I believe in ghosts but am also dubious to so-called hauntings that can be explained by one’s own carelessness in the moment such as leaving keys in a car’s ignition and misplacing a camera case, both of which happened on this haunted excursion. That being said, I popped into Native Sun at Jacksonville Beach to shield myself against any unfriendly spirits with a juice composed of five veggies and raw garlic. The ancients believed garlic had the power to ward off evil spirits, and as an added bonus, raw garlic is a potent immunity booster.
The Lemon Bar
120 Atlantic Blvd., Neptune Beach
A late breakfast of crab cakes at the Lemon Bar is supplemented by tonic. Overcast skies, a slight ocean breeze and the early afternoon revelry portend my spirited brunch at the popular beachfront bar. The scariest thing about this tropical-themed outdoor hangout is the college crowd during spring break season, which thankfully we don’t need to worry about this time of year.
220 1st Street, Neptune Beach
I meander through the courtyard and shops along the Beaches Town Center, of which I’m a regular, and duck into my favorite independent bookstore. The Bookmark offers an intriguing selection of paperbacks on local haunts. I leave with the “Women in White: The Haunting of Northeast Florida,” by Elizabeth Randall, which I skim through while sipping a pale ale across the street at Pete’s Bar.
Jacksonville Beach Life Guard Station
2 Ocean Front North, Jacksonville Beach
Since 1912, the American Red Cross Volunteer Lifesaving Corps has patrolled the beach from this historic lifeguard station. Rumor has it that the station is haunted by a drowning victim and a lifesaver known as “Todd.”
691 1st St. N., Jacksonville Beach
This historic Spanish-Mediterranean revival-style hotel was privy to tragedy in the 1930s, when a newlywed found his bride in a nearby hotel room with another man. He took his life, and she in turn jumped to her death. Tourists claim to see her ghost running down the hallway. Upstairs in the waterfront Penthouse Lounge, locked windows are said to unlock themselves. On our particular visit, overturned stools littered the deck, an eerily fitting circumstance. Our server tells us of her recent misfortune, having tripped twice in one month over the second stair from the bottom of the first floor, over which other employees have also curiously lost their balance.
Thirty Three Star and Ginger’s Place
308 3rd St. S. and 304 3rd St. S. Jacksonville Beach
The ghost of former owner Darlene “Ginger” Parsons lives on among the formal gowns and T-shirts at this punk rock boutique and its adjoining bar. Legend has it that patrons have described unusual activity in dressing room three — including a light tap on their shoulder when no one is around. I shrugged off its unintimidating aura during my visit but then heard several women chattering all at once before the voices quickly evaporated. Next door in Ginger’s Place, similar lore presides in the no-frills dark and smoky locals bar, though I drank my spicy Bloody Mary without incident. Ginger reminds occupants of her presence here by banging on chairs, repositioning glass shelves and leaving dimes all over the place.
Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve
2690 S. Ponte Vedra Blvd., Ponte Vedra Beach
The 10-mile drive south along A1A passes quickly, with low-lying brush and palms and stilted beachfront houses offering hypnotic scenery. I pull into the park’s south beach access, a nature sanctuary that has a much darker past. In the 1700s, the area was a slave-run British indigo plantation, and according to University of Florida records, slaves were flogged and killed. Instead of viewing the wetlands through the boardwalk, I opt for an obscure entrance across the parking lot and opposite the wooden ramp. I explored only a couple feet onto this pathway, when I walked into thick spider web, and its creepy yellow and black resident caused me to drop my camera, shriek and evacuate the premises.
14 Cordova St., St. Augustine
Centuries of holiness and bloodshed converge into this eerie one-acre resting ground in downtown St. Augustine, which was the site of a native American village before it became a cemetery. Those buried here hail from Spain, Cuba, Ireland, Greece, Africa, Haiti and France. The cemetery is a popular destination for ghost tour enthusiasts, who tell of strange apparitions of children, orbs, unexplained temperature changes and shadows.
Harry’s Bar & Grille
46 Avenida Menendez, St. Augustine
A 10-minute walk southeast toward the bayfront brings me to my evening dining spot. Harry’s Bar & Grille is a New Orleans-style restaurant located in an 18th-century home, and is supposedly haunted by a friendly ghost in a wedding dress. I tempted a sighting by ordering Voodoo shrimp with a side of rice and beans, but perhaps she’s shy when the patio is humming with animated crowds and outdoor live music on weekend nights.
Fort Matanzas National Monument
8635 A1A S., St. Augustine
Over the Bridge of Lions and down A1A through Crescent Beach leads me to my final destination for the day, the Fort Matanzas National Monument. The European history at the site precedes the construction of the monument by about 200 years; In 1565, the Spaniards massacred French forces and claimed control over the area. Here and throughout Northeast Florida, remnants of our region’s haunted past still lay claim to the present. Perhaps the incidental touch, apparition or unusual occurrence is indeed a message from the undead. Whispers of their secrets remain to be unearthed — if you dare.