St. Augustine

St. Augustine, Florida


     Three hundred years ago in sleepy St. Augustine, Florida, people believed in ghosts based on the evidence but they didn't understand how the spirit world works. Now, many of those people are ghosts who want to help us understand. They're called the Shadow Breakers.

     But some people don't want to understand what happens in the afterlife. They don't believe they can understand so why bother? Others prefer not to understand because they want the thrill of being scared by ghosts. They're more interested in entertainment than information.

     "I don't worry about it," a friend of mine once told me. "The mystery will resolve itself when I die." Her words are wise, but what about planning the trip? Isn't it possible to know more about our destination before we leave to go there? How carefully we plan a trip to Disneyworld. We know all about the theme rides before we get there. But what about the afterlife, what are its themes?

     Some people leave these details up to priests and spiritual leaders, who hold their hands into it, but they can only do the handholding just so far. Many of those authorities make their living selling salvation because they prefer to sit on a tuffet and eat a muffin than to peer into the bucket. They aren't reliable sources of theme information because they don't want to look behind the screen of the rational into the strange world of the irrational and see what's going on. They're afraid of what they might see or how it might affect them. Perhaps it will unsettle them in their comfy lives of illusions or perhaps it might make the illusions unnecessary. Either way it constitutes change, and who wants that?

     In old St. Augustine of long ago, change happened often and suddenly, even though Spanish and, later, British soldiers patrolled the streets regularly. We can see them still on Aviles Street, half-mad Spanish soldier ghosts armed with muskets, the knives that killed them still sticking into their chests or backs. As they stagger down the street to frighten the carriage horses and tourists, they cause a rational person to wonder if they're playing a role, especially when they do it right on cue at certain hours of the evening when carriage loads of tourists pass by. Scare-the-tourists seems to be one of the themes enacted by the ghosts. What in the world is going on in this sleepy little town that never sleeps?

     In the old days the people feared sudden death when pirates freely came ashore, sometimes to murder them and ransack their shops and homes, sometimes just to get drunk and party. How would you know the difference until it's too late? Today in St. Augustine we don't fear marauders as much as we do price gougers, nor do we expect to be ransacked and murdered by pirates. But some things are not that different from the old days. They had cafes, shops, clothing stores, junk stores, bars, and merchandise meant to entertain, entice, and separate folks from their money, and so do we. Their pirates got drunk and partied and so do ours. Some themes never change.

     Our pirates are a bit more polite than their predecessors. Not long ago I was slipped a drug in my drink in a bar on St. George Street and then robbed by friends of the bartender/pirate who slipped me the drug. They got twenty dollars for their crime but were considerate enough to give me a ride home so no other harm could come to me. Now that's what I call thoughtful. They had nothing to worry about because the drug prevented me from seeing their faces. I suppose those pirates had gotten tired of working in the restaurants as underpaid servers when bounty was all around them for the taking.

     When nighttime comes and the shops close, when nothing ever seems to happen, St. Augustine can become dangerous if one strays off the path of clean family fun and wanders into the dark alley of the pirates and smugglers. The ghost tours are the clean family fun here. At night when the ghost tours go out, the ghosts come out to greet them. And strangely, right on cue.

     On the ghost tours some things happen that many people don't believe can happen and other things happen that many people wish would not. This is a story about that, a story about life and the afterlife. It is a story about ghostly St. Augustine, about modern day pirates, madmen, and heroes, about relationships that go beyond the reach of time, about the eternal Creation built on the foundation of love, and about a rational universe that exists almost as a stranger to us. The story begins when we go on a ghost tour. By we I mean you, me, and Laurel Banning, my long-time friend from Atlanta, Georgia. Just so you'll know, I don't need a ghost tour to find ghosts. I have plenty of them on my own but I like to see the ghosts perform on the tour -- right on cue.

     We leave the Muy Bonita Hotel to join the ghost tour that proceeds down St. George Street, a narrow street built long ago and paved with red and brown bricks, a street typical of downtown St. Augustine with all its antiquities. We love the coquina and tabby buildings, the period-piece horses and carriages, the brick streets and everything else it takes to make us believe we have left our crazy modern world behind and escaped into the peaceful life of another time and another place. Nevermind it wasn't so peaceful.

     Tonight, we enter a different world on the ghost tour, the world of the living gone on to become the world of the dead. Ghost Tour might also be called Ghost Pursuit. Why do we pursue it? Because we love to let go of the rational world and venture into the irrational world of ghosts and spirits but we want to do it in a structured, controlled, and acceptable way.

     "How do you know we'll see a ghost?" Laurel asks me.

     "Because I saw it in a dream," I answer, as though that will convince her. She is convinced. Laurel is an accomplished woman in her fifties and proud of who she is. I choose to be that way myself -- proud of who I am. Isn't that a catch phrase from the '60's? I don't remember where it comes from but it's something we've lost touch with.


