Anastasia Island

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Every lighthouse has its own unique design and light pattern – St. Augustine Lighthouse is no different.

The lighthouse, located on Anastasia Island, stands 165 feet with a spiraling black and white design, and is topped with a bright-red lantern room. At night, the light shines a steady beam with a flash every 30 seconds, illuminating parts of the Matanzas River and the Atlantic Ocean.

At the top of a grueling 219 step spiral staircase is an epic view of St. Johns and surrounding counties. But, most spectators don’t realize while they’re taking in the view, they’re being viewed by the ghosts of three girls.

The girls drowned in an 1873 accident while the lighthouse was under construction.

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Handcarts helped transport material from a ship to the lighthouse. Four siblings and their family’s servant were playing on a cart when the cable snapped, catapulting them into the water. The cart trapped two sisters and the family servant at the bottom of the Matanzas River.

Eliza Pittee, 15, and her younger sister Mary, 12, were the daughters of project manager Hezekia, and were two of the victims that day. The third victim was the servant who is only described as a young African American girl.

The two survivors were Edward Pittee, 8, and his 4-year-old sister Carrie.

The lighthouse does a Dark of The Moon Tour, which Lead Tour Guide Matt Hladik said is a real paranormal investigation. Hladik said tour encounters have been things like: the silhouette of the person on the steps, the smell of cigar smoke and singing. But, the freakiest thing happened to Hladik when he was sitting on a bench outside of the lighthouse.

“Right through the middle of the door a transparent hand reached out towards me,” he said.

Hladik said there have been other deaths and spotting of other ghosts, like the lighthouse keeper who plummeted 60 feet to his death, but the account of the three young and their spirits sighting are much more documented. Hladik said that in his years of touring nothing has been malicious, but time will tell.

Photo credit of ghosts: Dark of the Moon Tour
Lighthouse: Google images/St. Augustine Lighthouse

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Diamond in the Rough

Diamond in the Rough

Jacksonville Beach has a population of around 20,000, which is amazing considering it was once three, but things changed thanks to the visions of one man and his railroad.

The glass display of a locomotive near the end of Beach Boulevard rests on property donated from the city of Jacksonville Beach to the Beaches Museum and History Park, a spot once home to the areas first train station. The museum takes you on a ride through Jacksonville Beach’s history, from the land’s first inhibitors, to becoming the most desirable vacation spot on the East Coast.

“We have over 30,000 photos, documents, artifacts and maps of the area,” Services Coordinator Josh Pate said. “Basically, if you want to know anything about the area you come here (Beaches Museum and History Park).”

In the early 1880s, the only way to Jacksonville Beach, or Ruby Beach at that time, was by boat. Ruby Beach’s occupants were three members of the Scull family. William and Eleanor pitched a tent they called home, and named the deserted land Ruby Beach after their daughter Ruby. The Sculls would be a small part of the largest population boom and commercialization this land has ever seen.

The visions of one man, Henry Flagler, soon would transform the deserted land into a weekend paradise. Partners with Rockefeller and also loaded with oil wealth, Flagler helped transform the 22-miles of marsh land – thanks to a whole bunch of money.

Murray Hall was the first and most elegant hotel to be constructed. Built in 1886, the hotel advertised electrical bells, hot and cold baths, bowling and a billiard – top notch for that time. The problem was Murray Hall’s visitors (the rich), weren’t fond of the transportation to get there. This is where Flagler comes into play.

In 1888, Flagler purchased 36 miles of railroad in Jacksonville, St. Augustine and the Halifax River (part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway). This would be the first leg of what would later become the Florida East Coast System – extending from Jacksonville to Key West.

“He (Flagler) helped develop all of Florida though his railroads, which created tons of jobs,” Pate said. “If it wasn’t for him Florida wouldn’t be what it is today.”

About 10 years later, Flagler purchased the Jacksonville and Atlantic Railroad, giving Pablo Beach (changed from Ruby Beach in 1888) an accessible land access, and converted these railroads to standard gauge.

Fun Fact: Docent Keith Baker, at the museum, said the standard gauge tracks are 4 ft. 8 ½ inches wide. The length was designed by the Roman Empire, he said. Rumor is, the standard gauge is the width of two horses standing side-by-side, and it was also the width of Roman roads. Now back to the story…

Flagler knew with the right accommodations extending a railroad east to Pablo Beach could bring a big return, he was right. The standard gauge tracks, ran straight down Beach Boulevard, and allowed for a nicer locomotive and passenger carts, making Murray Hall and the trip much more desirable.

