When people speak the words “old city” they are not really speaking the truth – unless they are focusing their energies on the truly ‘old city’ in the U.S. that was founded in 1565 by a Spanish explorer and admiral, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. From Spanish to British, until finally the outstanding city ended up in the control of good, ‘new’ American hands – in 1821 St. Augustine officially became a U.S. possession as the Florida Territory in 1822 – gaining statehood in 1845.
From the St. Augustine Alligator Farm to the Fountain of Youth, and the legends that follow that particular path, St. Augustine has long been the oldest commercial tourist attraction in Florida – not to mention the rest of the world. The city is one finishing point of the Old Spanish Trail that links St. Augustine to San Diego, California with 3,000 miles of roadways. Not to mention, the City has a Freedom Trail of historic sites of the civil rights movement, and a museum at the Fort Mose site, the location of the 1738 free black community.
Of course, even with all of these true historical amazements, the Admiral could not possibly have known that his ‘discovery’ would one day become home to haunted locations that would bring the likes of the extremely popular, Ghost Hunters, to its shores. My…how far we’ve come.
Everyone’s favorite TAPS members – Jason, Grant, Dustin, Steve and Brian – traveled to Florida to investigate the rumored haunting of the St. Augustine Lighthouse built in 1870, and should have! This remarkable site defies explanation. The lighthouse and surrounding buildings have a long history of supposed paranormal activity. Allegedly, visitors and workers have seen everything from moving shadows to hearing voices and unexplained sounds. A great many have even claimed seeing the figures of two little girls standing on the lighthouse catwalk – the daughters of Hezekiah Pittee, Superintendent of Lighthouse Construction during the 1870s. This tiny duo was said to have drowned in an accident during the building of the tower.
Other reports are of a woman on the lighthouse stairway, or walking in the yard outside the buildings; and, the figure of a man who roams the basement is said to be that of a Civil War hero and former lighthouse keeper William Harn.
For a number of people – including this writer – the haunting and paranormal activities surrounding this historical landmark are truly interesting – putting it solidly up there on ‘sites’ you must see right next to the Winchester House and all of its strange, eerie obsessions with the number 13.
St. Augustine was such a ‘bed of oddities’ that the TAPS crew, which has become super beloved by millions, came to the lighthouse and captured MORE than a few mysterious incidents on video; one of the oddest being a ethereal voice of a woman crying “help me,” and a shadowy figure that was supposedly recorded on video moving on the stairs above them. Although most investigations are proven to be non-paranormal, St. Augustine proved – especially with a figure looking over the railing of the lighthouse caught on tape – that their historical ghosts are extremely real.
For people who were unaware of the truly exciting places and locations that are immersed in St. Augustine, the lighthouse was actually used as a Spanish watchtower. Being first constructed in the late 1500’s, the original watchtower was put to use as Florida’s first lighthouse in the early 1800’s, but because of time and environmental troubles the tower was in danger of being destroyed by shoreline erosion, and construction on the current lighthouse was begun. Completed in 1874, the new tower was a thing of sheer beauty as the predecessor did end up falling into the sea during a storm in 1880’s.
It was in 1876 that a brick light keeper’s house was added to the site, where light keepers’ and their assistants lived and worked until the power of technology took over and the tower became automated in 1955. But one of the most amazing things about the city of St. Augustine and its’ people, is the fact that their loyalty to the past remains strong and solid. In 1980, a fifteen-year campaign was begun that would restore the Keepers’ House which was destroyed by a fire in 1970, and the tower. The house was opened to the public as a museum in 1988, and to visitors in 1993. But one of the most fantastic things is that no matter how much ‘clean up,’ rebuilding or maintenance has happened, the ghosts of the past are just as loyal – and have remained in the location for hundreds of years.
And right off that shoreline there is even more history that many don’t even known about. Researchers and historians claim that Florida contains more buried and sunken treasures than any other state. They have also put a price tag on these treasures, which amounts to a cool $165 million (1964). Florida, like all other states, has a fascinating and romantic history. Seven different flags have flown over her, not to mention the black flag of the pirates. Florida became the haven of many notorious pirates, including Blackbeard, Lafitte, and possibly even Morgan, himself. The ones who roamed the waters of the Caribbean and captured every ship in sight often brought their loot back to Florida, and buried it on some lonely shore. And when they finally passed on, the locations of their hidden wealth went with them.
The majority of all buried treasure in Florida is the work of pirates. And although Florida has survived hundreds of hurricanes in the past centuries, many famous ships around her have not. From the year 1500 to 1960, hurricanes have sunk some truly treasure-laden ships that represent all nations, but the majority of them were Spanish galleons. They carried gold and silver from the New World to the Old, only to have their contents deposited on the Florida reefs
Some of the most amazing ships to ever be seen in the world came to the coast of Florida because of St. Augustine and that lighthouse. It was said that on August 17, 1861, the townspeople awoke to a seriously large black-painted brig with dark canvas sails racing towards the entrance to the harbor. The ship was called the Jefferson Davis, and was a Confederate privateer seeking food and water. This 187-ton ‘machine’ was sold by the U.S. Government to a Charleston shipping merchant in 1859, but once the Civil War began, the ship soon was granted a letter of marque by the Confederate government, authorized to attack the Union fleet during wartime and disturb all the ‘Yankee’ business. Although the ship’s career was cut short by the shallow bars of St. Augustine’s inlet, she took her place in history as the most successful privateer of the Civil War
Another ship that most remember from the annals of history was the Dove. Coming from a West African port to St. Augustine in 1773, the ship had a serious issue with the St. Augustine bar. Her master, two of the crew, and eighty slaves chained below deck all perished at sea. Only twenty survivors made it to the safety of land. When this occurred – on the eve of Revolution – St. Augustine was the capital of Britain’s 14th North American colony, East Florida. And the persons that made up the city were mostly wealthy English planters who required a steady stream of enslaved Africans in order to work their plantations. The Dove made the infamous Atlantic passages which played an integral role in the global system of forced labor, but little is known about the actual ship.
One of the truly romantic-sounding ships – Our Lady of the Waves – was another of a record-setting 275 ships that were known to have sunk in the St. Augustine area. She sailed into St. Augustine sometime during 1593 for repairs, and though she made it into port she was lost on the bar in her attempt to leave.
But even that is not all when it comes to this breathtaking and intriguing city. An old wooden schoolhouse, an old jail, the oldest house in the United States, a Spanish fort and, of course, the Fountain of Youth, all reside on the streets of St. Augustine.
Castillo de San Marcos was home to prisoners for over sixty years, the Old Jail was built in 1891 by Henry Flagler, and although it has been restored and renovated throughout the years, it looks very much the way it did when it opened over a century ago, when Sheriff Joe Perry – a warden who had a reputation as being beyond harsh ruled the South. Many executions took place in the gallows there, and the weapons and artifacts that have been found are truly captivating.
But in the end it is that stunning lighthouse that sparks the imagination. They even offer tours called “Dark of the Moon” where visitors can tour the site at night and get the facts about the history of those who have died there. It is almost unimaginable that one could’ve looked out on that water and watched a ship carrying pure gold, or treasure that is still buried somewhere for one of us to find, coming into the harbor. But everything in St. Augustine is a wonderful site to see, and if you need any help seeing those ghosts just call the “hunters” and they’ll be there!
Until Next Time, Everybody!