The Don Cesar is a very old and very historic hotel located on St. Pete Beach. It was built by a visionary man, Thomas Rowe, who put his life's savings into the place during a time when Florida's fortunes were booming. The hotel opened in 1928 to the eyes of the curious who wanted to see the hotel, which had an evolving floor plan during construction. Though the hotel did well for a time, the economic bubble burst and Rowe almost lost his beloved hotel. It fell to new ownership and, lucky for Rowe, the owners were his friends. He was made its manager. He stayed with the hotel until his death, actually passing away on the first floor, when it was willed to his widow. She did not hold the same love for the building and the hotel quickly declined. It was sold for taxes to the US Military during World War II and served as a military hotel. Following that, it hosted offices for various governmental department. When the cost of maintaining the building became too much, it was abandoned. It sat in disrepair for a decade until it was purchased and revitalized by a new owner. He, alas, also went bankrupt owning the hotel and it sold again. This time, however, it managed to maintain itself and has become a beloved mainstay of this area.
With such a long history, it's no wonder that the hotel is said to be haunted. Various sources cite various ghosts:
According to "Ghost Stories of St. Petersburg, Clearwater, and Pinellas County: Tales from a Haunted Peninsula", by Deborah Frethem, many people believe that the Don is haunted. The main ghost is said to be that of its builder, Thomas Rowe. Rowe built the hotel in the 1920s. As a young man, and prior to his time as an architect, he travelled to Europe and fell in love with a young woman there named Lucinda. Her parents did not think he was not good enough for her and she left him a "Dear John" letter. Crushed, Rowe returned to Florida and built the Don CeSar. He dedicated his life to the hotel. According to the book:
"In 1940, while standing in the lobby of the hotel, he fell to his knees clutching his chest. He died of a heart attack a few minutes later in what is now room 101. Since the death of Thomas Rowe, many say that he has never left the Don CeSar. He has been seen walking the halls in his trademark white suite and Panama hat, and he is not always alone. Often he is accompanied by a dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty in a gypsy peasant dress. They walk hand in hand, deeply in love...." (p. 37).
Areas of interest:
*The first floor hallway outside of room 101 (chills, eerie, odd movement of walls).
*In 1942, the Don became an army hospital. The morgue was on the ground level. The service elevator at the end of that first floor corridor was used to bring dead bodies down from the upper floors to the morgue (creepy feeling). [Door to room 101 pictured via infrared digital camera, left].
*Beach: A man in a wheelchair is reported sitting alone on the beach in the early morning hours, gazing at the water. Anyone who approaches him watches him vanish.
--Thomas Rowe has been seen walking on the beach. Word-of-mouth reports include seeing him walk off into the sunset with Lucinda.
*Kitchen: site of haunting from the army hospital era. Witness of a ghostly woman in a nurse uniform, loud noises from walk-in coolers, possible poltergeist activity (throwing food in coolers),.
Therapy rooms: Saw the nurse, sometimes reflected in mirrors.
King Charles Room (Ballroom): sightings of a glowing couple dressed in 1930s garb. (Possibly Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda whose last vacation before her insanity and his death was at the hotel). [Ballroom pictured via infrared digital camera, left].
*Word of mouth: Thomas Rowe and Lucinda are seen standing at the water fountain that he built to honor Lucinda. It replicated the water fountain that they walked around in Europe.
From "Ghost Stories of Clearwater & St. Petersburg" (Kim Cool):
*Sightings of Rowe and Lucinda "by the fountain" (p. 47).
*When the hotel was sold to the US Army, it also became a convalescent home -- they removed the fountain at that time. Allegedly, a nurse left a note indicating where the fountain was, but it was not uncovered until 1973.
*Nurse is described as having wavy hair and in an old-fashioned nurse's unifrom; started showing up post renovation in 1973.
*Another nurse ghost was reported looking out from a cooler in the kitchen (2 entities?)
*Reports of banging noises that could not be uncovered (location unknown)
*It is believed that the 5th floor is the most haunted floof of the building -- that is where the King Charles Room is located. Said to have a whispy figure or a cool breeze that is unexplained.
*A psychic had dreams of basketball players in the ballroom; possible place memories from ball players who visited when the hotel was a convalescent home.
*Rowe and Lucinda are signed in a courtyard
*Rooms 501 and 502 are said to have prankster ghosts that disturb people.
*Room 661: During renovations, an engineer heard unexplained knocking at the door repeatedly, which would stop when the door was opened.
*Staff elevator: breezes reported, wind tunnel, door opened on its own
*Elevators acting strangely -- Rowe attributed as a helping ghost with the elevators (opening doors, retrieving elevators for people who ask his help, etc.)
*Marketing office: hushed conversation inside, when doors unlocked, no one was there.
*Aroma of menthol cigarettes indicates Rowe, said to be smelled just before he manifests.
From "Floridaland Ghosts" (Dylan Clearfield):
*Rowe did not want a photo shoot by a magazine to be done. His ghost approached the editor of the magazine in her suite and told her so. Editor ignored this; the next day, all shots were thwarted by a "particularly persistent black crow" (p. 76).
