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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Welcome to the St. Augustine Lighthouse, in the Most Haunted City in Florida!

     If you visit St. Augustine's infamous haunted lighthouse in Augustine, Florida, the nations oldest city, your footsteps won't be the only ones you'll hear. You quite possibly might hear footsteps behind you, see a ghost, or hear voices.  It won't be because you are losing your mind. St. Augustine is not only the most haunted city in Florida, but The St. Augustine lighthouse has a rich and tragic history.  It has had numerous paranormal investigations and been featured by Ghost Hunters, CNN, Parade Magazine, Fox News and the Weather Channel. 

old lighthouse

      St. Augustine's lighthouse was originally a Spanish Watchtower, built in the 1500's as a acoquina stone structure. The Spanish had maintained a watchtower for centuries since their arrival in the late 1500's.  Before the Europeans arrived, of course the Native Americans freely roamed the area, like the rest of America.  There were many deaths on these shores as the Europeans and Native Americans clashed.  Thank Columbus for that. He got lost, and claimed a land he thought was somewhere else, that other people had already inhabited. He was not as intelligent as he liked to believe. Think of all of the innocent Native Americans murdered on that soil before there was even a lighthouse. That just adds to the uncountable spirits that wander the area and especially the lighthouse itself.  

     The original watchtower became Florida's 1st lighthouse in 1824 officially.  By 1870 however, the tower was threatened by shoreline erosion and construction began on the current lighthouse.  The new tower was completed in 1874.  Then the old tower was claimed by the sea during a storm in 1880.  Constructed of Alabama's brick and Philadelphia iron, the lighthouse is St. Augustine's oldest surviving brick structure.  In 1876, a brick light keeper's house was added to the site.  It was built at the Northern tip of Anastasia Island directly across Matanzas Bay from Downtown St. Augustine.  In the evenings, from downtown, you can see the lighthouse's beam sweep across those waters and then shift out over the Atlantic.  

     Lighthouses are said to draw the souls of those lost at sea.  They are like a beacon of sorts for wandering spirits.  In effect, they are often a "final destination" for lost souls, following the light.  Drowned sailors and other seafarers who were victims of the sea, often haunt lighthouses.  The St. Augustine lighthouse rises 165 feet above sea level, and has 219 steps. At the top, a first order Fresnel lens serves as the beacon.  The St. Augustine lends consists of 370 hand cut glass prisms arranged in a bee hive shape towering 12 feet tall and 6 feet in diameter.  Now that's a sizable ghost beacon!

Fresnel lens
       During the golden age of Pirates, they frequently came to St. Augustine to commit horrible crimes as was the pirate way. Pirates were often romanticized, but there was nothing romantic about these unshaven, dirty, despicable criminals with no morals at all.  These were not the Disney pirates we love. These were hardened, evil men.  They were thieving, murdering savages that brutalized the coast for years. One day, 13 such pirates were caught, and put through a speedy "trial", found guilty of piracy and hung.  Then after they were hung, they were buried in a small, shallow, mass grave behind the lighthouse.  Imagine how furious and spiteful the ghosts of those pirates would be. Their fates may have been justified ,but they no doubt, disagree.  Their spirits are said to walk the grounds late at night.  That would be a scary sight to see! 

    Whether or not you believe in the paranormal, ghosts, or the unexplainable, the St. Augustine lighthouse has been the scene of numerous tragedies over the years.   In 1824, the lighthouse keeper, Joseph Andreu fell to his death over 160 feet while painting the lighthouse.  They say he never actually left. He was the light keeper and took his job very seriously, even from the grave.  Another keeper, loved his cigars and was reputed for being a very strict as a manager.  Joseph Andreu also enjoyed a good cigar now and then. Many people claim to smell cigar smoke where there is none, and the lighthouse is non smoking.  

     The Engineer who was overseeing the erection of the newer lighthouse, Mr. Hezekia Pittee, in 1873, moved his whole family down from Maine to be with him.  This would prove to be an ill fated decision.  During the construction of the lighthouse, 5 children were playing on the railroad on a handcar. They lost control, supposedly the brakes failed and it went too fast, going off of the tracks and into the water by the tracks.  Tragically, 3 of the children died.  Construction workers jumped in to save the children and were only able to save two of them.  Two of the three children that died were Hezekia Pittee's daughters, the other 1 was an African American girl who was said to be a servant.  Hezekia's son and other daughter were saved.  It was an event that seemed to put it's "mark" on the lighthouse.  The girls are often seen and heard in the lighthouse or on the grounds.   Children's laughter is heard and running footsteps of children playing.  It was one of the most well known tragedies at the lighthouse.  

