Thank you Sarasota Herald Tribune for the write up on New College!
SARASOTA — Andrea Knies had wandered away from the group when she first felt it.
It was like a bug — a spider, perhaps? — crawling up her arm. She thought she must have stepped into a spider web as she brushed her arm and moved closer to the group.
But the feeling returned.
Knies rubbed her arm harder and inched closer still to the group as they asked questions to empty space in New College’s Caples Mansion, formerly the home of Ralph and Ellen Caples during the turn of the 20th century.
When Knies felt it again, she got goosebumps up her spine.
“The third time it felt like something took a finger all the way up my arm,” Knies said. “I had chills on the back of neck I’ve never experienced before. I finally said something, but I didn’t want to admit it was paranormal. I said, ‘Can we turn on lights and check for a spider web or bug?’”
After minutes of searching, the group found nothing — not even a cobweb or a dust bunny.
Knies was guiding members of the Bradenton Paranormal Society through the building as they hoped to find evidence of something supernatural. They concluded that both the Caples Mansion and New College’s College Hall, formerly the home of John Ringling’s brother Charles, are haunted.
But Liz Reed, co-founder of the Paranormal Society, said the paranormal activity is the work of positive energy and spirits — nothing to be afraid of.
“It’s so unique because it’s a very active area,” Reed said. “We weren’t disappointed at all.”
Needing a hobby
Reed founded the Bradenton Paranormal Society with her husband after the two decided they needed a hobby.
Reed had prior experience with the unexplained — she grew up in a Minnesota house filled with shadows, bumps in the night and — one time — an apparition of a man at the top of the staircase.
They say they have investigated more than 50 buildings and areas for paranormal activity in Sarasota, Manatee and Desoto counties.
But those along the bay in Sarasota are among the most active, she said.
The most compelling stories come from homes owned by relatives and friends of John Ringling, who had houses near his.
Ron McCarty, who has worked for the Ringling Museum for more than 30 years and oversees the Ca D’Zan mansion, said John Ringling and the rest of his family came to visit Sarasota in 1909 and 1911 at the behest of Ralph Caples, a former railroad man who bought and sold large swaths of Sarasota. He eventually sold the bayfront properties to the Ringlings and lived between John Ringling’s mansion and the houses owned by Charles and Hester Ringling.
No one lived in the Caples mansion after the family died; it was donated to New College in the 1970s. But Ralph and others who lived in the house, including nannies, may have never left.
It was here where Knies felt something creep and crawl up her arm. Reed said she felt a scratch that left a small mark.
The Paranormal Society set up meters to sense electrical activity, filmed with a full-spectrum infrared camera, and used a Mel meter to measure both changes in temperature and electrical currents. They also used several digital sound recorders, hand-held cameras and a DVR system to capture things they couldn’t see, hear or notice.
One meter lit up in a few parts of the house, taken as a sign of a ghost. When a team member knocked three times and asked for a being to knock, there was a quiet knocking response caught on a voice recorder.
At one point they thought they were communicating with Ralph Caples, because their meters would change after they would read questions questions. They believe a nanny for the family communicated with them, too.
When they were done there, the Bradenton Paranormal Society and New College officials headed north across the grounds of the Ringling Museum to Charles and Edith Ringling’s old house, now New College’s College Hall.
Charles Ringling died months after his house was completed, in the second-story master suite of his home facing the Bay. His wife, Edith, lived there until she died in 1953.
Before and after his death, his home hosted numerous parties and events, especially in the music room on the building’s south side, McCarty said. The Paranormal Society said it found lots of residual, positive energy there in the form of light orbs floating around the group in still photos and video footage.
Considered a psychic
There was also Hester Ringling, the daughter of Charles and Edith Ringling, who was considered to be a psychic during her lifetime.
“She would show off with parlor games. Someone would hide sheet music or objects; she would be able to walk in room and find exactly where there were at. Even if it was in book, she could tell you what page it was in,” McCarty said. “The family played it down because they were embarrassed, but she was definitely a developed psychic.”
She lived in what is now Cook Hall on New College’s campus, but investigators could not explore the building because it houses administration offices and sensitive documents. But those with the Paranormal Society asked perceived spirits in Charles Ringling’s house about Hester.
“Was it hard to have a daughter who was psychic?” Reed asked the emptiness, hoping Edith, Charles’ wife and Hester’s mother, would answer.
They didn’t hear anything in the room, but on the voice recording you can hear what sounds like someone exhaling quickly, in a wispy voice, “no.”
The group smelled cigar and pipe tobacco in different areas. There was a cold spot between his house and the house of his daughter Hester. There was knocking. There were unexplained shadows and orbs in the music room.
After reviewing their footage and evidence, Reed and other Paranormal Society members presented their findings to New College and Ringling officials. They gave the college two certificates — one for each house investigated — that designated them as hubs for paranormal activity.
Reed, who has also investigated the Crosley Mansion nearby, hopes she can come back to New College to explore Cook Hall — formerly Hester Ringling’s house — and the Ca D’Zan. She’d also like to go back to the Caples Mansion and College Hall to conduct more investigations.
“We’re dying to go back there again,” she said.
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