In an ornate, late-19th-century building on downtown Orlando's historic Church Street, a trendy Spanish tapas bar and restaurant is abuzz with tourists and locals. Upbeat rhythms from Seville fill the air.
But Emilio San Martín says there is a ghostly presence here that is anything but festive.
"A recurring sighting here is [that of] a man in a collar hanging from the ceiling beams," San Martín said of the building at 125 W. Church St.
San Martín, 43, is a modern-day ghost hunter who has turned his passion for the paranormal into a successful business.
Born in Cuba and reared in South Florida, San Martín said that by the time he was 11, he knew he had the "gift" of being able to see the dead. Ten years ago, he left his job as a television producer to start Orlando Ghost Tours.
He and his employees have since introduced thousands of people to a side of the City Beautiful not seen in glossy tourist brochures.
"A lot of people don't realize how haunted the city of Orlando is," San Martín said. "They think a city or a building has to be centuries old to be haunted, but that's not necessarily the case. Haunts can occur anywhere."
Some of the haunted sites San Martín says he has identified downtown include most of the buildings in Church Street Station, the former courthouse at 65 E. Central Blvd. that houses the Orange County Regional History Center and three late-1800s buildings at Pine Street and Magnolia Avenue.
Orlando's Greenwood Cemetery, east of the city center, where many of its settlers are buried, is another hub for paranormal activity, he said.
San Martín and his employees take guests on night-time walking tours of these sites, recounting their history and sharing stories of the ghosts they say inhabit them.
Church Street spirits
On a recent Friday night, a group of locals and tourists met in front of Ceviche restaurant, where Josh Morrison, a tour guide with San Martín's company, told them about the hanged man some say has appeared there.
Built in the late 1800s, the structure was remodeled in the 1970s and turned into Rosie O'Grady's, the Church Street Station's flagship nightclub that closed in 2001. Beams and other woodwork from a demolished New Orleans church were retrofitted as architectural details for the new club, Morrison said; along with them, Morrison told his group, came the ghost of a priest who had hung himself in the chapel.
"This is a phenomenon called 'object haunt,' " San Martín explained later. "It happens a lot with antique pieces."
After tour members took pictures hoping to capture an "orb" -- a luminous, circular form that some believe to be spirits -- they traveled east to Pine and Magnolia, a corner that Morrison said is a center of ghostly sightings.
A woman in white
For instance, he said a woman in white periodically appears on the second floor of the Rogers Building, the green Victorian structure on the northeast corner of the intersection.
Built around 1886, it was once a social club where men drank downstairs as the women played cards and drank tea upstairs, Morrison said. The ghostly figure is thought to be the wife of Gordon Rogers, the building's first owner.
But, according to Orlando Ghost Tours, perhaps no other place in the city is more haunted than the 1920s courthouse building that now houses the history center.