Fort Harrison Hotel
The Fort Harrison Hotel in 1926. Image from the Louise Frisbie Collection, Digitized by Florida Memory.
A postcard showing the hotel and the causeway circa 1950.
Fort Harrison is now owned by the Church of Scientology
Backstory and Context
Starting with the construction of the Fort Harrison Hotel by Ed Haley in 1926, Oldsmobile inventor Ransom E. Olds operated the hotel for decades until his death in 1950. Following Olds death, Fort Harrison was purchased by Jack Tar Hotels, who expanded the original construction and operated the hotel until 1975. The hotel had fallen into disrepair during the early 70s, and had largely fallen in popularity with visitors to the area. In 1975, the Church of Scientology purchased the building under the guise of two front organizations known as “Southern Land Development and Leasing Corp” and “United Churches of Florida Inc.” Following the purchase of the hotel, the Church undertook a multi-million dollar restoration and upgrade of the hotel, which brought it back to functional standards.
In 1989, the site came under considerable scrutiny after “the Affadavit of Hana Eltringham-Whitfield” was published. The affidavit included allegations of forced labor, mental and emotional torture, and inhuman living conditions being utilized to control Sea Org members who were accused of poor behavior within the Church. Whitfield claimed that the Church housed the RPF within the Fort Harrison, forcing members to undergo extensive mistreatment including constant running and physical labor, restriction of hygiene, severely reduced living conditions, and paranoia-inducing psychological torture by means of behavior auditing. She claimed that the misdeeds of those placed in the RPF were never clearly explained, and that harsh interrogation was used to force members to confess their own misdeeds, often leading to confessions of actions that never occurred. Whitfield also brought forward claims that, even after escape, the Church threatened her extensively, promising to make her life outside of the Church as bad as it was within it. Whitfield left Fort Harrison in early 1982, having been put through extensive “security checking,” which involved even harsher interrogation than she had undergone before.
In addition to the Affadavit of Hana Eltringham-Whitfield, a number of other strange occurances have brought scrutiny on the seemingly beautiful and peaceful Fort Harrison. In 1980, a member of the Church by the name of Josephus A. Havenith was found dead in a room within the Fort Harrison Hotel. Cause of death was deemed as drowning, however, the bathtub was filled with water hot enough to have burned his skin and his head was not submerged beneath the water. In 1988, a member of the Church by the name of Heribert Pfaff died of a severe seizure within the Hotel after being placed by the Church on a vitamin regimen in lieu of his usual seizure medication. In 1995, the most suspicious of all the deaths at the location occurred. Lisa McPherson, a member of the Church, died after allegedly being held in room 174 of the Fort Harrison for over half a month. The cause of death was officially determined to be from a blood clot caused by dehydration and excessive bed rest. Originally a Church spokesperson acknowledged the fact that she had died at the Fort Harrison, but this statement was later retracted by the Church as erroneous, who then claimed she had died on the way to the hospital.
The Clearwater police report a notably high number of emergency calls from the Fort Harrison Hotel, however, Church private security regularly refuse the police entry to the hotel, claiming that the calls were made in error. Police have been refused numerous times from investigating the specific source of the calls, being barred from entry by Church guards.
Despite the controversies, the Church offers regular, guided tours of the location, which can be scheduled at the nearby welcome office.
The Scientology Flag Service Organization. Accessed June 30, 2017. http://www.scientology-fso.org. Church Official Website for the Flag Service Org
Eltringham-Whitfield, Hana. The Affadavit of Hana Eltringham-Whitfield. Ex Scientologist. August 08, 1989. Accessed June 30, 2017. http://www.exscn.net/content/view/87/103/index.html. The published affadavit which contained numerous allegations against the Church
Morgan, Lucy. "For some Scientologists, pilgrimage has been fatal." The St. Petersburg Times(St. Petersburg, FL), December 07, 1997. Source for information on deaths at the hotel