     The world is spinning, and everywhere around us is evidence that we're not in control and that we don't have reason to be proud of who we are. If we're proud then we're egotistical or we're just being defensive. But how can this be? Can't we be proud without being self-important, or am I thinking about self-worth rather than pride and ego? Where is the dividing line between necessary feelings of self-worth and pompous feelings of self-importance?

     As the solver of an ancient artifact I have to face every day that I'm proud of what I've accomplished, I might make the history books with what I've accomplished, but I might die before I get any recognition for it. This tampers with my feelings of self-worth and it also bursts the bubble of my self-importance.

     In the world we live in, if we judge ourselves by the standards of others we make a big mistake. But how do we reconcile that with personal desire for recognition from those same others? Everyone wants to perform and hear the applause. All the world's a stage, a great writer once said, and he spoke the truth. We take turns being on the stage and being in the audience. We have to learn to be proud of our performance even when it's unapplauded.

     As I walk along thinking these thoughts, day passes into night. We stroll with the ghost tour in the twilight down St. George Street. To our left is the Episcopal Church, a quaint old structure with new covered walkways. The tall lamplight on the front lawn makes our bodies cast shadows on the wall of the yellow stucco building across the street. I notice my shadow is shorter than some. One man in particular is casting a long shadow. Curious. Just then, I see something break my shadow. It's the ghostly face and body of a woman.

     "Did you see it?" I ask Laurel.

     "See what?"

     "I just saw a ghost."

     "What did it look like?"

     "The face and body of a woman broke my shadow on the wall. She looked straight at me."

     "Wish I'd seen it," says Laurel.

     As we walk past the Episcopal Church toward Artillery Lane, we hear the clip-clop of horse's hooves come from behind us and around us to the right. We all move over to the left and walk single file on the tiny sidewalk that is barely wide enough for one person. As the black horse goes by pulling a pretty carriage it peers at me with one big brown eyeball peeking from behind a blinder like it knows me. Attached to the side of the carriage is a gaslight lantern that swings back and forth, sending rays of yellow light into the twilight. Just for a moment it seems we have slipped back in time to Victorian England, to the time of gaslights and the sound of horses' hooves on old, brick streets.

     The man directly behind us, the one with the long shadow, whispers, "Jack the Ripper."

     "I love the atmosphere of Victorian England," I reply, turning to speak to him. "When you're down here at night, you can't tell what century you're in."

     "And evil doesn't know or care either," he says, "especially when it's...Jack the Ripper." He whispers menacingly. Laurel smiles at me as if to say, 'There's one in every crowd and we just found him.'

     I take Laurel's arm and try to distance us a little from the man behind us. "If we go a block or two towards the bay onto Aviles and Charlotte Streets, you'll swear you're in Old England. When the fog rolls in from the bay, spooky shadows are everywhere. We'll walk over there after the tour and you'll see what I mean."

     The tour guide, trying to reclaim our attention and overhearing me mention spooky shadows, tells us about a ghost cat that used to haunt the house across the street. When the house was renovated last year the cat apparently took off. The residents up and down the street claim to see it in their homes.

     "Pffth!" says the man close behind us, making the sound of a cat to frighten us and make us jump. Laurel just raises her eyebrows and rolls her eyes a little. The tour guide takes us further on until we cross over Bridge Street and come to a stop in front of 260 St. George Street, the first really haunted house on our tour, according to our guide. We gather around her, a young lady dressed in the costume of the Spanish Colonial period. She is holding an authentic metal lantern that swings in her hand. The candle isn't much light but it's the only light we have.

     On this dark night with only a little moonlight, it's difficult for us to see anything. If not for the lights in the old building we would be almost completely in the dark. When I turn to look behind me, I can just barely make out the life-sized statue of the Virgin Mary at the Catholic School. The white statue almost glows in the dark. Just as we stop in front of the haunted house, a young man exits the building and grins at us as he passes by. Obviously, he considers us gullible tourists.

     The old two-story, A-frame building, now a apartment house, has a broad front porch, a couple of rocking chairs, and a plaque on the wall that says, "St. Augustine House." Dark green columns support the porch. The beige stucco building is much longer than it is wide. If we look through the glass of the front door, the guide tells us, we can see the long hallway and the apartment doors on both sides. The hallway extends from the front of the building all the way to the back. In the middle is a hump where the two houses were seamed together over a hundred years ago.

     St. Augustine House was built as the first Catholic nun's school for girls. Up in the small third story, not visible from the street, are the tiny wooden cells the nuns slept in. It couldn't have been pleasant, the guide tells us, but they were used to giving up comfort in service to the Virgin Mary.

