The St. Augustine Light Station is a private-aid to navigation and an active, working lighthouse in St. Augustine, Florida.
It was the first lighthouse established in Florida by the new, territorial, American Government in 1824. According to some archival records and maps, it was placed on the site of an earlier watchtower, described as a beacon, built by the Spanish as early as the late 16th century. And it seems plausible, given the levels of maritime trade by that time.
By 1870, beach erosion was threatening the first lighthouse, and construction on a new tower began the next year during Florida’s reconstruction period. The new structure was completed in 1874, and it was lit for the first time in October by keeper William Russell, who was the first lighthouse keeper in the new tower, and the only keeper to have worked both towers.
During World War II, Coast Guard used the lighthouse as a lookout post for enemy ships and submarines which frequented the coastline.
The light was electrified in 1936, and automated in 1955 and no longer housing lighthouse families by the 1960s, the keepers’ house was rented to local residents. Eventually St. Johns County bought it in 1970, and in that year the house suffered a devastating fire at the hands of an unknown arsonist.
After a massive restoration project, the lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981. The site is also a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather station but not only: in 1994, the Lighthouse Museum of St. Augustine opened to the public. The Museum, now called St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, keeps the light burning as a private aid-to-navigation and it aims to preserve local maritime history, keep alive the story of the nation’s oldest port, and connect young people to marine sciences. Today, visitors from all over come to view this beautiful beacon, learn its fascinating history and climb the 219 steps to the top, while the museum is visited annually by over 200,000 people.
In addition, in 1999, the Lighthouse formalized its research program, creating the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, Inc. (LAMP).
To date, the oldest identified shipwreck discovered in St. Augustine waters is the sloop Industry, a British supply ship lost on May 6, 1764, while attempting to make port with munitions, tools, and other equipment for the garrisons in Britain’s recently acquired colony of Florida. Many of objects found on the ship, including eight cast-iron cannon, an iron swivel gun, mooring anchors, millstones, and boxes of tools, have been on display in the maritime museum in the Lighthouse keeper’s house.
The second oldest shipwreck in northeast Florida waters discovered is an unidentified colonial sailing vessel known as the “Storm Wreck”. After three seasons of excavation and laboratory analysis of artifacts found, it is believed that this vessel was a ship involved in the December 18, 1782, evacuation of Charleston at the end of the American Revolution, carrying Loyalist refugees and troops to St. Augustine, which was a loyal British colony at the time.
With its long and intriguing past, it’s not surprising that the St. Augustine Lighthouse has gained a haunted reputation. Many who’ve visited it, worked here, and others who live close by, have reported experiencing something inexplicable, mysterious and just plain eerie.
As story goes, one of the lighthouse’s first keepers was a man named Peter Rasmussen. He was known for his meticulous eye and watchful manner of maintaining the lighthouse. He was also known for his love of cigars and, over the years, the smell of Peter’s cigar has been detected by many, including staff members and guests.
Others have seen and heard another keeper, Joseph Andreu, at the top of the tower, who died since more than a century. It seems that he fell to his death while painting the outside of the tower, and his spirit never left.
Maybe the most well known ghosts of the St. Augustine Lighthouse are that of the two young sisters who also died on the property. Hezekiah Pity was hired to renovate the tower in the late 1800s and his daughters, Eliza and Mary, were playing inside a cart that was being used to carry materials back and forth to the lighthouse. When the cart broke loose, they weren’t able to jump out in time and the cart slid rapidly into the bay, plummeting both girls to a watery death. Today the girls can be heard laughing at the top of the tower late at night, while o thers have spotted Eliza floating about the grounds wearing the same blue dress she died in.
In addition, Staff members say that, despite they lock the door at the top of the tower each night before leaving, the door is often open in the morning when they arrive for work. Some also report that chairs have been moved or overturned and that various items in the gift shop were moved or missing, only to reappear later.
And music boxes have been known to turn on by themselves.
Of course, there is no credible evidence the lighthouse is haunted and probably spooky noises or sounds from the tower have mundane explanations such as seagulls or the wind. In any case, the site offers tickets for a number of ghost tours and ghost-themed private events to the public.
There are daily tours and some evening and moonlight tours. Make the climb to the top to witness the magnificent view and keep your eyes wide open: you never know who or what you’ll encounter!
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Images from web – Google Research