquer Cuba in 1511, led what was generally a disastrous expedition. In addition to losing his men to fights with the native Indians, hurricanes also took a toll, including de Narvarez himself who was reported to have perished in November 1528 when his own ship was blown out into the Gulf of Mexico somewhere between Florida and Louisiana.

Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca
One of the most colorful characters in de Narvarez’s expedition was Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca (1490-1559).

de Vaca was a scribe and secretary on the expedition. He along with three others, former slave Estevanico, Andres de Dorantes (Corranza), and Alonso del Castillo Maldonado, were the only four explorers to survive the expedition. After their arrival to the Jungle Prada, they explored what are now the United States states of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, having complete that portion of the journey on foot from coastal Louisiana to Sinaloa, Mexico.

de Vaca’s journey took six years, during most of which he was naked and lived as a slave. He returned to Europe in 1537, and wrote of his incredible experiences in a report to Emperor Charles V. The report was published in 1542 and titled La Relacion (The Report).

Alphonse “Scarface” Capone
After Bob “spirited” us back down from the ancient mound, nighttime settled in and we surveyed the vacant property that had a house that was so plagued by ghosts and strange activities that it was torn down, never to have another structure built on the land.

Lantern to his back, Bob delves into the history of the Tocobaga Indian mound at Jungle Prada. A small white orb can be seen floating above the orange glow of Bob’s lantern, shown here at the summit of the mound. The spirit of a Tocobaga Indian or Spanish Conquistador?
We then crossed Park Street and went to the remnants of the development known as the Jungle Prada. The Jungle Prada was itself a shopping center built by developer Walter Fuller in 1924. It was built to serve customers staying at Fuller’s Country Club Hotel (now the Admiral Farragut Academy). Fuller removed one of the largest Tocobaga mounds in order to accomplish the building of this shopping complex, a pattern of which would sadly be repeated many times at Tocobaga mounds located throughout the Tampa Bay area over the years.

Amongst one of its more unsavory occupants was Alphonse “Scarface” Capone (1899-1947). A Neapolitan born in Brooklyn, New York, Al Capone was one of America’s most historic and infamous gangsters during the 1920’s and early 1930’s. As his activities in New York City were catching up with him, he was secreted to Chicago, Illinois, where he rose to even greater prominence, being the architect of the deadly “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”.

Capone had properties and “speakeasies” throughout the United States during the Prohibition era. In addition to having a palatial mansion in Miami, Capone also had a house in the old Northeast section of St. Petersburg, and ran a speakeasy called the Gangplank, which was located on the grounds of Walter Fuller’s Jungle Prada shopping complex. The Gangplank saw top national acts performed there by artists such as Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Capone ran rum into the night club by having devised a tunnel between Boca Ciega Bay and a basement in the club. A great web site to visit on this subject is “the Famous and Infamous” portion of A Virtual History of St. Petersburg by Dr. Merle F. Allshouse and Nancy Thorne.

Our tour ended at what was formerly the Gangplank, and is now a part of the wonderful Saffron’s Caribbean Restaurant and Catering which is operated by Edyth James who is magnanimous enough to let the Ghost Tour convene in the “Al Capone Room” for after tour drinks and some paranormal jaw-jackin’.

Although I enjoyed the downtown St. Petersburg Ghost Tour, I enjoyed the Jungle Prada version even better as it was more intimate, involved less walking and was in many ways, more historic. Either are highly recommended by this author, and I even more highly recommend that you see both!

Reservations for the Ghost Tour St. Petersburg are required and can be obtained by calling 727-894-4678. Tours are held year round, with private, corporate, student and step-on tours available any time. The Downtown St. Petersburg Ghost Tour is typically held Saturdays starting at 8 P.M., while The Ghost Tour at Jungle Prada is typically held Fridays starting at 8 P.M.

Pick up the phone and give Tim Reeser a call. Bob, Anita and the Ghost Tour St. Petersburg staff will be “lurking forward” to seeing you!

"La Floridiana" is ©2006 by William Moriaty.  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2006 by Nolan B. Canova.