St. Augustine Haunts
It is no secret. As the oldest continuously occupied city in the United States, St. Augustine's history is rich. It is this historical depth that has made the city so appealing to residents and visitors alike. Along with all of the people who have lived in and visited St. Augustine throughout its 449 years, a lot of people have died here. And, like many who've recently graduated from Flagler College, these people refuse to leave.
Ghosts are a (super)natural consequence of history, but another consequence of St. Augustine's history is its utter walkability – after all, the original town plan was designed long before cars were invented. Few other towns in Florida compare. Our downtown streets are old, narrow, and tightly connected. Additionally, coastal Florida is flat. These factors make our town absolutely ideal for ghost hunting. You can very easily make a night (or day, if you're convinced you're any safer in the light of the Florida sun) of visiting several haunted locations, snapping pictures, admiring architecture, and sharing the spooky vibes with friends and family.
You don't even need to believe in ghosts to have a good time ghost hunting in St. Augustine. Nearly every haunted location, apart from being within walking distance of each other, is within walking distance of a bar, tavern, pub, or restaurant. (I'll spare you the spirit puns).
The following are locations in downtown St. Augustine (or not very far beyond) that are known for having a particularly high degree of paranormal activity. There are plenty more haunted locations than these (some would even argue that all of St. Augustine is technically haunted), but the following stops should be reserved for only the most daring.
1. The St. Augustine Lighthouse
St. Augustine's current lighthouse is actually one of several to have occupied its storied shores. During the construction of its current iteration in 1873, five children were playing on a rail car that was used by workers to transfer materials and equipment between the docks and the lighthouse. Four of the children had recently moved with their family from Maine, as their father was in charge of construction, and one of them was a worker's daughter. The brakes of the rail car failed, and the children careened into the ocean. Despite the rescue efforts of the workers, only two children survived. The unfortunate three are said to haunt the grounds of the lighthouse, particularly near and around the playground area. Visitors who are photographically inclined (as any legitimate ghost hunter ought to be) can expect a higher propensity for orbs and other odd camera phenomena in this area.
Several tour services, including Ghost Augustine's Everdark Express Shadow Ghost Tour, offer tours in the area. The only way to tour the inside of the lighthouse at night is to take a Dark of the Moon tour, offered by the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum.
2. The Segui-Kirby Smith House
This is the childhood home of Confederate General Kirby Smith. Today, the Sequi-Kirby Smith House, located at 12 Aviles St., houses a research library that is maintained by the St. Augustine Historical Society. At night, even while no one is occupying the premises, lights can be seen turning on and off at random. While no one is certain who exactly is haunting the building, it seems the spirit has a love for mischief. Some ghost hunters may very well classify this entity as a poltergeist. Furthermore, this is another location with a high propensity for orbs.
3. Old location of Antiques & Uniques Collectibles
This is arguably one of the “hottest” paranormal spots in the city. Construction of the building was completed in 1888. While some ghastly things have occurred in this building in the past, it is important to note that no one to date has been physically harmed by the resident spirits. This does not mean it isn’t a challenging adventure for spirit seekers — there are professional tour guides who refuse to enter the building at night. The structure was originally the location of one of St. Augustine's first jails. One room is haunted by a particular prisoner from Haiti who was jailed for his non-consensual advances toward local women. Another room is occupied by the spirit of a man who was more than unkind to some local children. The laughter and crying of children can sometimes be heard echoing off the walls late at night. And then there's the second floor. Due to the unsound nature of the structure of the floor itself, the second floor has been off-limits to the living for some time, but this hasn't stopped the footsteps that can occasionally be heard through the ceiling on the first floor.
The business has closed and the building is for sale so there are no tours available, leaving the property to the spirit world.
4. Don Pedro Horruytiner House
This house, located at 214 St. George Street, was built during the first Spanish period, and was home to two generations of governors. The first reported paranormal incident is that of Brigita Gomez in 1821, who saw two translucent women while gardening. The women looked suspiciously familiar to Brigita, who realized that they resembled paintings she'd seen of previous owners. She carried on a conversation with the women, and bid them farewell by cutting them some yellow roses. She awoke the following day to find the yellow roses sitting on her doorstep. The women, among other former residents, can still be seen milling about the garden.
A more recent incident was reported by the Patterson family, who decided to conduct a paranormal test of their own after purchasing the house. Upon entering the mostly empty house for the first time after acquiring it, they yelled to the ghosts for some kind of sign that might prove their presence. Within seconds the house was illuminated as all of its lights mysteriously turned on.
5. Flagler College
Several entities are said to haunt the halls of the former Ponce de Leon Hotel. Henry Flagler's ghost is to be expected. The most commonly manifests as a no-nonsense paternal figure that students feel keeps an eye on them. Less abstractly, a mustachioed man in early 20th century garb can be seen floating around the rotunda. Other specters include Henry's second wife Ida Alicia, and a woman in black who is believed to have been Henry Flagler's mistress.
