As Halloween draws near, we have ghosts on our minds. And what better place to hunt for ghosts than in the oldest city in the United States? Come with us to St. Augustine, Florida, a seaside town about an hour north of Daytona Beach, as we search out some spooky spots for the season. (Feature photo: Flickr/Rachel Kramer)
We’ll start with the obvious, because you can’t miss it! The Castillo de San Marcos is one of the Old City’s largest and most popular tourist destinations. It’s also, according to ghost experts, quite haunted. If the past returns to Castillo de San Marcos, it’s with good reason: this massive Spanish fort has been guarding the city since the 17th century.
Today it’s a hugely popular tourist attraction, and not just for its history. Ghost stories abound at this fort, from sightings of Spanish colonial troops still on night patrol, to the touch of cold hands in the dungeons. The fort is featured in the Travel Channel series Ghost Adventures. Luckily, even if you do get spooked at the Castillo, you’ll have plenty of (living) company – about 650,000 visitors a year pass through its gates.
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument is open every day but Thanksgiving and Christmas and entrance costs $7 per adult (children 15 and under are free with adult). You’ll find a variety of events on the calendar, such as the Historic Weapons Demonstration, just in case you don’t see any ghosts while you’re there.
No ghost tour would be complete without a haunted graveyard. St. Augustine’s Huguenot Cemetery boasts several good ghost stories. One is an adolescent girl in a flowing white gown, supposedly the victim of yellow fever, who floats through the cemetery, occasionally waving hello to guests, after midnight. Another is the ghost of Judge John Stickney, who has apparently been searching for his stolen gold teeth for the past century. Cemetery visitors often report “orbs,” glowing balls of light, showing up in their photos after their visit – ghost hunters say orbs are a sure sign of paranormal activity. The best way to visit the Huguenot Cemetery is on one of St. Augustine’s many ghost tours (links at the end of this post). Due to preservation concerns, the cemetery isn’t open to regular foot traffic.
Even some of the city’s favorite school field-trip locations aren’t immune from the local ghosts. The Oldest Wooden School House is said to be haunted by a young woman in 19th-century clothing, who gazes out the second floor window. The Old Drugstore is full of fun old-fashioned elixirs, but local legend also says the site is haunted by a Native American chief, since it’s built on a burial ground. A lantern-light tour of Potter’s Wax Museum would be alarming enough without the ghost stories, but the Ghosts and Gravestones tour throws them in anyway. And The Old Jail is frequently called the most haunted site in St. Augustine, with cold spots, unexplained scents, banging noises, and strange lights.
If you’re ready to add some “boo!” to your St. Augustine trip, the easiest way to take in all these haunted sites (and learn a little history) is through a ghost tour like the ones listed below. (Please note: We haven’t tried any of these—yet—but they all sound ghoulishly delightful! You can find extensive reviews of each tour at TripAdvisor.)
Ghosts and Gravestones: St. Augustine Frightseeing Tour: Take a 90-minute trolley ride around the Old City, visiting The Old Jail, the Old Drug Store, Potter’s Wax Museum, and the Huguenot Cemetery.
Secrets of St. Augustine Ghost Tour: Storyteller Dion Moore offers a 75-minute walking tour which unveils the lost legends of St. Augustine’s past five centuries.
Sheriff’s Ghost Walk Tours: Led by Sheriff Guy White, the St. Augustine sheriff who was killed in 1911 (so that makes your tour guide your first ghost!), this 90-minute walking tour focuses on historical accuracy as you visit some of the city’s most haunted sites.
GhoSt St. Augustine Haunted Pub Tour: If you need a little liquid courage before facing the haunts, this pub crawl-turned-ghost walk includes a free beer as you make your way through four different historical pubs. Like other GhoSt tours, your guide brings the science with a ghost-hunting meter designed to display just how much paranormal activity you’re drinking with.
Ready to put on your own ghost tour? Start with this list of likely locations for apparitions at HauntedPlaces.org.
Add St. Augustine’s history and haunts to your next Florida vacation! The nation’s oldest city is about two hours from Summer Bay Orlando By Exploria Resorts, and about an hour from Grand Seas or New Smyrna Waves By Exploria Resorts. Click the Destinations tab to start planning your trip!