haunted orlando sanford

Haunted Orlando: Sanford’s Buried Secrets

The dark side of Sanford reveals a past of war, disease, and fire. It’s no wonder there are so many haunts in this old city.

by Erika Jeffrey | October 3, 2022

Over a century and a half ago, the quaint town of Sanford was established in 1877. Now the main street and surrounding avenues are sprinkled with local watering holes and funky restaurants. It’s growing in popularity as more adults are gravitating toward a more relaxed alternative to the hustle and bustle of Downtown Orlando.

A brief history before the haunts

Long before the party scene in Sanford took over, the area was inhabited by the Mayaca or Jororo Native American tribes, followed by the Seminole tribe. Like most Florida towns, the U.S. Army moved in to establish their own agenda by setting up forts. Fort Mellon was fortified near Lake Monroe around 1836, which was a key spot along the St. Johns River that aided in their execution of imports and exports.

haunted orlando sanford
Drawing of Fort Mellon on Lake Monroe (Courtesy State Archives of Florida)

It didn’t take long for the bloodshed to erupt. The Second Seminole War raged between 1835-1842, and there were a lot of lives lost on both sides. This brings us to Sanford’s first haunting tale.

The Celery Avenue Ghost Horse

A phantom ghost horse is said to be seen galloping down the street of Celery Avenue, sometimes ridden by a Native American warrior. It has been witnessed trotting alongside cars, then appears to just vanish.

haunted orlando sanford
Courtesy State Archives of Florida

The story starts with a blacksmith called Sligh Earnest who owned a particularly massive 22-hand horse that weighed close to 3,000 pounds! Think of a Clydesdale horse. Sadly, when the horse died, the only way to get it to its burial pit was to drag it behind a tractor.

The area he was buried beside Celery Avenue actually runs through old Native American burial grounds, which were paved over in the 1960s. This desecration of the graves has spurred paranormal sightings over the years.

So next time you visit Sanford, take a drive down Celery Avenue if you dare to catch a glimpse of this majestic horse and his warrior rider.

The I-4 Dead Zone

Celery Avenue isn’t the only haunt caused by callous human behavior. The I-4 Dead Zone is another spot where a small grave site was ignored and built over, which seems to have caused quite a stir among the dead.

haunted orlando sanford
Image of Lake Monroe circa 1882 (State Archives of Florida)

This haunted stretch of Interstate 4 is located on the south side of the bridge of the St. Johns River near exit 104. Around 1886, Henry Sanford planned to start a community — but things did not go as he had hoped. 

Only four immigrant families moved in, and in 1887 there was a terrible yellow fever outbreak that killed all four. Their bodies were buried out in a wooded area in fear their sickness could spread.

In 1890 Mr. Sanford’s Saint Joseph’s Colony morphed into what is now known as the town of Lake Monroe. The land in the area was designated for farming, except for the small cemetery where the small family was buried.

Over the course of the next 15 years, the names on the four wooden graves faded. Nevertheless, farmers were warned not to mess with the cemetery, but one day a farmer tried to remove the wire fence around the grave. Bad idea.

Want to explore more haunted history?

That same day the farmer’s house burned to the ground. The owner of the land then removed the old markers only to have his house burn down next. The area became known as the “Field of Dead” with paranormal anomalies frequenting the spot.

Sometimes lessons are never learned. Despite the cursed nature of the area, the government later purchased the land to start paving I-4. During the land survey, the nameless graves were marked for a relocation that never took place.

Back in September of 1960, Hurricane Donna was skimming South Florida on the way to the Gulf of Mexico. As fate would have it, the same day that the burial site was covered with dirt to even out the ground for the I-4 project, Hurricane Donna changed course and ended up coming right over the grave site.

Construction was delayed for a while due to the extreme weather. After the storm subsided and some months passed, I-4 eventually opened. On opening day, a truck loaded with shrimp mysteriously lost control right above the graves.

The number of accidents and fatalities around this part of the bridge of Sanford is uncanny. People often report losing cell service in this spot, seeing people on the side of the road that aren’t actually there, and even the occasional orb of light zipping around.

Could the disregarded graves of the forgotten family keep causing trouble over the I-4 Dead Zone? Are they the ones to blame for tricking drivers and causing so many accidents? Are they behind the static calls and all the eerie energy here? 

Anything is possible — but hopefully, we’ve learned to stop tampering with gravesites and to let the dead rest in peace.

Unique Eats That Locals Love!

From the secret spots you may not yet know about to venues serving drool-worthy works of art you can actually eat, Restaurants on the Radar covers it all. Travel around town with our host Brendan O’Connor as he shares his favorite places for local dishes and noteworthy noms.

Get the Very Local channel on Roku, Amazon Fire and Apple TV to watch all of our shows for FREE.

Restaurants on the Radar
Host Brendan O’Connor takes you on along on his culinary adventure showing you what makes the city beautiful so delicious.
Erika Jeffrey

Erika Jeffrey

Erika Jeffery is an experienced photographer, copywriter, and content writer with Very Local Orlando and is the founder of ejcopycreations. She infuses her work with mindful marketing and thrives on helping businesses reach their audience in an authentic way. She is a graduate of the UF College of Journalism and Communications with a degree in Advertising with a background in business, hospitality, sales, and marketing.

Download the Very Local app to stream all of the Very Local original series for FREE!

Download the Very Local app to stream all of the Very Local original series for FREE!