Nestled between the famously haunted cities of Savannah and St. Augustine, Jacksonville is not well known as a spooky destination. Yet our city has plenty of its own ghost stories and urban legends. If you’re looking for a scare this October, here are the top 10 haunted hangouts on the First Coast:
The Florida Theatre
Since it opened its doors in 1927, Jacksonville’s Florida Theatre has hosted thousands of performances. The theater draws about 250,000 guests annually and Elvis Presley famously wowed the crowds here in 1956. Performances are so epic, some guests don’t want to leave. The spirit of a friendly older gentleman has been spotted roaming the balcony or sitting in his favorite seat, E2, in section 500. More ghostly activity has been reported in the projection booth. There have been numerous paranormal investigations at this glorious downtown gem, which appears on the National Register of Historic Places.
Jacksonville’s “Haunted Dive Bar” has been family owned and operated for over 40 years and is rumored to host Ginger and other partying spirits who can’t seem to get enough of the music and atmosphere. Ginger Payson operated the bar until she died in 2003 and her family began noticing paranormal activity shortly after her death. Customers and employees alike have experienced out-of-the-ordinary incidents, but Ginger and her ghostly pals are friendly revelers who mean no harm.
Old St. Luke’s Hospital
Tuberculosis and yellow fever victims were among those treated at Old St. Lukes Hospital after it opened its doors in 1878 and the building saw its share of tragedy. Ghostly patients and nurses have reportedly been seen wandering the halls of what now houses archives for the Jacksonville Historical Society. The Florida Casket Company building next door adds to the location’s mystique and creep factor. It’s an urban myth that there was a secret chute between the hospital and the casket company, but it sure is spooky!
Tacolu Baja Mexicana
Housed in a 100-year old, 2-story log cabin, this popular Jacksonville eatery keeps diners coming back for more of their killer fish tacos and tequila. Jaxons aren’t the only visitors who can’t seem to get enough of the place. Mrs. Alpha Paynter operated a boarding house here and is buried on the grounds. She appears throughout the restaurant and is particular about the fireplace in the main dining room. Tacolu is listed on the National Register of Haunted Places.
Annie Lytle Elementary School (Public School No. 4)
This dilapidated school off Interstate 10 is the star of many a local legend. Stories tell of a furnace explosion which killed part of the student body, a deranged janitor who went on a killing spree, and a cannibalistic principal who tucked students away in his meat locker. The school’s crumbling remains are undeniably spooky, with reports of unexplained shadows and disembodied voices. The Annie Little Preservation Group hosts work days to clean up and restore this Jacksonville landmark.
With over 70,000 graves across 170 acres, Evergreen Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Jacksonville that’s still in operation. The first burials occurred in 1881. A cemetery is not a surprising place to find a ghost, but several spirits stand out. Visitors have reported seeing a “lady in violet,” a ghostly woman who appears near the Ugly Angel tombstone, and a spectral man wearing old-fashioned clothes. The Evergreen Pumpkin Run 5k and 10k occur on Sunday, October 28th and allows racers to run through the haunted cemetery. Proceeds benefit the Jacksonville Historical Society.
The Riverside House
Mary Todd Lincoln famously stayed here in 1874 while grieving the death of her husband and three sons…shortly before she was admitted to an Illinois Asylum. At that time, it was a resort hotel called Rochester House and was originally located on Riverside Avenue before being relocated to its current location in 1911. It’s seen many intriguing guests over the years. The spirit of the wife of a Confederate blockade runner is believed to haunt the property and phantom footsteps are often heard from the third floor. The Riverside House is now headquarters of the Junior League of Jacksonville.
The El Modelo Block
One of the few buildings to survive the Great Fire of 1901, the El Modelo Block once hosted Gabriel Hildago Gato’s El Modelo Cigar Manufacturing Company. It has also been a hotel and a varying assortment of drinking establishment. A Spanish-American War veteran visited the property in 1907 for a drink and never left. The soldier was shot to death and his ghost is believed to haunt the property to this day. The El Modelo Block appears on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Dames Point Bridge
One of the largest cable-stayed bridges built in the US, the Dames Point Bridge is a Jacksonville icon. It has also seen its share of tragedy. Stories say that a young African-American woman died after being thrown over the bridge and now her spirit can be seen walking its length.
Mayport’s King House
Built on a former Spanish graveyard, Mayport’s King House has been a sailor boarding house, a house of ill repute, a church (the Catholic Church held weekly mass here in the 1940s), and a family home. There have been a number of deaths on the property and it’s a hotspot for paranormal investigation. The building appeared on SyFy’s Haunted Collector and is said to house a number of spirits, including the “Lady in White” and a “Little Butler.” King House is now the center of operation for the Mayport Cats Program for feral felines.