Haunted St. Augustine

 

Castillo San Marcos Courtyard by Kathy Weiser

Castillo San Marcos Courtyard by Kathy Weiser-Alexander

In 1702, when Spain was at war with Great Britain, the British launched a major attack on St. Augustine. For 50 days, the British besieged the fort, captured hundred of Indians for slaves, and burned the hospitals, monasteries, and the valuable Franciscan library. In the end, the Castillo de San Marcos was the only structure to survive in St. Augustine. Dozens of men on both sides of the conflict were killed.

 

In 1784, the fortress was under the command of a Spanish officer named Garcia Marti. Colonel Marti was married to a woman named Dolores, who was renowned for wearing a distinctive perfume which she used liberally. Marti was a busy man and began to suspect that his younger beautiful wife was having a clandestine relationship with one of his subordinate officers. His suspicions were confirmed when his young and handsome assistant — Captain Manuel Abela — reported for duty smelling of his wife’s distinctive perfume. Suddenly both Dolores and Captain Abela went missing. It was explained that Abela had been sent on a special mission to Cuba and that Dolores had become ill and had been sent to live with her Aunt in Mexico. Though rumors abounded, Colonel Marti wasn’t directly challenged.

It would be nearly five decades before the truth would be discovered. In 1833, the Castillo de San Marcos was under American control when an American officer discovered a hollow sound in one of the walls of the dungeon area. Puzzled, he removed a brick and outflowed the smell of a strong perfume. Soon, an entire hidden room was discovered, within which were two skeletons chained to the wall. It is believed that the couple was chained to the wall and left there to die a slow death.

Today, it is said that a female apparition, thought to be the forlorn spirit of Delores Marti, roams the grounds of the Castillo wearing a white dress. Other reports say that the screams of the slowly dying couple can be heard through the stone wall of the room where they were held when visitors place their ear against it.

The dungeons below the Castillo have kept numerous prisoners including that of Chief Osceola in 1837 during the Second Seminole War. Other captives over the years included more than 500 Apache prisoners who were followers of Geronimo, which included women and children;  pirates, and prisoners of war. Though a few escaped, others were released, there was no doubt, many who met their deaths while being held in cramped, dank conditions in the dungeon.

Reports of paranormal activity at the Castillo include sightings of Spanish soldiers patrolling the grounds, the ghost of a Seminole Indian who seemingly leaps to freedom from the high fortress walls, a Spanish soldier who is often spied at sunrise and sunset standing at the edge of the fort looking out to sea. In the 18th century, a Spanish soldier was killed by a cannonball while searching for a ring on the grounds. His spirit is said to be seen still looking for the ring.

Other paranormal activity includes a light that shines from a watchtower on stormy nights even though the tower has no electricity. In the dungeon, visitors report a number of sensations including felling as if someone with cold hands had touched them, unexplained noises, and people talking. Many report having felt goosebumps and feeling ill while walking through. Photos taken at the fort often display misty shapes, strange lights, and what appears to be translucent ghosts.

In other places within the fort, flashes of light have been seen coming from the brass cannons, wisps of smoke, more spirits dressed in soldier’s uniforms, and the sounds of screams.

Flagler College-Hotel Ponce de León

The Ponce de Leon Hotel is now Flagler College, by Kathy Weiser.

The Ponce de Leon Hotel is now Flagler College, by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

In 1882, Henry Flagler, a New York entrepreneur and co-founder of Standard Oil, became interested in the historic city of St. Augustine and its potential as a winter resort. Flagler’s subsequent development of transportation and resort facilities in St. Augustine and along the east coast of Florida spurred rapid development in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A focal point of this development was Flagler’s Hotel Ponce de León. In 1887 Flagler hired two young architects from the prominent New York firm, McKim, Mead, and White, to design the hotel. With the design of the Ponce de Leon, John Carrere and Thomas Hastings launched a new architectural firm, Carrere & Hastings, which would gain national prominence. Flagler chose the Spanish Renaissance Revival style so that the hotel’s design would complement its historic surroundings. Retained to decorate the interior of the hotel, Louis C. Tiffany used stained glass, mosaics and terra cotta relief on the walls and ceilings and commissioned several grand murals. The hotel was the first large scale building constructed entirely of poured concrete.

The popularity of “the Ponce” and its style strongly influenced the architecture of southern Florida for the next 50 years. The success of the Hotel Ponce de Leon was episodic, immediately contending with a yellow fever epidemic and the worst freeze in state history in 1895. St. Augustine’s weather proved not to be as warm and sunny as other resort areas that were developed further south along the peninsula, and the town never boomed as a winter resort. However, tourists did come during the first decades of the 20th century, and the Ponce de Leon was one of only three Flagler Hotels to survive the Great Depression. Following a lull in tourism during World War II, the hotel attracted large crowds for several years. Some of its famous guests included Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Babe Ruth, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. Unfortunately; however, over the years, the hotel declined and in 1967 the hotel closed and was sold to Flagler College. It has been renovated and today and retains most of its original integrity. It was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and became a U.S. National Historic Landmark on February 21, 2006.

Today this historical landmark is said to remain home to a number of unearthly residents including Henry Flagler himself. When the wealthy entrepreneur died in 1913, he was laid in state in the hotel’s rotunda. When his casket was being carried out, all the doors suddenly slammed, and legend has it that his spirit was trapped in the rotunda. Reports are that Flager continues to keep an eye on his hotel.

Column at Flagler College entrance.

Another spirit is said to be that of Henry’s second wife, Ida Alicia Shourds. Ida, who was the nurse for the first Mrs. Flagler. She was described as frivolous and high-strung when Henry Flagler married her two years after his first wife’s death. But, as time passed, it began to appear that she suffered from mental illness – potentially manic-depressive or bipolar disorder. She began to dabble with a Ouija board and became involved in a spiritualist movement that was popular in St. Augustine at the time. As she talked with the dead, read tarot cards, and attended spiritual meetings, her behavior became more and more erratic — so much so that she was forced to spend some time in a mental hospital.

However, she was soon released, returning immediately to her Ouija board sessions again. Before long, she was sent back to see a psychiatrist, at which time she attempted to kill the doctor by stabbing him with a pair of scissors. In March 1899 she was legally declared insane. A year and a half later, Henry Flagler divorced Ida and quickly remarried a third wife.

Today, Ida Alice is said to haunt the East Wing women’s dorm, walking the halls of the top floor, and at one point taking up residence in a dorm room occupied by a girl who looked much like her. Though not harmful, the girl eventually transferred to another college.

A third lost soul is said to be that a former mistress of Henry Flagler. Called the “Woman in Black”, the story says that Flagler had an on-going extra-marital affair with a young woman while he was married to Ida Alicia. Henry was said to have kept his mistress, who was always dressed in black, in a suite of rooms in the hotel and forbade her to leave the rooms whenever Ida stayed at the hotel. Legend has it that the young woman eventually became so depressed that she hanged herself.

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