“There are many ghosts in Amelia Island, which like an ancient but once lusty mariner, dreams of its stormy past...”
-Alice Strickland, “City of Restless Ghosts,” Florida Times-Union, May 1959
With a long, colorful history under eight different flags, it’s not a surprise that, on Amelia Island, ghost tours are held year-round, not just in October.* Here are a some "spooky" spots to see that are fun for everyone - and a few Amelia Island ghost stories that are not for the faint of heart...
1) Old Town
Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the site of the original town of Fernandina - now known as “Old Town” - was originally settled over 1000 years ago by Timucua Indians. In the centuries that followed, this riverfront enclave, seldom discovered by visitors who flock to “New Fernandina,” today’s Historic Downtown Fernandina Beach, has been the site of a Spanish fort, the neighborhood of a witch named Felipa who was famous for love potions, and the lovingly preserved 1880s Captain’s House that served as a setting for a Pippi Longstocking movie filmed here in the 1980s. It is said a 16-year-old who drowned in the river appears to teenagers of today if they visit the old Plaza San Carlos on their 16th birthdays. Located off North 14th Street (from historic Centre Street , turn onto North 14th Street at the traffic light and follow until you see Old Town on the left, just before the 14th Street bridge.)
2) Egan’s Creek
In the center of the island, the Egan’s Creek Greenway is a protected 300-acre oasis of marsh landscape with walking and bike trails as well as ample chances to view wildlife. A wild life of a different kind reportedly led a pirate to bury a substantial treasure here in 1900 and then kill his accomplices, leaving a chain over the limb of a large oak tree to mark the spot. As the pirate finished covering his tracks, a rattlesnake bit him and the pit became his final resting place. If you happen to see the remnants of a rusty chain in a tree during your walk, it’s recommended that you leave “the money tree” alone! The Greenway may be accessed from behind the Atlantic Recreation Center, 2500 Atlantic Ave., Jasmine St., Sadler Rd., Jean Lafitte Blvd., and Citrona Drive from the extensions of Beech and Hickory Streets. Parking available behind the Atlantic Recreation Center, along the right-of-way on Jasmine Street, and at the Residence Inn on Sadler Road.
3) The Amelia Island Museum of History
The spot to immerse yourself in Amelia Island’s rich past, Florida’s first spoken-word museum is housed in what was the Nassau County Jailhouse. The infamous pirate Luis Aury, who arrived in Fernandina in 1817 to take over the island, raising the flag of the Mexican Republic, was sentenced to hang for his many crimes. The night before his execution, he attempted to avoid the humiliation by slitting his own throat but was caught and crudely stitched up by a surgeon to keep him alive. He was hanged the next day on the gallows out back. According to locals, Aury’s ghost has been heard moaning around the jail, and some have spied an apparition with a bloody gash in his neck. 233 S 3rd Street
4) Palace Saloon
The oldest bar in Florida, the Palace likes to say that, in its storied rooms, “ghosts from ten decades past join in drinking to your health.” Legendary bartender Charlie Beresford held court from 1906 until 1960 and made extra money with a bar game of his own devising: He bet customers that they couldn’t flip a quarter onto the décolletages of the carved mahogany ladies behind the bar and have the coin stay there. At the end of his shift, he filled his pockets with the quarters he scooped from the floor. Bartenders of today have felt a cold hand on their shoulders when they have tried to get this particular game going. Sounds of music, glasses clinking, and conversations are heard in the early hours of the morning even when the bar is deserted, and, although it is unplugged, an electric player piano is known to start up a tune at the strangest of times. 117 Centre Street
5) The Eppes House
Railroad conductor Thomas Jefferson Eppes and his wife Celeste lived in what was the Mansion Hotel. A beautiful Creole known for her long, wavy raven-colored hair, Celeste was known as a firecracker - brightly colored on the outside and explosive within. To make her husband jealous, she told him Ferdinand Suhrer, Hotel Manager and City Council president had insulted her honor. Eppes confronted Suhrer, then shot and killed him. Afterward, Celeste confessed to her friend Katie Williams that that story had been a lie, Thomas was tried and exonerated, the two fled Fernandina, and Celeste later went mad and died during childbirth. Years later, Katie awoke to see Celeste’s ghost at the foot of her bed, with a long white streak in her dark hair, which she described as “a badge of shame.” 31 South 10th Street
6) Florida House Inn
Built in 1857 as a boarding house for his railroad employees, the Florida House housed Union officers during the Civil War. One of them, Major Leddy, bought it after the war and ran it as a hotel with his wife. They entertained glittering guests including the Carnegies and Rockefellers, U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant, Cuban revolutionary Jose Marti, automotive tycoon Henry Ford, and early film stars Mary Pickford as well as Laurel and Hardy. One person from the old times seems to have been so fond of it she has never left: “Miz Leddy,” the major’s wife. Bartenders still catch the scent of her strong lavender perfume and antique shoes from her time tend to disappear from their display near the desk and wind up in guest rooms. 22 S 3rd Street
Want to see for yourself?
Thank you to Gray Edenfield and the Amelia Island Museum of History for their help in researching this article.