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St, Augustine
Ghost Tours in St. Augustine:
A Fanciful Foray into Phantom
Fantasy – Or Fright

Story by Fyllis Hockman
Photos by Victor Block

t 450+ years, St. Augustine, Florida is America's oldest city. There's a lot to recommend a city that old – history, ancient (for the states) architecture, Spanish culture. And, of course, ghosts. A city that old has a lot of history to haunt – a lot of death and despair to permeate the landscape – and the spirits of St. Augustine are sufficient to keep a multitude of ghost tour operators very busy.

I tagged along on a couple. Outing #1 was a Ghosts and Gravestones Trolley Tour.

It's ironic that the tour begins right next to a Ripley's Believe It or Not building. Just sayin'…. First ghost hunting tip: go for the stormy weather, alleged by dedicated ghost hunters to provide more energy for the "manifestations" to draw on. It was misty that night: check.

a Certificate of Haunting, issued by the Port Orange Paranormal Society
Old Jail certificate

In the tour office hangs a Certificate of Haunting, issued by the Port Orange Paranormal Society, officially identifying the St. Augustine Old Jail, one of the tour stops, as "an authentically 'haunted' location… based on audio, video and photographic evidence." You can't argue with that!

As we hopped on a bus, all dressed up for Halloween, with about a dozen other eager seekers, we were instructed on the basics of ghost sightings: look for little orbs with tails, a white light, a shadow, an apparition in white (seems to be the preferred attire of apparitions). At a cemetery fence, not surprisingly always a portal for the undead, cameras were flashing and phones lighting up, one after the other. "Why are they all taking pictures of the fence?" inquired my always-skeptical husband. "There's nothing there."

The 130-year old Potter's Wax Museum building we were told was built over a cemetery, thereby explaining all the "energy." I was beginning to pick up on the idea that energy was just a euphemism for ghosts. Our guide talked of strange happening which by the end of the night had become a mantra – footsteps heard, bottles falling, objects flying. Combined with a lot of corny humor, it didn't help convince me of the authenticity of the experience.

As we walked through the museum, I suddenly felt a vibration on my arm – a very intense vibration – and I quickly looked around to see who or what "energy" might be near me. How disappointed was I to discover it was only my Fitbit! Another 10,000 steps logged but no other-worldly workout buddy to share it with.

an inmate impersonator at the Old Jail, St. Augustine
Interpreter at Old Jail

A re-enactment of an old pirate being felled by an executioner – with one of my tour compatriots assuming the role of the condemned – was great theater. But nothing compared to that of the Old Jail, known as the Hanging Jail from 1871-1953, for the eight criminals who hung from the gallows. A dramatic inmate told the stories of the sadly deceased with great gusto playing out all the gory details of the crimes. The impersonators were the best part of the tour but unfortunately they were all very much alive!

Someone claimed to get a picture of an orb – allegedly a filmy white light with or without a tail – on her cellphone. I looked through the bars into the same very dark cell and all I saw was…well… a very dark cell. However the marketing person employed by the tour company sent me this photo taken on a tour of a nearby castle in 2008:

picture of an apparition taken by a tour company marketing person

She claims, "NO ONE was standing there in period costume where the apparition appeared!"

How to account for some of these specter sightings? Shadows; specks of dust; reflections, overactive imaginations? But many claim they capture images on their cameras that are unexplainable – ghosts trying to present themselves in recognizable spirit forms. Who am I to argue?

Given my own penchant for spirits (of the drinking variety), it seemed a ghost-invaded pub crawl a good way to combine my spirits with… well… theirs as part of my next phantom-filled adventure.

Not often does my line of work require me to attend an extended Happy Hour so when the opportunity to imbibe at four different venues all in the name of research presented itself, well… I felt obligated…. Ergo: Ghost Tours of St. Augustine Creepy Crawley Pub Crawl. Zombie martini, anyone?

Brian, our tour guide and historic haunted site veteran, passed out Electromagnetic Field Transmitters to aid in our search for otherwise unrecognizable companions. Supposedly their energy is recorded on the readers which tend to beep loudly in response. Or it could just mean that there's a computer nearby. Hard to tell.

