Ghost Tour: Meet the “Former Residents” of St. Augustine

Surely it is no surprise that the nation’s “Ancient City” is a breeding ground for countless ghost stories and supernatural incidents. A city that was founded almost five hundred years ago (in 1565) has had a lot of centuries in which to gather the spirits of its former residents. Oddly, many of the stories concern with people who were associated with St. Augustine no earlier than the 1700s.

The city itself provides a wonderful backdrop for the supernatural; narrow cobblestone streets, old gates and stone walls hiding private property from view, colonial homes, and the very ambiance of age and history. If you choose to wander around the city at night (which, granted, only a few brave souls can accomplish) you might want to know what to look out for.

You don’t need to spend hard-earned money on a guided ghost tour (although they can be extremely entertaining). Sometimes it is more mysterious and enjoyable to walk around alone and take note of all the places where ghostly activity is said to occur. For one suggestion, you may want to park at the Visitor Center. Walking around to the front of the building and across a busy avenue, you’ll see a huge gray castle up on a hill. Actually, it’s not a castle; it’s known as the Castillo de San Marcos, and it’s a Spanish masonry fort from the 1600s. It’s had its share of ghostly associations, and after hearing the story, no one should wonder why.

There were rumors circulated over a century ago that said bones had been found in one of the Castillo’s small, dark chambers. Of course, imagination being what it is, it was automatically “proven” to be human remains, and tales fabricated of love, deceit, and treachery. The Victorian mind was rife with chivalrous images, and the story of a young man falling in love with an equally adoring (though married) young woman, then imprisoned for his love, was quickly accepted.

Other stories connected to the Castillo include strange images of soldiers patrolling the ramparts, and Native American spirits. What were Native Americans doing in the Castillo? During the Seminole War and beyond, captured Indians were doomed to spend their days in a lonely, dank room with little hope of escape.

Walking back over San Marco Avenue will bring you to a narrow sidewalk and a walled burial ground. The huge gate out front says “Huguenot Cemetery.” French Protestants who made a colony in Florida a few years before St. Augustine’s founding fathers arrived were known as Huguenots, a name of uncertain derivation. Though there aren’t actually Huguenots *in* this cemetery, it was the place in the city allotted for Protestant burials and thus received this name. There are more than a few stories associated with the cemetery. A judge named Stickney, reportedly wronged when his body was desecrated, is reported to patrol the grounds. Ghost stories or not, this is an eerie place with its shade trees, old worn stones, and infrequent foot traffic.

Keep going. Straight ahead you’ll see the two pillars known as the City Gates. On the other side is a beautiful shopping district and colonial street known as St. George Street. In olden times it was known as “the street that goes to the land gate.” Apparently colonial Spaniards didn’t waste time with things like naming ceremonies.

Many of the homes on this street, both reconstructed and original, have histories spanning hundreds of years. There are some homes such as the Benet House (now a gift shop) that have strange occurrences. One of the family members who occupied this home must have been unwilling to leave for a better place, because one of them seems to have remained. Footsteps are heard even when there is no one walking on the second floor.

Trace your steps back to the Visitor Center to reorient yourself. If you can’t decide in which direction to go, consider going over the bridge to Anastasia Island, where you can see first hand the site of a bloody conquest. Yes, it is a long drive to Matanzas Inlet, but well worth it for the ghost seeker.

The story of the Protestant Frenchmen who lost their lives to the Spanish sword is well documented; though the exact number is not known, probably at least a hundred were put to death. These were the survivors of a shipwreck on which Jean Ribault, the Huguenot sailor and explorer was in command. There aren’t many ghost stories associated with this site, but with such a frightening history, it is quite understandable that there is an “aura” here that can send chills up the spine of the most sensible person.

By Lacie R. Schaeffer

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