Located in Northeast Florida, St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement and port in the continental United States. It is appropriately called the “Nation’s Oldest City”, and to many of the locals, it is known as the “Ancient City”. After more than 450 years, it is also said to be one of the most haunted cities in America.
Built in 1914, this Mediterranean Revival style two-story inn was first called the Mantanzas Hotel. It changed hands in about 1920 and the new owner — a widow — changed the name to the Bayfront Boarding House. Taking great pride in running a clean and comfortable boarding house that offered excellent meals, the establishment was soon very busy and reservations began to be required in order to secure a room. After a few years, she changed the name to the Casablanca Inn.
These were the years of Prohibition and bootleggers were very active in bringing alcohol into St. Augustine from Cuba. Legend has it that the widow began to have a relationship with one of the bootleggers and she was in an excellent position to provide assistance. Though her clientele was a broad range of salesmen, families, and other travelers, during this time, she also hosted a number of FBI agents who were in town to enforce the law. Soon, she began to assist the rumrunners. When no agents were in the city, she would swing a lantern at night from the top of her inn, signaling that it was safe to deliver the alcohol. She also made arrangements to have booze to provide her customers who wanted to drink. The smugglers paid her handsomely for her help.
At one point, she was allegedly question by an agent, but the suspicion was dismissed. By the time Prohibition ended in 1933, she had made enough money to live well for the rest of her life. When she died she was buried in the Huguenot Cemetery. However, many who have visited the inn, report that though she may have died, she never left.
Claims have been made that many people in boats have seen a lantern swinging atop the hotel at dusk. Others have stated that they saw a dark figure swinging the lantern. Staff and guests have reported seeing a misty fog like female apparition at various places inside and outside the inn. Others have felt a gentle touch, the sounds of footsteps when no one is near, disembodied voices, and the strong scent of oranges, which were associated with her.
Though she is said to be a kindly ghost, a number of prankish activities have been reported such beds becoming unmade, televisions and lamps that turn on and off by themselves, even when unplugged, items being moved around and tablecloths removed from tables. On one occasion, a night innkeeper heard loud footsteps and doors opening and closing on the floor over him, but that section was unoccupied.
Restored to its former glory today, the Casablanca Inn serves as a beautiful bed and breakfast inn today.
Though the Spanish founded St. Augustine in 1565, it would be another hundred years before they began building the Castillo de San Marcos. The earlier wooden forts did not last long. Some of them burned down, some were washed away by storms, and some just rotted from neglect.
However, two events took place around the mid-1600s that made the Spanish realize that it was time to build a stronger fort to defend their town and their colony of La Florida.
The first event was in 1768 when the pirate Robert Searles attacked St. Augustine . Unlike Sir Francis Drake, who had attacked and burned St. Augustine to the ground a hundred years earlier, Searles did not burn the town or destroy the wooden fort. However, the Spanish feared he might return with more men and turn St. Augustine into a pirate camp to attack Spanish treasure ships. They needed more protection.
The second event was the founding of South Carolina by the English in 1670. The English had settled Jamestown, Virginia 42 years after the Spanish founded St. Augustine , followed by the Pilgrim’s settlement at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. But, these colonies were too far away to be a threat. Even the establishment of Maryland and New York over the next decades did not much affect the Spanish. However, that changed in 1670 with the establishment of South Carolina . The English were now much too close for comfort and the Spanish Crown sent money to St. Augustine for the building of a stone fortress.
After more than three centuries this magnificent fort continues to stand and today is not only a destination for tourists but also is apparently called home to a number of restless spirits. The largest masonry structure of its kind in the nation, this 17th century fortress has survived years of battles and storms, changed ownership five times (Spain, Britton, America, Confederate States of America, then back to US control again), pirate attacks, and served as a prison throughout the years, witnessing the deaths of many. The fortress has also been a silent spectator to a number of gruesome stories. It is no wonder that it is haunted.
During the many years it took to build the fort, a number of workers died due to hard labor, tropical heat and diseases. During this time of Spanish control, it is believed that a hidden room in the lower chambers was used as a torture chamber during the brutal Spanish Inquisition. It wouldn’t be until years later that the room was discovered when a heavy American cannon fell through the floor revealing a room containing ashes and human bones.