As we walked the neighborhood, Brian advised us to ignore the more modern establishments and focus on the historic ones -- all the better to haunt you with, my dear – about which he regaled us with stories. Claiming that the theory of ghosts is as polarizing as politics (though probably not in 2016…), he said the spectrum tilts 60-40 in favor of believers. "Ignore the skeptics," he admonished. "That's not why you're here." As we walked over streets that were built over cemeteries and past ongoing archeological digs, he assured us that residual energies remain. Rarely, though, is a ghost going to come up and say, "Hello, my name is Ralph and I'm going to haunt you tonight." Instead, he admonished, you have to acquaint yourself with a place and know what to look for – or more accurately, "share the presence of."

ghost hunting with EMF transmitters
Ghost hunting with EMF reader

My creepy crawley comrades kept checking their EMF transmitters to see if they'd connected with any external energies and then snapping their cameras in the hopes of randomly catching them on film. Until we got to the next bar, of course, and started imbibing again. For a while I thought the liquid spirits were overtaking the more ethereal ones. But then we moved on.

The rash of squeals emitted from several transmitters at the corner of Charlotte and Hypolito streets caught everyone's attention – equaled only by the story Brian then told of the murder there on November 20, 1785 of William Delaney by a jealous rival. Now, I didn't see Delaney's spirit anywhere but I also know this didn't happen at any other intersection. Coincidence???

We were all more than happy to get to another bar for more uplifting spirits. At Meehan's Irish Pub, the liquor is held in place by wires because, as rumor has it, the bottles have more than once inexplicably flown off the shelves. According to Kaiser, who has been bartending there for four years, he has heard voices, seen lights flicker, had the bathroom door stick for no apparent reason and claimed sightings of a man in overalls. "If you don't believe in ghosts, come work here," he invites.

liquor bottles held in place by wires, Meehan's Irish Pub
Wires holding back bottles

Similarly, Sara, a bartender at Scarlett O'Hara's, also renowned as haunted, enthusiastically proclaims, "Oh yeah, I've experienced everything." Those experiences, not surprisingly, range from erratic lights, moving dishes, unseen voices and apparitions of a woman in white (notice a pattern here?) and a man in a uniform. I ordered yet another drink!

Ghost Bat sign
The sign says it all!

It's hard not to be moved by all these stories. As skeptical as I was when I began the trip, how do you dismiss the experiences – often so similar – of so many others? Or ignore some very real tangible evidence ostensibly captured on film? I was left just shaking my head a lot – and feeling somewhat reassured that overall, ghosts seem to be a lot more playful than they are scary.

The next day, glad to be done with ghosts for awhile, I was doing more traditional sightseeing. When I mentioned to a curator at a small museum that we were staying at the St. Francis Inn, the oldest in St. Augustine, he asked in what room. I told him. "Ah then, you're safe," he said, "as long as you're not in Lily's room." Oh? When I returned to the Inn, I found that stories abound around Lily, a most playful ghost who wanders the third floor searching for her lost love, wrecking havoc with the other guests. As I've learned is usual with ghosts, lights go on and off, bathroom locks get jammed, and objects fly across rooms. I was beginning to feel right at home. I nodded toward Lily, just in case SHE could see ME.

sign at Lily's Room, St. Francis Inn
Lily's Room

For more information, visit floridashistoriccoast.com; ghosttoursofstaug.com, www.trolleytours.com/st-augustine/ghost-tours-st-augustine.asp.

Related Articles:
Amelia Island: A Town Time Forgot; Ghost Hunting at Riverside Mission Inn; Belize: A Central American Country that Doubles as a Caribbean Island; Key West: There's a WHAT in the Backyard???

(Posted 7-7-2016)



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Let Fyllis know what you think about her traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Gullah Culture

I think a lot of the plantation enslaved Africans began with a variety of African languages and little contact with English speakers. Even today some of the speech patterns of modern descents of the enslaved hold onto this language or some of the patterns even after being away from the area for generations. That's what we heard in N Carolina.

-- Barbara, Mill Creek, WA

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Thank you for your extensive and accurate story of a remarkable, resilient culture!

-- Marlene O'Bryant-Seabrook, Ph.D. – Charleston, SC

And Marlene – thank you so very much for your comment. Nothing makes a writer feel better than hearing something like that!!!

