Mysterious America

St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum

Lighthouses have long attracted strange tales. As guides for sailors weary of smashing against hidden rocks and shoals, they were a matter of life and death for centuries. Tragically, maritime accidents still occurred with frightening regularity. Nearly every lighthouse, like the one at Pensacola, is thought to have a ghost or two. The St. Augustine Light is probably the most famous haunted lighthouse in America.

Spanish conquistador Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded the city of St. Augustine in 1565, making it the oldest continuously-occupied European city in North America. In the eighteenth century, the Spanish built a lighthouse at the coast of St. Augustine to guide trade ships coming into port. The US government erected a lighthouse there in 1824, after the territory was ceded to the US in the Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819. The current lighthouse was built on Anastasia Island in 1874 and is St. Augustine’s oldest surviving brick structure.

In 1970, the lighthouse keeper’s house, which by then was being rented to local residents, was gutted by fire. The lighthouse was boarded up and surrounded by a chain link fence. A decade passed, until a group of women in the Junior Service League of St. Augustine leased the property and began restoration. They raised $1.2 million for the effort. Sadly, in 1986 someone shot the light and damaged 19 original prisms, but that too was restored.

Many unusual stories have circulated regarding the St. Augustine Light. In 1859, a lighthouse keeper named Joseph Andreu fell from an earlier tower at the same location. His ghost is believed to haunt the current light. At least three other people have died in and around the current structure. On July 10, 1873, as it was under construction, three adolescent girls drowned in an accident involving a handcart used to bring supplies up from the beach.

Since then, visitors have reported a slew of unusual activity, including disembodied voices, cold spots, and the smell of a cigar attributed to a former keeper named Peter Rasmussen.

One tour guide told the St. Augustine Record, “I’ve had a few arm hairs plucked off me in the basement of the keeper’s house. Rather recently I had my ankle grabbed. That was pretty amusing since it was in the middle of my tour so it looked like I just randomly tripped over air.”

An episode of SyFy Channel’s Ghost Hunters was filmed there in 2005.

Today, you can pay for a chance to see this unexplained phenomenon on Dark of the Moon, “St. Augustine’s only all ghosts, no gimmicks paranormal tour.” The ghost tour costs $24.95. A regular tour is $12.95 for adults, $10.95 for seniors and children 12 and under. The Maritime Museum, inside the keeper’s house, is top notch, featuring marine archeology exhibits with artifacts found off the Atlantic Coast.


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