On the northeast coast of Florida is an enchanting historic city that is the nation’s oldest continuously inhabited settlement – St. Augustine. With its narrow cobblestone streets lined with buildings in a mix of architectural styles, sunshine and warm weather, beautiful beaches, and an incredible variety of unique places to eat and drink, St. Augustine is one of my favorite travel destinations to date.
With more than four centuries of history, this unique city is abundant in historic sites, state parks and national monuments and is no stranger to the paranormal. The history includes various attacks by the French and English, as well as fighting with the Native Americans of the Timucua tribe. The city even touched upon the Revolutionary War (it was a safe haven for loyalists) and the Civil War (escaped slaves were encouraged to flee and find sanctuary here). From Native Americans, Spanish settlers, British soldiers, pirates, tycoons and eccentric millionaires, St. Augustine has been home to a wide range of cultures throughout its history. All of this history, violence, death, pain and suffering has left its mark on the area and many of the historic buildings have claims of a haunting or paranormal activity.
Although we visited many historic buildings and sites during our travels, the St. Augustine Lighthouse truly stood out and we had the opportunity to tour the lighthouse at night – what an experience!
St. Augustine is the site of the oldest, permanent aid to navigation in North America. The original lighthouse, built by the Spanish in 1737, was constructed with a naturally occurring stone called coquina. This lighthouse replaced wooden watchtowers that were built in the late 1500’s.
The current lighthouse, circa 1874, is St. Augustine’s oldest surviving brick structure and still houses one of the few remaining operating Fresnel lenses in the US.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse rises 165 feet above sea level and contains 219 steps. For over 140 years, the St. Augustine Lighthouse’s beacon has lit the way to safety for sailors along the nation’s first coast. It has witnessed keepers and families come and go and the construction and removal of structures, all while the ever-expanding surrounding community changed.
Throughout the years, the lightkeepers that cared for the property and kept the light burning, as well as their stories, are well documented. There are two such stories that stood out to me, especially after my tour and investigation of the lighthouse and existing lightkeeper’s residence.
Joseph Andreau, with his wife Maria, took over the light keeping duties in 1854. For 5 years he attended to the light, ensuring the safety of sailors passing along the coast. However, tragedy struck in December 1859 while Andreau was performing annual maintenance on the tower – painting. The scaffolding he was standing on failed and he fell to his death while his wife looked on in anguish. The December 10th, 1859 edition of the St. Augustine Examiner states that Joseph:
“…first struck the roof of the oil room about thirty feet below, whence he glanced off and struck the stone wall which encloses the Light House, and thence to the ground…killing him instantly.”
After his death, Joseph’s wife Maria was appointed keeper and she served as lighthouse keeper in St. Augustine until authorities darkened the tower during the Civil War in an effort to hinder the Union Navy off Florida’s coast. Andreau resigned rather than surrender the city to Union forces in 1862. Maria Andreau was recognized by the Coast Guard as the first Hispanic-American woman to serve in the Coast Guard or its predecessor services and the first to command a federal shore installation. The Andreau’s made quite an impact on the history of the St. Augustine Lighthouse.
Roughly 10 years later, construction began on a new lighthouse – the existing structure. During construction, Hezekiah H. Pittee was the superintendent from 1871 to 1874. Since he spent long hours there, Pittee would often have his four children running and playing in the open space surrounding the site. On July 10, 1873, all four children, along with the young daughter of another worker, were playing on a supply cart that used to sit on tracks and run to and from the water. All the children piled onto the cart that day. Tragically, as it rushed towards the water and picked up speed, they were unable to control or stop it. Witnesses have documented that the cart hit the gate at a high speed and flipped into the water. The children were caught underneath the cart and became trapped.
Despite several workers rushing forward immediately and working to remove the cart from the children (no easy feat as these carts were large and heavy), the two oldest children of Pittee and the other young girl did not survive. The two youngest children did survive the ordeal. This was an immense tragedy and was witnessed and documented by many on site that day.
Today the site is a museum that provides educational services to the community, supports at-risk children and funds a maritime archaeology program that studies shipwrecks in the waters of the Nation’s Oldest Port. It also operates the site as a private-aid-to-navigation and through volunteers, keeps the light shining. It is through this museum that tours can be taken and paranormal experiences found.
Although this wasn’t my first visit to a historic haunted lighthouse, it certainly was the most intriguing – maybe because it was it at night or maybe related to the site itself.
The entrance to the lighthouse is at the end of a long path and is surrounded by open space, most of which is used as a park. You gain entrance through a store front that houses educational materials regarding navigation as well as the lighthouse. They also have artifacts on display to view. As we waited for the tour to begin, we were all given glow sticks to place around our neck to serve as a ticket as well as provide some much needed light (I’m sure they do not need anyone tripping down dozens of metal steps while trying climb the lighthouse in the dark).
About halfway down the long, dark, sandy path I began to feel anxious and the energy started to get heavier, thicker – I could feel that we were coming upon a place that was full of history and spirit. Walking this path in the dark, with only a glow stick to light our way, definitely added to the intrigue and suspense – I could tell everyone’s senses were heightened.
