ED Tucker vs. Spook Hill
Growing up in Ocala, the local Morrison’s Cafeteria was one of my grandmother’s favorite restaurants – this was back in the days when they actually had waiters to carry your tray to your table for you. Our Morrison’s was decked out like a southern mansion and featured a huge rack of tourist attraction brochures in the front lobby (it was located on Silver Springs Boulevard just a few miles away from a conglomeration of sights). One of the gaudy pamphlets that always fascinated me as a child told the legend of Spook Hill. I am sure my young mind embellished the promised thrills to a great degree but I couldn’t resist anything with a ghost on the cover! On a recent extended visit to the heart of Central Florida, I found myself working just a few miles away from this famous spot and couldn’t resist an opportunity to finally pit myself against the evil spirits of Spook Hill!
According to the local legend, many years ago a Seminole Indian village located near beautiful Lake Wales was attacked by a huge alligator that had decided to make the waters his home. In the dead of night, the alligator would stalk into the village and drag off the first victim it came across. The tribe became desperate and their chief, Cufcowellax, decided it was time for a head on confrontation with the beast. Cufcowellax was a mighty warrior and held the respect of all of the tribe. While he prepared for battle, the shaman called to the Great Spirits to bless the chief and protect him in his quest to save his people from this man-eater.
After several days of searching, the chief finally found the alligator early one morning as it was enjoying a fresh kill. Cufcowellax attacked the beast and the two enemies locked themselves in a battle that lasted for many days. The fight was so ferocious that they supposedly dug out a large whole in the ground with their thrashing that became the smaller Lake Ticowa next to Lake Wales. In the end, the chief finally managed to kill the alligator and returned to his people in triumph. He was hailed as a hero and lived a long and prosperous life until he was eventually buried on the shore of the smaller lake.
Years later, after the Seminoles had departed and white settlers were beginning to move into the area, a road that passed the lakes was traveled regularly by mail couriers on horseback. They were the first people to notice the phenomenon of the hill that seemed to be harder to ride down than up. The area would later grow into a thriving citrus industry that remains to this day. Field workers who parked their trucks at the bottom of the hill were startled to see them roll up it as though pulled by an unseen force and they named this strange area Spook Hill.
Legends aside, Spook Hill still exists and is now only a few miles away from historic downtown Lake Wales and also close to the world famous Bok Gardens. I ventured to the spot in my trusty Dodge Intrepid and followed the instructions on the convenient sign. To me, it appeared that my car was parked on a flat surface but would roll backwards when placed in neutral. Directly in front is the true rise of the hill and it is a very steep incline. It may be that the supposed flat surface is actually a smaller incline but appears level in these surroundings. It did not look like I went uphill to me but I did appear to move backwards on level ground.
I visited the sight twice, once to try it out and once to get a few pictures for posterity. My second trip was on a weekend and I actually had to wait in line to get to the hill! When I finally had my turn, the car in front of me stopped half way up the steep slope (it’s a one way road to prevent accidents) and the driver put the vehicle in neutral to see if it would roll from there. It did indeed roll but it headed downhill towards me! Fortunately they managed to get the car stopped before it made it all the way back to the line but it was building up momentum quickly.
Immediately to the left of the Spook Hill is an elementary school that has embraced their unique location. Not only did they take the name of the nearby attraction as their own but the Spook Hill Elementary mascot is Casper the friendly ghost! The school isn’t the least bit frightening but I am sure they must have a blast at Halloween.
In this day of high-tech rides and theme parks, Spook Hill is certainly in the lower tier of Florida tourist attractions, but it is good old-fashioned fun and a chance to appreciate a natural phenomenon. I would not recommend that you drive a hundred miles out of your way to see it or plan the family vacation around a visit but if you find yourself in the area sometime there are a lot of less amusing ways to kill a few minutes.