Address: 1026 Grinnell Street, Key West, FL
Are there phantoms in the firehouse? From spontaneous impacts to unidentified orbs, this former fire station is one of Key West’s most haunted attractions.
Phantom orbs, full-bodied apparitions, exploding bicycle tires? Even those skeptical to paranormal superstitions claim there’s something eerie about the Firehouse Museum. In 2012, two teams of paranormal investigators visited to see for themselves. After their inspection, both claimed that it’s haunted.
During their visit from Miami, Messenger Paranormal was able to capture over one hundred images revealing orbs. Some photographs exposed bright objects in otherwise dark environments. Are these baffling balls of light what photographers commonly refer to as “backscatter,” or are they evidence of a spiritual encounter?
Museum Curator Rich Siniscalchi told Keys Weekly that Messenger Paranormal “made a believer out of me.” One particular object converted him: “It was a group shot and in it was the image of a small African-American girl, dressed in the fashion from the early days of the firehouse. She wasn’t there.”
Later, Siniscalchi’s air mattress was propelled forward from its spot, “kicked by invisible forces.” Siniscalchi’s bicycle tire also exploded – despite the newness of the tire and no known signs of an air leak. Siniscalchi had been speaking about Joseph “Bum” Farto during the incident. Was this the work of Bum, the notorious Fire Chief?
Farto, sentenced on a drug conviction, disappeared in 1976. Some suspect that his specter returned to the firehouse, where he remains today.
One guest witnesses a full-bodied apparition in the men’s restroom. The man, thinking that the specter was a fellow visitor, asked if he needed assistance. The poltergeist responded that his name was Frank and that he only needed the mirror. Whenever the man returned from the stall, Frank had disappeared.
The man later inquired if his group had seen someone of Frank’s description. They hadn’t, leaving the visitor stumped. The tour guide was less surprised. He asked if the apparition had been Frank, the resident poltergeist. Why is Frank in the Firehouse?
Others allege to see a Bahamian Girl about the building. Described as a beautiful, young woman in a yellow, nineteenth-century dress, the Bahamian Girl radiates positive energy. One guest claims that the Bahamian Girl invited her down the firehouse corridor. Once they arrived at a room with firehouse memorabilia, the Bahamian Girl disappeared.
In operation from 1907 to 1998, the Key West's Fire Station No. 3 is one of the oldest firehouses in Florida. At its opening, the firehouse employed twelve firefighters yet had an additional two-hundred volunteers. They were then known as the Sunnysouth Engine Company and Tiger Hose Company.
Before they were motorized in 1917, the firehouse used horse-drawn steamers and hose carriages. They didn't receive their first American LaFrance fire engines until August and September of 1914.
In 1909, the firehouse was hit by one of Florida's worst natural disasters. With winds over 100 mph, the roof of the fire station was ripped from the structure. Yet the men, ordered to relocate the steam engine outside, were able to escape unscathed.
During the Great Depression, firefighters went on strike in protest of their underpaid wages. Station No. 3 remained open, though they were threatened by neighboring stations. Later, with the protection of the Sheriff's Department, Station No. 3 continued to operate while firehouses across the nation were forced to close.
During FDR's Works Progress Administration, Station No. 3 continued to remain open even after being paid in "script." Like coupons, "script" denied firemen traditional wages yet allowed them to purchase food and necessities. Firemen were often left destitute since merchants would only redeem "script" for half their value.
After the firehouse was threatened with demolition, Alex Vega decided to make the firehouse a museum. He heralded a massive campaign to preserve the building, successfully converting it into a historic property.
Vega, a retired firefighter, told Keys Weekly that they’ve “done a lot of work to bring the station back to what it was.” Vega added that “everyone wants to slide down the pole.” They estimate that it’s taken $500,000 to restore the former station, though donations and state grants have provided the majority of the funding.
Guests to the Firehouse Museum will find antique apparatuses like the early alarm system or the 1929 American LaFrance Pumper. Donated in 1998, the pumper honors Fire Chief Richard Wardlow and Watch Commander Frank Vega.
Other exhibits include the coal pit, horse stall, fire bell, and Chief’s Wall. The wall, which displays fire chiefs from the nineteenth century to today, includes Chief Joseph Farto memorabilia. Visitors will also find a Memorial Piece of Steel from the World Trade Center, provided courtesy of FDNY.
The Firehouse Museum is located at the corner of Virginia and Grinnell. They’re open Tuesday to Sunday from ten until three.