The ghosts of St. Augustine

I have always liked to stay in “haunted” hotels, mostly because they have a lot of history, if not real ghosts. These hotels are most often in old city centers, close to restaurants and shops, and usually a fun place to be located. And, no, I’ve never encountered any ghosts, if I would even recognize one if it appears. But it hasn’t stopped me from being curious.

On a recent overnight trip to St. Augustine, Bucko and I stayed at another supposedly haunted hotel, The Agustin Inn. Nearly every building in the city is “maybe” haunted according to the many ghost tour operators enjoying a booming business in St. Augustine, but this hotel had other charms too. It was right off St. George Street, right in the middle of the dining and entertainment district of Old Town, and near enough to the Matanzas River for a great early morning walk. Perfect.

The room we stayed in, the Duchess Room, had some stories connected with it. One guest on the same floor reported meeting another neighboring guest from this room out in the hallway in the middle of the night as they joined forces to adjust the floor’s thermostat in the shared hallway. The only problem was, no one else was staying on that floor at the time. So, was that a ghost they interacted with? In another story, a couple in the room reported that someone was tickling the wife’s feet in the middle of the night. But the husband claimed it wasn’t him. Who was it? Elsewhere in the hotel, an old woman is sometimes seen washing dishes in the middle of the night, but no staff is on duty then.

There were other ghost stories too, but we didn’t encounter anything strange at all – just a wonderful stay in a historic hotel and a full gourmet breakfast to follow. We really didn’t expect anything more and we were well pleased with our stay.

After breakfast, I went on a solitary long walk to my old traipsing grounds along Water Street and Pine Street, where my friend Carole once lived in a carriage house behind the main three-story mansion built in the late 1800s. During my numerous visits to Carole, we played Scrabble in the mansion’s back yard, and walked through the fort grounds to the many night spots downtown, not a very long walk away.

Over time, I became friends with Audrey, too, a spunky octogenarian with two Moluccan cockatoos who lived in “the big house.” We spent many an evening in her kitchen, watching her cockatoos from a safe distance (I still have scars from when I got too close), chatting about all kinds of things and drinking wine. At night, on my visits, I stayed in a guest room in Audrey’s house, a house that looked haunted for sure, since it was run down with cobwebs and ivy growing into cracked windows of the house, but no ghosts ever showed up there either.

Well, Audrey and Carole have long since passed away, but my memories of them live on. On every visit to St. Augustine, I make it a point to honor them both by walking alone down Water Street, lost in my reveries. I admire the well-landscaped houses with their heirloom flowers, the views of the Matanzas River and the remodeling that has been done now to restore the “big house” to its former splendor. Above the house towers the 20-story tall Great Cross of the neighboring Mission Nombre de Dios, now in my mind a testament to Audrey and Carole.

As I wander along, my mind is full of Carole and Audrey and memories of the past. Carole’s daughter Tiffany got married on a Halloween in the front yard on the shores of the Matanzas. My Fernandina friend Rhonda dressed as a mime; I dressed as a witch doctor, the best Halloween ever. Look, they still have kayaks in the yard; I remember the times we took them out for a run on the river. And the heirloom hurricane lilies are still a fixture in the back yard, cousins to the ones Rhonda and I brought home and planted in our own yards, flourishing nicely ever since.

As I walked, I saw more and more to connect me to the past. And that’s when I realized it: I may not have encountered any ghosts in St. Augustine, but in my own way, I am a ghost myself, haunting a neighborhood I once loved. Who says ghosts aren’t real? I’m the living proof that they are!

Pat Foster-Turley is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations.

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