While many local businesses are proud of their haunted histories, Flagler College is not as forthcoming. Ponce Hall is a mainstay on many ghost tours, but the only way you can tour the inside of the building is by taking a Flagler Legacy Tour. Though fun and interesting, you will not hear any ghost stories on the more traditionally historical Legacy Tour.
6. Scarlett O'Hara's
This thriving "Gone With the Wind"-loving establishment was once two houses before it was combined into one commercial property as a bar and restaurant. One of those houses was built in 1879 by Mr. Colee for his then beloved fiancee. His heart was broken when she called off their engagement after falling in love with a soldier stationed at the fort. Mr. Colee recovered from his devastation and found another woman to share his home with. Shortly after his wedding, however, he was found drowned in his bathtub. His death was initially believed to be a suicide, though rumors at the time placed the blame on his cold footed (and cold hearted) ex and her brawny husband.
Mr. Colee can now be found mostly in the men's restroom on the second floor. He's made a habit of brushing people's shoulders and breathing down their necks. Murder victims, especially ones who are killed in their own homes, tend to stick around and partake in tasks that they would have done had they continued living. While cable television did not exist in the 19th century, Mr. Colee has adapted to modern ways of living and loves channel surfing. He also helps the night staff by lighting decorative candles. Less amusingly, he can be heard moaning in the bathroom from the second floor Ghost Bar. Did I mention they have a Ghost Bar? You should probably check it out.
7. Tolomato Cemetery
The Tolomato and Huguenot cemeteries are, for the majority of the year, closed to the general public. Only once a month (typically the 3rd Saturday) are visitors allowed within the wire fence confines of either burial ground. This is for the sake of preservation. However, you can still see, if not the entirety of the cemeteries, most of the cemeteries from their respective gates. These locations are supposedly so haunted, so teeming with specters re-dying to escape, that many visitors report paranormal experiences well beyond the bounds of the cemetery itself.
The ghosts of Father Varela and Bishop Verot are said to haunt the grounds of the Tolomato Cemetery. This is to be expected, as the Tolomato cemetery was built for Catholics, and it is the oldest planned cemetery in Florida. What is more curious, however, is that the mortuary chapel no longer houses the remains of the Bishop or the Father as it once did. Men in priestly garb can sometimes be seen floating near the chapel, perhaps bemoaning the disturbance of their once eternal slumber. Another popular story is that of a sad young woman in a bridal gown who seems to stir the empathy of the visitors who manage to see her, as they typically leave the site crying and overwhelmed with grief.
Less depressing is that of the young boy who can frequently be found playing on a tree branch toward the ground's entrance. While most may not see how a dead child could possibly lift anyone’s spirits (see what I did there?), his ghost is much more playful and isn't known to make people run away sobbing. He might even throw a ball at you.
8. Huguenot Cemetery
The Huguenot Cemetery around the corner is home to its own gang of haunts. In 1882, popular Judge John B. Stickney succumbed to yellow fever, an epidemic at the time, and was buried in the mostly protestant graveyard. His body was to be exhumed at a later date so that his family could rebury him at their new home. To their dismay, several buried valuables, including the judge's gold teeth, had apparently been stolen from his gravesite. A figure of a man can sometimes be seen looking for something. Whether that figure is the judge himself searching for his belongings, or the ghosts of grave robbers serving a kind of paranormal punishment for their sins is subject to debate.
Other manifestations in and around the Huguenot Cemetery include a roving band of pranksters who seem to enjoy caressing and scaring tourists for fun. Most ghost hunters who've visited the site theorize that these are the bored spirits of victims of the yellow fever epidemic, others suggest that these are bored Flagler College freshmen. Either way, the consensus is that these entities are, indeed, bored and that ghost hunting can be fun for the living, the dead, and the scholarly alike.
9. Castillo de San Marcos
The fort itself is not open to the general public at night. However, the grounds of the fort (provided you do not attempt to illegally climb any of the walls) are fair game. Consider the name of the river upon which the fort sits, “Matanzas.” This name literally translates from Spanish to “slaughter; massacre.” The river was named as such because it was once red with the blood of French Protestant soldiers. Pedro Menendez de Aviles of Spain was ordered to kill all Protestants he found in the New World. Several hundred Huguenots from Fort Caroline, led by Jean Ribault, found themselves shipwrecked on the banks of the river. They were categorically slaughtered by Menendez and his men.
There are so many stories and sightings in and around the fort that they could themselves fill up the space of countless articles. Some highlights include the floating disembodied head of Chief Osceola, which was removed from the Chief’s body on the grounds of the fort, but in its physical form has since been relocated. Apparently, his spectral face bears an expression of anguish and displeasure. (Let's be honest, it would almost be creepier if he looked happy about the situation.)
