The ghosts of Old St. Johns County Jail: A haunting story

Nikola Petrovski
Featured image
Left: The Old Jail is now a museum. Photo by: Yakin669 - CC BY-SA 3.0 Right: The entrance is now served by a ticket office, Photo by: Jared - CC BY 2.0

When a certain site lures paranormal investigators and ghosts hunters, one is tempted to find out more about the past of that place and what made those ghosts stick around; more importantly, one seeks to see if all those legends and tales about the place are true. Such is the case with the Old St Johns County Jail.

Standing on what is now known as San Marco Avenue, this jailhouse still manages to extract awe from the local passerbyers. The jail was erected following the guidelines of the Romanesque Revival style architecture in 1891.

The entrance to the building is now served by a ticket office. Author: Jared – CC BY 2.0

The firm behind the construction of this prison is P J Pauley Jail Building and Manufacturing Company. The reason why this prison was designed the way it was has to do with the very founder of Standard Oil – Henry Morrison Flagler.

During that same period, Henry was the proud owner of the eminent Ponce de León Hotel. When he learned that a jailhouse was to be erected fairly close to the hotel and definitely within eyesight of its guests, Henry helped finance the construction of the jail with $10,000 helping the jail to blend in with the rest of the buildings.

The side of the prison looks homely now. Author: Ebyabe – CC BY-SA 3.0

And while the jailhouse was lovely and charming on the outside, its interior was anything but. The prison housed both male and female offenders and was designed to lock no more than 70 inmates.

These unlucky individuals were placed inside concrete cells that walls of which were so thick that no sound could be heard from the outside; nor a sound made within could reach the world out there. Inside their cells, the prisoners were given no pillow nor blanket. Only one mattress filled with Spanish Moss which the favourite kind of environment for the Red Bugs.

The Jail is an impressive example of architecture. Author: Excel23 – CC BY-SA 3.0

To make this even worse, the jail had no bathing facilities. The prisoners were forced to work on the local farms and without the necessary hygiene conditions, the interior was filled with unforgettable stench. The food was scarce and so the prisoners were forced to look for ways to survive, which often resulted in find and killing small animals that happened to roam about the farm fields where they were working.

The back of the prison does not look scary now. Author: Ebyabe – CC BY-SA 3.0

Those that refused to follow the rules were taken to solitary confinement where there was not even a mattress, only stone-cold floor. Further back into the prison was where the maximum security cells were located. These cells were ironically better equipped with a torture chamber and a magnificent look on to the area reserved for executions.

Part of the torture equipment can still be seen. Author: Ebyabe – CC BY-SA 3.0

The jail warden was present at all times in the prison as he lived there with his family; their lodgings, on the other hand, were well fitted and comfortable.

A total of 8 people met their end in this prison by means of executions; a great many others died from the ill conditions and undernourishment before they could reach the end of the verdict. According to the paranormal investigators and ghosts hunters, this very treatment of the jailbirds, and the first-time offenders for that matter is what made this place to become haunted after the jail was shut down in 1953.

The tower can be seen from a distance.  Author: Ebyabe – CC BY-SA 3.0

Today the prison operates as a museum and is considered to be the most haunted location in St. Augustine. People report hearing sounds of crying and wailing and people screaming in pain. The sounds reportedly come from either the maximum security cells or sometimes from the female unit. But crying is not the only sound.

There are sometimes laughing noises as if someone chuckles in madness and noises of dogs barking. People report hearing whistling hums coming from places where there is seemingly no one. And like any good haunted place, this one too has is cold areas where a ghost is believed to be. Some even report being touched by a ghost on their shoulder.

The jail is now a museum. Author: Yakin669 – CC BY-SA 3.0

For those daring enough, the museum offers night tours that promise to give you a unique experience with the paranormal of Old St. Johns County Jail.