Spook Hill: Florida’s Haunting Roadside Attraction

“Ages ago an Indian Town on Lake Wailes lake was plagued with raids by a huge gator. The town’s great warrior Chief and the gator were killed in a final battle that created the huge swampy depression nearby. The chief was buried on its north side. Later pioneer haulers coming from the old army trail atop the ridge above found their horses laboring here… at the foot of the ridge… and called it Spook hill. Is it the gator seeking revenge, or the chief protecting his land?”


Long before Orlando’s infamous amusement parks, Winter Haven was a popular destination for vacationers. Eager tourists would flock to Cypress Gardens, a botanical wonderland for floral enthusiasts. Unfortunately, like many beloved relics from forgotten eras, modern-day capitalism has turned over these former treasures to the highest bidder. Merlin Entertainments purchased the property several years ago. What was once a majestic natural conservatory is now “Legoland”— a sprawling city of monstrous plastic cubes. However, one quirky roadside attraction remains in a nearby town. Best of all: the admission is completely free!

Spook Hill sits atop the Lake Wales Ridge, an area composed of mainly sand and limestone. Originally the region was a chain of islands when sea levels were much higher three million years ago. Adjacent to the destination is Spook Elementary School which adopted Casper the friendly ghost as their official mascot. The location is what’s known as a gravity hill. When cars shift gears into neutral, they seemingly roll upwards. Some argue that it’s merely an optical illusion while others claim the territory is cursed by vengeful spirits. 


In the early eighteenth century, rogue Native Americans abandoned their former Cherokee Nation and eventually settled throughout Central Florida. Chief Cufcowellax, revered his tribe, made homestead near a picturesque reservoir in what is now known as Lake Wales. As legend has it, the Calusa lived in peace for many years. Yet things quickly changed after a massive alligator entered the quaint community. Suddenly the fearsome beast began wreaking havoc on unsuspecting villagers. Each night the aggressive reptile would raid their homes and many victims lost their lives. Fear spread amongst inhabitants like wildfire.

Concerned and enraged, chief Cufcowellax set out to slay the cold-blooded perpetrator. During an epic battle, both were killed and the once pristine waters of the lake turned blood red. A new pond formed after the violent feud commenced and it was named Lake Ticowa. Although the mournful tribespeople were now free from one assailant, another enemy would soon follow. White settlers invaded and seized the native’s beloved encampment. Circuit riders used the established trail to deliver mail between both Floridian coasts. When their horses reached the mound near Ticowa, they labored feverishly when heading downhill. Travelers were perplexed and thoroughly perturbed. They aptly dubbed the spot ‘Spook Hill’.

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When the citrus industry blossomed, orange groves covered much of Lake Wales. Farmers rode mule-drawn wagons to transport loads of succulent produce. Once again, strong plow animals struggled as they descended the slope. Florida’s temperate seasons created the perfect environment for crop yielding. Booming business eventually led to permanent infrastructure and the pathway being paved. Locals who drove on the road noticed vehicles would roll uphill without any assistance. Word of this bizarre anomaly quickly spread and visitors flocked from across the state to experience Spook Hill firsthand. 

In April of 2019 Polk County’s unconventional landmark was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Such recognition will preserve the eerie and entertaining automobile experience for many generations to come. Whether Spook Hill is simply visual trickery or a genuine ghostly presence, it makes for the perfect Sunday afternoon outing. On your next visit to Lake Wales, be sure to check out the unusual site. Both skeptics and believers alike will enjoy this unique roadside excursion.


Address: N. Wales Drive, Lake Wales, FL 33853

Directions: Head north on N. Wales Drive/ 5th Street. You will reach Spook Elementary and the destination will be adjacent on the lefthand side.

Have you visited Spook Hill? Share your thoughts about this quirky location in the comment section!

Owl-Witches & Werewolves of the Everglades 

Covering nearly 2,000 square miles of southern Florida is a freshwater marsh known as the Everglades. There are tales that this area is home to a number of mysterious cryptids. Supposed inhabitants include Skunk Apes and anacondas so large that they can swallow alligators whole. Indigenous tribes speak of some lesser-known creatures. According to the Seminole, ominous owl-witches and werewolves roam the swampy land. 


Stigini, also called Ishtikini or Stikini, are sinister shape-shifters which usually resemble a massive great horned owl with dark menacing eyes. During the day they appear as ordinary people but once the sun sets they transform into a nine-foot tall feathered being. The metamorphosis occurs through vomiting their souls and internal organs each evening. By night they hunt for victims so that they can eat mortal’s hearts to take on their appearance. These entities are essentially zombies whose sole existence is the consumption of human flesh. 


Although the translation of Stigini means horned owl, they can also take on the appearance of other animals. On rare occasions they resemble bear, wolves or coyotes. Certain Seminole groups warn that speaking their name aloud puts you at risk for turning into one. In certain cases only revered tribal elders are permitted to tell these stories. Other communities treat the mysterious lore more casually and even use the fable to frighten children into behaving.


Similar myths are shared by various cultures around the world. In Mexican folklore the Lechuza is a large and magical bird who seeks revenge on those that have wronged her. West Virginia has legends of Mothman, a mysterious winged humanoid who is said to be an omen of impending doom. Greek mythology spoke of Strige, a wicked vampiric screech owl forced to live in an upside-down world. Other Native Americans believed that Thunderbirds had supernatural strength and powers.

Hatcko-tcapko, also referred to as Long Ears, is a werewolf-like beast. They wander the desolate marshlands by moonlight. Eyewitnesses accounts state that these beings are donkey to ox-sized and has a fusion of both deer and wolf features. As the name may imply, its ears are enormous and pointed. Long thin legs support their oversized hooked paws. At the end of Long Ear’s grey fur covered body is a bushy horse tail.

Those who encounter this creature describe smelling a foul odor when they are within close proximity. Similar to many reported Bigfoot encounters, this putrid scent is a frequent sign of its presence. Seminole were cautious to never get too close to Long Ears because of his ability to infect people with deadly diseases. Despite Hatcko-tcapko’s horrifying appearance and dangerous nature, he is not believed to be malicious.

Florida’s monsters of yesterday have been replaced with viral modern day alternatives: cannibals, zombies and living dinosaurs. Indigenous people could have merely been describing their own bizarre encounters in an era before the internet or cable TV. Roughly 200 species are going extinct each day on Earth. It’s entirely plausible that unknown animals lived in the Everglades centuries ago. What’s even more intriguing is the possibility that some may have survived.

If you’re ever had any strange encounters in rural Southern Florida feel free to share your experiences. I’d love to hear your thoughts!