Employees, guests witness paranormal activity at St. Augustine Lighthouse, keeper’s house


ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Over the years, there have been accounts of spooky interactions in the historic St. Augustine Lighthouse.

Guests wander around the hallowed halls of the lighthouse, which is now 148 years old. Specialty programs manager Sammy Washburn, who gives “Dark of the Moon” tours year-round, says there are “other” visitors among them: ghosts.

Washburn says she has witnessed some of that paranormal activity.

“[Windows] open and close when they are not supposed to be open or closed,” she said.

That is a typical act of a ghost Washburn says typically appears in a shadowy form. It is one of the more popular ghosts, who experts believe may have been a former lighthouse keeper.

Bobby Dye, with the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum, believes those experiences can catch people off guard.

“There’s a level of shock anytime they experience something paranormal here on the grounds,” Dye said.

Washburn has been giving tours at the lighthouse for six years. Sometimes, things just get really creepy, like the time she was locked inside this lighthouse.

“It was definitely one of those jaw-dropping, ‘I can’t believe this is happening,’ ‘how do we get out?’ moments,” Washburn said. “Thankfully, I had a staff member who was with me, who was willing to climb out of the side window and unlock the door.”

It really gets interesting when guests have those paranormal encounters.

“We will have people sometimes say they are struggling to climb to the top of the lighthouse,” Washburn said. “Then all of a sudden, they would feel a hand on their backs kind of guiding them up to the top of the lighthouse.”

Washburn credits that to Maria Andreu, a ghost who usually dresses in white and is one of the only ghosts Washburn says appears in full body apparition. Andreu was the wife of a keeper of the old lighthouse, who fell to his death.

There is also the ghost of Peter Rasmussen, who is one of Washburn’s favorite ghosts. He was the longest-serving lighthouse keeper, working 23 years on the job in the early 1900s. Washburn says Rasmussen sends a cherry tobacco scent throughout the lighthouse, especially if another guest insults him. Washburn says that has happened before.

“[A man] called Peter ‘stupid,’” Washburn said. “And as we were exiting the room that we were in, he stopped right in the doorway. I went back to check on him and I got to the other side of the doorway. There was just this whiff of cherry tobacco, like someone had walked through the doorway between us. I think that was Peter just saying, ‘Hey, I got my eyes on you do not insult me again.’”

The reactions to the mysterious encounters vary, but those who underestimate them, Washburn says, are the best.

“They are usually the ones who are like, ‘I will be fine. Ghosts can talk to me. Ghosts can touch me.’ But then they actually have something happen and they are like, ‘I am done. I am out.’ Some people are like, ‘Oh, my goodness. I cannot believe that happened. I am so excited.’ Other people cannot get out of here fast enough,’” Washburn said.

Bravest visitors tour lighthouse keeper’s house

The St. Augustine Lighthouse is not the only building on the historic site that is said to be haunted.

Tours also take the bravest visitors to the lighthouse keeper’s house.

Inside the 1876 lighthouse keeper’s house are rooms full of history and sometimes the presence of those who once called this home. Specialty programs manager Abbey Smith spends a lot of time in the Victorian-era parlor. Smith says that room gets a lot of visits from the first keepers who lived there: Major William Harns and his wife, Kate. The major died of malaria and tuberculosis about 13 years after moving in.

“We can still hear a cough from that tuberculosis in this house to this day,” Smith said. “Especially if you are the only person in here, you can hear it right in your ear. Sometimes people come in and will see an indentation in the seat as if someone had sat down. Then they would hear a long, drawn-out sigh as if to make themselves comfortable after a long day of work.”

Inside the 1876 lighthouse keeper’s house are rooms full of history and sometimes the presence of those of those who once called this home. (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax – All rights reserved.)

There is even the rocking chair moving back and forth on its own. Smith says that really freaked out a new tour guide one time, who accidentally referred to Harns by the wrong title: “Mr. Williams Harns.”

“That rocking chair started to violently rock back and forth,” Smith said. “She did not know what she did wrong, so she told the chair to stop it. The rocking chair stopped in its tracks. [The tour guide] gathered her group, walked back outside and did not come back into this room for the rest of the night.”

Smith says Harn’s wife would also pop up in a shadow-like figure, sometimes walking in rooms or hallways.

Then there is one of the most famous stories about the Pittee girls. The three sisters and a friend were playing on a railway cart one day that was near the construction site of the lighthouse. It did not have brakes and crashed into the water, trapping them underneath. The older sisters and their friend drowned. The youngest survived. Smith says the girls’ footprints show up often at the keeper’s house and they like to have fun, even at her expense.

“I have had them untie my shoelaces plenty of times,” Smith said. “Now I wear shoes without laces or shoes that cannot be untied. They are just very playful. They like to hang out with moms, teachers, nurses and caregivers and people their own age.”

So, while encounters vary, these experts say the spirits should not be underestimated.

Abbey Smith says footprints show up often at the lighthouse keeper’s house. (St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum)

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