Experience haunted St Augustine with a unique ghost tour, a stay at a historical inn, and a chance encounter with spirits of another kind.
Founded in 1565, St. Augustine is our nation’s oldest continuously inhabited city. It has a rich history, and one can never see it all in one visit. As Florida residents, Jerry and I have visited St. Augustine, on many occasions.
This time our assignment was to explore haunted St Augustine, so we piled into the car and headed north on a weekend road trip.
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Haunted St Augustine
St. Augustine ranks as one of America’s most haunted cities, not just because of its history, but because of its vast number of documented supernatural sightings. One factor that lends credence to these reports, by both professional and amateur ghost-hunters, is consistency of story.
There are countless similar reports of paranormal activity from many locations around the city. One such location is the haunted St Augustine Lighthouse. Locals and visitors alike have reported seeing and hearing the ghosts of young girls around the swingsets located on the lighthouse grounds. They believe these sightings are connected to the story of three girls who drowned when a runaway rail cart dumped them into the sea during construction of the lighthouse in 1873.
St. Augustine Ghost Tours
The easiest way for visitors to explore haunted St Augustine is to take a ghost tour. I have done many ghost tours around the United States and Canada. For me they are always about history and storytelling, and I rarely find them frightening. To my knowledge, I have never seen a ghost, but like most people there have been events in my life that have made me wonder, such as displaced items, strange noises, unexplained lights left on, and doors found open.
When it comes to the paranormal, I’ll just say I try to keep an open mind.
The good news is that haunted St Augustine has a ghost tour to fit virtually every taste. We experienced two different tours on separate nights during our weekend road trip. The first was more Jerry’s style, and the second was more suited to mine.
Ghosts and Gravestones
The Ghosts and Gravestones tour is a loop coach excursion run by Old Town Trolley Tours, and it is an excellent tour for visitors who enjoy dramatic, theatrical entertainment. Walking portions of the tour are minimal.
After check-in at the Old Town Trolley Tours Welcome Center, we boarded the open-air coach for a sold-out tour. On the way to our first stop, our “ghost host” informed us that taking three photos with flash in quick succession would give us a better chance at capturing orbs or apparitions.
Soon, we arrived at a parking lot and our guide instructed us to move into a roped-off area adjacent to the Tolomato Cemetery, a Catholic burial ground located on the site of a former Guale Native American village. Our guide told two memorable stories about the spirit of a young boy and a ghost bride who both inhabit the grounds.
James P. Morgan died in 1877, just ten days after his fifth birthday, when he fell from a large oak tree located inside the cemetery gates. He was buried not far from the tree, and many visitors report seeing his ghost playing in and around the giant oak.
Stories also circulate about the figure of a woman dressed in a flowing gown who walks the grounds. As the story goes, she was engaged to be married, but died before her wedding day, and her parents buried her in her wedding dress.
Our second stop was situated adjacent to the parking lot at the 1886 Old Drugstore, which is also the home of Potter’s Wax Museum. After a few stories about the Speissegger Brothers who founded the drugstore, we entered the dark winding corridors of the museum. Candles glowed behind filmy gauze curtains, shielding us from the wax figures lining the walls. The path eventually led us to the Chamber of Horrors where the “wax” executioner suddenly came to life with a shout. He dramatically recounted the gruesome story of Andrew Ranson, an English pirate whose 1684 garroting did not go as planned.
We boarded the bus for our next stop, The Old Jail. Built in 1891, it is noted for being one of the most haunted structures in the city, due to its high level of paranormal activity. Here the theatrics went full-tilt, like a Halloween spook house. Steel doors slammed shut behind us, inmates in prison stripes shouted dire warnings, and the entertaining incarnation of Death Row prisoner Charlie Powell explained how he died a slow, agonizing death on Sheriff Joe Perry’s gallows.
Typically, I like to surge ahead or lag behind on group tours in order to take photos of sites without other group members getting in the shots. This time my delay paid off with the apparition of a curved hazy shape in the upper right corner of the last photo I took of the gallows. To me, it closely resembles orbs I have captured in other photos, but I will let you determine its validity.
Later that evening, I joked with Jerry telling him I had renamed this ghost tour the Screaming and Banging Tour. Jerry replied that he liked it, which just goes to show you there are options for everyone.
