St. Augustine is famous for its rich history and hair-raising ghost stories. While many are believers, some speculate if this ancient city is haunted at all. If there is one place to change doubts to certainty, look toward the St Augustine Lighthouse.
With a number of accidental deaths occurring at the lighthouse, visitors who do have a ghostly encounter aren’t ever sure who they’re seeing or hearing on the grounds. To most, it’s just a guess. But to make an educated guess, one must know the history of the lighthouse.
Before the recognizable lighthouse we see today, there was another dating as far back as 1568. The Spanish built it solely out of sand, shells and other ocean crustaceans.
From the years 1854 to1859, Joseph Andreu was the lighthouse keeper. What ended his watch was an accidental fall from the top of the tower while putting on a fresh coat of paint. His wife, Maria, took his place as lighthouse keeper and became Florida’s first female lighthouse keeper. (She was also the first Hispanic-American to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard.)
Many ghost sighters say that one of the figures seen at the lighthouse could be Joseph who leaves cigar smoke in the air if he is near. Even Maria is said to be seen at the top of the tower looking down, searching for her husband’s body.
Another famous ghost story on the grounds involves the Pittee Sisters. During the construction of the new tower in 1873, Hezekiah Pittee was the superintendent of lighthouse construction and was on the property with his family, which included three daughters. The girls
often played amongst the workers, and they loved to ride a work cart down the hill that was always stopped by a wooden board by the water. Up and down the hill, the girls would laugh and play with the cart all day.
It was on July 10, 1873, when disaster struck. The sisters, Mary Adelaide (15), Eliza (13), and Carrie (4), and an unidentified African-American girl (10) decided to ride the cart down the hill not knowing the board that stopped the cart was not in place. When the cart met the wood, it flipped and trapped the girls underneath it in the water. The only person who saw the accident was Dan Sessions, a worker at the time, who immediately ran to help. By the time Sessions flipped the heavy cart over, however, only Carrie had survived.
After the tragic accident, Hezekiah went back home to mourn and bury his two daughters. The construction continued and was finished a year later in 1874.
Nobody can truly pinpoint when these hauntings began or who they are encountering. At the lighthouse, everyone’s experience is different. People see figures, smell cigar smoke, hear children’s laughter or hear someone running up the lighthouse.
“I always smell cigar smoke, inside and outside,” said resident Ginger Swartz. “Every time I go there something happens.”
Swartz has always been sensitive to spirits, especially when going down the basement where the cisterns sit. She believes an angry spirit resides in the middle cistern. When on a tour Swartz asked about the spirit, but the worker quickly said, “We don’t talk about him anymore, but he’s still there.”
“I feel him every single time. They [the ghost tour guides] used to talk about him, but I guess he started to act out because he didn’t like it, and he would start pushing people down the stairs,” said Swartz. “If you just stand there you can feel something coming out of there.”
One other visitor with a ghost story is Shelly McCauley. “When I was little, apparently the ‘Hat Man” was my guardian,” she said. He was spotted on the baby cam, though she never saw him until, that is, the day she visited the lighthouse and brought home a souvenir. When she went home with her new souvenir that night, she saw a tall shadowy figure with a top hat, a long coat and a suitcase in her living room.
“It was like he was moving in. For years I would see him in my room and my house late at night but never felt a menacing presence,” said McCauley.
Never scared or intimidated by Hat Man, McCauley continued to see him until she lost the souvenir. After that, he was never seen again.
“The women in my family have always been mediums and hypnotists, but I was scared of ghosts when I was little, so I did, like, a protection spell with my mom and sister to not see them,” said McCauley. “I hadn’t [seen any] until I visited St. Augustine up until then, and since it’s so historical and filled with spirits I think it may have broke through.”
Haunted or chosen, St. Augustine is a strange world at night. Nobody can deny that at the St. Augustine Lighthouse, there is something special there. Even the workers agree that that place is unsettling.
“Is it haunted by their memories or by apparitions? I think it’s haunted by memories, even though somebody has got a picture of a head leaning over one of the landings,” said Mason Rogers, a former tour guide at the lighthouse.
“People have seen all kinds of things there, but I think it’s a lot more like the end of The Haunted Mansion ride, where a ghost gets in the car with you and haunts you. Like I’m haunted by a ghost before I went to St. Augustine lighthouse and after and while I was there, but it is really creepy,” said Rogers.
Whether you are a believer or not, nobody can deny there is a chill in the air, no matter the season. It is a place that reminds everyone there are people from the other side watching. At the St. Augustine Lighthouse, spirits are walking amongst the living, and you never know who you’ll bump into.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse is full of history, with so many ghost stories to share. To learn more, visit staugustinelighthouse.org.
Or plan your own ghost tour! They’re waiting for you.