Florida's infamous Interstate 4 Dead Zone is one of America’s most haunted highways. Located between Tampa and Daytona Beach, this 138-mile stretch of road has been plagued with accidents, injuries, and strange occurrences since the day it opened. When workers broke ground on the highway in 1959, they discovered graves and decided to continue construction of the highway on top of them. The day the graves were covered with fill dirt, Hurricane Donna changed its course from the Gulf of Mexico and headed northeast across the Sunshine State.
Hurricane Donna’s new route ran parallel to the highway’s planned route, and the eye of the hurricane settled over the graves. This hurricane grew to become one of the worst hurricanes to ever hit the state. This highway's fatalities began on the very first day it opened, when a tractor-trailer jackknifed right above the graves. Since then, there have been more than 1,500 documented accidents on this stretch of highway. If you're in for a spook, this highway delivers thrills. Just be sure to wear a seat belt.
About the Route
Although Tampa is the true start of the trip, the allegedly haunted part is the stretch between Sanford and Daytona Beach. Sanford, on the south shore of Lake Monroe at the head of the St. Johns River, was once home to the Mayaca and Jororo people, but war and disease decimated the tribe and it was ultimately replaced by the Seminole people. During the Seminole Wars of the 1830s, the area was the site of a U.S. Army post named Fort Mellon and, subsequently, European settlers founded the town of Mellonville which served a steamship port for trade and distribution of supplies.
In 1870, Henry Shelton Sanford purchased the land west of Mellonville and planned a new city, "the Gate City of South Florida," destined to be a transportation hub for southern Florida. Promptly after the city of Sanford was incorporated and Mellonville was annexed, Sanford suffered a devastating fire, followed the next year by a state-wide epidemic of yellow fever killing many settlers. The graves on Interstate 4 originated in Sanford and belonged to settlers who died during this time.
From Sanford, the I-4 heads northeast past Deltona, Cassadaga, and Lake Helen, for about 40 miles, eventually leading into Daytona Beach, one of America’s top destinations for spring break, snowbirding, and summer vacations. The I-4 was connected straight to Daytona at Walt Disney’s insistence on making it easy for both coasts of Florida to drive to Disney World.
Driving into Daytona Beach on the I-4 Dead Zone is an experience for the daring. There have been reports of pioneer ghosts and indigenous people yelling at drivers on the side of the road, following some drivers and ignoring others. CB radios have reportedly picked up voices, moans, and screams. Cell phones and other electronic devices lose signal or pick up inexplicable voices over the airwaves.
Stories describe phantom drivers and trucks on the road, especially at night. Concerned drivers have called police stations and the highway patrol to report vehicles, sometimes said to be driving too fast or even crashed on remote stretches of the highway, even though they aren't actually there. People have similarly reported seeing orbs floating across the highway erratically, apparitions trying to hitchhike on the side of the road, and freezing patches of the road despite hot temperatures. Most of the accidents on this stretch of Florida’s haunted highway occur where the graves were discovered during construction.
Distracted Driving on the I-4
On a good day or night, the stretch between Sanford and Daytona Beach is an hour's drive or less. But depending on traffic, weather, and unexpected stops, you may be stuck on the I-4 Dead Zone a little longer than you’d like. It’s important to be cautious when traveling the length of Florida’s haunted highway, even if only because of congestion from fellow tourists.
Drive the speed limit, follow the rules of the road, and remember that it’s better to arrive at the other end of the haunted highway without a story to tell than to allow your ghost hunt to cause an accident. If you’re interested in capturing the experience on camera, try investing in a dash-mounted camera or GoPro that does the work for you. Don’t take pictures or videos while you're driving, as the distraction may prove deadly on this mysterious route.