OPERATION TIME: 1874 to present
The St. Augustine Lighthouse (which is also known as the St. Augustine Light) is one of the most famous hauntings in America.
St. Augustine housed the first “official” lighthouse in Florida, built by the American Government in 1824. This is not the lighthouse that we see today. The lighthouse of 1824 was built on the same site as an old 16th century Spanish watchtower that had been demolished.
Sir Francis Drake had attacked the city during his exploration, and he had described the tower as a “beacon”. In 1737, the Spanish built a better tower which may have been used as a lighthouse (as the British referred to it as one in 1763). After the British took over, the Spanish reclaimed it in 1783, and it was improved yet again.
Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres, a Swiss-Canadian engineer and Marine surveyor, worked on the tower in 1780, engraving “A Plan of the Harbour of St. Augustin”. Royal French Hydrographer Jacques N. Belline called the tower a “Batise” in Volume I of Petit Atlas Maritime. Belline’s writing included much about the geography at the time.
Erosion had begun to wear away the coastline, and the orignal tower crashed into the water below in 1880. A new lighthouse was added shortly before the falling of the great lighthouse. Now, the ruins of the old tower can be seen at low tide.
The lamps in the first lighthouse used lard oil. In 1855, multiple lamps with silver reflectors were replaced by a fourth order Fresnel lens in order to help improve the tower’s range of light. At the start of the Civil War, Paul Arnau (who would become the mayor in the future), a local Menorcan harbor master, the lightkeeper, and Maria De Los Delores Mestre removed the lens from the old tower in order to hide it, preventing the Union from finding it. Arnau was held captive off-shore until he revealed the location of the lens and clockworks.
Beach erosion started to threaten the tower by 1870, and construction on a new lighthouse began the following year during Florida’s reconstruction period. A jetty and brush was built to protect the old tower. By 1874, the tower had been completed and put into service featuring a new first order Fresnel lens.
In October of the same year, it was lit for the first time by keeper William Russell, who was the only keeper to have worked in both towers. The site was owned by head-keeper William A. Harn from Philadelphia for over 20 years. He had served in the Union during the war as a major. He commanded his own battery during the Battle of Gettysburg.
Major Harn had six daughters with his wife, Kate Skillen Harn. The Harns were known for going to the keepers’ house porch, where they would serve lemonade. On August 31st, 1886, the Charleston earthquake made the lighthouse sway back and forth, but there was no damage according to the keeper’s log.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse experimented with different types of oils for the light, and it began to use kerosene instead of lard oil in 1885. Coast Gard men and women trained in St. Augustine during the second world war, using the lighthouse as a lookout post for any enemy ships or submarines.
The lighthouse received indoor plumbing by 1907, with electricity in the keeper’s quarters in 1925. In 1936, the lighthouse’s light was running on electricity, and it became automated in 1955. After the automation, the need for three keepers slowly went down to one.
By the 1960s, the lighthouse was no longer contain families on its grounds. The Keepers House was rented out to local residents. Declared as being surplus, St. Johns County bought it in 1970. However, the house was destroyed by a fire set by an unknown arsonist.
Now a museum, the St. Augustine Lighthouse has been restored to its original condition. The lighthouse is known for having paranormal activity. Both visitors and workers alike have witnessed shadows moving, heard strange voices, and odd sounds. There have been sightings of two little girls standing on the catwalk of the lighthouse. They are believed to be the daughters of Hezekiah Pittee, the Superintendent of Lighthouse Construction during the 1870s. During the building of the tower, the girls drowned in an accident.
A woman has been seen in the lighthouse’s stairway as well as walking in the yard outside the buildings. The figure of a man has been seen wandering in the basement, and he is believed to be the ghost of William A. Harn. SyFy Channel’s Ghost Hunters investigated the St. Augustine Lighthouse, and filmed several mysterious occurrences on video, such as the disembodied voice of a woman crying “help me”. They also captured an apparition looking over the lighthouse’s railing. The lighthouse now has “Dark of the Moon” tours, featuring the history of the place as well as the deaths on the property.
In Popular Culture
- The St. Augustine Lighthouse has been featured on Ghost Hunters.
- It is seen on Most Terrifying Places in America 5.