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Getting Retro with Go Retro Tours

By Kelly Church

Go Retro is a Pensacola, FL tourism company dedicated to showcasing the rich history of the city. Inspired by former beloved Pensacola Mayor Vince Whibbs statement, "Pensacola is the western gate to the sunshine state where thousands live like millions which they could," Go Retro opens that gate for tourists and residents to experience centuries of history. Go Retro President Wesley Odom says that as one of the most historic cities in the state, the company has plenty of stories to tell.

"Originally, Spaniards established the town before St. Augustine, but a hurricane destroyed it, thus giving St. Augustine the title of the oldest permanent settlement in the U.S.," Odom says. "Since then, the town has grown from a two block area of less than 300 to a greater metro area of 450,000. Because Pensacola has existed on this site since 1756 and quickly grew larger than St. Augustine, there are lots of stories, battles and business that occurred here."

Go Retro offers four types of tours: an Adventure series that takes patrons through graveyards, the former Red Light District and other locations with a spooky history; a Military series that explores the local military exploits of Andrew Jackson, the city during the Revolutionary War -- Longest Siege or alternatively, the Civil War and a separate Navy Heritage tour; a Special events series that shows guests Christmas lights or takes them on a private charter; and lastly?it's most popular--a Sightseeing series that offers separate tours on Architecture, Landmarks, North Hill and Beaches/Ft. Pickens.

"There are excellently preserved buildings, forts and lighthouses that you could not find in other parts of Florida," says Odom. "For example: The [Ghosts and Graveyards] tour explores the six types of hauntings that have been observed in Pensacola- interactive, residual, poltergeist, demonic, shadow and doppelganger. The tour begins downtown and proceeds into the city's old Seville area, then to Sanders Beach, over into St. John's Cemetery, where a few were buried alive, and lastly to North Hill, which was Pensacola's first upscale neighborhood and is on the National Historic Register."

Odom has firsthand experience with the haunted side of Pensacola. His house is one of the stops on the Ghosts and Graveyards tour and was featured on the Syfy Channel's show Haunted Collector in 2013. Odom says his house is a Queen Anne Victorian building that has been standing since 1900. It was rented by the future Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Warfield Simpson, when she was married to her first husband Pensacola Navy aviator Earl Winfield Spencer, Jr. The couple later divorced and the property is presumed to be haunted by her, among other spirits.

One of the most unique parts of the Go Retro guided tours is the vehicles in which they take patrons through the town. Its hallmark vehicle is a blast from the past, a replica Ford 1930 Transit Bus that seats 20 passengers. The car represents the same vehicles that were commonly driven in the 1930s and 1940s in Pensacola. Odom says by building this replica, Go Retro was able to capture an "exciting age of the automobile."

"Many people today love old cars because there was an emphasis upon aesthetics and durability that still resonate with folks," says Odom. "It took two years to have this replica manufactured."

Not only does the replicated vehicle represent an important era in Pensacola history, but Odom also says it allows guests to fully experience the tour. It is equipped with state-of-the-art sound and video systems.

"Besides being better built, it is equipped with a larger engine, climate controlled, and there is a monitor behind every seat," says Odom. "This is a crucial element of Go Retro because with the monitor, we can show customers images of what Pensacola used to look like as we drive by them."

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