Haunts of Northeast Florida

by JAMIE ROUSCH PEARCE
As Halloween approaches, fans of paranormal activity need not search out a seasonal “Haunted” attraction when there are perpetually haunted hotspots here on the first coast.
Fort Clinch, Fernandina
Construction started in 1847 on Fort Clinch. It was built to protect the port of Fernandina, and apparently there are spirits of at least a few soldiers still on duty. Visitors have often reported feeling as if they were being watched, equating the experience to having another presence there with them. Many park employees and reenactors have heard strange sounds, including phantom cannon and gunfire, and have seen shadow figures and apparitions.
Florida Casket Company, Jacksonville (Downtown)
The Florida Casket Company building was built in 1882 and sits right next door to the Old St. Luke’s Hospital (the source of much of its business). A female apparition–believed to be a dead Tuberculosis patient–reportedly goes back and forth from the hospital to the Casket Company. Many witnesses state that when they have encountered her apparition she eerily informs them there is a man constructing a casket for her.
Florida Theatre, Jacksonville (Downtown)
The Florida Theatre originally opened in 1927. At the time it was Jacksonville’s largest movie theater. It has since also hosted opera, dance, comedy, symphonies, and even Elvis (1956). As a local, historic landmark, it is both beautiful and haunted!
The hit SyFy Channel show Fact or Faked even tried to debunk the paranormal evidence that has been captured here and failed. In fact, they ended up having experiences of their own and captured unexplained heat signatures. Strange sounds, disembodied voices and full body apparitions mark this movie “palace” as one extremely active paranormal theatre.
Former Carling Hotel, Jacksonville (Downtown)
The Carling Hotel opened in 1926 with all the amenities of the day including completely “fireproof” construction. In 1936 it was renamed The Roosevelt. In 1963 a fire broke out inside the hotel and 22 people were killed. The hotel closed the following year.
Many in the paranormal field believe that spirits drain batteries and mess with electrical systems and this energy sometimes helps them manifest. Employees of the current business claim the building is haunted by victims of the tragic fire. Among their claims are electrical disturbances and problems with equipment that enters the building.
Old St. Luke’s Hospital, Jacksonville (Downtown)
The Old St. Luke’s Hospital was opened to the public in 1878, after previous incarnations were destroyed by fire. It faithfully served Jacksonville through yellow fever epidemics, tuberculosis and many other maladies. It is now part of the Jacksonville Historical Society.
When disease swept through Jacksonville in the late 1800s the building saw a lot of death. This might explain the multitude of paranormal reports. Some visitors have reported feeling heaviness on their chest, others report seeing ghostly patients walking through the halls, and an apparition of a nurse still caring for the sick. Could this be residual energy from the patients who suffered here?
San Marco Theatre, Jacksonville (San Marco)
San Marco Theatre was built in 1938 by architect Roy Benjamin (of Florida Theatre fame). This Art Deco gem was recognized by USA Today as one of the ten best classic cinemas in the U.S.
Many believe a former manager of the theatre who died in the office still haunts the building. Several reports from theatre employees describe strange noises after hours and reports of a presence in the office which disappears when investigated.
Norman Studios, Jacksonville (Arlington)
Before Hollywood was Hollywood, Jacksonville was a mecca for the film industry. Eagle Studios opened in 1916 in Arlington. It was bought out in 1920 and became Norman Studios. It is the last remaining studio complex from the River City’s heyday as the “Winter Film Capital of the World”. Many of its props, photos and set pieces are on display at the Museum of Science and History while the site undergoes renovations. Visitors to this historic locale claim to hear disembodied noises and footsteps which have been captured on EVP recording devices (Electronic Voice Phenomenon).
Old Clay County Courthouse, Green Cove Springs
The old Clay County Courthouse was built in 1874. Since then it seems some of the accused may be serving time long after death. Paranormal activity is often experienced in the courtroom. In fact, the building is available to rent for paranormal investigations. When teams come in and perform mock trials the spirits really stir up.
Voices are often heard and shadow figures are often seen. People passing by the building at night have even reported movement and dark figures looking out the courtroom windows while the structure was closed and empty. Perhaps the former prisoners are peering out to where the gallows once ended their lives?
Casa Monica Hotel, St. Augustine
The Casa Monica Hotel was originally built in 1888 and restored in 1999. It has hosted many notable figures including the King and Queen of Spain and seems to host other “spirited” guests as well.
Many ghost stories surround the hotel, and I have experienced more than my share. While staying at the hotel I saw a transparent woman looking down from my window who quickly vanished before my eyes. In fact, she has been seen in several parts of the hotel and even photographed. However, the fourth floor seems to be the most active. Guests and employees have reported hearing disembodied voices, noises, and sounds of children playing. Some housekeepers even refuse to clean some of the rooms alone.
Unique Antiques, St. Augustine
Denice & Larry operate this unique collectible store on the oldest European-named street in the country, Aviles, in the nation’s oldest, continually inhabited European settlement, St. Augustine (established 1565). The structure was built in 1888 as the St. Augustine City Jail, and occupies land on or near Native American & Catholic burial grounds. This unique antiques shop focuses on niche historical items and paranormal investigations. Numerous professional investigators have determined they are “haunted” and their reputation has earned them television segments on both local news shows and national features, like Bio Channel’s My Ghost Story.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum
Castle Warden, St. Augustine
Originally built in 1887 as a winter home for William Warden, Castle Warden became a hotel in 1941. Robert Ripley was a frequent guest and thought it would make a perfect place to house his collection. In 1944 a mysterious fire caused the death of two women and damage to the building. Ripley’s heirs bought it in 1950, and the museum of oddities opened. Many have claimed to see apparitions in the rooms of the two women, as well as hearing voices, being touched and experiencing areas where it’s hard to breathe. Ripley’s hosts ghost tours which include the inside of the museum after dark.
St. Augustine Lighthouse, St. Augustine
Florida’s first American lighthouse was built here in 1824; erosion necessitated a second one being built further inland. The new structure was first lit in 1874. Since then the lighthouse and grounds have become notorious for paranormal activity. In fact, Syfy’s “Ghost Hunters” have been here twice and have captured some of their best evidence to date including disembodied voices and a figure caught on camera leaning over the railing looking at them.

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