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Real Life Ghost Hunting At Busch Gardens Africa


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The sun disappears over the Serengeti, leaving orange-purple hues across the sky. Hundreds of animals throughout the park slowly retire for the evening. The thrilling screams from Shiekra, Montu and Kumba roller coasters fade into the twilight. A child is fast asleep in a car on the way home next to the gigantic white tiger stuffed animal won from a midway game in Timbutktu. The security guards lock up for the night. Busch Gardens Africa in Tampa is now closed. All the park’s inhabitants settle in for a quiet evening. All is quiet, except for maybe one place, the large older Victorian Crown Colony House that sits overlooking the Serengeti. For the last few decades there have been rumors that not all may be at peace inside this building after the sun sets. Sounds of children’s laughter, strange fogs that sweep through the main dining room, mysterious figures that have appeared and then disappeared are just a few of the tales that have echoed around the park. Could the Crown Colony House truly be haunted?

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The view of The Crown Colony House clock tower from outside the park's boundaries.

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Montu stands quite as darkness falls.

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This last Wednesday night, Busch Gardens Africa ‘s PR department asked Haunted South, a group of paranormal researchers to investigate and confirm or debunk the existence of ghosts in the Crown Colony. As far as Haunted South has researched, this was the first time a major corporation and/or a theme park has ever let paranormal researches onto their property to investigate a haunting. The PR department also sent out an invite to a few different media outlets to join in the investigation. Theme Park Review was one of these outlets!

 

Wednesday night comes and I head over for the event. I arrive around 7:30 p.m. and meet up with members of the Busch Gardens public relations department. While waiting for a few other guests, I can’t help to notice how the building that I have seen on many visits to Busch Gardens now seems so errie at dusk. Once a few more attendees arrive, we all head into the Crown Colony House. Our guides take us up to the Veldt Room, the main dinning room on the third floor where we meet up with the rest of the nights guests.

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Interesting old artifacts make for perfect theming for this restaurant.

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The Crown Colony House Clock Tower before starting the tour.

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After welcoming us, we were given a little history about the Crown Colony House. The four story Crown Colony House was originally named The Old Swiss House. Built as a replica of a restaurant in Switzerland by then chairman of the board, August Busch Jr. as a gift to his third wife, Trudy. The Old Swiss House restaurant officially opened in December, 1964. Inside the restaurant, the interiors featured red velvet walls and cuckoo clocks. In the 1960’s and 70’s The Old Swiss House became a top dining experience for many in the Tampa Bay area. The restaurant stayed open until 1982. For the next eight years, the building was used by the entertainment department for auditions and rehearsals. Then after a two year renovation, The Old Swiss House reopened as the Victorian-styled adventures’ club, The Crown Colony House in 1990. The Crown Colony House is located in the themed Crown Colony area, featuring the gateway to the Edge of Africa, The Sky Ride and The Clydstale Hamlet. The restaurant features 2 levels of dining. The lower level includes quick service dining, while the upper level features a full service restaurant that has seating that overlooks the park’s Serengeti Plain, a free-roaming animal habitat.

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The original Old Swiss House as seen in the 1970's. Photo from the Official Souvenir Book: The Dark Continent: Busch Gardens Tampa, Florida

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The Crown Colony House as it appears today.

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During the eight years when the restaurant was closed to even recent times, different Busch Gardens employees have had unexplainable experiences in the Crown Colony House. One such person is Kent Roy, a former Crown Colony House employee that has worked in the park for fourteen years, four of them being at The Crown Colony. His “haunting” experiences include on a few different occasions, feeling a chill on the back of his neck after pressing the elevator button on the fourth floor. Closing up late a couple of nights, hearing sounds of children playing and bouncing a ball in different areas of the building. Another experience was when staying late one night alone, Kent watched the T.V.s in what used to be the Brewmaster’s Club. He thought he felt someone come up behind him, he turned to his left and a woman wearing a white nightgown with blue dots appeared, by the time he blinked she was gone.

 

There have been other reports of ghosts over the years, including an elderly bartender. A few people reported looking at the windows in the Veldt room, seeing in the reflection a piano player at the piano, but once they turn around he was gone. The most common story of haunting of the building involves an 8-year-old girl named Wendy. Named by a former Busch Gardens employee, Wendy has been said to materialize as a fog in the main dining room and even stopping the elevators between floors.

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Witnesses have claimed to seen a ghost playing this piano.

