River Cities Gazette

Miami Springs' Curtiss Mansion hosts Slumber Party

SLUMBER FUN: Curtiss Mansion Director JoEllen Phillips gives All Angels Academy students a tour of the estate during their “Middle School Lock In at the Mansion” event.
SLUMBER FUN: Curtiss Mansion Director JoEllen Phillips gives All Angels Academy students a tour of the estate during their “Middle School Lock In at the Mansion” event.
Gazette Photo/RITA MAYER

River Cities Gazette

Something mysterious happened at the Curtiss Mansion recently, with some lucky school kids there to experience it. 

The estate, frequently the topic of lore and legend, was the site of some hauntingly good fun on April 4 when All Angels Academy held its “Middle School Lock In at the Mansion.” The annual slumber party is normally held at the school, but organizers this year thought to give the landmark location a try. 

“The Mansion is a perfect setting for this kind of event,” said All Angels Academy teacher and event planner Denise Albiza. “Imagine how much fun it would be to have a sleepover there. Plus the location teaches the kids about our history, and perhaps in that environment inspires some future historians and inventors.” 

Inventors, of course, such as the original owner and inhabitant of the house, Glenn Curtiss, tinkerer extraordinaire. With only an eighth-grade education, the Miami Springs founder and land developer amassed approximately 400 patents in his lifetime, making significant contributions to transportation technology. His life and legend were a focal point for the evening. 

After drop-off around 7 p.m., students were given an up-close and personal tour of the Mansion, even rarely seen areas such as an upstairs narrow staircase where a piece of original wall has been left exposed for historical reference. The tour also included a retrospective of Curtiss’ life, highlighting his accomplishments and his time in the house. But, were the rumors true? Is the house in fact haunted by the ghost of Glenn Curtiss? No one had a definitive answer.

“This very room where you all are sitting now was the garage where he tinkered and developed some of his inventions,” said Mansion Director JoEllen Phillips, who gave the tour. The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders seemed genuinely impressed by his accomplishments and asked questions throughout the tour, possible hauntings notwithstanding. 

By the end of the tour, the kids were ready to get to some real middle school fun.

Dressed in their comfy jammies and armed with sleeping bags and pillows, the group of about 30 tweens and teens cozied in among their friends for a dinner from JRs Gourmet Burgers and a scary movie. But the good times were only just beginning. 

After burgers and arm-clenching screams, the crew ambled into the courtyard for some good-natured competition. Pitting boys against girls, the “smack down” consisted of eight youth group games, including “Nose Dive” (moving cotton balls with a Vaseline-tipped nose — no hands allowed), “Cookie Face” (inching a cookie from the forehead into the mouth using only facial movements — again, no hands!), and “Make It Stick,” a race to put the most Post-It Notes on a partner in a minute. The boys prevailed, but a survey of laughs and screams (there was an alleged ghost sighting in an upstairs window) assured all that everyone had a great time. 

Next on the agenda were S’mores and — in case someone wasn’t at least a little bit spooked yet — ghost stories in the moonlight. But just as the storyteller was ramping up to a crescendo of fear … an apparition made its presence known. It was the ghost of Glenn Curtiss himself! 

The suspiciously corporeal specter sauntered in casually from the garden into the courtyard and joined the surprised students, welcoming them to his home. As in all his existing photos, he was neatly dressed, wearing 1920s casual attire of brown trousers, a long-sleeved white shirt, beige vest, and a straw hat. His gentle drawl helped to assuage any fears of contact with the world beyond. 

This quite lively vestige of Curtiss was eager to talk to the students about his life, from his time in Hammondsport, N.Y., his activities in South Florida, and his many inventions. The students were filled with questions, some not really quite sure if they should believe their eyes. 

Then, as quickly as he came, the gentle phantom was gone. It was 1 a.m. and time for the students to go home. Parents were lined up at the door ready to take their charges home. Overall, the lock in, the first time one has been held at the Mansion, was a success. 

“Any time kids are having fun at the Mansion, it is a great time,” said Phillips. “Some of the students were already familiar with Glenn Curtiss, and now they all are. A good night for all.”

As the student reviews rolled in the next school day, it was clear they felt the same way. 

“It was awesome and exciting. The movie, the scary stories, I just had a lot of fun,” said eighth-grader Angel Torres.  

Sixth-grader Nemina Villar added, “It was a good time to bond with each other.”

“It was the best night,” chimed sixth-grader Steve Lopez. “We are so grateful to the Mansion.”

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