Downtown Sanford’s popular ghost tour is equal parts frightening and enlightening
Ready for a scary story?...
Back in the 1960s, a widower named Robert owned a machine shop in downtown Sanford, in the same location where The Alley blues bar stands today. Robert ran a respectable business, but he was probably best known for being the town prankster. His son, Bobby, always wanted to emulate his father and one day decided to play a prank of his own. He hid himself in the trunk of his father’s car, thinking it would make for a great prank, but his plans went horribly wrong. Bobby had inadvertently locked himself inside the trunk and was unable to escape. He died before Bobby’s father could find him.
Some say Bobby still haunts his father’s old shop to this day.
Over the years, employees who have worked at The Alley tell stories of doors slamming into their knees, ashtrays falling off tables, and drinks spilling on their own. One employee went into the cold storage unit after hours and was locked in from the outside. After about 15 minutes, she became panicked and screamed out, “You got me, Bobby!” The door suddenly opened.
She quit the next day and never stepped foot in the building again.
This story is one of many told by Gary Holmes on his Haunted Sanford Ghost Tour. Also a downtown Sanford business owner, Gary saw the need for a tour that would highlight both the dynamic history of Sanford and its many reported hauntings. He worked with a local historian to piece together the city’s history, which includes two fires that nearly burned Sanford to the ground.
“Emotionally charged events leave energy behind,” says Gary, who grew up in Alton, Illinois, another city known for its hauntings. “When tragic events dot the history of a place, people experience ghostly encounters from time to time. Sanford is no exception.”
Once he announced his tour, Gary was amazed how quickly ghost stories started to pour in as local residents and business owners happily shared their scary tales. When Gary recounts these stories on his tour, he states them as folklore, not fact, but that does little to diminish their fright. Gary loves telling stories and sharing history with people, and his goal is to leave participants with knowledge they did not possess before the tour.
“I get chills every time I tell ghost stories because they fit in with the history of the city,” Gary explains. “Many of these buildings were built in either 1887, 1913, or 1927, when much of the rebuilding from fires occurred, so each structure has its own secrets to share.”
Participants on the Haunted Sanford Ghost Tour have described or reported experienced paranormal activity, including being brushed up against and even seeing spectral forms, but Gary considers any contact with the ethereal plane to be a bonus, not the goal. His tours are not designed to be “ghost investigations” but rather fun, educational storytelling walks.
Gary remains cautious about sharing his own paranormal experiences, even though he has always been sensitive to the “energies” around him. But he tells his guests that nobody knows for sure how or why ghostly encounters occur or even what they are.
“One day science may figure out what happens when we die and why hauntings exist, but for now I want to share the awesome history and folklore of Sanford and have people walk away happy,” says Gary, who would like to see the tour continue to grow. “I always tell everyone to go into the tour with an open mind, have fun, and respect each other. I want them to leave with their own opinions about what I’ve told them.”
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