People love a good ghost story this time of year, and we here at EU are happy to oblige. We scoured the area for haunts and history, so you’d have a good story to tell around the campfire or the candy bowl. Happy Hauntings!
Anne Lytle School, School # 4 or The Devil’s School
Stories about the School No. 4 are legion. Bring up hauntings in Jacksonville and inevitably someone mentions it as the most haunted place in Jacksonville. The place just looks haunted. You’ve probably passed it at one point or another. It’s on the corner of I-95 and Margaret Street in the Brooklyn area of Riverside.
I love the stories about the school, even though none of them are true. I’ve heard that most of the students died in the 60s because of a furnace explosion, that the principle was a cannibal who ate children and that a disgruntled janitor went on a bloody killing spree. Everybody has a story as to why the place was abandoned.
The reality is much more mundane. The school was built around 1917, as Riverside Elementary. It was used as a school until the 1960s, when the construction of I-95 cut off access to the place, making it a logistical nightmare to get to in a car. The same is true today—you can see it from the highway, but it’s difficult to get to by car. After many complaints and logjams, it was shut down as a school and used as an administrative building until 1970, when it was vacated.
Since that time, the homeless, ghost hunters, vandals and would-be-Devil worshippers (so the story goes) have invaded the school. The spook appeal has proven too much for teens looking for the forbidden. At this point, the place is in such a state of disrepair, after a roof collapsed and a fire in the 90s, that it’s very dangerous to go into the place, which has been slated for demolition since the 80s. Property owners, afraid that trespassers would be hurt on the site, put up barbed fencing and padlocks.
It hasn’t yet been torn down because of its status as an historical building. Plenty of uses for the building have been floated over the years, but most have been scrapped, either because of the accessibility problem or because renovations would have been too expensive. It doesn’t help that I-95 whizzes by the place within a few feet of the façade.
Finding a use for Public School #4 is only going to get tougher, as they’re building a fly-over ramp that will obscure the building.
While it’s been reported that the building will finally be demolished and the land sold, it has somehow survived under the constant threat of destruction for years. I’ll believe it when I see it.
Old St. Luke’s Hospital
The site of the Old St. Luke’s Hospital is now the location of the office for the Arthritis Foundation. The site’s got a long history and death associated with it, so of course there are rumors that 314 Palmetto Street is a ghostly haunt. In 1878, the Old St. Luke’s hospital was constructed to house local tuberculosis patients. About 40 years later the hospital was relocated. After that, the old structure was used by other businesses, supposedly even a coffin manufacturing company. The story goes that the place is haunted by patients, nurses still roam the halls and an unbalanced lady who believes that the men building coffins were building one just for her. Since she’s supposed to be a ghost, she’s probably right.
A vanishing hitchhiker is common enough in the annals of ghostly lore. In Jacksonville’s case, it isn’t a guy who disappears from your back seat. Nope, we’re all for equal opportunity haunting. Our vanishing hitchhiker is a girl on Girvin Road, who tends to show up sometime past midnight. She wears glasses and will summon your car to stop. Look away for a moment and she simply disappears.
Officially called the Napoleon Bonaparte Broward Bridge, this cable bridge which spans the St. Johns as part of 9A, is also more colloquially called the Dames Point Bridge. It’s not a very old bridge, as the main span was completed in 1988, opening in ’89 for highway traffic. Despite persistent rumors, no one was killed during the construction.
But people have died on or near the bridge since then.
It’s known to be haunted by a black woman, who is sometimes seen walking back and forth along the bridge and then disappears. It’s said that she was thrown from the bridge in 1996 by an unknown attacker. There was a documented suicide on the bridge that year, but the unidentified woman who fell to her death was white.
Last year, in November, there was another suicide, wherein a different woman drove her car to the top of the bridge, abandoned it and then jumped. An unidentified man also jumped last month, and his body was later recovered by fishermen on the St. Johns.
In May of this year, a young black woman who had gotten out of her car after her tire blew out was pushed into the river when a Hummer slammed into her vehicle and the impact to her car tossed her into the river. She survived, miraculously unhurt. Maybe somebody was watching out for her.
In Jacksonville, on St. George Island, is the old Kingsley Plantation. Timucuan Indians are known to have lived on the site about a thousand years ago, but all the remaining structures are from the plantation era. Zephaniah Kingsley owned and ran the plantation from 1813-1839. Kingsley operated under a “task” system, allowing slaves to work tending their own gardens or working at their own craft once plantation tasks were complete. Profit from their labors during their “free” time was usually kept by the slaves. He even allowed slaves to buy their freedom and married Anna Madgigine Jai, one of his own slaves, who was freed in 1811. Kingsley’s liberal notion concerning slaves for the time came to an end once Florida became an American territory. Florida passed laws that discriminated against free blacks and placed harsh restrictions on African slaves. This prompted Kingsley to move his mixed-race family to Haiti, where the descendants of Anna and Zephaniah live today.
The Kingsley Plantation still stands today, along a rough and narrow road. On that road, near ruins of abandoned slave quarters, some people have seen Old Red Eyes, said to be the spirit of a slave who raped and killed several of the female slaves. The other slaves caught him and hung him, supposedly from the large oak tree at the entrance of the plantation. He is often spotted in the rear view mirror of a car, simply two, red glowing eyes that follow you.
Two other ghosts round out the cast at the plantation. A woman in white (there certainly are a lot of these haunting the area) who sits on the porch of the main house. She only shows up in photos and is thought to be Anna Kingsley, mistress of the plantation. The last ghost is that of a child, whose screams can be heard at the old well.
It’s a spooky place towards dusk, full of history and the promise of spirits from the beyond.
