Published: Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 6:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 7:03 a.m.
OCALA - Florida ghost hunters are rallying to save the Seven Sisters Inn, the historic - and reportedly haunted - bed and breakfast that faces foreclosure if it is not sold by April 7.
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Seven Sisters Inn is a bed and breakfast that consists of two homes listed on the National Historic Register. Some paranormal sleuths believe that the inn is haunted.
Southeastern Paranormal Investigations - known as SEPI, an Ocala-based group that offers ghost tours - has launched an online petition urging the inn's mortgage holder to extend the foreclosure deadline.
Meanwhile, a South Florida paranormal investigator who worked on a ghost-hunting TV special on the inn for Univision said he registered "www.savethesevensistersinn.com" and hopes to have the Internet site up by today to echo the petition and, perhaps, raise money for the effort.
"If we can get the extension on that, we will go full blast to do some charity events - whatever it takes," said George Mercado, who contends the Seven Sisters is not only one of the nicest and most hospitable inns he has investigated - it is also one of the most haunted.
Currently, the owners of Seven Sisters are seeking a buyer for the two-house Victorian inn along Southeast Fort King Street. The two restored, century-old homes are on the market for about $1.3 million, and if an acceptable contract is not presented by April 7, First Coast Community Bank will sell the homes at a foreclosure auction, according the inn's owners.
SEPI, whose ghost tours of historic downtown homes stop at Seven Sisters Inn, launched the online petition Saturday.
"Our mission is to try and extend or delay the time period for which the bank will foreclose on The Seven Sister's Inn Bed & Breakfast," notes the petition started by Nancie J. Andriola and other SEPI members.
Both homes, the petition notes, are on the National Register of Historic Places.
The petition is addressed to Chip Townsend, president and CEO of First Coast Community Bank. Andriola said her goal is to gather as many signatures as possible and present the petition to Townsend, as well as the Ocala City Council.
Per bank policy, Townsend has declined to comment on the Seven Sisters Inn.
As of this writing, the online petition has more than 200 names on it, with responders leaving pleas to extend the foreclosure deadline and praising owners Bonnie Morehardt and Ken Oden, who have run the inn for 20 years.
The petition can be found at www.petitiononline.com/sevenpet/petition.html.
Morehardt said Tuesday she and Oden appreciate the calls of support - including one from California - and the petition, especially if it can smoke out a potential buyer who will keep at least one of the buildings as an inn.
Seven Sisters fell into financial trouble, Morehardt and Oden contend, following a failed contract to buy the inn in which the buyers were to assume the mortgage payments in January 2008. They did not make the payments, the couple said, noting the buyers kept delaying the closing dates and eventually lost contact.
Meanwhile, Morehardt and Oden said, the bank came calling for the full amount owed and, in October, started the foreclosure process.
The inn is still booking events, including a murder-mystery dinner Saturday night. Also, the inn is hosting another group of ghost hunters from across the country during the first weekend of April.
The group is scheduled to join TV personalities from the Sci-Fi Channel on their quest to track the inn's apparent haunts. It is yet another spin-off from the Sci-Fi Channel's initial visit in September to film an episode of "Ghost Hunters" at the inn. That episode, in turn, attracted the attention of ghost hunters from across the country. Now, it seems, enthusiasts who seek out the dead are working to keep Seven Sisters alive.
"It's breathed a lot more life into the inn," Oden said.