Friday, August 14, 2015

Conjuring the ghosts of downtown PC

PANAMA CITY — The streets of downtown Panama City might get a bit spookier in October, as volunteers lead groups on foot through the alleys, thresholds and sidewalks on a tour of “haunted” locations.

I had some of Mat’s Good Coffee on a recent morning and sat in the CityArts gallery to talk with Beverly Nield and Paul Bonnette about the tour concept. It grew out of a Leadership Bay project to find a new way to draw foot traffic into the downtown area, they said.

“It should bring people here who will then eat and drink at the restaurants, or buy an antique at the shops,” Beverly said. “It’s just a spark, a start. We’re excited.”

Valerie Woods with the Downtown Improvement Board recently posted a call to actors, storytellers and writers on Facebook to promote the planning stage of the Haunted Walking Tour: “We are looking for volunteers to help us write the stories to be told on the tour, play the part of historic Panama City figures, lead the tours, and sell tickets on the nights of the event,” she said. “Since this is our first time doing this, we want to do it right!”

Volunteers will be needed at all locations along the tour, and some vintage costumes will also be required to complete the effect. Anyone with experience leading walking tours or with ideas to include on the tour are invited to call Valerie at 850-785-2554.

Valerie also confirmed the Panama City Jaycees will continue their traditional haunted house fundraiser at Panama City Marine Institute this October, and the Haunted Tour is not meant to compete with that: “This is more about telling fairly accurate historical and spooky stories about Downtown,” she said.

“When people leave the Jaycees, maybe they’ll want to keep the fun going by taking the tour, or maybe they’ll go from our tour to the Jaycees Haunted House,” Paul said.

Paul is also a member of the Panhandle Paranormal Investigation team, which has explored several of the buildings downtown. One of their upcoming investigations will take place at the Visual Arts Center building on Fourth Street. Paul is keen to share the team’s findings with tour groups — including ghostly voices captured on digital recording equipment.

“Of pretty much everywhere we’ve investigated in Bay County, downtown has the most (paranormal) activity,” Paul said.

The challenge is to tempt live visitors to frequent those same haunts.



ORLANDO — Panama City author Olivia DeBell Byrd was honored last week at the Florida Publishers Association President Awards in Orlando. Her debut novel, “Save My Place,” won the gold medal in both of the categories it had been entered: Florida Fiction for Adults and Cover Design.

“Save My Place” is a love story set in the South during the 1960s and ’70s, against the backdrop of the Vietnam war. A passionate and unconditional love must confront a painful past, heart-searing separation, and the greatest of all tragedies.

For more information on the association and awards, visit For more on “Save My Place,” visit

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