Soldiers, most commonly donning Spanish and English regalia, can be seen patrolling the premises. Additionally, prisoners of war who were either executed or died while in captivity are thought to roam the dungeon. Spirits of other soldiers are frequently seen in their respective quarters.
It can be difficult to distinguish the soldiers themselves, but the ghost of English pirate Andrew Ranson is one that sticks out. Ranson was instrumental in both the construction and defense of the fort, as he helped the Spanish fend off his countrymen and extract valuable information through his translations of the confessions and revelations of English prisoners. Prior to his assisting the Spanish, Ranson was set to be executed. The botched garroting was seen as a miracle, a form of divine intervention, which led to Ranson's assignments at the fort and eventual pardoning. Perhaps his spirit remains partial in death to the building that effectively spared and defended him in life.
With its history of less than enlightened incarceration over 60 years as the St. Johns County Jail, including the eight executions that took place on the gallows behind the building, it’s no wonder that the Old Jail (167 San Marco Ave.) is listed on the Florida and National Register of Haunted Places. What is a wonder is how unlike a jail it actually looks on the outside. If you don’t look at the bars on the windows, you’d think this was another fine historic hotel –it’s even pink! Henry Flagler had it built a mile away from his fancy resorts to protect the innocence of his guests, and the exterior was designed to look non-threatening. But inside, where the prisoners lived under the watchful eyes of Sheriff Joe Perry, the facility was on lockdown. The same company that later built Alcatraz designed the cells and maximum security areas of the Old Jail.
The spirit of one inmate in particular, Charlie Powell, whose slow death on the gallows was a great example of the kind of inefficient hangings the Old Jail specialized in, seems to like to hang around his old home so he can chat with visitors. The Old Jail is the site of all kinds of ghostly manifestations -- apparitions, disembodied screams, the sounds of barking dogs, and even the occasional tripping of a tour guide by an apparently disgruntled female ex-inmate.
If you would prefer professional assistance in exploring such daunting hauntings, St. Augustine offers myriad varieties of ghost tours. No two tour companies are exactly alike. Some tours offer a more theatrical experience, others are more story-based and historical, and there even a few that offer full paranormal investigation packages (with ghost hunting equipment and all) for the exceptionally hardcore. If you're the type who needs to down a few spirits before you can see any other kinds of spirits, there are multiple options for you as well.
- Ripley's Haunted Castle Tour features the hidden spaces and attics of the Castle Warden, home to Ripley's Believe it or Not! Museum. On certain dark nights, ticketed visitors may take a guided tour of the attics and backrooms of Ripley's Believe It or Not!. Armed with EMF meters, guests will learn of murder, mystery, and unexplained paranormal phenomena.
- Ghosts & Gravestones: The Ghosts & Gravestones “Frightseeing” tour is a riding and roaming tour through the downtown district, with stops at the St. Augustine Lighthouse area where the children were drowned in 1873 (see #1) and at the Old Jail, where good old Charlie Powell (see #10) is just dying to meet his guests.
- Ghost Augustine: Ghost Augustine offers a variety of fun and educational tours. If you've ever wanted to go ghost hunting in a haunted hearse, this is your chance. Need some additional courage? Guests who are 21+ in age can go exploring in the Pub Hearse, which adds some bar and pub stops to the usual hearse route. If you're new to the whole ghost tour scene, the 90-minute Dead Walk is a great way to get your bearings on the history and the hauntings of the city, all while using an EMF meter. If you're more enticed by the idea of a boozier walking tour, you're in luck, as the Haunted Pub Tour provides just that. To satisfy your curiosity about the investigative side of things, Haunted St. Augustine is a 101-type lesson in ghost hunting and the use of ghost hunting equipment. Finally, the Total Paranormal Experience combines the Haunted Hearse tour and Haunted St. Augustine tour for over four hours of paranormal engagement. Ghost Augustine is strictly non-theatrical.
- Sheriff's Ghost Walk: With an emphasis on historical accuracy, the Sheriff and his dead deputies will take guests on a walking tour of the most haunted houses, B&Bs, and cemeteries in the city. The Sheriff offers one tour a night Tuesday through Sunday, starting at 8 p.m. Tickets are available starting at 7:45 p.m. on tour nights, and can be purchased at 18 St. George Street across from the Old Water Wheel & Mill Top Tavern.
- City Walks: City Walks offer a variety of tours of St. Augustine, but the St. Augustine Creepy Crawl keeps the focus on the city's most haunted bars and pubs.
- Ancient City Tours: Ancient City Tours offers a guided walking tour of St. Augustine through their A Ghostly Encounter Tour. The emphasis here is on history, but their Group Sales Department can help you design a custom tour of your own to satisfy all of your spooky touring needs.
- A Night Among Ghosts offers a number of non-theatrical tours, most with EVPs. They present tours that offer a real ghost-hunting experience and suggest that guests bring their intuition so they are more open to the possibilities and the experience.
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