Ashley's Restaurant, originally called Jack's Tavern, was opened in 1933. Over the years the restaurant has exchanged hands a few times, and has gone by such names as Cooney's Tavern, the Mad Duchess, the Loose Caboose, Sparrow Hawk, and Gentleman Jim's. In 1985 it became Ashley's Restaurant. The Tudor-style wood and stucco building is furnished with old stained-glass windows and antique pictures and windows on the dark wood walls. Booth and table seating flank either side of the downstairs bar area, which is overseen by tables along the railing of the upstairs dining area. Guests can feel vibrations throughout the building as trains pass on the railroad nearby. This is the setting of the ghostly legends which make Ashley’s one of Florida’s most haunted restaurants.
In 1934 the body Ethel Allen, a nineteen-year-old local of the area, was found brutally murdered on the shores of the nearby Indian River. She was a regular of Jack’s Tavern, and it was one of the last places she was seen. At least one of the psychics who have investigated the paranormal activity at Ashley’s claims to have had a vision of the murder of Ethel Allen taking place in the restaurant.
It is believed that Ethel’s murder is the main source of the ghostly activity which happens, much of which seems to be centered on the ladies restroom. One manager has seen the feet of a woman dressed in 1930’s era footwear in the next stall, only to exit the her own stall and find that the other one is empty. Patrons have also reported apparitions of a young woman in the bathroom mirror.
The haunting is not limited to the ladies room though. A common experience is a feeling of being pushed by an invisible force while ascending or descending the stairs. Lights have been seen flickering on and off during the night, burglar alarms go off unexplainably, glasses and dishes fall and break without cause. Many employees tell of hearing whispering in the restaurant after closing, and often find objects have moved when opening the next morning.
The legends concerning the ghosts of Ashley’s are varied. Writers and photographers, news reporters, psychics, and ghost hunters have investigated the restaurant, and each have come to their own conclusions. Some believe the spirit of a victim of an accident on either the highway in front of the building or the train tracks in the back may have wandered into the restaurant. Others believe it is the ghost of an elderly male employee who did odd jobs and lived upstairs that haunts the building. But most everyone agrees that there is something strange going on at Ashley’s. The question is: what?
To learn more about the haunting of Ashley’s Restaurant, the books below are great sources. And if you aren’t convinced of which story is true, be sure to come and experience it for yourself, and then decide what you believe…
- Carlson, Charlie. Ashley's Shadow. 1. New Smyrna Beach, FL: Luthers, 2005.
- Jenkins, Greg. Florida's Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore: South and central Florida. 1. Sarasota, Fl: Pineapple Press, 2005.
- Moore, Joyce. Haunt Hunter's Guide to Florida. 3. Sarasota, Fl: Pineapple Press, Inc., 1998.
- Myers, Arthur. The Ghostly Register. 1. Chicago, Il: Contemporary Books, Inc, 1986.