It seems like every stage theatre has a resident ghost or two. This is true in San Marco and at Theatre Jacksonville.
Theatre Jacksonville, also known as The Little Theatre, has been part of San Marco since 1938. Usually, community theaters in the in U.S. are, in fact, converted spaces, made from storefronts or former professional theatre spaces, but The Little Theatre was built specially for Jacksonville’s first community theatre group. The group was formed in 1919 and got funding for the theatre from Carl S. Swisher, cigar magnate and local supporter of the theatre arts. It took a little over ten years from the ground breaking in 1927 for the company to launch their first production in the Art Deco-style building. The façade of the building has stayed intact since it was built and it still has the same look that it did all those years ago.
The two story building was designed by Ivan H. Smith, who also designed Jacksonville’s City Hall, the Duval County Courthouse and several JU buildings. In ’91 the Little Theatre was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. After 87 consecutive seasons, it’s one of the oldest continually producing community theatres in the U.S.
Of course every theatre with a history that long comes with a few ghosts. There are rumors that in the lobby stairwell one can often see a faint shadow of a mysterious man in a bowler hat.
The San Marco Theatre offers a different sort of entertainment—movies. Finished in the same year as the Little Theatre, the San Marco Theatre was designed by nationally recognized architect Roy Benjamin, who also designed Downtown’s Florida Theatre. Instead of sticking with the Italian, Moorish and Spanish influences of San Marco’s Square, he built something that reflected the current trends at the time: Art Deco. The structure and architecture has remained basically the same, and the theatre owners have focused on restoration rather than redoing the old building.
An old tale of a former theatre manager dying in the office surfaces from time to time, and former employees speak of spooky happening after hours. Says former manager Heath Valdez, “Me and a buddy were painting the floors at night…I looked up and I swear I saw someone standing in the manager’s office looking down at us. We went up to look, because sometimes, you know people would hide in the bathrooms and stay…but there was no one there.”
Homestead House, Jacksonville Beach
Besides great food and a long history, one reason people stop by The Homestead is because they want to know if the haunting stories are true. All manner of spooky tales and interesting lore gets passed around regarding the Homestead, particularly since the Ghost Trackers investigated the place about four years ago.
Ownership of The homestead has shifted since the pine log building was constructed in 1934. Before it became a restaurant, it was a boarding house prior to the late 1940’s. The original owner was Ms. Paynter, who sold the place to Preben and Nina Johansen in ’62. They, in turn, sold it Carmen Macri who owned the place until it was bought by the daughter of the Johansens and the owner of First Street Grille, Kathy Marvin.
Most of the ghostly activity concerns sounds and voices on recording devices that the trackers placed in haunting hotspots. There’s even something posted on YouTube, with the humming woman that can be heard near the Coppertop Bar.
But the hauntings mostly take place in the old section of the restaurant, specifically by the fireplace and in the ladies room. Water has been inexplicably turned on in the bathrooms, lights turn off and on, plates have been shattered when nobody was in the restaurant and menus have been found strewn about the floor by the cleaning crew. Folks still talk about the lady in white, who sometimes makes an appearance on the second floor. Restroom doors sometimes lock on their own and voices are heard when nobody is around.
There’s plenty of unsubstantiated lore concerning the place. Folks believe that the original owner, Ms. Alpha O. Paynter was buried in the backyard, although there are records of her cremation. Whatever the case, it’s believed that she never really left after she died. There are also stories of two suicides that supposedly took place in the building. In the1960s it’s said that a woman hung herself in the back of the restaurant. Ten years later her daughter is rumored to have also hung herself, this time in one of the storage closets.
The Palace Saloon in Fernandina
The Palace Saloon in Fernandina has been called the oldest standing, continuously operated saloon in the state. Before it became a saloon, it was built as a haberdashery in 1878. About 20 years later it was bought and the new owners refurbished it as a bar. Most of the décor from that time is still intact—the mosaic floors, tin ceilings, wood female figures and old gas lamps, among other things.
The bar has seen sailors, pirates and the famously wealthy. It even survived Prohibition, selling Texaco gasoline, ice cream, special wines, 3 percent near-beer and cigars. Rumor has it that special customers could also buy a little whiskey.
The ghosts in this place range from famous patrons—a Rockefeller and a Carnegie- and the not so famous. The most active ghost is Uncle Charlie, the saloon’s late bartender, who lived in the saloon for more than fifty years, dying in 1960. They say that he sometimes plays the piano, and the keys are covered by a plexiglass casing.
Mayport King House Ghosts
The story goes that the King House was built on an old Spanish graveyard, used at first as a boarding house for sailors and traveling men. it was rebuilt on the same site in the 1880s after a fire burned it to the ground.
It really became a popular “haunt” when John King owned the house. He loved a spooky tale and was good at amusing the children of Mayport with his ghostly yarns. He believed that the place was haunted and he told stories about the strange happenings and gruesome events.
He claimed that an aunt of his died in a rocking chair which apparently used to rock when no one was sitting in it. Auntie, according to the tale, didn’t die in her sleep, but was pitchforked (that’s right, pitchforked) to death by a jealous ex-boyfriend sailor.
The place is a veritable hive of hauntings. Mediums who have investigated the place have said that it seems to have an atmosphere that attracts spirits of the dead, perhaps because of all the tales John used to tell.
There’s the inevitable lady in white (killed on her wedding night in a nearby car wreck), poltergeist activity and a strange little man wearing a red suit.
With the lady in white and the little man in red, there really shouldn’t have been any need to keep on a staff, as the little man sometimes acts as a ghostly butler before disappearing and the lady tidies the house and does the dishes.
Sign me up for a haunting! If I were to have a ghost in my house, I’d want one that does chores. Haunt me please, I’ve got laundry.