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Old Fort Battle-Scarred Relic

Portait of Pedro Menendez de Aviles

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In this illustration, which is continued at the top of the following page, is shown an interior view of Fort Marion. Note the ramp, or incline plane for the ascent to the terreplein, supported by an arch that has no keystone and the round well in the corner of the courtyard in front of the courtroom, where Osceola was imprisoned and from which the minor chiefs of the Seminoles made their escape.


In this day, when all the world is bewildered by German military efficiency, an inspection of the old fort at St. Augustine leads one to believe that the Spaniards of the seventeenth century were far from inefficient when it came to constructing impregnable fortifications. One shell, fired by a modern Krupp gun, probably would reduce it to debris, but 200 years ago, when it was a mark for the fire of British warships and the cannons of Governor Oglethorpe were trained upon it, the fort withstood the bombardment with a nonchalance and disdain worthy of a wealthy debutante spurning the hand of a poor suitor in a high society drama. The cannon balls made about as much impression on the thick walls of coquina as did the sponges, thrown by Roman gladiators in mock combat, on the features of the emperor, Agrippa. The leaden missiles sank into the spongy stone in the same manner that a pig's foot sinks into a wallow of mud and with less disastrous results. There was not even a squeal.

It took almost as long to build Fort Marion as it does to construct some government buildings of today-91 years to be exact. The first stone was laid in 1665, but almost a century elapsed before the engineer in charge of the work could place over the entrance the Spanish coat of arms and the following translated inscription:

Don Fernandez the Sixth being King of Spain, and Field Marshall Don Alonzo Fernandez de Herreda, Governor and Captain-General of the city of St. Augustine, Florida, and its province, this fortress was finished in the year 1756.

St. Augustine's oldest Hotel'

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The oldest hotel in St. Augustine, now serving in the lowly rank of storehouse.

Although most of the work was done by slaves—prisoners from Mexico and Appalachian Indians—the cost of construction was more than $30,000,000 and the king of Spain, when asked to put his royal 0. K. on the bill, exclaimed, "It's curtains and bastions must be made of solid silver!"

The Argon monarch was wrong in his conjecture, however. The fort is built of coquina, a shell rock of natural formation that is soft when quarried but which gradually hardens when exposed to the air. The material, obtained from quarries on Anastasia island, lying in front of the city between bay and ocean, was cut in huge blocks that were ferried down the creek and across the harbor on barges and carried to their present position with crossbars.

Although I hold no belief in voodoos or ghosts, I have no doubt but that Fort Marion is haunted. If you stepped up and asked me, I could tell you of at least one thousand other places where I would prefer to spend a night, especially if the skies are shot with lightning and booming with thunder. There are many sounds more pleasant to my ears than the grating of bolts, the clanking of chains and the shrieks of tortured wraiths. I have no desire to be prematurely grey. I could spend 2 or 3 days roaming about the old castle, but a night—never.

A Retreat of Apparitions

If the victims of Spanish cruelty do not pay nocturnal visits to the secret dungeons and the torture chamber, they have more good sense than ghosts are generally given credit for, and I am not taking any chances on the wisdom of departed spirits who were nailed on crosses, stretched on racks and locked in cages to die of starvation. I am willing to wager that these wraiths become restless occasionally and float up through the oubliette of quicksand, where their mangled bodies were thrown, and bounce around in the utter darkness.

Antique picture of a view of the Ponce de Leon Hotel.

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A view of the Ponce de Leon, the most magnificent hotel in the oldest city of America.

Provided I were condemned to spend a night of terror within the walls of the old castle, I would make a request that I be locked up in the court room, where Osceola, with Coacoochee and Hadjo, were imprisoned, and where I might have the ghosts. of these Seminole chiefs for company. From what I can learn, they were peaceable and friendly redskins when not crossed, and you can rest assured that I would no nothing to pique them. Were my mood daring under the circumstances, I might emulate Coachoochee and Hadjo, who dug notches in the masonry at the rear of the room, climbed to the ventilator 18 feet above the floor, squeezed through horizontal bars 8 inches apart and dropped to the moat 25 feet below. On the other hand, I might become stoically patient and like Osceola, climb to the window ledge over the door and wait there until my captors came to set me free. The fates forbid that I have to wait as long as he, for Osceola, whose treacherous capture and long imprisonment is one of the darkest blots on the pages of American history, knew no day of freedom. Although released from Fort Marion, he was sent a prisoner to Sullivan's island, in Charleston harbor, where he died.

No fortress in the United States has as many legends and so fascinating a web of awe and mystery spun around it as St. Augustine's most interesting landmark. The old castle, which is the only example of mediaeval fortification on this continent, is a fine example of the art of military engineering as developed in the seventeenth century, being built on a plan of trapezium designed by Marshall Vauban, of France.


 
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