Location: Tours begin at the Welcome Center at 27 San Marco Ave.
Times: Nightly tours begin at 7 p.m. and run every 20 minutes
Admission: Adults $27.93, children ages 3——12 $15.51 (online discount available)
Length of Tour: 80 minutes
Ghost Tours of St. Augustine
On our second evening in town, we chose to do a Ghostly Experience walking tour run by Ghost Tours of St. Augustine, the city’s first ghost tour that originated more than 25 years ago. This is a linear excursion that begins at the tour office and ends a half-mile away. For this tour, I recommend wearing comfortable walking shoes or sneakers.
The Tour St. Augustine web site declares that they are “dedicated to historical integrity and accuracy,” and other than the period dress of our guide, there was nothing during the tour that could be classified as sensationalized or theatrical. In fact, I found our guide to be quite serious, especially when sharing how she has been able to see the spiritual world all her life. That said, I listened to the stories with a grain of salt, knowing that even in well-researched history there is a fine line between fact and fiction.
After a brief orientation, we crossed King Street for our first stop near the statue of oil tycoon and industrialist Henry Flagler on the campus of Flagler College. This lovely 540-room property, originally constructed as the Ponce de León Hotel, was opened by Flagler in 1888. Numerous accounts of paranormal activity by former workers and students over the years have led to the conclusion that as many as five ghosts inhabit the college property, including Flagler’s second wife Ida Alice, Flagler’s mistress, two hotel guests, and even Henry Flagler himself.
Our tour continued to the Government House and Plaza de la Constitución, down St. George Street to the Prince of Wales Pub, Tolomato Cemetery, Huguenot Cemetery, and ultimately to its terminus at the Old City Gates. At each location and other intervals along the tour, our guide shared historical information, anecdotes of paranormal sightings, and even a few photos of apparitions on her mobile phone.
One of the more unsettling stories during the tour was about the ghost of a mean-spirited woman named Fay who lived and died in the house that is now the Prince of Wales Pub. In the late 1970s, while angrily chasing a repairman she had ordered from her house, she tripped and fell down the stairs, broke her neck, and died instantly. The fleeing repairman was oblivious to the fatal fall, and Fay’s body was not discovered until days later when the mail carrier noticed a putrid smell coming from the house. In the years since her death, there have been reports of flickering lights and numerous sightings of an unkempt middle-aged woman with her arms crossed in anger, occasionally appearing in the window of an upstairs room.
Location: Tours begin at the Tour St. Augustine office at 4 Granada St.
Times: Nightly tours depart at 8 p.m.
Admission: $15 per person, children ages 6 and under free
Length of Tour: 75 minutes
We heard several of the same stories recounted during both ghost tours, a factor that may lend a measure of credibility to the excursions for serious visitors. Our two tour guides shared virtually identical stories at Tolomato Cemetery, and both told about a young yellow fever victim named Elizabeth who frequents the Old City Gate. They also gave similar accounts of archeological disinterments in the Huguenot Cemetery that revealed fingernails embedded in the underside of coffin lids, indicating that some yellow fever victims had been buried alive.
Other Ghost Tour Options
While Jerry enjoyed the theatrical ghost tour on our first night, the historical walking tour on the second night was more suited to my taste. Because haunted St Augustine is home to a variety of ghost tours, visitors should carefully research their options and select tours that match their interests.
This company offers a variety of ghost tours, including the Original Haunted Pub Tour, a Pub Hearse Ride, a Dead Walk, and paranormal investigative tours.
Ripley’s Ghost Train Adventure
This experience is an 80-minute guided tour of the Old Fairbanks Plantation, the French Huguenot Cemetery, and the Castle Warden. Participants use EMF meters and laser grids to investigate paranormal activity.
Sheriff’s Ghost Walk Tours
This tour claims to be “the most original and historically correct ghost tour in Saint Augustine.” My observation of their modus operandi while on our walking tour confirmed they are loud and theatrical, as well.
Haunted Historical Lodging
If you want to design the perfect haunted weekend, why not book your lodging in one of St. Augustine’s historical bed & breakfast inns?
