Looking for Ghosts at the Spirited St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum

On a recent humid night at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum in northeast Florida, the amateur ghost hunters gathered under the moonlight and were handed glowsticks, with the bravest among us opting to carry EMF detectors. It was time for the Dark of the Moon Ghost Tour of the century’s old lighthouse that was witness to countless boat wrecks out in the Atlantic, as well as a few deaths onsite including three young girls, Mary, Eliza, and another girl whose name is unknown, but who staffers call Ellie. This is the stuff that makes for an active ghost hunting destination. In fact, the popular cable TV show, Ghost Hunters, filmed three ghost investigations here during its run, and one of its most popular pieces of evidence – a dark figure – was caught moving around at the top of the lighthouse staircase.  

The group meets at the base of the lighthouse. (Photo by MJ Hanley-Goff)

At 8:30 p.m. with the moon high in the sky, the large group gathered at the base of the lighthouse to hear tour guide, Avery, share a few safety rules, instruction on the EMF meter which detects the possible presence of spirits, and an overview of the area’s haunted grounds. There’s a lot of activity not only in the lighthouse itself, we were told, but also in the narrow hiking path that meanders through a densely wooded area, and also under a tremendous live oak tree with branches that eerily spread out like arms.  Reports of hearing giggles and the sound of children playing have been heard, and inside the three-story lighthouse keeper residence, staffers have frequently seen a shadow figure in uniform, heard whistling, and detected the sweet aroma of pipe tobacco attributed to Peter Rasmusson, a former lighthouse keeper.

Two ghost hunters test out the EMF meters. (Photo by Emma Keating)

Next, a short lecture at the residence to get a feel for the goings on there, including chairs found moved from its place, or a rocking chair rocking on its own; heavy footsteps, coughs and groans; the sensation of being touched, and even being gently pushed from the back. We heard that the young girls enjoy a game of hide and seek in the deep, dark corners of the creepy basement. Not only are staff members the target of the spirits’ playfulness, but visitors have experienced their share of activity.  A local Girl Scout group was on a tour when a glow stick was removed from the string of a participant and tossed across the room – not once but two times. In another case, a playful spirit untied a guest’s shoelaces, and another time, the shoelaces were tied to a staircase railing. 

The staircase which is the site for ghost activity. (Photo by MJ Hanley-Goff)

Since the first recorded documentation of a lighthouse comes in the mid-1500’s when an Italian mapmaker noted a reference to a wooden watchtower, there’s been a lot of years to accumulate a rich timeline of experiences. The lighthouse went through a few transformations and even a change of location, and a roster of lightkeepers and their families came and went; and in the late 1800’s it became a popular tourist destination for guests who arrived on horse-drawn carriages. It seems that one of the lighthouse keepers from the past continues to do his duty, as there are times when the staff finds windows and doors opened or padlocked. A heavy metal bucket located on one of the lighthouse landings is raised and dropped, causing a loud slamming sound that echoes throughout the tower.  When a spirit is playing around with staffers, they will be gently asked to stop, and the activity usually does; staffers have accepted that this is part of the job. 

(Photo by MJ Hanley-Goff)

Whether or not one experiences spirit activity on one of their ghost tours, the stories themselves are enough to cause goosebumps and a tingle down the spine –  even on a warm humid Florida evening.

The Museum is a Smithsonian-affiliate that was accredited by the American Alliance of Museums in 2017. The lighthouse has supported military defense, travel, trade, fishing, boatbuilding and pleasure-boating since the 16th century.

Top photo by MJ Hanley-Goff taken beside the live oak tree.


About MJ Hanley-Goff (169 Articles)
MJ Hanley-Goff has been contributing to Woman Around Town since its inception in 2009. She began her career at Newsday in the early 90’s and has continued writing professionally for other New York publications like the Times Herald-Record, Orange Magazine, and Hudson Valley magazine. Former editor of Hudson Valley Parent magazine, she also contributed stories to AAA’s Car & Travel, and Tri-County Woman. After completing her novel and a self-help book, she created MJWRITES, INC. to offer writing workshops and book coaching to first time authors, and also college essay writing help to students. MJ has recently made St. Augustine, Florida her home base, and is thrilled and honored to continue to write for WAT and the amazing adventures it offers. Despite the new zip code, MJ will continue to keep a pulse on New York events, but will continue to focus on the creative thinkers, doers, and artists wherever they are.