The haunted side of St. Augustine, Fla.

BY KATHRYN LEMMON Modified: October 8, 2012 at 11:15 am •  Published: October 8, 2012
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St. Augustine, Fla., is an old city by American standards. The famous Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon — all swaggering 4 feet 11 inches of him — landed off the coast in 1513, and the trolley drivers like to explain that St. Augustine had been inhabited for decades by the time the pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, so there, Massachusetts!

What better place to hunt ghosts than a 450-year-old city? St. Augustine has ample ghost-hunting opportunities year round, and I was able to participate in three. The first focused on the lighthouse on Anastasia Island, a quick drive over the Bridge of Lions. Haunted or not, the lighthouse is a popular attraction, and ghostly inhabitants just add to the allure. The grounds have even been the focus of professional ghost-hunters on television.

Unsuspecting tourists sometimes arrive at the lighthouse in the evening after closing time. More than once they have reported being greeted by a family wearing odd clothing and sitting on a porch swing. This family even speaks, telling the tourists to come back the next day. However, there is no swing on the porch and this family has long since passed away. Now that's intriguing.

I signed up for the ghost tour called "Dark of the Moon" in the gift shop at the lighthouse. Our group consisted of a dozen people. After a brief introduction, we walked through a spooky wooded area to a courtyard between the keeper's house and the lighthouse. Our guide pointed out garages and sheds beyond a low wall where numerous ghost sightings had been reported, in particular, those of young girls.

Three girls did die accidentally while the lighthouse was under construction. They were playing in a rail car that broke through a barrier and flipped upside down in the water. Although the little girls seem to be the most frequently witnessed, there are other spirits occupying the lighthouse grounds, too.

In the basement of the house, an adult male ghost likes to stroke ladies' hair. The smell of cigar smoke also indicates his presence. Like most basements, it is damp and airless, adding to the sinister feeling. Employees believe another ghost called Andrew unlocks doors and causes minor disturbances around the property.

The second ghost tour I took was called "Ghosts and Gravestones." Our transport for the evening was a solid black trolley with oversize windows, great for catching the breeze. Inside a driver in jail stripes was accompanied by a blond tour guide in a long green skirt. We drove back to the lighthouse but this time strolled through an open area across the street from the keeper's house where there was a large swing set and a scattering of trees.

Again we heard about the young girl ghosts and the long history of sightings. While we in the playground area, a teenager in our group captured white glowing orbs on his phone, causing quite a commotion.