TAMPA — Tampa Bay Buccaneers left tackle Donovan Smith spends his Sunday afternoons patrolling an island mostly by himself, protecting his quarterback from the most vicious pass rushers in the NFL.
It’s a scary place, but Smith is no stranger to scary places. He spent a chunk of his childhood in the eerie shadow of what some believe to be one of the scariest places in the country.
Peering out from its waterside perch about a block away, the most notorious haunted house in America still keeps watch over the students and faculty of Amityville, New York’s Memorial High School.
For a year, Smith passed by that white three-story Dutch Colonial on his way to Memorial High, where he was among those who sometimes wondered if he’d become the focus of the home’s hair-raising glare.
“It’s a beautiful house, but it’s a little creepy, too,’’ Smith said of the Long Island home that became infamous through the release of the “Amityville Horror’’ books and movies. “Especially on Halloween.’’
Whether it’s the result of a prank put on by the owner or the work of spirits still residing there, Smith can’t say. All he knows is that on Halloween night, the house at 112 Ocean Ave. goes dark.
“Except for those two little windows they have up there,’’ Smith said of the triangular-shaped third-story windows that just so happen to face the school.”
“When that happens and those windows are lit up, it’s like there’s these two eyes just kind of staring at you. That’s when that house starts to look ridiculously spooky.’’
The spooky nature dates back to November, 1974, when the home became the site of a grisly family killing that George and Kathy Lutz passed off as unfortunate when they opted to buy it and move into it a year later.
Within a month of taking up residence, though, the Lutz’s fled in fear, complaining of an infestation of flies and claiming to have been terrorized by a series of paranormal episodes.
Two years later, the Lutz’s ordeal became the subject of a book and later a film that transformed the home into a pop culture curiosity that spawned more than a dozen sequels and spinoffs.
Among them are shows such as Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures, which Smith admits to being a casual fan of. Smith also admits to being a bit of a paranormal buff. But he doesn’t believe in ghosts. Not completely anyway.
“Some of that stuff is just too far-fetched,’’ the Penn State product said. “But there’s also some stuff where you say, ‘Yeah, maybe that’s possible.’ I mean as long as they stay away from me, I’m good.’’
An Amityville resident from the time he was in sixth grade until the summer before he moved to Maryland to attend 10th grade, Smith said the home was something he and his friends often talked about.
But Smith says he never developed a desire to investigate the home for himself. In fact, any thoughts of ever doing so were quashed one night during the summer before he went into eighth grade.
“For as long as I lived there, I always knew about the house,’’ Smith said. “But I didn’t really understand the story behind it until I first saw the movie when I was in eighth grade.”
“I mean, I was already scared of the place as it was before then. But after that, man, I was really spooked out by it. After that I was like, ‘I ain’t messing with that house.’”
“From that point on I always made sure I stayed outside of the big bushes that are out in front. I mean, it’s a good walk from the street to the front door anyway. But I wasn’t about to go up to that door.’’
Not even the promise of a treat on Halloween changed Smith’s mind. While other kids willingly made the hike to the front door for whatever it was the owners were giving out on Halloween night, Smith always passed.
“Yeah, I’d just go on to the next house,’’ Smith said. “I wasn’t taking any chances with that place. And I wasn’t the only one who passed on it. A lot of the kids passed up that house right along with me.”
“But you know you always had some daredevils that wanted to go up there. Even when it wasn’t Halloween, kids would go there to see what it was like and check it out. I was never part of that group.’’
Smith said he’s often asked about the home that has become a magnet for tourists. With the exception of its proximity to Memorial High, it’s appearance and the creepy vibe it gives off, he can’t say much.
“There were people living there when I was there but I never tried to meet them, so I don’t know if it’s the same people that are there now or not,’’ he said.
“And like I said, it’s a beautiful house. But on Halloween, when they turn on those lights upstairs and it’s pitch black everywhere else, it’s every bit as scary looking as it’s made out to be. It’s like the house is watching you or something.’’