Suddenly, we exited the path into a clearing – and there was the lighthouse, standing tall and proud surrounded by the dark of night. The moon was shining and the clouds were surrounding the top of the lighthouse making an incredibly impressive picture. I admit that I stood there in awe for a bit – staring. Then of course I tried to capture the scene in photos but ended up doing a woefully inadequate job to be honest.
At this point I didn’t know much about the history of the lighthouse – I prefer to tour these haunted historic places with as little knowledge up front as possible. I want to feel the history they have to offer without possibly being influenced by what I hear or know. Although I had heard for years about one of the famous paranormal shows investigating the haunted St. Augustine Lighthouse, I had never watched the episode or even read about any of the specifics.
I began walking around the outside of the lighthouse, taking the entire site in and it was undeniably impressive. Touching the lighthouse, I could feel the decades of energy absorbed into the bricks adding to its allure. At this point I hadn’t sensed or picked up on any spirits but the amazing residual energy of the site had my full attention. The time finally came to go inside the lighthouse and I fully admit the entrance was dark and imposing. I hesitated and had to give myself a second or two to gather my courage.
Walking through the doorway, there were two rooms off to the side – one on the left and one on the right. Mostly empty, these rooms would have been used by the lightkeepers as quarters as well as to house the heaters etc.
The museum keeps them mostly vacant aside from some historical artifacts and old news articles. Since we were in complete darkness at this point (aside from that glow stick), it was difficult to see much in these rooms. I found them fascinating regardless – check out this original fireplace!
It was time to climb the tower.
As we came to the end of the hallway and stood at the top of the steps, waiting for the tour to begin, I heard and felt someone come running up behind us. The footsteps were quick and light. I turned around, slightly startled because I knew we were at the end of the group of people, and there stood a young girl – I placed here around 10 years old – dressed in an old-fashioned dark gray dress. She was smiling up at us and beckoning for me to follow her. At this point even my husband turned around a bit startled as he felt someone behind us as well. I silently told the little girl that I would be outside at the end of the tour and that I couldn’t follow her yet. I was a little unnerved because I was completely unaware of the history and it seemed odd to me that a young girl’s spirit would be hanging around a lighthouse.
The lighthouse holds over 200 winding metal steps. This would be intimidating during the day but at night it took on a whole new level. Everyone in our group was feeling heightened emotions and it effectively breathed a new life into the old building. As I started on the steps (we hung back so we were far behind the rest in the group), I could feel the energy in the place elevating.
At the top of each level there are windows so the lightkeepers could see what was happening as well as to keep air circulating in the lighthouse. There is something about these windows. I couldn’t help but feel that as I looked out one I would encounter the world as it was decades ago – surrounded by nature and trees growing free and wild with much less of a community to view.
As we neared the top of the lighthouse, I began to feel a female presence with us. I felt that she was trying to stay ahead of us and clearly did not want to interact. She felt annoyed to me as if she did not want people in her lighthouse, that she had a job to do which we clearly did not appreciate. As we rounded each step, I could feel her slightly ahead of us – staying just out of sight. I started to get a little uneasy and made sure I held onto the railing tightly as I climbed because I had an alarming sense that she would not be above pushing or tripping. Once we reached the very top of the lighthouse, the view was absolutely stunning at night. The air was warm, the moon was bright and I felt as if I could have stayed up high taking in this view forever – if not for the woman spirit that was breathing down my neck.
We took our time climbing back down – giving everyone else ample time to descend and leave the lighthouse. After everyone had left, my husband and I remained inside for while – I wanted to take some pictures and see if we could get some interaction. As I was flashing my camera up the steps, trying to capture a picture, I clearly saw someone several flights up running across the landing. Straining to look up and get a better view I clearly saw a light at the top of the lighthouse – it looked like one of the lanterns the tour guides had lit. So I turned to tell my husband that we must be mistaken – one of the tour guides was still up at the top. That’s when I heard a bang. It’s hard to miss any noise within the lighthouse because it echos and reverberates all through it. The noise startled me and I looked back up at the top of the lighthouse, my heart beating fast. The light that I had seen was gone – the top was now completely dark.
We exited the lighthouse and asked the tour guide who remained at the top – and apparently all the guides and the guests were down and accounted for. I was a bit skeptical of this blatant activity to be honest and we spent a little time walking around the outside of the lighthouse to see if lights could have shined in through a window – creating the shadow of movement I witnessed or even the light. The windows all faced the opposite direction of the movement I saw – there was no possible way a shadow from an outside source shining through a window could have created what I saw. As for the light on the landing at the top – I also can’t explain that reasonably.
Following the lighthouse, we toured the lightkeeper’s residence. The building that is in place now is not the original but a recreation of what it would have looked like. The building itself is impressive and full of period antiques. The museum has an educational display set up in the basement that is quite interesting.
The tour guides did a fantastic job of giving us the history of the lighthouse and the residence as well as paranormal claims and experiences – some personally theirs. This is when I first learned about the children that died during construction (explained the young girl I had seen) as well as the woman who is said to haunt the lighthouse. The guides had many paranormal experiences to recount in the lightkeeper’s residence but I did not experience or feel anything paranormal during our tour. Regardless, the guides did a fantastic job of telling the stories and engaging us all. Maybe next time!
We had a remarkable time at the St. Augustine Lighthouse. I recommend the nighttime tour to gain a completely different perspective, and energy, of the lighthouse.