Sunday, May 6, 2012


Marion Pellicano Ambrose

As an Assistant Principal, I took our students on many fun and educational field trips, but
by far the best was the 4th grade and the 8th grade trips to Saint Augustine! Teaching is
my love but teaching Florida History is my passion! When my kids went to the Ancient
City, they knew all about Ponce de Leon, Menendez, the different Native Floridian tribes,
the battles, the Spanish, French, American (Union and Confederate) rule of Florida,
and even pirate history! They knew the Florida timeline right up to the present day and
remembered and shared so much on our trip that their parents were amazed.
How, you ask, was I able to accomplish such a feat of excellence in teaching? The answer
is……. Ghosts! That’s right, ghosts!

As we studied the history of each historic spot in Florida, I related the ghost stories that
went with each area. We read from Weird Florida (an awesome book by the way) and
many of the published accounts of paranormal activity in St.Augustine. So haunted
is this city, that on any given night, there are 7 or 8 different “ghost tours” going on at
once. The city is so famous for its ghosts that the cast of TV’s Ghost Hunters came to
investigate. They had one of the scariest nights of their careers right in the St. Augustine
lighthouse! Certified: Definitely haunted!

The lighthouse is said to be haunted by the spirits of 3 little girls. Two were the
lighthouse keeper’s daughters and the third was a friend. They liked to ride the cart on
tracks that led down to the water where ships would unload goods and wheel them up the
tracks. On one of these “rides”, the cart overturned into the water with the girls inside and
the friend was drowned. People often report hearing girls laughing down by the water and
see their little faces in the windows of the main house.

Another favorite haunting of my students is the secret room at the Castillo de San Marcos
(the fort). Years ago, while a crew was cleaning the canons on the upper level, the
ground beneath it caved in and the canon fell to the first level. Several workers went
down to see it, but no one could find it. Finally, someone was lowered down into the
hole with a light. He was almost overcome with the strong scent of spicy perfume. He
found the canon in a small room, completely sealed off, and to his horror he also found
2 skeletons chained to the cold coquina wall. After much research, it was discovered that
during the Spanish occupation of St. Augustine there was a Commander of the fort whose
wife was much younger than he, and known for her great beauty and the exotic, spicy
scent of her perfume. She was also rumored to be having an affair with the handsome,
young Captain of the Guard. According to entries in the Commander’s reports, his
beloved wife ran away with her lover, never to be seen or heard from again. Could
these two be the ones sealed up in the secret room? The skeletons have long since been
removed, but why do visitors still catch the scent of her perfume when they enter?

At the Mission of Nombre de Dios, there is a quaint little building which is the La Leche
Chapel. It is part of the original mission Menendez and his party set up and where the
first Catholic Mass was held in the United States. The first teachers were the priests
and sisters who came to teach the Timucuan natives of the area. These faithful nuns are
buried right next to the chapel. The story persists, even though the present director of the
Mission denies its truth, that one of the nuns was buried alive accidentally. This wasn’t
uncommon at the time since the only way to tell if one was dead was if you couldn’t feel
a heartbeat or see them breathing. Many people were buried with a bell on the grace, a
string leading down to the hand to ring if they regained consciousness. Someone was
hired to sit by the grave through the night (thus the “expression graveyard shift”) to start
digging if the bell rang. Unfortunately, this young nun had no such bell. There were
reports of moaning and the ground vibrating near the grave and people were terrified. It
was decided to dig her up to prove this was all nonsense. When they opened the coffin,
there were deep scratch marks on the inside lid and her nails were broken and blood
stained. Her mouth was open as if screaming. She was quickly reinterred, but to this day,
people standing by the grave sometimes hear moaning and feel the ground beneath them

I told my 8th grade this very story and when we visited, they were most anxious to stand
by the graves. We were in the chapel praying, but it was a hot and humid morning. Two
of my girls felt a little faint and asked to stand outside for some air. They walked over
to the grave. I stood in the doorway where I could supervise both the students praying
and the girls outside. Suddenly there was a bone chilling scream and my two girls came
running to me. They clung to me for dear life and cried, “It’s true, it’s true! We heard the
moaning and the ground began to shake! It’s her!!! It’s the nun!” I held them both and
stood with my mouth open in surprise. Sure enough, the ground WAS trembling and I
could hear a low moan that seemed to be coming closer and closer……………..
Suddenly a man on one of those giant lawn mowers came riding around the corner of the
chapel. It moaned and shook the ground as it whacked away the grass and weeds. Tears
of horror turned into tears of laughter as the girls realized that their ghost was a big green
John Deere!

So if you love Florida history, ghost stories or both, Saint Augustine is the place to go!
Sure there are colorful shops, picturesque Bed and Breakfasts, sightseeing tours and
sun- kissed golden beaches, but most importantly, there are GHOSTS!

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