Share This Article:
By Anne C. Heymen
Photos by Mark Cubbedge and Gary Leveille
Ghosts: Chad Light, Victoria Schnock, Dianne Strum Thompson Jacoby, and Maggie Mattingly Theirren
Who has walked before us in this old town – and perhaps still does?
In a community which dates back more than 450 years, it’s only logical to believe, at least a little, in the paranormal.
“No doubt there’s a bunch of ghosts running around this town,” observes veteran businessman Dan Holiday, “but I’ve never seen them.” However, in the 1960s when he rented the north side of the Lightkeeper’s House, two men on two separate occasions during the six years Holiday lived there did experience visitors from another dimension.
“In my book I have a chapter on it,” Holiday recounted by phone, referring to his book “Just Plane Dumb Luck.” “It’s real simple” he continued. While operating a coffee house in town, Holiday “had a fellow who was playing the guitar.” That “fellow,” Tony Smith, eventually moved to Europe and became a famous violin maker — Anton Smith. While a resident of St. Augustine, he was sleeping in a spare bedroom and, after Holiday had left for work about 7 a.m. Smith told Holiday he heard footsteps. When he looked out he spied, according to him, a “little girl who looked like Alice in Wonderland.”
Holiday continues: In 1964, when he returned home after visiting with Smith in Europe, a stage manager who was employed by the outdoor production “Cross and Sword” moved into the spare room. “The man”, says Holiday, “had no idea about anything.” And sure enough, Holiday says that, after he left for work one morning, “the stage manager heard humming or whistling or whatever, and he basically told me the same story about the little girl who looked like Alice in Wonderland. But I lived there for six years and never saw anything. Yet both of those guys said the same basic thing.”
There have been numerous stories of ghosts at the St. Augustine Lighthouse. Among them is one of three young girls who drowned when the handcart they were playing on broke and fell into the ocean. As one online account notes: “Many have seen at least one of the girls roaming about, and others have heard the voices of children playing inside and outside the building.”
In answer to questions about ghosts at the lighthouse, Kathy Fleming, Executive Director of the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum, responded with this email:
“I can tell you that I was in the basement of the keeper’s house about 19 or so years ago, when I saw a visitor very clearly walk across the hallway and doorway of the Video Room. He was tall and thin and wearing a jacket and hat. As I’ve said, he was in a room, near the cisterns that, at that time, held a video of the Lighthouse history. There was no exit from that room that would not have caused him to walk directly past me in a narrow space. It was late and I was locking up. I went in to just say hello, and tell him, ‘We are closing up for the night, but please take your time and enjoy your visit fully.’ However, there was NO ONE in the room when I entered. My heart pounded, and I ran back up the stairs to tell staff I thought I had seen the ghost. The staffer in the store — I have forgotten who that was — it was so long ago, said ‘Yes, we have seen him before.’
Fleming continued, ”We know that Keeper William Harn died of TB (tuberculosis) in the home. He and his family lived here for most of two decades. He probably became ill when serving in the American Civil War. He was awarded the rank of Brevet Major for his service, as he was at Fort Sumter, the Battle of Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, and more of the heaviest fighting. Some folks believe that Harn’s spirit remains in the house. Many staff and sometimes visitors here over the years have also smelled the sweet cigar smoke in the tower. Head lighthouse keeper Peter Rasmussen, a Danish immigrant, kept cigars in the desk drawer of the keepers’ office in the tower when he lived here. We always wonder if he is around.”
St. Augustine businessman Phil Genovar is also a believer in visitors from another dimension. He recently recalled that, years ago, while steering his Dixie Custom Automotive wrecker down Avenida Menendez one dark night, “I swear somebody was sitting on a balcony of a building several doors north of the American Legion property. There was a “glow” around the individual”, Genovar reports. Wanting to confirm what he’d seen, Genovar turned the wrecker around, but by the time he returned, the vision had disappeared.
Ghosts walk among us at many of St. Augustine’s Bed & Breakfast Inns, according to accounts on the internet.
At St. Francis Inn, the story is told of a young house servant who haunts the Francis Street property.
Whispers, shadows and disappearance of items have been noted from those who visit Casa de Solana on Aviles Street, and those at the Casa de Suenos report that a ghost named Randolph “likes to move things around in a playful sort of manner.” So when things go missing, “the staff just asks Randolph to put it back and eventually it shows up again.”
Reports of strange happenings have also been recorded at Casablanca and the Kenwood Inn, too. However, for those who are hesitant to share their accommodations with those from the other side, the St. Augustine Historic Inn Association has some words of comfort. As it’s noted on the website of haunted B&Bs, “With 24 of St. Augustine’s wonderful inns as members of St. Augustine Historic Inns, you have 19 without ghosts to check out as well.”
There have been numerous reports of friendly other world visitors at the Don Pedro Horruytiner House, 214 St. George Street. Built during the first Spanish period, its history includes serving as the home for two generations of governors.
According to one account on the Internet, “The first reported paranormal incident is that of Brigita Gomez in 1821, who saw two translucent women while gardening. The women looked suspiciously familiar to Brigita, who realized that they resembled paintings she’d seen of previous owners. She carried on a conversation with the women, and bid them farewell by cutting them some yellow roses. She awoke the following day to find the yellow roses sitting on her doorstep. The women, among other former residents, can still be seen milling about the garden.”
In recent years, the Patterson family owned the home, and Maggie, interviewed for a number of publications, reported that the family conducted a paranormal test before purchasing the property, requesting that any ghosts there show some sort of sign of their presence. “Within seconds,” says the internet account, “the house was suddenly illuminated as all of its lights mysteriously turned on.”
In 2000, Connie and Donald Bessey purchased the property. “The way I was introduced to this house,” Connie said in a recent telephone chat, was when her now deceased husband gave her the book, “The Ghosts of St. Augustine”. “When I read the chapter on that house, I immediately fell in love with it.”
Her experiences include a repetition of a tale told by Maggie Patterson, in which she’d spied a calico cat. Connie, too, spied a calico cat one night. It ran behind the garage, so Connie tried to find it. Sure she could locate it because it ran into a confined space, the cat “was nowhere to be found.”
Another time, as Connie was entering the living room she, “saw something white to the side of me.” At first she thought it was her reflection, but, as she was dressed in black, Connie knew that couldn’t be the case. And she recalled another story Maggie had recounted when the Pattersons were out for the evening, and a tour director, talking to visitors outside the home, spied a lady dressed in white “coming down the stairs.” It could not have been Maggie, says Connie, because the Pattersons were away for the evening.
Connie doesn’t fret about the paranormal inhabitants. A friend who is familiar with visitors from another dimension, once assured her, “You don’t have to be afraid. All your spirits are friendly. That put me at ease.”