Ghost Tours in
A Fanciful Foray into Phantom
Fantasy Or Fright
Story by Fyllis Hockman
Photos by Victor Block
t 450+ years, St. Augustine, Florida is America's oldest city. There's
a lot to recommend a city that old history, ancient (for the
states) architecture, Spanish culture. And, of course, ghosts. A city
that old has a lot of history to haunt a lot of death and despair
to permeate the landscape and the spirits of St. Augustine are
sufficient to keep a multitude of ghost tour operators very busy.
I tagged along on a couple. Outing #1 was a Ghosts and
Gravestones Trolley Tour.
It's ironic that the tour begins right next to a Ripley's
Believe It or Not building. Just sayin'
. First ghost hunting tip:
go for the stormy weather, alleged by dedicated ghost hunters to provide
more energy for the "manifestations" to draw on. It was misty
that night: check.
Old Jail certificate
In the tour office hangs a Certificate of Haunting,
issued by the Port Orange Paranormal Society, officially identifying
the St. Augustine Old Jail, one of the tour stops, as "an authentically
based on audio, video and photographic evidence."
You can't argue with that!
As we hopped on a bus, all dressed up for Halloween,
with about a dozen other eager seekers, we were instructed on the basics
of ghost sightings: look for little orbs with tails, a white light,
a shadow, an apparition in white (seems to be the preferred attire of
apparitions). At a cemetery fence, not surprisingly always a portal
for the undead, cameras were flashing and phones lighting up, one after
the other. "Why are they all taking pictures of the fence?"
inquired my always-skeptical husband. "There's nothing there."
The 130-year old Potter's Wax Museum building we were
told was built over a cemetery, thereby explaining all the "energy."
I was beginning to pick up on the idea that energy was just a euphemism
for ghosts. Our guide talked of strange happening which by the end of
the night had become a mantra footsteps heard, bottles falling,
objects flying. Combined with a lot of corny humor, it didn't help convince
me of the authenticity of the experience.
As we walked through the museum, I suddenly felt a vibration
on my arm a very intense vibration and I quickly looked
around to see who or what "energy" might be near me. How disappointed
was I to discover it was only my Fitbit! Another 10,000 steps logged
but no other-worldly workout buddy to share it with.
Interpreter at Old Jail
A re-enactment of an old pirate being felled by an executioner
with one of my tour compatriots assuming the role of the condemned
was great theater. But nothing compared to that of the Old Jail,
known as the Hanging Jail from 1871-1953, for the eight criminals who
hung from the gallows. A dramatic inmate told the stories of the sadly
deceased with great gusto playing out all the gory details of the crimes.
The impersonators were the best part of the tour but unfortunately they
were all very much alive!
Someone claimed to get a picture of an orb allegedly
a filmy white light with or without a tail on her cellphone.
I looked through the bars into the same very dark cell and all I saw
a very dark cell. However the marketing person employed
by the tour company sent me this photo taken on a tour of a nearby castle
She claims, "NO ONE was standing there in period
costume where the apparition appeared!"
How to account for some of these specter sightings?
Shadows; specks of dust; reflections, overactive imaginations? But many
claim they capture images on their cameras that are unexplainable
ghosts trying to present themselves in recognizable spirit forms. Who
am I to argue?
Given my own penchant for spirits (of the drinking variety),
it seemed a ghost-invaded pub crawl a good way to combine my spirits
theirs as part of my next phantom-filled adventure.
Not often does my line of work require me to attend
an extended Happy Hour so when the opportunity to imbibe at four different
venues all in the name of research presented itself, well
. Ergo: Ghost Tours of St. Augustine Creepy Crawley Pub
Crawl. Zombie martini, anyone?
Brian, our tour guide and historic haunted site veteran,
passed out Electromagnetic Field Transmitters to aid in our search for
otherwise unrecognizable companions. Supposedly their energy is recorded
on the readers which tend to beep loudly in response. Or it could just
mean that there's a computer nearby. Hard to tell.
As we walked the neighborhood, Brian advised us to ignore
the more modern establishments and focus on the historic ones -- all
the better to haunt you with, my dear about which he regaled
us with stories. Claiming that the theory of ghosts is as polarizing
as politics (though probably not in 2016
), he said the spectrum
tilts 60-40 in favor of believers. "Ignore the skeptics,"
he admonished. "That's not why you're here." As we walked
over streets that were built over cemeteries and past ongoing archeological
digs, he assured us that residual energies remain. Rarely, though, is
a ghost going to come up and say, "Hello, my name is Ralph and
I'm going to haunt you tonight." Instead, he admonished, you have
to acquaint yourself with a place and know what to look for or
more accurately, "share the presence of."
Ghost hunting with EMF reader
My creepy crawley comrades kept checking their EMF transmitters
to see if they'd connected with any external energies and then snapping
their cameras in the hopes of randomly catching them on film. Until
we got to the next bar, of course, and started imbibing again. For a
while I thought the liquid spirits were overtaking the more ethereal
ones. But then we moved on.
The rash of squeals emitted from several transmitters
at the corner of Charlotte and Hypolito streets caught everyone's attention
equaled only by the story Brian then told of the murder there
on November 20, 1785 of William Delaney by a jealous rival. Now, I didn't
see Delaney's spirit anywhere but I also know this didn't happen at
any other intersection. Coincidence???
We were all more than happy to get to another bar for
more uplifting spirits. At Meehan's Irish Pub, the liquor is held in
place by wires because, as rumor has it, the bottles have more than
once inexplicably flown off the shelves. According to Kaiser, who has
been bartending there for four years, he has heard voices, seen lights
flicker, had the bathroom door stick for no apparent reason and claimed
sightings of a man in overalls. "If you don't believe in ghosts,
come work here," he invites.
Wires holding back bottles
Similarly, Sara, a bartender at Scarlett O'Hara's, also
renowned as haunted, enthusiastically proclaims, "Oh yeah, I've
experienced everything." Those experiences, not surprisingly, range
from erratic lights, moving dishes, unseen voices and apparitions of
a woman in white (notice a pattern here?) and a man in a uniform. I
ordered yet another drink!
The sign says it all!
It's hard not to be moved by all these stories. As skeptical
as I was when I began the trip, how do you dismiss the experiences
often so similar of so many others? Or ignore some very real
tangible evidence ostensibly captured on film? I was left just shaking
my head a lot and feeling somewhat reassured that overall, ghosts
seem to be a lot more playful than they are scary.
The next day, glad to be done with ghosts for awhile,
I was doing more traditional sightseeing. When I mentioned to a curator
at a small museum that we were staying at the St. Francis Inn, the oldest
in St. Augustine, he asked in what room. I told him. "Ah then,
you're safe," he said, "as long as you're not in Lily's room."
Oh? When I returned to the Inn, I found that stories abound around Lily,
a most playful ghost who wanders the third floor searching for her lost
love, wrecking havoc with the other guests. As I've learned is usual
with ghosts, lights go on and off, bathroom locks get jammed, and objects
fly across rooms. I was beginning to feel right at home. I nodded toward
Lily, just in case SHE could see ME.
For more information, visit floridashistoriccoast.com;
Island: A Town Time Forgot; Ghost
Hunting at Riverside Mission Inn; Belize:
A Central American Country that Doubles as a Caribbean Island; Key
West: There's a WHAT in the Backyard???