We're moved into prime day-trip weather, when cooler temperatures brighten the prospect of strolling historic streets, and none are more historic than St. Augustine's.
I've always loved historian Michael Gannon's quip that by the time the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, St. Augustine was up for urban renewal. Begun in 1565, our old city was founded decades before the traditional Plymouth-landing date of 1620.
And for decades, St. Augustine tourism has been based on claims of the "oldest" this and the "oldest" that: market, house, schoolhouse, jail and so on. In recent years, though, the St. Augustine tourism market has seen a distinct shift in emphasis from "oldest" to "most haunted," Elizabeth Randall writes in her book "Haunted St. Augustine and St. Johns County." (Noted Florida author Bill Belleville supplied the foreword.)
Randall, who also teaches at Lyman High School, teamed with her photographer husband, Bob, on "Haunted St. Augustine," recently published in the History Press's "Haunted America" Series.
The Lake Mary couple loved tracking down ghostly lore for the book but can't claim to have ever seen a ghost, Liz Randall writes. At one of the ghost-hunting kiosks they came across, she reports, "a ghost gadget used to detect cold spots left by protoplasm looked amazingly like the stud-finder in Bob's toolbox at home."
But the Randalls do very much believe in the value of ghost stories as a way to keep history alive. "We feel they're important folklore," Liz Randall says.
To research the book, they not only went on plenty of haunted tours but also "pored over lists, records, documents, books, letters, and maps," she notes. They found that the ghosts linked to historic buildings and places were only part of the story. "Ghost stories provide an echo, a persistence of relevance after the people and the events that affected a place are long gone," she writes.
Solid fort, scary closing
It's not surprising that paranormal stories abound about even about that most solid St. Augustine historic site — the Castillo de San Marcos, built from 1672 to 1695. It's the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States.
There's plenty of historical evidence to suggest "that a lot of people died at the fort over the centuries," Liz Randall says.
The Seminole leader Osceola was imprisoned at the Castillo briefly during the decades when it was called Fort Marion. Osceola died at Fort Moultrie in South Carolina, however.
One Castillo legend maintains that the scent of perfume lingers "at the spot where a Spanish general walled his wife into a casement, 'Amontillado'-style, along with her lover," Randall writes in the book.
Here's something even scarier, though. As I write this, it's impossible to see the Castillo because it's part of the National Park Service. I'm hoping that the government-shutdown situation has improved by the time you read this, but if you're planning a visit to St. Augustine and hope to see the great fort, better check first to see if it's open again. The website is nps.gov/casa.
For more on "Haunted St. Augustine," go to hauntedfloridahistory.com.
"A Land Remembered Multimedia Tour"
Florida's historic lore may contain plenty of wispy ghosts, but here's something about as solid as the Castillo: Floridians' regard for Patrick Smith's novel "A Land Remembered."
Last year, when the Florida Humanities Council honored Smith, 86, with a lifetime achievement award, the council's executive director, Janine Farver, described "A Land Remembered" as the quintessential Florida story — one that should be "required reading for anyone who wants to understand the lives and landscape of pioneer Florida."
Now, Smith's son Rick is bringing his "A Land Remembered Multimedia Tour" to Central Florida, with stops at the Orlando Public Library, Oct. 29, 4 p.m.; at Minneola City Hall, Oct. 30, 7 p.m.; at Forever Florida in St. Cloud (Nov. 1, 4 p.m., and Nov. 2, 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.); and at Kissimmee's Hart Memorial Library on Nov. 3, 3 p.m.
For details, visit alandremembered.com/speaking-tour. You'll also want to visit patricksmithonline.com.
Joy Wallace Dickinson can be reached at email@example.com, at FindingJoyinFlorida.com or by good old-fashioned letter at the Sentinel, 633 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, FL 32801.Copyright © 2015, CT Now