In 1900, as Flagler continued to feed his railroad appetite, he built a railroad inward from Jacksonville to Mayport, Fla. Just as life began to flourish, Flagler died.

Shortly after his death, a boardwalk was constructed (1910s) near 4th street south. Things like an amusement park, dancing and boxing matches began to attract flocks of people.

These flocks made way for things like the first cross-country flight (1922), by James Doolittle from Pablo Beach to San Diego.

In 1925, the slice of paradise would again be changed to Jacksonville Beach. The city of Jacksonville was already well-known, and the name Jacksonville Beach was thought to more attractive. The beach would go onto host the nation’s first barrel races, and so much more.

The museum takes you much further back then this 50-year span, and includes much more within this era, from the areas first inhibitors (Timucuan Indians), to the Sculls and onto today’s modern Jacksonville Beach. As Pate said, if you want to know anything the Beaches Museum and History Park is the place to go.

(So this article is longer and newsier than my others, that’s because it was written for a Ponte Vedra, Fla. Paper. Regardless, I hope you enjoyed.)

Images: http://bit.ly/Xwz3ni

Steaming down the St. Johns River

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He was a Duval County native and sheriff, Florida’s governor in the 1900s and a leader of the southern Progressive movement – don’t forget a gun smuggler.

His steam boat, The Three Friends, made several runs from Jacksonville to Cuba. Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, his brother and an associate finished the boat in 1896, and for the next couple years hulled the 112 foot steamer loaded with men and munitions to Coo-ba – that’s how you’re supposed to say it.

Broward lost his parents when he was 12 and started working on tugboats to support his brother and self. After years aboard various boats travelling cargo up-and-down the St. Johns River, Broward and investors built The Three Friends. Now Broward had his own boat and the opportunity to pursue his own ventures.

At first, Broward’s boat would carry cargo and supplies like wood through the St. Johns. One day, he was approached by a Cuban native desiring to help rid Cuba from Spanish rule. To Broward, it was an opportunity for some easy money, so he took it.

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I found a blog by Jeff Atwater, chief financial officer of Florida, who claims to be Broward’s great-grandson. His blog says his family preserved a pocket watch, which was given to Broward from Cuban patriot General Enrique Collazo. The watch had a Cuban flag on the outside and is engraved, “General Enrique Collazo and friends to Captain Napoleon B. Broward, March 17, 1896.”

His blog gives one particular run where The Three Friends was spotted by the Spanish army, and barely made it out alive – pretty cool, check it out if you want more info.

http://babalublog.com/2011/04/20/the-three-friends-and-the-cuban-war-of-independence-of-1895-1898/

Broward was publicly scrutinized for filibustering, but his native pull gave him an advantage for sheriff. A few years later the sheriff would be elected Florida governor (1905-1909), and even served on the Jacksonville City Council.

In Florida, his philosophies were so dominant that the Progressive Era is often referred to as the Broward Era. His life was filled with poverty, politics and even filibustering.

Before his appointment as Florida senator, Broward died in Jacksonville in 1910, and was buried in the Evergreen Cemetery.

 

References:

http://www.jacksonvillemaritimeheritagecenter.org/Exhibits/ThreeFriends.aspx

http://babalublog.com/2011/04/20/the-three-friends-and-the-cuban-war-of-independence-of-1895-1898/

The New History of Florida, edited by Michael Gannon

Picture from: http://bit.ly/16qmVGT

 

Extra Terrestrial

In 1997, a couple of years after Everbank Field was built, an unidentified object (aliens) were spotted at the stadium. Drivers crossing the Hart Bridge first discovered the invaders.
Cars screeched to a halt when drivers realized what they were witnessing. The sight caused a 30-car-pileup, and dispatch’s phone steadily ringing. Nobody was seriously hurt, but somebody was probably abducted.
The calls were helpless, police chases rarely leave the planet – otherwise Cops would be the number one show in the world.
Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office was so overwhelmed they had to call for reinforcements. Dispatch thought it was a naval drill, but people on the bridge knew it was nothing they had seen before – except for one crazy guy.

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There are dozens of people quoted about what they saw – all with identical stories. The first officer on scene, Deputy Adam Dean, “resigned” a week after the sighting.
By the time the National Guard arrived the visitors had vacated, but they left their mark on Jacksonville and Everbank Field.

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^Their Mark ^

So, I said true, but this is actually all fiction – my friend Anthony thought of the idea, the details, all me. If you read the fine print (subtitle), Northeast Florida’s odd and USUALLY true stories. Plus, don’t believe everything you read.

