Haunted in St. Augustine
by Candice Seymour. Photos by photographer & St. Augustine local Robert Vanmierop.
St. Augustine, founded in 1565, is known to many as the Oldest City. But the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the United States has yet another distinction as one of the country’s most haunted cities. With a long and sometimes sordid past that began with the slaughter of hundreds of French settlers by city founder Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, it is no surprise that history and legend have interwoven into the fabric that makes up St. Augustine’s story. Thousands of people each year visit the city to walk the ancient streets and hear ghostly tales that span from centuries ago to modern times.
Walking along the city’s bay front seawall offers views of Matanzas Bay — matanza, Spanish for killing, being a reference to the city’s bloody founding. But looking beyond the water, which legend says can appear red, like blood, in the moonlight, you’ll spy the St. Augustine Lighthouse, completed in 1874. Many hauntings have been recorded at the lighthouse. The wandering lighthouse keeper that leaves the faint scent of cigar in his wake, including in the homes of lighthouse visitors, is popular among local haunting enthusiasts.
Perhaps most well-known are the ghosts of three young girls who met their ends before the current lighthouse was completed. When construction began on the lighthouse in 1871, Hezekiah Pittee, Superintendent of Lighthouse Construction, moved his wife and three daughters onsite. His girls, as well as the children of other workers, often played among the construction. In 1873, fun would turn to tragedy when the sisters and another young girl were playing on a small rail-cart used to move supplies from the water up the hill to the lighthouse site. It was routine to see the children ride down the hill in the cart to the water’s edge, where a wooden board kept the cart from tumbling into the waters of Salt Run. One day, the girls blissfully careened down the track, unaware that the board had been removed (some accounts say the board failed). The heavy cart tumbled into the water, trapping the girls beneath. Only one, four-year-old Carrie, the youngest Pittee sister, would survive.
To this day, unexplained incidents, often attributed to the Pittee girls and their friend, occur around the lighthouse. The sound of children laughing can sometimes be heard and a young girl in Victorian dress has been spotted around the lighthouse grounds and is known to appear in photographs. At a nearby playground, the swings seem to sway against the wind, even when the air is still. The St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum features a more detailed account of the Pittee Girls’ story. Ghost-hunters and history enthusiasts can also book a lighthouse ghost tour and perhaps catch a glimpse of a ghostly specter first-hand!
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