St. Francis Inn (1791)
I first heard of the St. Francis Inn more than a year ago when I read a review from my fellow travel writer Natalie from Cosmos Mariners. While researching and designing our haunted St Augustine weekend itinerary I learned that the St. Francis Inn was home to some permanent residents who had lived there a very long time. That was the only confirmation I needed to book our lodging at St. Augustine’s oldest inn.
Hauntings aside, the St. Francis Inn is my kind of place.
The inn’s history is thoroughly intriguing, with an impressive line of owners including Gaspar García, a sergeant in the Cuban army who was granted the property in 1791 by the King of Spain. It later came into the possession of Colonel Thomas Henry Dummett, an officer in the British Marines who escaped a slave insurrection in Barbados by hiding in a ship-bound sugar cask.
Photo Credit: St. Francis Inn
The St. Francis Inn is far more than your average bed and breakfast. The buffet breakfast in the dining room is a bountiful spread, especially during brunch service on weekends and holidays when Mimosas and Bloody Marys are included. There is also a complimentary social hour with drinks and snacks every evening from 5:00 to 6:00 PM and a homemade dessert served nightly in the dining room from 8:00 to 9:30 PM.
Photo Credit: St. Francis Inn
We stayed in Elizabeth’s Suite located on the second floor overlooking St. Francis Park.
Photo Credit: St. Francis Inn
For such ancient accommodations, our suite included a wealth of modern creature comforts including a fireplace, whirlpool tub, refrigerator, microwave, two TVS, bathrobes, and complimentary cream sherry.
Before booking our stay, I had read online about the paranormal activity in Lily’s Room, including the story of the tragic 19th-century love affair between Major Hardee and a servant girl from Barbados. It wasn’t until we toured the St. Francis during our stay that we learned about additional ghostly occurrences in the García Suite and Anna’s Room, and that our room, Elizabeth’s Suite, had the most paranormal activity of all.
Professional paranormal investigators have concluded that five spirits inhabit the St. Francis. Guests and employees have experienced a variety of phenomena, including apparitions of a Spanish soldier accompanied by the smell of cigar smoke, the sensation of someone sitting on the bed, and frequent moans and whispers. Probably the strangest occurrence was a man who woke one morning to find himself under the bed, a predicament requiring assistance for him to free himself.
We did not have any ghostly encounters during our stay at the St. Francis Inn, but due to a high level of interest by guests, the St. Francis Inn offers a ghostly getaway add-on called the Paranormal Paranoia Package. In addition to accommodations in one of the active rooms, this special includes two haunted St Augustine ghost books, a ghostly encounter walking tour for two, and two St. Francis Inn ghostly T-shirts.
If paranormal experiences do not intrigue you, you will still love rocking on the balcony, relaxing in the courtyard, swimming a few laps in the pool, or biking around the city, which are just a few of the many complimentary amenities at the St. Francis Inn.
And be sure to meet Bootsie, our feline friend!
Check out St. Augustine’s Most Haunted Bed & Breakfast Inns for more information on ghostly lodging alternatives in town.
Spirits of Another Kind
We found no evidence of haunting in our final location, but we did have a chance encounter with spirits of another kind.
St. Augustine Distillery
The St. Augustine Distillery made its debut in 2013, but it has a historical ambience due to its location in the former 1907 FP&L Ice Plant.
While out on a morning bike ride through the Lincolnville neighborhood we circled the parking lot of the St. Augustine Distillery and decided to return for a tour of the facility later in the day.
Tours and tastings at this small-batch craft distillery are free and run daily every half hour on a first-come, first-served basis. Even if you are teetotaler, you will enjoy learning about the distilling processes of vodka, rum, gin, and whiskey.
Children are invited to take the tour with their families, but they will have to wait until they are 21 to participate in the tastings of the Florida Mule, the New World Gin & Tonic, and the Tiki Rum Cocktail.
Like most attractions with guided tours these days, you will exit through the retail store, which offers an eclectic assortment of cocktail-related products.
Guests are invited to continue their experience at the attached Ice Plant Bar, which features a full food and drink menu.
We Would Love to Hear From You
We enjoy dialogue with our readers, especially when they share off-the-beaten-path destinations and useful travel tips. Have you ever visited haunted St. Augustine? If so, we would love to hear about your experience. We invite you to leave your comments and questions below, and we always respond!
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