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LIGHTHOUSE TRAVEL: ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA

Where to eat and stay in 'haunted' St. Augustine, Florida

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Photos: St. Augustine Lighthouse exterior by Flickr user hyku. Window, looking out by Flickr user caite_marie. Used with permission.

St. Augustine, Florida is the first European city in the United States; traveling to the lighthouse can extend beyond a coastal vacation to a rich historic tour.

Originally inhabited by the Seminoles, St. Augustine primarily retains the cultural influence of Spanish colonization. Not to mention, its reputation as one of America's "haunted cities" causes it to attract paranormal buffs year-round.

St. Augustine: Colonization in brief

Spanish explorer and adventurer Ponce de Leon visited Florida for the first time in 1513. In 1565, after learning French explorers Jean Ribault and René Goulaine de Laudonnière had established Fort Caroline along St. Johns River—now Jacksonville—Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, Spain traveled to Florida. Menéndez called the area San Augustín and developed it as the first permanent European settlement in the "New World."

In 1673, the British managed to take over St. Augustine. Up until then, Spain had resisted British rule, prompting the Spanish monarch to build Castillo de San Marcos, a military fortress that kept many Spaniards alive after the British sacked the area twice. As part of the Treaty of Paris, Spain ruled Florida again in 1784. However, because Spanish influence had started to falter throughout the globe, its reign over the area was brief. In 1821, Spain sold Florida to the United States as the 27th state. (References: St. Augustine Links and State of Florida.)

St. Augustine Lighthouse history

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The first St. Augustine Lighthouse had originally been a watchtower, which the Spanish had built. The first keeper was Juan Andreau, of Minorca, Spain. In 1824, when the U.S. government turned the tower into a navigational aid, the light was provided by Winslow Lewis Argand lamps. To improve the light's quality and distance, the government installed a fourth-order Fresnel lens in 1855.

With the ocean proving a threat to the old structure, the government started building a new lighthouse tower in 1871. Paul J. Pelz, who designed the Library of Congress and other lighthouses such as Point Fermin Lighthouse in San Pedro, California, designed the new St. Augustine. The second light, which would upgrade to a first-order Fresnel lens, started operating on October 15, 1874. The keepers continued to live in the old quarters until 1876. In 1880, the old lighthouse crashed into the sea.

St. Augustine Lighthouse stands at 165-feet tall, with 219 steps that take visitors up the tower and into the lantern room. The lighthouse was automated in 1955.

Read St. Augustine Lighthouse's "Facts Behind Ghost Stories."

St. Augustine Lighthouse tours

  • Address: Open daily at 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., the last ticket is sold at 5:45 p.m. The staff encourages visitors to allow for at least an hour to tour the site and climb the tower. In July and some holidays, the lighthouse is open until 7 p.m. with the last ticket sold at 6:45 p.m. The lighthouse is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Fees: Call for fees.
  • Gift shop and museum: Visit their Web site.
  • Paranormal tour: Done under moonlight. Click here for dates and fees.
  • Best time to visit: Due to hurricanes and other inclement weather, the lighthouse staff recommends calling in advance regarding weather conditions.
  • Address: 81 Lighthouse Avenue, St. Augustine, FL 32080
  • Phone: 904-829-0745, info@staugustinelighthouse.com.

ST. AUGUSTINE RESTAURANTS

ST. AUGUSTINE HOTELS, BED & BREAKFASTS

  • Carriage Way. For a historic twist from a different angle, this B&B rests in a Victorian-style home, built decades after Florida became in a state, circa 1883 - 1885. Family-friendly rooms adorned with frilly Laura-Ashley style linens and curtains make it a quaint stay for couples, singles and children. For "special touches," see our listing in "For Eats." 70 Cuna Street St. Augustine, Florida 32084. 800-908-9832. $$$.

  • The Monterey Inn. Located in the heart of St. Augustine's historic district. Featuring award-winning cuisine, panaromic bay views and a variety of ways to enjoy the local scenery. 16 Avenida Menendez, St. Augustine, Florida 904-824-4482. $$$.

HAUNTED ST. AUGUSTINE

The ghosts of St. Augustine

Aside from a Spanish fortress, historic buildings, scenic beaches and delectable local cuisine, St. Augustine is known for—drumroll—its ghosts. Within the city, local businesses such as A Ghostly Experience, features opportunities to experience paranormal experiences, on foot, on land or at sea. Those skeptical about the presence of ghosts in St. Augustine might be surprised to learn A Ghostly Experience has been voted the No. 1 ghost tour by the readers of Florida Living Magazine and the seventh-best ghost tour by Haunted America. In other words, the paranormal thing—is big there.

If you search YouTube for haunted St. Augustine footage, you'll find a host of video-testimonies. Christopher Blanken, a Queens, New York native who lives just outside of Orlando in Casselberry, Florida, has always been intrigued with the paranormal. He and friends were drawn to St. Augustine after watching an episode of Ghost Hunters. While the TV show focused heavily on the lighthouse, it also talked about apparitions sighted at the Spanish Military Hospital and the St. Augustine jail.

Christopher's videos above and below comprise a two-part series featuring images and tours of the Spanish Military Hospital and Huguenot Cemetery, which is located across the street from Fort Castillo. In each video, Christopher hones in on mists, lights and mysterious shadows to demonstrate the presence of apparitions. As you watch the videos, follow Christopher's cues as to where to place your eyes.

As for the image featured in the second video? "While on the tour, we stopped at the cemetery," Christopher says. "The tour guide was telling us stories of various apparitions and anomalies seen onsite. She explained the most common figure sighted was believed to be Judge John B. Stickney, a politician who died in 1882 and was originally buried in the cemetery."

The tour guide said the judge is usually sighted in the same area Christopher points out at the cemetery. The apparition is usually "walking around searching the ground for something, probably his gold teeth that were stolen by grave robbers."

Christopher continues, "What really sent chills down our spines, was when [the guide] described his long beard. She explained that when people tell stories of seeing this apparition, they often describe a long scraggly white beard. We had no idea of any of this and it stopped us cold in our tracks. I can honestly say, that freaked me out a little."

Spooked, skeptical or just curious? You might have to visit St. Augustine to satisfy your intrigue! But sleep with one eye open. (Yes, insert devilish ghost laughter here.)

Videos courtesy of Draconic Pictures, YouTube username spielbergnut.

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