Fort De Soto, Florida – January 23, 2021
Fort De Soto is one of the areas in Pinellas County that has a long history of ghosts. Yet, despite its military history, this particular installation saw absolutely no combat action. Its ghosts were made from other sources — illness, accident, and suicide.
Before the settlement of Pinellas County, the Tocobagan Tribe lived in the area. The Native Americans settled the area for at least 1500 years. Nearby areas, such as Maximo Park and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, were built on the remains of Native American middens.
In 1849, the area of Mullet Key, upon which the Fort was built, was initially surveyed for possible use as a coastal defense area. Robert E. Lee was one of the army surveyors that came for the trip to determine if the area was suited for military bases. Both Egmont an Mullet keys were selected for military utilization; both ended up with rumors of haunting.
When the United States was involved in the Spanish-American War, a dispute that started in Cuba, demand for the military bases increased. Henry B. Plant, the founder of the Plant Hotel, today the haunted Plant Hall on the University of Tampa campus, was one of those demanding protection. He convinced the Secretary of War to order construction to begin. Tampa became the point from which U.S. troops and supplies were sent into the Caribbean war zone.
While waiting for the army to decided upon its status, Mullet key was utilized as a quarantine station from December 16, 1889 until May 1899. In 1901, the Marine Hospital Service took over the station from the Florid State Board of Health. In 1902, the name was changed to the Public Health and Marine Hospital Service. There were 271 acres of east Mullet Key dedicated to this area. The station served to inspect immigrants and crews from foreign ports. Ironically, it was plagued by mosquitos but became the site for a mosquito eradication station that proved successful.
Construction on Mullet Key started in November 1898. The mess hall, workers quarters, stable, and wharf were initially built. By March 1899, the foundation of the fort was set. Due to a delayed shipment of stone, the workers ended up using a well-know local substitute: a shell-based concrete. The stone was later added to future concrete once it arrived.
On April 4, 1900, the Fort was named for Spanish explorer, Hernandez De Soto. It was a subpost of Fort Dade located on Egmont Key. (Fort Dade no longer exists, but Egmont Key is said to be haunted, in part, due to the military installation).
The fort was completed on May 10, 1900, and with a remaining balance of +$16.73 of the $155,000 military budget. The fort was considered an advancement for coastal protection with extra thick walls and more lethal weapons. In addition, the fort was buried under dirt for camouflage (and this is still present today. It may have been a very early form of environmental engineering!)
Fort De Soto hosts the only remaining 12 – in ch M 1890 mortar canons in the continental United States. These cannons could fire an 800 pound to 1, 046 pound projectile. The fuse to fire the canon contained 1.25 pounds of black powder, and the projectile could go as far as 6.8 miles when the canon was set at a 45 degree angle.
The post also had observation towers so that soldiers could keep a watchful eye on Tampa Bay. Information would be sent from the look outs to the Relocating Room, and then sent by telephone to the Data Booths. It was translated and posted for the gun crews to view. The canons would be loaded and then fired from the firing room via an electrical generator.
At one point, there were 29 additional buildings included with the fort, from the barrack, hospital, stable, and guard house. A shop for blacksmiths and carpenters, along with administrative offices, mess halls, kitchen and bake house all completed the area . These, along with a storefront, were made of wood and are not currently standing today.
Fort De Soto was, despite its large size, less enjoyable to the soldiers than Egmont Key’s Fort Dade. Here, soldiers coul pass time with tennis, baseball, bowling, a movie theater, or a gymnasium. Despite the upgrade, both Fort Dade and Fort De Soto were bombarded with hoards of mosquitos, making the living quarters miserable for anyone stationed at either site. The infestation was so bad that soldiers complained of lack of sleep as even the mosquito netting around the beds could not keep out the pests. They were bitten night and day, while active or at rest.
Fort De Soto’s reign did not last long. After a scant decade, the use of the installation faded. By 1917, World War I called most of the troops into action and away from the site. Only one noncommissioned officer and 8 privates remained on site; four of the massive canons were dismantled and sent to San Diego. By 1922, both forts, Dade and De Soto, were closed by the Secretary of War. In 1923, each was left with a single caretaker.
Fort De Soto was also plagued by Florida’s hurricanes (1921, 1926, and 1932). One of the buildings collapsed into the Gulf of Mexico in 1932. The properties were deemed unworthy of the $192,000 appraisal price for private sale. When offered for public sale, two bids came in and both were rejected.
Eventually, the Pinellas County Highway and Parks Department bought the land and refurbished the fort. Though it saw no military action, it was an important step in military advancement regarding weapons and structural building processes.
(This information is based on research provided by JJ).
It is known that Fort De Soto was also where the bodies of the dead were temporarily stored after the collapse of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on May 8, 1980. Thus, the area served as a temporary morgue for the disaster.
Alleged Haunting Activity:
The SPIRITS of St. Petersburg has reviewed this area since the early 2000s. We have yet to find much in the way of haunted activity and the original SPIRITS page is located on the Urban Legends page.
However, legends of the ghosts include:
Phantom footsteps and apparition of a male apparition appears at the Fort. He is fully dressed and said to be seen walking around the fort.
The ghost of a flirty fisherman is seen near the toll plaza, usually fishing in the grass area. He does have conversations, particularly with women, before leaving/vanishing.
There is a ghost of a woman who was quarantined on Mullet Key. She went insane at the news hat all of her children passed away during the Yellow Fever pandemic that gripped the area. She is heard crying for them, and is sometimes seen searching for them.
At sunset, hushed voices can be heard echoing off walls of the southernmost bunker.
Footsteps can be heard in the Fort’s small powder room.
Reports of soldier suicides are associated with Fort De Soto, many due to isolation and harsh conditions. One suicide is recorded as that of Sargent Charles L. Scott from Rock Cave, West Virginia. He was part of the Coast Arty, 1st Co. He enlisted Jan. 3, 1902 and was sent to Fort Dade. He committed suicide Nov. 8, 1902 and is buried at Fort Dade Post Cemetery (defunct). Memorial ID: 170102658
The SPIRITS of St. Petersburg explored the Fort from 4:30 to 6:30 PM. We were present for sunset. The fort was open to the public and, though light, there were some tourists at the fort. The only strong response that we received was in the small powder room located just off of the Fort De Soto parking lot. The room smelled of kerosene. One member, Brandy, felt very dizzy walking through the room, though the floor may have been slightly slanted. This area was also where EMF meters went off. One set of dowsing rods acted oddly. There is also an anomalous sound in one of the videos (About 2.40 minutes in the Youtube video above).
One person sensed a suicide at the fort (also on the side nearer to the parking lot) and a man who was foreign to the area brought to Mullet Key due to illness. Another area, near the bike rental booth, a couple of people felt the presence of a priest or shaman.