St. Augustine: Haunted Jaunts
Founded by Ponce de Leon, St. Augustine has several intriguing ghost tours popular with visitors. This modern festival goer's costume reflects interest in the city's dramatic history. *
By Kay Harwell Fernandez
Boo! Do you believe in ghosts? Whether you're a believer or not, the nation's oldest city serves up hair-raising tales.
A pirate, a young soldier, an Indian chief, the lady with a lantern—is their presence real or imagined? Layers of centuries-old legends follow you on these jaunts in the third most haunted city in the US.
The folks at Ghost Tours of St. Augustine (904-461-1009 or www.ghosttoursofstaugustine.com), 4 St. George St., operate three different presentations. They point out that all stories are thoroughly researched, so nothing is made up.
"Ghosts and Legends Riding Tour" ambles along the old city streets, and takes visitors across Matanzas Bay to Anastasia Island. The trolley stops on the grounds of the historic St. Augustine Lighthouse. Along the way, guides share accounts of murder and mayhem, and ghostly sightings. Tickets are $22 per person.
"A Ghostly Experience Walking Tour" has been featured on the "Travel Channel" and "the Discover Channel." From dusk to darkness, a guide in period dress lights the way by lantern. Saunter with the spirits, and listen to local folklore.
This is a kid-friendly walking tour that also stops at Castillo de San Marcos. Perhaps you’ll see Chief Osceola’s image or the young soldier leaning against the fort’s wall. Price is $12 each.
The Castillo de San Marcos, the city's old Spanish fort, is reportedly a site of ghostly activity.*
For the $35 "Ghosts of the Matanzas" tour, participants meet at the City Marina, where they board the 72-foot Schooner Freedom. A “ghostly” pirate commandeers the ship; he good-naturedly regales his captives with songs and tales of the high seas. Mutiny on the Bounty, you say?
Take a rollicking ride on the Trolley of the Doomed with a wacky conductor and a gravedigger, from Ghosts and Gravestones (904-826-3663 or www.ghostsandgravestones.com). The 90-minute tour leaves from the City Gate, 2 St. George St. The company rates its treks as PG-13, as portions are not suited for young children. Cost is $22 for adults and $10 for children.
“Guaranteed to raise your spirits,” this outing takes you to the Old Drugstore, which sits on an Indian burial ground. At the Spanish Military Hospital, you might hear the hushed tones of 17th century medical practitioners. On the National Haunted Places Register, the Old Jail is the site of countless supernatural happenings.
Rumor has it that the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum (904-824-1606 or www.staugustine-ripleys.com), 19 San Marco Ave., has hosted many a ghost of its own. It seems apropos that the museum offers a Ripley’s Ghost Train Adventure. The black sightseeing train takes guests through the shadowy city streets.
This 90-minute narrated tour equally divides riding, walking and climbing the long stairs in the creepy Warden’s Castle (the museum’s home). On this G-rated journey, each person receives a “ghost energy meter” that picks up any paranormal activity. You also get cameras (to keep) in case you spot a ghost to photograph. Tickets are $24 for adults and $12 for children 6 to 12.
Orbs & Orizons
Last year, the Sci-Fi Network program “Ghost Hunters” devoted an episode to the St. Augustine Lighthouse (904-829-0745 or www.staugustinelighthouse.com), 81 Lighthouse Ave. Evidently this show turned out to be quite popular, because it was the first time a ghost was caught on camera by the television show “Ghost Hunters.”
One haunted spot is said to be the city's lighthouse.*
Now, the Lighthouse offers a "Dark of the Moon" tour on the Friday and Saturday nights closest to a new moon. Visitors get a 90-minute guided tour through the darkened Keeper’s House. You go up 219 steps to the Tower!
During the tour, you’ll learn the history of the St. Augustine Lighthouse and hear stories of the paranormal. Rates are $25 for adults and $20 for children.
For things that go bump in the night, consider a stay at one of the Inns of Elegance (rates from $99 to $319). According to the innkeepers, several spirits visit the St. Francis Inn, (800-824-6062 or www.stfrancisinn.com), 279 St. George St. Photos have captured multiple orbs. Orbs are unexplained ethereal balls of light and shadow.
Guests have reported seeing a tall, slender young man with a short ponytail pacing about the room. Wearing a white, silky shirt and dark trousers, he exits to the sitting room. Shortly after, an older male wearing a brown, tri-cornered hat appears to walk through the room to the sitting area.
The Casablanca Inn (800-826-2626 or www.casablancainn.com), 24 Avenida Menendez, has its own legend—The Lady with the Lantern. Decades ago during bootleg times, the inn was called the Matanzas Hotel. The female proprietor was in cahoots with some bootleggers. Whenever any G-Men approached, she climbed to the roof and waved her lantern to warn her partners in crime to stay away.
Boaters out in the bay and guests from an adjacent property have sighted a lantern swinging in the eerie dark of night. We’ll ask again: Do you believe in ghosts?
Spirited Encounters Elsewhere in FL
Patrons and staff alike at Daytona Beach’s Halifax Historical Museum (386-255-6976 or www.halifaxhistorical.org), 252 S. Beach St. recount close encounters of the first kind. The female presence is not harmful, but she definitely makes a statement.
Apparently the woman came from a prominent pioneer family. The museum acquired her 1890s wedding dress in the late 1980s. Since then, machines and lights go on and off, and things fall over without rhyme or reason. One museum director heard the rustling of a dress coming down the stairs. A volunteer’s daughter saw a lady’s image in the restroom mirror, not realizing it was an apparition. Museum admission is $4 for adults and $1 for kids.
For another spirited experience, go 25 miles west of Daytona to Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp (386-228-2880 or www.cassadaga.org), 1112 Stevens St. A spiritualist camp since 1894, Cassadaga is on the National Register of Historic Districts and has 55 residents.
The camp offers a "Nighttime Orb" tour on Saturdays for $25. The $15 "Encounter of the Spirits" tour is given on Saturday afternoons.
Kay Harwell Fernandez is a freelance writer based in Ormond Beach, FL. She specializes in travel, especially pertaining to food and wine; art, culture and history; and cruises.
*Photos on this page are owned, copyrighted and used with permission of the St. Augustine Convention & Visitors Bureau. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.