When you’re in a coastal city dating to 1565, you can bet you can find ample haunts to shiver your timbers. So it is in St. Augustine, Florida, a Spanish bastion of Colonial America. From pirates to paranormal tales of haunted hotels, jails, lighthouses and more, St. Augustine is a prime place to revel in goosebumps.
If legends of pirates and their heinous ways float your boat, start the day at the Pirate & Treasure Museum. Pirates were regulars in St. Augustine until the guns of Castillo de San Marcos kept them away. See one of the few remaining Jolly Roger flags, real pirate gold and silver, treasure chests, weapons, ship logs, and much more. Listen in awe as Blackbeard’s decapitated head speaks.
Then, cross the street and walk a block to Ripley’s Believe It or Not! . Set in a historic castle built in 1871 once owned by author Marjorie Rawlings, exhibits here will leave you wide-eyed. Shrunken heads, human, animal oddities, a pirate shooting gallery and more are among the 800-plus exhibits. Former employees swear the place is haunted, reporting unexplainable noises and visions, including ghosts of two young women who perished there in a 1944 fire.
After lunch, set sail on a 90-minute treasure hunt with Blackbeard, Hook and the scurvy crew of the Black Raven. Sing sea chanties and prepare for an exchange of cannon fire at sea with the Queen Anne’s revenge. Youngsters are pressed into sword fighting duties. A more adult-oriented Rum Rummers cruise takes place on weekend nights.
As the sun begins setting, get your spook on at any of several prime venues. The theatrical “Ghosts and Gravestones” tour with costumed hosts takes you to multiple locations including Potter’s Wax Museum, a cemetery and the Old Jail. The Old Jail is one of the city’s most haunted locations, listed on the Florida and National registry of Haunted Places. A gallows looms just outside. Haunted pub crawls are also available.
Perhaps no place is as famous for being haunted as the lighthouse complex on Anastasia Island (www.staugustinelighthouse.com/events/darkofmoon.html). During a daytime visit, one person in our party smelled cigar smoke in the lighthouse, an apparently common ghostly phenomenon. In the haunted basement of the lightkeeper’s house, something tickled my leg soon after I reached the bottom of the spiral staircase. Ruh-row! See www.floridashistoriccoast.com for a full lineup of fun and interesting activities.
For information about two historic Colonial-era forts in and near St. Augustine, click here.