I didn’t expect one of the oldest towns in America to look like a kitschy theme park but I guess it was inevitable. St. Augustine, FL has escaped many challenges and survived for centuries. Of course curious seekers would want a glimpse into the past while still enjoying the stores and restaurants that cater to them.
These same tourists (including myself) crowded St. George Street—the epitome of traps. This pedestrian-only area was crammed with trinket shops, galleries, restaurants, and buildings to book tours. But amidst the shops was actual history- an old school house… former government building… all with options to enter and tour for a fee of course.
Maybe I felt all the ‘touristy’ things were disrespectful to the past. This wasn’t some Orlando theme park.
So I was surprised when Fiance Shoes wanted to check out… a ghost tour! Seriously? Exploiting death so that participants can feel the willy nillies?
The Ghosts & Gravestones Tour offered by the omni-present Old Trolley Tours is one of many haunted tours around historic St. Augustine. The tour was marginally amusing- but I was immediately put off by our main story teller—a young lady dressed in period clothing but with a shrill voice heavily influenced by the pauses and enunciation of her ‘like like’ generation. The tour was mostly a bus ride where the host told stories. We drove by haunted areas so fast I didn’t have time to try and spot spirits or even imagine where they could be.
We stopped at two locations. The scariest part around the St. Augustine Lighthouse (where a few children were accidentally killed) was trying to walk around in the dark without getting hit by a tree branch. We were warned to lookout for floating orbs or streaks of light but I didn’t see that.
The best part was entering the Old Jail where, in the low light and seated between old cells an ex-con claiming to be the spirit of Charles Powell alternated between calmly saying and screaming the haunted history of the jail. Well played.
Sunday morning I took my Catholic obligations into the Basilica Cathedral of St. Augustine deep in the historic area. Without being garishly huge (Mary Queen in Orlando I’m talking to you) this beautiful old church was still stuffed with décor. The mass was great as well, but I spent equal time afterwards exploring the statues, glass panes, and ceiling.
ENTERING THE CASTILLO
A short stroll north of the Basilica and through St. George Street again, we hit the Matanzas River where engaged couples did photo shoots and families strolled along the waterfront. The quaint St. George Street buildings fell away to reveal the grand, stone walls of the Castillo De San Marcos. Without paying , you can still walk around the Castillo and get great photos, but we wanted to explore.
Inside, we entered the barracks, chapel and other areas. We imagined living inside those stone walls and staying cautious in case of intruders from the water side. At certain times of the day, visitors are invited to view a cannon demonstration on the top floor. Volunteers dressed in Spanish garb demonstrated the loading and shooting of a cannon while young children held their ears.
WALKING THROUGH ST. AUGUSTINE HISTORY
So… exploitation of Florida history or genuine reverence to the past? Historic St. Augustine reminds me a lot of my visit to historic Savannah… towns that have attracted visitors seeking its old, quaint history and have now morphed into a beast where beautifully, preserved history now neighbors a pizza stand.
Join me next time as I eat my way around this cute town.