Haunted Happenings in America’s Oldest City

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The St. Francis Inn, Saint Augustine. Photo by Flickr/~Ealasaid~
The St. Francis Inn, St. Augustine. Photo by Flickr/~Ealasaid~

As the legend goes, the nephew of the owner of an inn located in St. Augustine, Florida, fell in love with a servant girl named Lily. The pair conducted their secret affair by sneaking into vacant guest rooms. When the uncle unexpectedly walked in on the lovers, he fired the servant and ordered the young man never to see her again.

Distraught over that prospect and unwilling to follow his uncle’s dictate, the nephew is said to have taken his own life. In recent years, inn guests and employees have reported seeing apparitions of a young woman dressed in white both in the room where the tryst took place, and wandering the hallways, searching in vain for her lost lover.

St. Augustine, Florida

As much as anything else that I encountered during a visit to St. Augustine, Florida, this story wove together the city’s long history, colorful myths and varied list of inviting attractions and activities. It rewarded my conviction that places to stay around the world can bring to life the story of the destination itself, the local culture and the lifestyle of the people.

St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest city in the United States. The town celebrated its 450th anniversary during 2015, and with such a long history, it’s no surprise that the city has its share of ghosts. Among the disparate places where those who have unyielding belief in the presence of specters claim to have encountered them are the Old Jail, Potter’s Wax Museum and Meehan’s Irish Pub.

My stay at the St. Francis Inn, the former home and current haunting place of Lily, introduced me to that aspect of local lore and became part of my immersion in much of what St. Augustine offers visitors.

St. Francis Inn in St. Augustine

The St. Francis Inn was constructed in 1791 of native “coquina” limestone, a mixture of compressed sea shells that was used in a number of the city’s original buildings. While the structure has been expanded and modified over the centuries, it continues to cling proudly to vestiges if its Spanish Colonial period heritage.

In terms of architecture, history, touches of culture and — yes — ghosts, the property encompasses and represents much of which St. Augustine is all about.

For example, the building was planned in keeping with the goal of the Spanish king at the time to protect his colony from invasion. He ordered that buildings be erected so they could “serve as a defense or fortress against those who might attempt to occupy the town.”

Thus, the original structure, which was designed by a military officer to serve as his home, has its back turned to the brick-paved street on which it stands so its front entrance is shielded and protected.

Subsequent owners included other military men, a sea captain and the landlord of a plantation. It was the daughter of an officer who, after her father’s death, converted the family home into a public lodging.

This colorful past, along with other hints of the story of St. Augustine, are echoed throughout nooks and crannies of the building, and in the tranquil ambiance of its enclosed courtyard. That walled setting is shaded by banana and oak trees, and a 100-year-old golden rain tree, and decorated with lush floral plantings of colorful native flowers and tropical foliage.

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