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I-4 Dead Zone, Florida’s haunted highway

4 min read

Every day, thousands of drivers pass over Interstate-4 in Sanford, Florida, most of them unaware of the dark history that lies beneath them.
The quarter-mile stretch of highway is said, in fact, to be one of the most haunted highways in America!

Well, actually this bit of transportation infrastructure has a bit of a dubious past.
You see, it was built on the site of an old settlement. After the Yellow Fever epidemic, all that remained of the pioneering site was an abandoned farmhouse and several family graves of those who perished during the epidemic.
Did that halt construction of the I-4? Nope.
Just north of Orlando, it passes over Lake Monroe.
In the 1870s, the real estate tycoon Henry Sanford marketed the southern shore of the lake to new immigrants and potential citrus farmers, and he sold 640 acres to a group of German immigrants, the same who founded there St. Joseph’s Catholic Colony. Prior to this, the area was untamed wilderness, with nothing but Floridian wildlife and a hand-operated river ferry.
In 1886, a tiny railroad station was built, and the land was divided into ten-acre parcels to sell off to potential farmers and investors. One of these tenants was a group of Catholic immigrants and their priest, Felix Swembergh, oversaw the settlement.
However, conditions were difficult and rampant disease hampered any chance of success for the new colony, above all the above mentioned and particularly devastating outbreak of Yellow Fever in 1887, and the surviving settlers buried their dead in the woods, leaving left the failed colony behind.
With the colonists fearing that the fever was contagious, the bodies of the dead were buried in the woods just north of the railroad.
Father Swembergh was called back to the area to perform the last rites of the deceased, but he never returned to the colony as, just three days after arriving in the area, succumbed to the fever, and with his death went the known location of the gravesites.
Some believe that because these people never received their last rites, their souls cannot rest and roam the area, angry at the living.
And then the land changed hands several times, eventually becoming part of the city of Sanford, now a bustling downtown with antique shops, art galleries, a zoo, and even a farmers market every Saturday.

But that’s not the end of the story.
Over the years, the story of the colony St. Joseph’s became a local legend, and it was said that deadly consequences were in store for anyone who tampered with the gravesite.
When Florida began buying up land for the construction of a new highway, the field was sold to the state and, although the graves were initially marked for relocation, they actually were forgotten or deemed unimportant and were paved over.
Soon after, and it seems the very day the road engineers began plowing over the graves, filling them with dirt in order to elevate the land for construction, Hurricane Donna crossed the state.
Unexpectedly, it changed course towards Sanford, passing over the gravesite on September 10, 1960 and leaving a wake of devastation in her path.
The flooding caused by the hurricane disrupted highway construction for months and was the worst storm to hit the interior of Central Florida in centuries.
Strange enough as it is, even weirder is the fact that the hurricane followed an inexplicable path, as It had already crossed South Florida from the Atlantic, but It was just one of many strange occurrences at the site.
Enough strange activity occurred, in fact, in the area of former St.Joseph’s colony that it earned the nickname “Field of the Dead.”

Locals say that, for example, a farmer’s house burned down after he removed the grave markers, and a young boy was run over by a drunk driver after he dug at the site.
Moreover, drivers taking I-4 over Lake Monroe have reported strange interference on their radios, and some even claim to have seen ghostly apparitions on the road.
One witness reported that if you’re talking with someone on the phone, the conversation will be interrupted by voices of the dead.
Some truckers have also claimed that their CB radios blast with static while driving over the stretch of highway, and the street is extremely prone to deadly car accidents, gaining the sad nickname of the “I-4 Dead Zone.”
For example, on the day the interstate was opened for traffic, a truck hauling frozen shrimp lost control and jackknifed right above the gravesite.
Frequent deadly accidents are believed to be caused by the spirits of the dead buried beneath the cold cement of the highway.

In any case, whether you believe in ghost stories or not, if you drive on this stretch of I-4 please use caution and make sure to look twice before changing your lanes.
You might see something, in your mirrors, that you did not expect to be there….

Images from web – Google Research

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