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St. Pete paranormal investigator shares stories on haunts, local cases

Veronica Brezina

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An image captured in the infamous Rose Cemetery in Tarpon Springs. The photo was provided by Brandy Stark.

When Brandy Stark isn’t inside the classroom at the University of South Florida or working on her well-known wrapped wire metal pieces, she can be found hunting – ghost hunting, that is. 

Brandy Stark.

Stark, who is a longtime St. Pete resident and humanities professor, is the co-founder of Spirits of St. Petersburg, a paranormal research team that has investigated hundreds of cases. 

Through the business, Stark offers ghost tours in St. Pete that include stops at allegedly haunted destinations such as Detroit Hotel, Jannus Live and neighborhoods. She has also authored several books. 

In an interview with the St. Pete Catalyst, Stark shares her experiences. The responses have been edited for clarity

How did you become a paranormal investigator? My interest started when I was a child. I loved ghost stories although they scared me. In college, I started researching the role of ghosts in the ancient culture to understand them in an academic sense. Bill Miller’s book, Tampa Triangle Dead Zone, became a golden standard for me because we had stories about aliens, which was a hard segue, but it does talk about urban legends. I am also an artist, and I had an art show where I talked about this local lore, and that’s when I met some engineers who said they were conducting research. I co-founded the Spirits of St. Pete in 1997, and I started doing the ghost tours in 2018. There is no charge for investigations. The only way we earn revenue is through ghost tours and books. 

What is your typical routine when someone reaches out to you about investigating their home or business? We are contacted by phone or email, but we started doing Zoom interviews during the Covid-19 pandemic. The majority of the calls we get are from homeowners. We communicate with them to know what’s currently happening and advise them on the next steps. When we investigate, we have many tools where we can pick up EVPs [electronic voice phenomena] and EMFs, electromagnetic field readers, which are handheld devices used to detect fluctuations in electromagnetic fields. We review the data, then we come together as a group and we rule out anything that would be explainable. The team usually comes back to the home and will triage the places with the highest level of activity. We do not exorcise the home, but we’ve seen activity stop in 95% of the homes we went to. 

Other than the house calls, what’s one place you’ve investigated that you feel is truly haunted? When we investigate some businesses, they do not want their name associated with the investigation. At times, some do not let us investigate. I did stay at a haunted room in the Vinoy and holy cow that surprised me! I had a sense of someone pacing back and forth around me. We investigated the Don Vista building, and its history is connected to the Don CeSar. When the Don CeSar was sold to the U.S. Army to be used as a sub-base hospital, the Don Vista property went with it. The Don Vista housed offices for doctors, military members, and then the Suntan Art Center moved in. An employee told me she would hear shuffling there. We got permission from the board to investigate it and it was very cool. We got an EVP of a masculine voice and heard the word “Russia.” We connected it to a soldier, as the Don did house air veterans. We have also investigated the Rose Cemetery in Tarpon Springs that’s known to be haunted – and it sure is! 

Brandy Stark took a photo inside Haslam’s Book Store in St. Pete. The image allegedly shows a mist in the room.

What’s one experience that sticks with you? I met John Williams, founder of Williams Park, Demens Landings and the Detroit Hotel, at the Williams House. I went there to meet with students, and when I got to the building, I was the only one in the building. I heard someone talking behind me and I had my EMF device on me. It spiked and I took some photos and saw an orb in a chair. The chair was beneath a photo of John Williams and that day was actually his birthday. 

Have you run into any issues? Right now, one of our biggest issues is we are getting so many calls from folks who capture something with their security cameras and then realize it’s actually explainable. I am not a dismissive person by nature, but I try to rule out anything and some people can be very adamant about their beliefs. On occasion, we do run into cases with hostile entities that have a bully-like mentality. We’ve heard growls in EVPs captured and some of our team members have become sick while on the site. There was a haunt specialist in Pasco County we’d at times connect with for those cases, but he recently passed away. Some folks believe they’ve attracted a negative entity due to ideologies of religion. In Buddhism, it’s widely believed that if you have a mental issue, it can attract ghosts. 

What are your feelings and thoughts on people investigating their own properties or attempting to communicate with spirits? I do advise people not to investigate their own homes. They could be dealing with the supernatural and could conjure or summon something – that’s a dangerous thing to do. What I have found is that people love ghosts, but still fear them. TV shows and the rise in pop culture have caused more people to dabble with it. You want to have a healthy respect.  

What would you like people to know about what you do? We are a research group, that’s first and foremost. Secondly, if we determine a place is haunted, we see if it can be verified and help people understand the cultural aspects of ghosts. If a ghost exists, they are still not of this world, but you do have some control. I like to understand the history of the property, and I will not let our team know so they can properly investigate without that prior knowledge so it will not interfere with the initial investigation. 

Related: ‘Catalyst Sessions’ recap: Brandy Stark

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    Jaclyn Swenningsen Elshoff

    October 5, 2021at3:29 pm

    I Brandy…Enjoyed reading this..I am not sure you are interested in this…perhaps it’s not your forte but since you are as i am a very long time resident…Are you familiar with The even of Mrs. Reaser whose son was a well know heart doctor in St. Petersburg….who one day in her bedroom’ rocking chair…completely COMBUSTED. Nothing else burned – not the bed sheets near her chair…just her. This comes to National attention every now and then. I went to business college with her granddaughter Mary Carol Reaser…who passed away many years ago. This was in the early 60’s. NO ONE HAS EVER SOLVED THIS…AND I BELIEVE THERE ARE TWO OTHER in other places. Very interesting. Thanks, Jaclyn Swenningsen Elshoff

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