Saint Augustine Jail
Haunted Dwelling — Saint Augustine Jail
167 San Marco Avenue
St. Augustine, Florida 32084
Web Link * (904) 829-3800
Admission: $7 adults, $6 seniors, $4 children 6-12, free for children 5 and under.
The Old Jail Museum, formerly the original Saint John County Jail; (1891-1953), can be found near the corner of San Marco Avenue (A1A) and Missouri Avenue, between Dufferin Street and Mantanzas Avenue; not far from the Florida Heritage Museum. Missouri Avenue connects North Ponce De Leon Boulevard to San Marco Avenue.
DESCRIPTION and HISTORY:
The St. John County Jail in Saint Augustine that was standing in 1890, was a real eye-sore, truly a fixer-upper opportunity. Unfortunately, it was located in full view of successful businessman Henry Flager's beautiful, upper-class vacation Mecca , Ponce De Leon Hotel. His rich clientele had to see this seedy claptrap of a building from their favorite, relaxing, luxurious holiday spot.
Henry Flagler, co-founder of Standard Oil and other businesses, was always a mover and a shaker, never one to not try to solve problems. Henry donated a whopping $10,000 to the St. John County Commissioners to build a new jail way out of sight of the Ponce De Leon Hotel.
The commissioners added 7,000 + dollars to the building fund, and picked a nice, 2,500 dollar property several blocks north of the city gates. With such a rich building fund, they hired a professional outfit, The Pauly Company, who specialized in building and manufacturing prisons. This company later built such places of detention as Alcatraz Prison.
During the late 1800s, it was popular to have the sheriff warden and his family live in the same structure as the jail, which created the jailhouse concept. (The Crown Point Sheriff's House and Jail Building * Allegan County Sheriff's House & Old Jail Museum * Squirrel Cage Jail). So, it isn't surprising that the new facility would be a jailhouse, for both the prisoners and the jail's sheriff warden, and his family.
This new and improved St. John County Jailhouse was a beautiful two and three story structure with a tower, built in the Queen Anne style, enhanced by Victorian brick designs in both the south and the north wings. Though the building was pleasing to the eye on the outside, the inside was a foreboding environment for some of its residents. While the sheriff warden's quarters were comfortable for him and his family; suitable for his position, the inside of the south and north wing prisoner units were well-fortified, grim and austere places of incarceration for its "guests of the county."
The 20 foot, thick-walled, well-locked cells that had no window glass in the windows, could hold up to 72 prisoners. The men were jailed on the second and third floors. In the center of each floor, there were 8 regular cells per floor, with room for 4 men in each cell. The hallway ran around the cells.
The damp, open barred-windowed cells for women were located on the first floor, just inside the back door. Not many women were jailed here, as most were sentenced to house arrest or put in a sanitarium. The few that stayed here were probably pretty notorious, tough, cookies, able to endure not only the rain, but little beasties that crawled in as well.
The maximum security cells for the real bad boys was located on the back of the jail. it included the usual support materials, needed to keep the unruly and prisoners with perceived attitudes in line, such as stockades, a torture cage, and a clear view of the hanging area. The gallows were custom-built for each execution, under the huge oak tree, beside the maximum security wing. The condemned, "dead man walking" inmates could see the scaffold for execution being built, the day before their planned death.
Prisoners who were convicted of murder were executed here, sometimes taking 14 minutes to die. Unfortunately, the prison authorities didn't quite understand the science behind having a man's fall snap the neck. The physics of the rope-length/length of the planned fall/and the man's body weight had to be carefully calculated for a humane execution. If not done right, the person being hanged could be decapitated, or in these cases, suffer from a dangling strangulation.
One may think that they didn't care that the men suffered a tortuous death. For the philosophy of this jail was that the prisoners were there to be punished, not rehabilitated. However, in Dave Lapham's book, Ancient City Hauntings: More Ghosts of St. Augustine, he reports that at some time, once the officials realized that after a medical experiment was conducted, during the hanging of a cooperative condemned man, the executions stopped at this jail.
Jail conditions supported this philosophy though. Food served consisted of grits in the morning, tac if they were sent out to work, and beans for dinner. Beds were made of Spanish moss, the perfect breeding ground for red bugs, who are blood-sucking varmints. Blankets were an optional luxury.
There was no protection from the whims of the guards, or the sheriff warden, and solitary confinement and other overly harsh punishments were dished out for seemingly minor offenses. Through various studies, researchers say that people who have absolute control over others have the tendency to abuse them. The solitary confinement area had no windows and no bed.
Besides having no glass in the barred windows, there was also no heat, no running water, and no sanitation for the disposal of human waste, as a form of punishment. Only a bucket was provided for every 4 prisoners. Sick prisoners were kept among the general population. At this time, the prison authorities in Florida didn't understand the necessity of having proper sanitation, but they should've known better than to put the sick in with the well inmates.
