I-4 “The Dead Zone”
Do you know the Legend of I-4?
THE I-4 DEAD ZONE “There’s an eerie secret beneath the Highway…”
Halfway between Daytona and Orlando is a quarter-mile section of Interstate-four known to locals as the “Dead Zone.” This short span of asphalt, located in Seminole county, at the south end of the interstate bridge across the St. Johns River, has become legendary for its high number of traffic accidents. Depending on sources, there have been an estimated 1,048 to 1,740 car crashes at this location since the highway was opened in 1963 with a significant number involving fatalities. Florida State Highway Department records show that in just a 24-month period, beginning in 1995, there were 44 accidents which injured 65 motorists. State officials blamed traffic congestion for the unusual high number of crashes, but others attribute the cause to something a bit more sinister. To understand the basis for I-4 Dead Zone legend, we need to take a time-trip back in local history.Prior to 1880, this area was an untamed wilderness cut by a rutted, sand road leading to a hand-operated river ferry. In 1870, it was part of a large grant owned by Henry Sanford, head of the Florida Land and Colonization Company.
In 1886, a small railroad station was built and the area was platted into ten-acre parcels in a scheme to start a Roman Catholic colony called St. Joseph’s colony. Sanford believed that he could unload some real estate by attracting German immigrants to this colony. He appointed a Catholic priest, Felix Swembergh, to oversee the settlement. However, according to Central Florida historian, Christine Kinlaw-Best, colonization efforts ended after only four immigrant families settled there. “St. Joseph’s never got off to a good start,” said Kinlaw-Best. “In 1887, an outbreak of yellow fever wiped out four members of one immigrant family. Fearing that the fever was contagious, the bodies were buried in the woods north of the railroad. Father Swembergh was then called to Tampa to minister to victims of a yellow fever epidemic there, but he never made it back to St. Joseph’s Colony. Three days after arriving in Tampa, he succumbed to the fever, and with his death also went the information about the St. Joseph’s graves.”
By 1890, St. Joseph’s colony had evolved into the rural town of Lake Monroe, so-named for the local lake. A man named D. V. Warren purchased the land north of the railroad and cleared it for farming, except for the tiny cemetery. When Albert S. Hawkins bought the land from Mr. Warren in 1905, the graves sat like an island in the middle of the cultivated field, but time had erased the names on the four wooden markers.
The origin of the graves had long since been lost, but local tradition said the burials were a “Dutch family who had died from the fever.” Obviously, early yarn spinners had misinterpreted “Dutch” for “Deutsch,” meaning German. According to traditional accounts, Mr. Hawkins leased his land to other farmers and warned them about tampering with the little burial plot. One farmer tried to remove the rusty, wire fence from around the graves and on the same day, his house burned down. In the early 1950s, a small boy tried to dig up one of the graves and the next night he was killed by a drunk driver who was never identified or apprehended. Weird things also happened in the Hawkins’ home, which sat at the edge of the field. Allegedly, the Hawkins’ home burned down after Mr. Hawkins removed the nearly rotted wooden markers.
After Mrs. Hawkins blamed the fire on the graves, Mr. Hawkins quickly replaced the markers. When they built a new house, they were plagued with episodes of unexplained activity involving children’s toys. A small child’s rocker would rock by itself and toys would roll around as if pushed by unseen hands. With all the weird shenanigans, the Hawkins field became locally known as the “Field of the Dead” This was oral folk history until 1999 when an old brochure for the St. Joseph’s Colony was found by historian Christine Kinlaw-Best. This discovery sent her on a quest that ultimately exposed the ill-fated St. Joseph’s colony and its connections with the four graves.
In 1959, the Hawkins farm was purchased by the government for constructing Interstate-four. During surveying for the right-of-way, the four, nameless graves were marked for relocation, however they were never moved. In September 1960, fill dirt was dumped on the graves to elevate the new highway. This is where history gets weird. At this same instant, hurricane Donna was slamming into South Florida. Rated as one of Florida’s most powerful hurricanes of recent times, Donna plowed her way across the tip of Florida aiming for the Gulf of Mexico. Then, on the very day that the graves were covered with fill dirt, Donna changed her direction near Tampa and headed northeast across the peninsula. Strangely enough, her deadly path paralleled the surveyed route of the new highway. The big storm’s eye passed over the graves at midnight on September 10, 1960. Donna’s fury, the worst experienced in Central Florida in generations, interrupted highway construction for nearly a month.
On the day that Interstate-four was opened to traffic, a tractor-trailer truck hauling a load of frozen shrimp became the Dead Zone’s first casualty when it mysteriously went out of control and jackknifed right above the graves. That was the beginning of a weird legacy of accidents that continue to this day. In recent accounts, people claim their cell phones will not work, or that static disrupts their radios in this section of highway. A few have claimed encounters at night with wispy, balls of light that zig zag just above the pavement. Is it payback time for the dead, or peoples’ imaginations gone wild? Whatever the case, locals swear there’s something sinister at work here, and it may be caused by an eerie secret just beneath the asphalt.
Will Never Drive on I-4 Again