From "Tampa Triangle: Dead Zone" (Capt. Bill Miller):
*There is a mirror in front of the elevators on the fifth floor that sometimes reflects someone else in the 5th floor hallway. (See image, left)
*Opera music coming from the two master suites at the end of the hall -- strange chill in the air.
*Another elevator mishap when staff tried to use customer elevator. Customer elevator would not open, but doors to staff elevator did, alarm went off in the staff elevator. Rowe was a stickler for protocol.
In the Tampa Bay Times (St. Pete Times) section, December 18, 2015: This article discusses the hotel's history and mentions the rumors of Rowe's ghost haunting the hotel:
Word of mouth/personal accounts:
* [e-mail, 5-1-10] I visited friends at the Don a few years ago. The only thing I sensed in the building was a feeling of being locked into a room. I was really worried (irrationally, I know) that I would be locked into the bathroom located near the lobby. It was a really weird feeling.
*[e-mail, 5-1-10]: When I stayed there a few years ago, I was very creeped out by the emergency exit stairways. There was a small fire in the kitchen for which they evacuated the hotel. Very dark feeling in the stairwells.
My daughter and I had the pleasure of staying there, and we use to hang out there almost every weekend. We experienced the 5th floor feelings. I went up there to look around and my hair stood up on all over, and I just felt someone watching me. I just all of a sudden couldn't breath. Mom and Gabby opened the elevator and I ran for it. They asked, what is wrong, and I said there's someone here. can feel him. I'm leaving! They stayed and Gabby took pictures and got orbs all over, and they also felt someone watching them. But they picked up, it was a man & a woman. We didn't know about the hauntings and we talked to Don Cesar about it. They said don't you know we are haunted, and that is one of the main floors of activity! They were saying, "well you're lucky you didn't see two people walking around there, for it's usually a man and a woman". Oh, and the experiences of knocking on your door and no one there, yeah, a FACT, has happened to me a lot.
Thanks. If you don't mind, I'd love to add your story to the page. The orbs, however, are likely dust. I'm not a big believer in those, primarily because they can be really easily created on digital cameras. The rest sounds quite good!
Thank you Brandy. Absolutely, I am honored you would want to do that. I do agree with the orbs, there is alot of speculation. The Don Cesar is an amazing place to stay for the chance of a haunting. Yes, many reports, and my daughter and I even talked about you, and said O, this is the perfect place for Brandy, she might get lucky and the ghost/passing persons, lost souls, whatever you want to call them, just might decide to show up on her camera! There have been others that have caught a picture of the man & woman, and especially the man that continually walks around in his work clothes. I'd love to know if you do with your team, so let me know if you ever return!
Interivew, Brandy Stark: Oct. 10, 2016: I met someone who might have seen the ghost of Thomas Rowe at the Don Cesar. Her father was a painter there when they revamped the place (due to her age, I'm assuming this was the 1990s revamp). She was a little girl at the time...but saw a man with the panama hat, pants, and shirt. She couldn't see his face....she was too young to realize what she was seeing, she said. Interesting.
Though I have tried for many years to get the Don Cesar to allow us to come in and do a formal investigation, this has never been granted. I have made phone calls, left messages, and eventually set up a meeting in which no one from the hotel came. However, I have had chance to visit the Don Cesar over the years for visits in which we did a little looking around within the constraints of appropriateness (we did not go into areas that were not open, did not harass guests, and kept to ourselves). These are the results:
On April 30, 2010 (11:30 a.m.), I had my first opportunity to walk the grounds. I brought with me a camera and an EMF meter. My goal was to find the legendary fountain where Rowe and Lucinda were sometimes seen. Though I walked the parameter of the building, I could find no fountain.
My EMF meter read 2.5 on the outside (left) side of the building. The front, right and back of the building registered "0". I was surprised to note how many businesses actually reside in the Don Cesar -- swim wear, ice cream, massage, and jewlery stores line the first floor.
I did walk a little on the beach, but it did contain sun bathers and hotel visitors. I did not linger there, but saw nothing unusual.
Inside, the EMF remained at a 2.5, probably because of the air conditioning. Nothing unusual was heard or felt as I walked through the main lobby.
Due to time constraints, I could not explore the building much further. I hope to try again when I go in to pick up my art from this show.
June 4, 2010: I met with another SPIRITS member to go to the Don Vista, where I had some artwork. Afterward, we got some ice cream at the Don and walked through the hotel, looking for room 101, the 5th floor (King Charles Ballroom, fountain) and the 6th floor. We did find that there was one more area that was said to be haunted -- the Spa. The nurse is said to appear here, which is interesting as I have heard something similar at Safety Harbor Spa. We did try to take pictures via IR camera and standard digital. No results were found.
May 18, 2013: Ate dinner with some SPIRITS members at the Don Cesar. One person reported that she sensed someone with us. He appeared to be wearing a white uniform and she thought he was either an officer or a male nurse. He followed us through the hall for a short time as we left the building, though she had sensed him both coming and going.