What probably kept the prisoners from going insane, was the required work program. The prisoners were put on work details in the community, bringing money into the county's coffers. The conditions were hard, and the hours were long, but it did get them out of a stark environment, and gave them the opportunity to catch little animals to supplement their bleak diet, while working. If they could escape, they knew that the populous would help them, as this program was not popular with the people, who saw the abuse.
As this jail was open until 1953, the facilities were eventually brought up to Florida State code over the years that it served as a jail. Sanitary plumbing, and metallicized cells were added sometime in its history.
HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS:
Places of incarceration; (insane asylums, prisons) soak into its walls negative residual energy, because of all the problems, misery, stress and pain that comes along with being cooped up/confined in an institution. (Waverly Hills Sanitarium * Fort Pulaski)
Prisons have long been dangerous places to be, for convicted people, from the earliest times to the present. (West Virginia Penitentiary * Idaho State Penitentiary)
It is not surprising that prisoners died in prison here.
Disease caused by poor sanitation; Dysentery and by communicable infections took its toll. As it was/is in many prisons, inmates also died from abuse and accidents, and from the hands of other more violent prisoners.
On the gallows, men convicted of murder were hanged in a painful way.
These kinds of incidents and imprisonment in general have been known to cause hauntings in other former jails/prisons:
(Ohio State Reformatory Prison * Whitley County Jail and Sheriff's House * Burlington Prison)
Sometimes prisoners who die in "the joint", are afraid to pass over, because of the things they did while alive. (Alcatraz Prison National Park)
It seems that perhaps a sheriff warden's daughter was the victim of disease or accident. People who die before their time, sometimes choose to stay in this world. (Lafitte's Guest House * Bullock Hotel * Collingwood Art Center)
The paranormal activity found in this building offers the full package of experiences felt, seen, heard and smelled by human beings in haunted places.
At random and at different times, two awful odors can loft through the building; The smell of sewage, causing stomach upset in some and a sickeningly sweet smell that makes the living uncomfortable have been reported.
Intelligent hauntings by entities — Apparitions/shadows appear to the living, on occasion.
An apparition of a man was seen sitting on a chair
A cowering apparition was spotted in a cell by a tour guide, but disappeared through a wall.
Unseen presences are not only felt by the living, but they also tug at, blow on and talk /whistle to those folks who come inside the building.
A male presence was sensed by a psychic, pacing the hallway by the kitchen.
In one of the women's cells, a very grumpy unseen presence has been known to push and trip people.
During a tour, a tour guide first felt a punch in his side, and then a cold hand move down his back; but being the professional that he is, this terrified tour guide managed to finish his spiel.
A psychic medium found an entity that had been seen around the building. She found out that this entity was executed by hanging for a crime he didn't commit, and was afraid to go to the light because of all of his misdeeds.
Voices of unseen presences have been heard directly by the living.
Wails, yells and moans have been heard by people.
A VP of a nasty laugh was heard by a man opening the safe in the office there.
The sound of a little girl's voice has been heard in one of the children's bedrooms used by the sheriff warden's family.
Other sounds related to the prison life:
Shuffling, footsteps and the jangling of chains are heard around and on the steps of the Jail.
Neighbors of this jail have heard disembodied barks of dogs coming from the back of the jail, where the prison dogs were kept.
To find out about other incidents of paranormal activity, and the full story on the incidents described above, check out: GHOSTLY TALES FROM AMERICA'S JAILS, by Joan Upton Hall, and Dave Lapham's book, Ancient City Hauntings: More Ghosts of St. Augustine.
The Old Jail Museum is a certified haunted building, and is listed in the “National Directory of Haunted Places”.
There are plenty of personal experiences reported by staff, tourists and management that happen in the same places in the building. Paranormal investigation groups have gathered some hard evidence that support these reported experiences.
Some of the paranormal groups who have investigated:
TAPS held 2 investigations here.
Northern Florida Paranormal Group and NBC News affiliate went on an investigation of the jail, and gathered some interesting evidence, and had experiences as well.
GHOST of Pinellas Investigation Group caught some photo evidence, showing a face, an apparition, orbs, and all heard the VP of a little girl in the room that was occupied traditionally by the sheriff warden's children.
The Old Jail Museum have been able to put their ghosts on the payroll, by allowing the Paranormal Seekers, an investigation group that leads ghost hunts in the building, in their Ghost and Graveyard tours: "A Night At the Old Jail". Many are not disappointed.
haunted-places-to-go.com * ghostsandgravestones.com
GHOSTLY TALES FROM AMERICA'S JAILS, by Joan Upton Hall * wikipedia.org
Dave Lapham's book, Ancient City Hauntings: More Ghosts of St. Augustine