A picture taken of the three Pittee girls a few years before they came to Florida.  From left to
right is; Mary, Carrie and Eliza Pittee.


      There were many other deaths tied to the Lighthouse as well.  That is why it seems to be a hot spot for Paranormal activity.  There were the Native Americans that lost their land and lives, the 13 pirates who were hung and buried out back, the light house keeper who fell to his death while painting, the 3 children who drowned, and it continues!  This is one of the most haunted places I feel that I've written about. The history alone is so sad and dark that I thoroughly believe that the St. Augustine lighthouse is haunted.  The little girls are seen on the catwalk often. One girl has been seen dripping wet and clothed in the same blue velvet dress she was wearing when she died, with a matching bow in her hair.   Another woman is seen on the lighthouse stairway or walking in the yard outside the buildings, and the figure of a man who roams the basement.  Then of course there is the cigar smoke smell.  One male figure is said to possibly be a Civil War hero and former lighthouse keeper William A. Harn. Some say that he died mysteriously hauling wood up the lighthouse stairs one evening.  He appeared to have had a heart attack of sorts, but was pretty healthy.  During the Civil War, soldiers used the lighthouse for quarters occasionally.  People have seen the shape of a tall man on the brick bottom floor where the old cistern is located.  It appeared to be gray in color against the dark room around it. As a staff member watched this shape in a doorway, it simply became one with the darkness surrounding it. At times, chairs are moved or overturned.  In the gift shop, staff and volunteers will find items have been moved out of place overnight.  Sometimes items disappear only to reappear at a later date. Music boxes will turn themselves on as well. Now that would be creepy!  There are many cold spots, and a presence is felt a lot.  People seem to get startled by their experiences but don't seem to feel threatened by them.

Photos taken of "ghosts" or orbs, shadowy figures,etc.

     Dozens, if not countless spirits haunt the Lighthouse.  Another story is of a young girl who was about 10 or 11 years old and killed by a passing train in the early 1900's.  She is said to walk the grounds, sometimes walking behind the dense bushes near the tower.  Another spirit is of a man who hung himself in early 1930. It was kept quiet enough, due to the nature of the death and not wanting more tragedy tied to the lighthouse. Due to that, there isn't a name recorded.  But he was believed to have lost everything in the stock market crash of 1929.  He is said to have wandered in from off of the beach he was living on, since he had literally lost everything, including his home.  In his depression, he hung himself to escape his troubles.  A lot of people killed themselves after the crash, unfortunately.  He appears on stormy nights.  People will sometimes see the image of a man hanging from the rafter of the old light house keeper's home,gently swaying side to side. He often appears on stormy nights. 

the winding stairs at the lighthouse

stairs inside lighthouse keepers house

     During World War II, the Coast guard men and women trained in St. Augustine and used the lighthouse as a lookout post for enemy ships and submarines, which frequented the coastline.  The sandbar by the lighthouse has claimed several ships over time.  The coast was home to British plantation landings, community boatyard foundations, ferry and steamboat landings, ballast dump sites and colonial wharves. It was a busy spot, and has significant historical value.   

Mantanzas Bay

         In 2009  archaeologists discovered the second oldest shipwreck in Northeast Florida waters.  It was an unidentified colonial sailing vessel known as the "Storm Wreck." They believe it was involved in the December 18, 1782 evacuation of Charleston at the end of the American Revolution.  It was carrying Loyalists and refugees to St. Augustine, which was a loyal British colony at the time.  This was the final British fleet to leave Charleston, and they wrecked, so close to their destination, so close to safety.  It "arrived" on December 31, 1782. I'm not sure how they figured they actually "arrived." I suppose they did arrive, after their death, perhaps beckoned to the lighthouse by the light.   As many as 16 vessels were lost on the sandbar in front of the St. Augustine inlet.  They have also found and excavated 2 historically significant 19th century wrecks; a wooden hulled steamship and a centerboard schooner.  The identities of both are unknown.  That adds to the already high death toll connected to the St. Augustine Lighthouse.  Imagine how many people died, in those wrecks, so close to shore.  It was probably hard to rest in peace. Their ships were resting in pieces. Can a place have too many ghosts? Can it get too...crowded? You'd think they'd get annoyed with each other, but then again, it's not like they take up a lot of space. 

