21 Dec 2014
Believe it or not
Ripley's Haunted Lockdown offers guided tours of haunted objects
Anthony Juarez has been shoved, nearly to the ground, by an unknown and unseen entity. Guests have long reported chilling sensations, inexplicable apparitions and the spirit of a young girl is said to reside in the building at 108 Duval St., which happens to house the chilling exhibits of Ripley's Believe It or Not Odditorium.
Starting this week, the museum of oddities will open its doors after-hours, and provide a limited number of guests with a guided tour of the attraction's most chilling and haunted artifacts during the new Ripley's Haunted Lock Downs.
"We'll lock down the museum and allow a maximum of 20 guests to participate in the lockdown for an hour and 20 minute tour," said Juarez, general manager of the local Ripley's Odditorium, which has been in Key West for 20 years.
During the lockdowns, the museum staff members will detail odd occurrences they've experienced at the odditorium.
"We lock them in, give them a history of this building, which many people say is haunted by the spirit of a young girl, and even open some of the display cases to let the lockdown guests handle some of the artifacts," he said, walking toward the museum's famed, if creepy, Sorcerer's Necklace.
The placard next to the necklace describes a sorcerer in Borneo who wore a necklace made of monkey skulls to ward off evil spirits.
The Sorcerer's Necklace is one of the "haunted artifacts" in the museum that has produced many eerie experiences for visitors.
"For the lockdowns, we'll provide guests with EMF (electromagnetic field) readers, laser grids, a REM pod and other paranormal detection equipment," said Juarez, moving to one of the odditorium's most recent acquisitions, a pair of carved wooden Caribbean voodoo masks that stand more than three feet high with wooden teeth carved sharp enough to slice easily through skin.
Local author and paranormal investigator David L. Sloan last week donated the masks to Ripleys after too many bizarre occurrences kept him from hanging them in his house.
"I found the masks at a Salvation Army here in South Florida, but as soon as they were hung on display in a private home, the residents started complaining of terrifying, animal-related nightmares and sights of a dark figure hovering over the foot of their beds," said Sloan, who also operates Key West's original Ghost Hunt nightly through Old Town's haunted streets and buildings.
When I went back to the Salvation Army to see if I could find out more about the masks, the guy there took two steps back from me, and said the original owner had been in looking for them, saying she would do anything to have them back," Sloan said with raised eyebrows.
But the original owner was never located, and Sloan put the masks in storage for more than 10 years.
"There was no way my girlfriend was having them hang in our house," he said, so one night when we were in here investigating some of their haunted objects, we realized the masks belonged in here."
The masks are part of the Haunted Lockdown, along with an original voodoo doll that has caused some paranormal disturbances at Ripleys.
Juarez on separate occasions has invited Sloan and a local psychic medium Dawn Michelle to tour the exhibits and see if anything struck a paranormal chord.
"Dawn and I, unbeknownst to each other, stopped at most of the same artifacts that we felt an energy coming from," said Sloan, who has significant firsthand experience with inanimate objects being "inhabited" by hte spirits or energy of a former owner.
He just wrote a book about Robert, Key West's infamous "haunted doll" that has inspired many a ghost story in shadowy Old Town attics. Signed copies of the newly released book are available online at robertdidit.com or in person at East Martello Museum on South Roosevelt Boulevard, where Robert the Doll resides.
"I wasn't sure how the book would be received because I dispel a lot of the legends," Sloan said. "It was 16 years in the making, and it traces the legends to their sources and sets the facts straight, and the facts are stranger than fiction."
Believe it -- or not....