Fyllis

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Nice story thanks, however there are also Gullah speak in southern Belize and Honduras coast to Trujillo, been all over both thanks.

-- Michael Johnson – Myrtle Beach, SC

Hi Michael,

Thank you so much for your comment. However, I think what you're referring to in the Belize/Honduras region is more accurately characterized as the Garifuna culture and language, which somewhat parallels the Gullah. If you'd like more information about that, please read my November 2011 story in travelingboy.com about the Garifuna.

Fyllis

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Toooooooo cooooooool Now I want to go to Florida!!!!

-- Kathy Marianelli – Columbia, Maryland

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Feedback for Ha Long Bay in Vietnam

I'm a Vietnamese and I can't help but went through all of your pictures. They are beautiful, both the couples and the natural sceneries. Vietnam is such a beautiful place, I love it. I have been to Ha Long Bay once, in fact, I have been too all places that you took pictures of. I love your pictures and certainly will comeback for more. Thank you for these wonderful images of Vietnam and its people.

-- Quyen

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Feedback for Family Magic in Orlando

Great article!!! Makes me want to go back and experience it ALL all over again.

-- Ariane – Chicago

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Feedback for Mohonk

I love your signature and the writing (in "Mohonk: Sumptuous Old-World Flavor Tastefully Wrapped in Casual Elegance")... but the place is a bit expensive... more like the Romney types! Is Vic a "photographer" or does he just take pretty good pictures?

-- John Strauss – Campton Hills, IL

Hi John,

Thanks so much for your kind comments. Much appreciated! Yes, I do know Mohonk is expensive -- as is true for so many of the fine resorts -- but it is a historical structure that has been in operation for so many years and offers so many activity options for the whole family without nickel and diming the guest, that for those who can afford it, it actually is somewhat of a bargain.

And no, Vic is not a "real" photographer as much as he is a travel writer in his own right, but sometimes, as he says, he does get lucky.

Again, thanks for your feedback.

Fyllis

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Feedback for the Road to Hana

We enjoyed seeing the Road to Hana from a helicopter! After you get to Hana you've still got to make the return journey. Thanks but no thanks!

-- Betsy Tuel – Rosendale, NY

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Feedback for Dominican Republic

Thank you, Fyllis, for this engaging tour. For years I thought the Dominican Republic was all-tourists, all-the-time. You just made me want to go there! (those waterfall adventures look like great fun)

-- Richard F. – Saugerties

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Feedback for Traveling the Canadian Rockies

We (our family) also took The Rocky Mountaineer (gold leaf) in early June 2011. Great memories! Great food! Great service! I am sorry to hear about this labor dispute, as clearly, the attendants were a HUGE part of the experience. They felt like friends by the end of the trip. Good luck to all employees!

-- Susie – Hana

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Hi Fyllis,

I am one of the locked out onboard attendants. I enjoyed reading your lovely writing based on the trip you took with the level of service that was delivered until June 22, 2011. It is misleading to share this review at this time. Many current guests are dismayed when they experience the low level of service which does not live up to what this blog post boasts. The company is not even responding to the complaints of their guests who have paid top dollar, and are now consistently ignored when they write to ask for a refund. If you do not believe me, go to Trip Advisor and read the recent reviews. There are a few good ones, and they are almost all from pre-lock out dates. Many of those are from complimentary trips and the company seems to be pressuring them to post positive reviews. If you are unaware of what is happening, please consider visiting a site which has many news stories and letters of support from guests and local politicians.

--- City: onboard – Vancouver

Can I ask when this article was written? One of the managers onboard would have been travelling on it for more than 6 years by now...last I heard Shauna was in Edmonton.

--- tnoakes – Edmonton, Alberta

Dear Whomever --

I am so very sorry to hear about the lockout and the bad feelings that have been engendered between management and employees. It was not a situation I knew anything about and realize the timing of my article indeed was unfortunate.

What I wrote about was based totally on my personal experience and only reflects my trip at that time. Please accept my apologies for the difficulties current and former employees are now experiencing and the apparent disparate levels of service experienced by me and more recent guests. It was not something I had any knowledge of.

Fyllis, TravelingBoy



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