Diver with bell from "Storm Wreck"
     Even though the lighthouse became automated in 1955, someone still needed to monitor the beacon in case something went wrong, as it does a lot, especially with new technology.  One late evening, the caretaker realized the light had stopped working.  Right away, he walked into the darkness from the old light keepers house towards the lighthouse entrance to attend to the light.  He already knew the haunted history and had to be spooked a bit to start out with.  But while he was walking, with each step, he thought he heard someone walking behind him on the gravel driveway. Anyone who has ever walked on a gravel driveway knows that they are very loud and you make a lot of noise walking on them.  You can't exactly "sneak" around on gravel.  For him to hear the footsteps behind him in the dark, in a haunted place, he had to be terrified.  When he turned around, of course there was no one there. Was his mind just playing tricks on him?  He brushed this off as just his imagination working in overdrive, so he continued walking.  Again, he heard those gravely footsteps behind him.  Again, he turned around to find no one there. Unnerved to say the least, the man rushed into the lighthouse and up the spiral stairs.  This time, he unmistakeably heard footsteps, this time they were following him up the metal staircase of the lighthouse.  I'm sure he couldn't have gotten that light working fast enough at that point.  When he finally reached the top of the steps, he checked the lighting mechanism to find nothing wrong with it.  As he threw the switch to restart everything, the beacon started working again.  Not wasting anytime, or wanting to hear phantom footsteps again, he ran down all 219 metal stairs. Even now, several employees have reportedly seen a hazy male figure, then heard footsteps from an unseen presence shuffling in the gravel outside and walking upstairs inside.  Still unconvinced? There's more.

     In the 1960's, the old Light keepers house was rented to a man who liked to entertain often.  On 2 different occasions, guests reported seeing the exact same little girl in a frilly dress, that stood in the doorway, then would disappear.  During the 1980's, when the keeper's house was being restored, workers often spent the night there, due to the late hours and expensive equipment they kept there.  Sometimes they would wake up in the middle of the night to see a young girl, dressed in old fashioned clothes, silently watching them.  Reports also say that they've seen the 2 little girls, or a woman's figure standing on the lighthouse catwalk at the top.  A man took a picture of the lighthouse and captured what appeared to be the figure of a girl leaning against the railings at the top of the tower, gazing out to sea.  Was she waiting for a lost love to return? Was her lover in a war and never returned? Had she jumped off of the balcony, after losing a loved one? What is her story? 

You can definitely see the figure of a woman in this picture.
     The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) claim that they captured a few mysterious incidents on video.  There was a disembodied voice of a woman crying "help me," and a shadowy figure moving about the stairs above them.  Then they got the photo of the man looking down over the balcony above them on film. No other people were in the lighthouse at the time.  

picture of the supposed black figure peering over the railing

      There have been orbs, vortexes and EVPs ( electronic voice phenomena).  They call St. Augustine the most haunted city in Florida.  There is a tour company that will take you on a complete nighttime tour of the lighthouse and let you do your own investigation. I definitely plan on doing that and recommend that you do the same.  Perhaps you'll see something that will convince you of the existence of the supernatural, if you aren't a believer already. Or you'll have a cool encounter with a ghost, hear footsteps, or get something on film if you are lucky.  During a tour one evening, there was a crash inside the keepers house. When they went in the house, they found the large mirror in the women's bathroom on the floor, broken. All of the glass pieces were contained in the frame, and the posts that were holding the mirror with wire were still in place.  There was no sign of them breaking, causing the mirror to fall, and no one had been in the bathroom when it happened.

The broken mirror in women's restroom

       In July 2001, the United States Coast Guard, through the General Services Administration transferred the deed for the tower to the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum Inc., through the pilot program of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000.  They turned over the original Fresnel lens to the museum.  Now the old lighthouse keepers house has been turned into a museum and gift shop.  This is one haunted place that you can definitely still visit! 

     Are you intrigued? You should be. I can't wait to go visit and hopefully have a supernatural experience of my own.  All fans of haunted places, add St. Augustine Lighthouse to your bucket list.  It is worth it. What an amazing place with such a strong history that has really affected the overall character of the lighthouse.  Most people who go on the tour with the "Dark of the Moon" paranormal tour company are satisfied and spooked customers.  This is definitely towards the top of my list of the Most Haunted Places that I'd Love to Visit, and it's warm, sunny, Florida! Perfect vacation! You can have fun in the sun, see local hot spots, tour other haunted places in the history rich and very haunted St. Augustine, and of course, visit the lighthouse! Some of the other local haunted spots are the old jail, Castillo De San Marcos, the old Spanish Military Hospital, Huguenot Cemetery and Casablanca Inn.  Add those to your list as well.  And last but not least, enjoy your visit!!!!

lighthouse entrance
a possible ghost in right window

ghostly figure
picture from old keeper's house

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