The Most Haunted Bed and Breakfast in Florida

Some houses come with a Jacuzzi, a swimming pool or a bomb shelter. Mine came with a ghost. Didn't cost anything extra.

The spirit of the original owner likes to toy with the central heating. During the summer, she singles out guests she doesn't like and cranks up the thermostat to the bubbling temperature of Brunswick stew. Or she'll bang on the windows of her old room. Once she tossed some cutlery around and knocked over some candlesticks during dinner. It's a little like having a slightly sloshed Lindsay Lohan living in our house. My wife and I don't mind.

Earlier this month, my wife's company held its annual holiday powwow at the Seven Sisters Inn near downtown Ocala. It's also known as The Most Haunted Bed And Breakfast In Florida. Real-life ghostbusters from the TV programs "Ghost Hunters" and "Psychic Kids" will be staying there on Feb. 6 and 7 looking for signs from the afterlife (www.sevensistershaunt.com). Why the dead would want to go back to Central Florida is beyond me. Is Italy that overcrowded with the recently departed?

My wife and I were booked into the Scott Room, which was decorated with an aggressively nautical motif. If some ghost wanted to get some spanking done, there were plenty of paddles on the wall.

"I saw a woman who was dressed like she had just stepped off the Titanic sitting in that chair right there reading a newspaper," Seven Sisters ghost expert and guide Charlie Childes said when I asked him about the former tenants of the Scott Room. "She had a big hat and looked up from the newspaper when I walked by one morning."

Ah-ha. So that's who's keeping the print newspaper industry afloat.

Childes — a likable and knowledgeable New England native whose family was persecuted during the Salem Witch Trials — said the Seven Sisters Inn is crowded with the phantoms of dead kids. It's a former boarding house that was built in 1888. It's situated on the grounds where all sorts of bad stuff went on during The Seminole Wars in the early 19th century. The mischievous little Caspers like to sit on the front stairwell and trip Childes.

"I don't like children, but there's a little boy that stays around here," Childes said. "Someone saw me walking across the parking lot and a little boy was following right behind me. I didn't see him, but other people did."

The ghosts often form attachments to some of the guests and employees, Childes said.

"If they're attracted to you, they'll come home with you," Childes said. "They'll get in your car and follow you home."

Hey, that's just like three-for-one night at the (now-defunct) Grand Finale bar on Tennessee Street back in the '80s.

Folks who stay in the inn are invited to write about their paranormal experiences in public diaries. The book in my room had reports of "phantom smells." I'll just go ahead and let you insert your own joke right here . . ..

When the "Ghost Hunters" gang spent the night during one of the show's earlier tapings, the ghosts monkeyed with one cast member's flip-flops by moving one of the shower shoes from the stairwell to a store room. That used to happen to me all the time at the Athens YMCA Camp, except we called those ghosts "counselors."

I also learned the unhappily undead like to spell things with toothpicks because, I suppose, there's no e-mail or text-messaging in the netherworld. There's a dead zone along the banks of the River Styx. Thank goodness for that.

"A couple was getting dressed to go out to dinner and the wife noticed someone had spilled a box of toothpicks in the closet," Childes said. "They called the desk and asked if anyone had dropped a box of toothpicks and nobody had. When they came back after dinner, the toothpicks spelled 'M-O-M.'"

A little while later — around a time which I'll call The Cocktail Hour — the husband and wife came back to the room to find the toothpicks were arranged to spell: "M-Y-M-O-M." I hope that Mr. Childes didn't notice that I experienced my own little phantom smell after he told me that story.

When the Seven Sisters was a boarding house in the '30s, Childes said, a woman who "was not right in the head" used to carefully cut out pictures from movie magazines. Then she would take them "to the little girl living in the attic."

But (as if I have to tell you) there was no little girl hanging out in the room at the top of the Seven Sisters gawking at photos of Cary Grant and Merle Oberon.

Because the spectres of children are so common around the inn, many guests have reported pranks and practical jokes. I was wearing a blazer during my tour of the rooms — each decorated in its own playful, over-the-top theme, such as early Egypt or latter-day Elvis — when I noticed that pennies kept showing up in my coat pocket. Three coins mysteriously showed up. I never carry pennies. Why don't ghosts tote $100 bills?

After absorbing every detail in Childes' narrative, I did the only reasonable thing and started drinking wine liberally before and during dinner. (How else do you expect to sleep in a spook palace if some dead dude is tickling your nose?) My friend Tuck, who is a personal trainer and in tip-top physical shape, was also along for the Seven Sisters experience. He decided to delight the afterlife by performing a Chippendales-style lap-dance for the undead in the haunted armchair in his room. Or so his wife told me. I hope Tuck wasn't expecting a big tip. Those ghosts in Ocala are cheap.

When I returned home to my haunted house in Tallahassee, I left the front door open so all the little tag-along ghost kids could get out of the car, unpack their undead stuff and get to know the cats. I left a tip jar out by my bed. It should be filled with pennies by Independence Day.

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