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To see if these stories had any truth to them or if they were stories of some over-active imaginations, we were introduced to Haunted South. This group of paranormal investigators was founded by Rae Abney and his wife Lisa Abney. Haunted South or H.S.P.R., investigates claims into the supernatural, ghost / poltergeist activity, hauntings, and locations where unexplained activity has occurred. H.S.P.R. conducts an investigation and intensely analyzes any and all evidence. Their team uses infrared cameras, electromagnetic field meters, digital voice recorders and a psychic experienced in the field of paranormal phenomena. Their psychic, named Jenny likes to say "she uses her gift to help and improve the existence of both the living and the dead". During her intro, it was mentioned that she had already started to pick up on things.

 

After the introduction of Haunted South’s investigation team of eight and some of their instruments, it was time to start the tour. So we gathered all our stuff and headed downstairs to what at one time was, the Brewmasters Club to start our investigation into the unknown!

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– The Haunted South Paranormal Research team are briefed on the history of Busch Gardens’ Crown Colony House restaurant in the main dining room, where Crown Colony employees have reported serving trays falling off their stands and seeing a “fog” move through the room..

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Tour of the old Brewmaster's Club - coming soon. For now, here are more photos.

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Rae Abney, one of the founders of Haunted South, explains how the group is going to try to contact the "energy" or "spirits".

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Jill Revelle, the PR organizer of the event with the creative director of Howl-O-Scream, Scott Swenson give a history of the Old Brewmaster's Club.

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Tour of the lower floor dining room - coming soon. For now, here are some more photos.

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Haunted South team member Justin Guilluroy uses a digital thermometer to record “cold spots” and other temperature fluctuations that could signal a spirit presence in Busch Gardens’ Crown Colony House restaurant.

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Haunted South co-founder Lisa Abney takes digital photographs of an area where elevated electromagnetic energy levels could mean paranormal activity. These digital photographs, shot in near-total darkness, sometimes show lights, “orbs” and other things not visible to the naked eye.

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Tour conclusion and my personal final thoughts - coming soon. For now, here are some more photos.

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Haunted South team member Justin Guilluroy monitors a four-camera surveillance system recording several rooms in Busch Gardens’ Crown Colony House restaurant where unexplained phenomena have been reported.

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One of the many cameras stationed throughout the building to record any possible paranormal activity.

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Haunted South co-founder Rae Abney uses a K2 meter to measure changes in the energy field surrounding a child’s ball and toy doll, left on the floor in hopes of attracting the spirit of the 8-year-old girl rumored to haunt the Crown Colony restaurant. Called the “modern-day Ouija board,” the K2 meter is used by paranormal investigators to gauge answers to yes and no questions based on energy surges.

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The view of the old Brewmaster's club on one of the surveillance monitors.

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Special thanks to the Busch Gardens Africa PR department for creating this event. Thanks to Jill Revelle for organizing everything and inviting Theme Park Review to be part of this unique night. Scott Swenson for helping explain what was going on throughout the night. Matt Marrriott for taking the fantastic infrared photos during the ghost hunt. A special thanks to both Lauren Hoyt-Williams and Kelly Heckinger for all of their help throughout the event. And finally thanks to Haunted South for opening my eyes to the world of the unknown! If you would like to learn more about Haunted South, then check-out their web site: http://www.hauntedsouthparanormalresearch.com/

 

And since I’m a big Halloween haunt and Howl-O-Scream fan, be sure to check-out Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Africa. This year’s event is full of thrills, chills and fun, including 6 haunted houses, 3 scare zones, 3 shows, many of the fun Busch Gardens Africa attractions, including all 7 coasters in the dark! Each night Howl-O-Scream begins at 7:30 p.m. and runs on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays until November 1st. For more info check out the official Howl-O-Scream website: http://www.raventwins.com/main.aspx

 

Thanks to Robb for giving me this opportunity to cover this event. It was a lot of fun and memorable.

 

Hope you enjoyed reading my account of the night's events. Maybe the next time you visit Busch Gardens Africa, have a bite at The Crown Colony House, you never know who or what may be dining with you!

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BGA has been my home park my entire life and I never really thought any part of it was haunted. Can't wait to see whether or not the Crown Colony House is haunted.

 

Then again, I stayed at The Stanley the past summer and wasn't really haunted at all. Thus, I doubt this exists, but urban legends are awesome.

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That is really fun and creepy that this has happened at BGA. It's been my home park for all my life, and it's so weird because every time I go to Busch I eat at Crown Colony. And what's even weirder is that I thought it was just me that thought the place was creepy... it really is. I've honestly only been creeped out or felt like that only 3 times in my life, but everytime I go I think about those 3 expeirences I've had with my family on the 3rd floor where these creepy ass things happened. Oh well, thanks for the pictures and the report!

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