I-4 Deadzone

One of the deadliest roads of America is a quarter mile of Florida's I-4 Highway. It is said that accidents happen for no reason, ghostly sightings are the norm, and other unexplained phenomena riddle this short stretch of asphalt.

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Before the I-4 Deadzone was known as the I-4 Deadzone, before it Sanford, Florida, it was the home of the Mayaca (also known as the Jojoro). The Mayaca, tragically, were primarily wiped out by early contact with Europeans and the ensuing war and disease that the Europeans left in their wake.

After the Mayaca were wiped out and many Native Americans had left the area, especially after the Seminole wars, Swedish immigrants began working the very same land. Tirelessly, they strove to conquer this strange and somewhat alien terrain with farms, buildings, and more. However, just ten years after the initial colony was created a fire broke out and decimated much of the settlement. Shortly after the fire that razed so much to the ground an outbreak of Yellow Fever followed and, since tragedies came in threes,a historic freeze would ruin the citrus crop and hurt the industry.

A few years after this in the late 1870s Henry Sanford, a prominent businessman, turned his eyes towards Florida, believing he could cash-in. He bought up a lot of land in central Florida, including what would later be called Sanford, and had hopes of building a Catholic farming community.

To his dismay, only a handful of families took him and his business partner up on this offer. And, from the very smart, just like the Swedes, Sanford and those who took him up on his offer were in for hardship. Originally, they established a town called St. Joseph’s but that was soon snuffed out by the mosquitoes and the deadly diseases they carried: yellow fever. The homestead was abandoned by 1887.

The farms and homesteads remained empty until the early 20th century. In 1905 Albert Hawkins bought up the land and whatever was left over on it and built a home and farm for his family. He was likely not very aware of the sordid history of the land and was surprised when he came upon a rusty wire fence with four wooden crosses. As a pious man wanting to respect those who attempted to farm the land before him, he rebuilt and began maintaining this tiny cemetery. He put a new fence up, mowed the lawn, and always kept it spic and span. He was extremely serious about its upkeep and was sure to tell his children and grandchildren to respect the graveyard and stay away from it.

However, not everyone was as respectful as the Hawkins. Rumor has it that a neighbor tore down a piece of the fence that surrounded the cemetery. Perhaps it's a coincidence, but his home was struck lightning the same day and completely burnt to the ground. This would only be the start of strange activity as other neighbors began to complain of strange things happening in their home, like toys moving on their own, rooms with drafts, and more.

It would appear that Albert Hawkins was prudent to respect the family that had once lived on his land, as they seem to be the type to hold a grudge and exact vengeance. According to Wizzley.com “ In the 1950’s, a friend of Mr. Hawkins’ grandson thought it would be fun to kick over the wooden crosses and maybe dig up some bones. The next day as he was walking through town, he was struck by a car and died instantly. The driver was never identified, and witnesses to the accident - lifelong residents of Sanford – didn’t recognize the car.”

Around the same time as this man was hit by a car, a superhighway was proposed. The plan had it cutting right through Sanford. Hawkins’ wife, as he had died, decided to sell the land including the small graveyard. The land surveyors, who were aware of the graves, decided that they were so old that they did not warrant refiguring the highway to go around the graves or exhuming and reburying the graves. Instead, they just decided to build over the small plots.

If kicking wooden crosses and messing with the fence made the spirits of this land angry, you can only imagine what building a superhighway over them would do.

The first years of the I-4 in the early 1960s had drivers reporting glowing orbs, full-bodied apparitions, issues with their radios, and disembodied voices.

At first, many of these happenings were dismissed as drivers being tired, bored, over-imaginative, and even driving under the influence. However, soon enough local law enforcement realized something else was a play. For the stretch of highway that passed through Hawkins’ once well-maintained graveyard, there was an inordinate amount of accidents.

Since the I-4 opened in 1963, there have been over 2,000 accidents in that quarter mile stretch alone. That is why it is called ‘The Dead Zone.’ In fact, in 2017 the I-4, in general, was named the most deadly highway in America.  Using federal data, a study found I-4 that the road held an average of 1.25 fatalities per mile and have increased 10% since 2015.

So, what came first? Was this story created to explain and warn others about the dangerous driving conditions of the I-4? Or, is the land the road is built on dating back to pre-European contact simply cursed...by who and for what reason, we may never know.

Thanks to Ericha Loch T for the blogstonishing suggestion!

The above image is unrelated to the story (not taken in the dead zone). It is entitled, ‘Old Florida Interstate 4 shield in downtown Orlando. Taken May 24, 2003’ by SPUI.This work has been released into the public domain by its author, SPUI.