On the northeastern coast of Florida stands the St. Augustine Lighthouse.
Despite its modest appearance, it has a very interesting past.
Located on Anastasia Island, the allegedly-haunted lighthouse (as it is today) was built in 1874.
However, the history of the grounds stretches back even further.
Early History Of The St. Augustine Lighthouse
According to official records, the Spanish originally built a few rudimentary watchtowers on the island in the 16th century (also used by the English on occasion).
After American forces had claimed the area in the early 1800s, plans were soon laid to construct a permanent, official lighthouse there.
One Dr. Alan Ballard, who owned the land, was eventually forced to sell it to the US government in 1865.
In 1871, during the Reconstruction era, builders started working on a brand-new tower.
3 years later, it was finished — complete with a first-order Fresnel lens.
The Vigilant Major
The beacon of St. Augustine was lit for the first time by a lighthouse keeper named William Russell, who guarded it in its early days.
Soon after long-term living quarters had been constructed, the station was manned by Major William A. Harn.
He would serve there for 20 whole years, diligently aiding all who went near the shoreline.
Harn eventually brought his wife, Kate, and their 6 daughters to live there with him.
The family was loved by the locals, and were known for serving fresh lemonade to visitors on the porch of the keeper’s house.
In 1886, the St. Augustine Lighthouse was affected by the violent Charleston earthquake that hit Florida.
Onlookers reported that the building had swayed back and forth, but that no visible damage could be seen.
During The 1900s
In 1907, electricity was finally brought to the lighthouse and keeper’s residence.
In 1936, it was used to light the beacon, and in 1955 automation was put in place.
By the early 1960s, no new “lighthouse families” stayed at St. Augustine, as there was no longer a need for a constant watch.
Because of this, the government started renting out the residence instead.
A decade later, the installation was deemed unnecessary as a whole, and maintenance work more or less stopped.
Destruction & Reconstruction
Shortly after being purchased by St. John’s County in 1970, a group of arsonists torched the lighthouse, resulting in serious damages.
Distraught by the destruction of a local landmark, 15 women from the JSL (Junior Service League of St. Augustine) decided to do something about it.
Together, they signed a lease for the grounds in 1980 and started an extensive restoration effort.
Possibly due to the women’s initiative, the old lighthouse eventually got on the government’s radar.
In 1981, the St. Augustine Lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which ensured its future preservation.
In 1994, the Lighthouse Museum of St. Augustine was officially opened to the public.
8 years later, the museum gained full ownership over the grounds — the first time in history that the US government gave a lighthouse to a non-profit organization.
In 2016, the museum changed its name to St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum to better suit its expanded mission statement:
“To preserve local maritime history, keep alive the story of the nation’s oldest port, and connect young people to marine sciences.”
Notable Deaths At The Light Station
Due to its strategic location, the grounds of the lighthouse have seen a lot of action over the previous centuries.
Because of this, many deaths have taken place there.
Some are hard to confirm due to a lack of records.
However, based on reported phenomena, researchers have tracked down a number of probable events.
According to their findings, notable deaths at the light station include:
- Several family members (including children) who died during an early construction accident
- A keeper who fell from the top of the tower in 1859
- At least 3 (probably more) people that died from disease while living there
- A man who hanged himself from the lighthouse
- A number of pirates and sailors who stayed there in the 1500- and 1600s
One of the most tragic events allegedly took place in 1873.
Back then, a man who was renovating the site had brought his two teenage daughters with him.
While he was hard at work, the two girls figured they could go for a ride in an empty cart — normally used to transport building materials from the shore.
Shortly after jumping into the carry, the rope holding it in place loosened, causing it to slide down into the crashing waves outside the shore.
Being unable to resist the violent tide, both of the girls ended up drowning.
Soon after this tragic accident, people began seeing apparitions of two young women — the oldest one wearing a striking blue dress, with a blue bow in her hair.
According to some, they can sometimes be heard giggling, whispering, and moving around the grounds to this day.
One of the strangest phenomena at the lighthouse is the reoccurring reports of “phantom cigar smoke”.
Visitors will sometimes smell sharp tobacco, as if someone is puffing away inside the tower.
This scent is usually correlated with hearing footsteps and seeing the shape of a man in the basement.
It’s believed that this is the ghost of Peter Rasmussen — a former keeper known for his diligent work and love of cigars.
Others attribute these anomalies to Joseph Andreu — another cigar-smoking keeper who died in the 1850s.
Signs Of A Haunted Lighthouse
Those working at the historical complex have many strange stories to tell.
Every night, staff members always lock the door at the top of the lighthouse, since it leads right to the balcony.
Nevertheless, there have been many instances where the door has been opened during the dark hours.
This has been done for no apparent reason, without damaging the lock or triggering the alarm.
The Phantom Steps
One night, when the light in the tower suddenly went out, a caretaker was sent to fix it.
As he neared the building, he started hearing footsteps behind him while he walked across the gravel.
He quickly turned around to check who was there.
As he did so, the sound stopped instantly.
To his surprise, however, there was no one to be seen.
A chill went down his spine.
Shortly after he started moving again, the footsteps returned.
They followed him all the way up the metal stairs to the top of the lighthouse.
Every time the caretaker turned around to look, the sound stopped.
Yet, he never saw anything — not a single person nor animal.
When he finally got to the beacon, he only needed to restart it to get the light back on.
On his way out from the station, no sounds of footsteps could be heard.
However, much to the caretaker’s dismay, the lights would not stay on for long — the sequence of events repeated themselves for three nights in a row.
Commonly Reported Paranormal Activity
Since the museum opened the light station to the general public, many visitors have reported strange experiences as well.
Based on their accounts, the most common are:
- Feeling an unseen presence
- Cold spots
- Strange, gray mists that come and go
- Disembodied whispering (the sisters?)
- Phantom footsteps
- Chairs and other objects moving on their own
- Inexplicable shadows that disappear when approached
- Possessions being displaced
- The smell of cigar smoke without a source (the keeper?)
Many of these reports can be found on various forums, social media groups, and travel sites.
For example, the user “Gifrump” on Tripadvisor wrote:
“The stairs were the most haunted area.
On the landing where the oil can was, to fuel the lighthouse in days gone by, I had an experience of my life.
The spirit of the caretaker went through my body and left me freezing, light headed, and I turned pure white.
This experience was a few years ago and really scared me, but I keep going back because the spirits are not harmful and I had the feeling of friends more than foe.”
Open For Visits
Today, the haunted lighthouse is open for visitors as part of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum.
Besides the Eastern State Penitentiary, it’s one of the most popular haunted places to visit in the United States.
Each year, a ton of ‘ghost hunters’ enter the site in the hope of experiencing something mysterious.
Most have an ordinary yet historically-interesting experience at the light station.
However, a “lucky” few, as noted earlier, go home with memories of the paranormal kind.
The Dark of the Moon Paranormal Tour
The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum offers guided historical tours throughout the year.
They have also capitalized on the site’s ghostly reputation by offering a special night-time tour, dubbed “The Dark of the Moon Paranormal Tour”.
This is a 2-hour, ghost-themed journey that culminates in climbing the beacon tower in darkness.
After this, visitors are free to roam the premises — which is when most of the eerie activity has been reported.
In case you want a more personal experience, there’s also a limited amount of “Private Ghost Tours” and “Investigation Only” tickets available (for further details, see this page).
Should you should want to explore the lighthouse at night, remember to bring a reliable flashlight and nerves of steel.
If you run into the old dwellers of St. Augustine, you’re going to need them.