Reference:
Picture of aliens over Everbank Field: by Anthony Galasso.
Picture of the damage:
http://www.freakingnews.com/pictures/22500/Pac-Man-Signs—22866.jpg

Plagued

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This letter, written in 1888, was wrote by the president of the Escambia County Board of Health to Florida’s Governor  (Perry), it says: this Board is desirous of raising quarantine against all points in Florida that are not infected, will you therefore have the kindness to send me the names of all places known to be infected.

 In 1888, yellow fever plagued Florida visitors and residences. At first, people thought the brutal Florida heat was the cause of malaria aka “yellow fever,” but nobody knew for sure. Some people even believed it was contagious.

A book titled The New History of Florida, says that in the summer of 1888, Jacksonville had 4,656 cases of yellow fever and 427 deaths – in a couple months.

The heat was NOT the cause malaria, but it was a big factor in someone recovering from the illness.

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The 1888 summer plaque would have been the beginning if not for “the father of air conditioning and refrigeration.” Thanks to John Gorrie’s mechanically produced chilled air, patient’s condition improved.

The plaque would continue to haunt the Southeast until…

A 1902 breakthrough found the source of yellow fever, mosquitoes.  Sir Ronald Ross made the discovery, which won the Nobel Prize for Psychology or Medicine. At last, a reason behind the madness. Although, the number of cases had receded since the 1888 epidemic, people were relieved to know the source. Now Floridians knew what to avoid.

One historian, Raymond Asrenault, called it, “the end of the long hot summer.” (pg. 435)

 

Reference: The New History of Florida copyright 1996

 

 

Paranormal Dining

Everyone enjoys a good meal, but visitors to this Jacksonville restaurant may leave with more than they paid for, which could include a ghost encounter.

Recently, TacoLu’s re-located their business to a more historical site. For customers, this means a little longer of a drive, or shorter, depending on where you’re coming from. Oh yea, and the chance to dine with the dead.

Last week, my roommate and his girlfriend ate at Lu’s. Their server told them of their new buildings not so new occupant, and even gave them a couple spooky stories.

One story involved a young dishwasher. On break, the boy went outback to dribble a basketball. The ball rolled into the wood, but all employees saw was him running and screaming out of the woods and all the way home, he never returned. After a week, managers called the boy who claimed to see the upper half of a women rising from the ground.

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photo by: Debbie Nicol

The ghost is thought to be the late Alpha Paynter. She was once the operator of a boarding house, but never got the memo to vacate.

All these encounters happened before TacoLu’s re-located, when the restaurant was called The Homestead.

Since, Lu’s moved in there have been some creepy encounters. The owner, Debbie Nicol, said there have been things like lights flickering on and off, and a beer cooler opening on its own. The weirdest, happened to an Aramark employee when he delivered the restaurant’s towels and rugs.

“He said hello to her, and she just nodded her head,” Nicol told me. “She was sitting in a seat in front of the fireplace.”

According to multiple sources I found, these events would fall under a stage 3 encounter – out of five stages. At this stage the spirit makes its presence known. Level one and two can be almost feel like your mind playing tricks, but at this stage it is clearly a haunting.

These sources say at stage 4, the poltergeist becomes violent throwing objects and using your worst fears against you. If it reaches this far you are in imminent danger. Level 5 could get you killed.

Not all haunting reach stage 5, and I do not believe this haunting will either. Miss Paynter has been “making her presence known” for quite some time, and in all the encounters she has never harmed anyone, physically.

 

Home of the Stars

Jacksonville was once the movie capital of the world. What started as a winter retreat for film-makers to shoot ended up becoming a prime location, but only for a few years.

Imagine if Jacksonville had stayed the movie capital. There would be movie premiers, the Jacksonville walk of fame and celebrity tour guides.

People would move from all over the world to be movie stars, and even more vacationers to see those stars. The Jaguars would be owned by Oprah, and seeing Steven Spielberg in Publix would be a norm.

Rumor has it, a couple years after their arrival Jacksonville residents would boot the movie industry from the area. Producers would use Jacksonville’s first responders at their leisure – crying wolf just to get a shot of responders in their films.

Just a taste of the consistent Florida weather was enough to keep producers from returning back to the northeast, but they had to get out of town. Hollywood would offer everything producers could want. Plus, they were willing to take them.

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In the early 1900s, Thomas Edison and other movie pioneers brought the movie industry from New Jersey to Jacksonville. Jacksonville’s consistent weather and beautiful scenery would lure producers from the bitter northeast. It would also make the comparable weather of Hollywood a desirable and eventually permanent location.

By 1912, Hollywood would become the permanent location for the movie industry.