     "St. Augustine house was at one time the Winter home of Al Capone," the ghost tour guide tells us. "He lived in one of the rooms and his gangster friends took up residence in other parts of the house. The building is said to be haunted with gangster ghosts."

     The cat man, now standing beside Laurel, asks, "Well, is it haunted with gangster ghosts?"

     "Yes, certainly," the tour guide says. "We know this because of the stories told by the residents of the house."

     Just at that moment the same young man returns and grins at us again when he hears the guide's comments. He passes by us, commenting, "If it had gangster ghosts, I would know it."

     "Ohhhhhh," says the lady to my right, in disappointment. "I was hoping for some apparitions."

     "Well, hang in there," says Laurel.

     "Take it from me, no ghosts here," says the young man, walking past us.

     "And just who are you?" asks the cat man.

     "I'm Stephen," he says over his shoulder as he continues up the steps to the front porch.

     "Well, thanks, Stephen," says the cat man, sarcastically. "We really appreciate your valuable input on our ghost tour."

     "I liked him better as Jack the Ripper than Walter Cronkite," Laurel whispers to me about the cat man.

     Just at this time I decide to add something to this strange mix of anticipation and disappointment. "I used to live in this building about three years ago. I was sitting in one of those rocking chairs one night when a ghost tour just like this one came by telling about the gangster ghosts. I remember thinking, 'They'll tell the tourists anything. If there were gangster ghosts in the building, I would know it.'

     Then, one night about two months later I had a dream. You know how you can come awake in the middle of a dream but still be sleeping?" Several people nod their heads, 'Yes.' "I came awake in the middle of my dream to find myself hiding in my clothes closet from two gangsters who were in my bedroom. Suddenly, they snatched open the closet door and shot me with machine guns! It scared me so bad I woke up. After that, I never doubted there were gangster ghosts in the building."

     Silence. Everyone is digesting my scary story. A woman on the far side of the group speaks up. "I've lived in this town all my life and I can tell you, there are no such beings in that building. I'm on the city commission and I know some history of the place. First of all, Al Capone never lived there in the Winter or any other time of the year. Oh, he might have spent a night or two there with friends one year, but that was it. I don't mean to dampen your spirits, but this is just one of the many ghost hoaxes we've developed in this little town to entertain visiting guests and encourage them to keep returning. Sorry about that, folks."

     "Then what are you doing on this tour?" asks the cat man. "Seems to me you would be somewhere else right about now than standing here with us fools."

     The city commissioner smiles, obviously not at all bothered by the man's challenge. "I'm just walking home. I live on the other side of St. Francis Street. Excuse me, I'll leave. I don't mean to be a party pooper."

     "Well, you are a party pooper," says the cat man.

     "I don't care what she says," I reply. "I saw two different kinds of gangster ghosts in that building, the Chicago kind and the Cuban kind, and I also saw the ghost of one of the little girls that attended the nun's school. So I know the place is haunted, period." I try to look directly into the eyes of the city commissioner but she turns and walks down St. George Street toward her home.

     "We saw what we came to see," says the nervous tour guide. "It's getting late; let's move on."

     Laurel whispers to me, "I didn't see what I came to see."

     We follow the guide toward St. Francis Street. Her lantern casts a single ray of light onto something protruding from behind the shrub on the other side of the narrow street, in front of the Catholic School. None of us see it and if we had seen it we might have believed in gangster ghosts in the moment. The cat man would have whispered, "Jack the Ripper." There, pale as moonlight on a dark night, was the sweet young face of a dead woman. Carved on her forehead in jagged letters were the bloody words, 'St. Aug.'



Page 1 - A Ghost Tour | Light of Recognition
Page 2 - Deus Madre | Authentic Metaphor | Bury the Evidence
     Dagon-Jah the Potter
Page 3 - Reality Bytes | The Cut Ups
Page 4 - The Time is Coming | Non Deus Non Madre
     Gary Gravestone | Dagon-Jah's Creation
Page 5 - The Roommate | LoverGirl | The Two-Way Door
     Grace Courage | Gladys Kurtz | Jimmy Dobbs
     The Al Capone Syndrome
Page 6 - Outside Forces | Good and Evil - God 'N Devil
     The FoundDeads | The Stalker
Page 7 - The Dinner Date | Concealed Personas | Some New Girls
Ghost Real Estate | Dagon-Jah at Knossos
Page 8 - The Bucket | Stage Call | A Trip to St. Aug
     Elevated Consciousness | The Black Madonna
Page 9 - Planes of Reality
Page 10 - The Masterpiece of Dagon-Jah
Page 11 - The Praetorian Guards | MetaphorMan
     The Lurid Appeal | The Indian in the old Fort
     Deus Madre Redux | Something About Her
     Something About Him | The Bored Players
Page 12 - The Arc in the Covenant | The Man
Page 13 - The Artists Round | The Good, the Bad, and the Curious
     Sudden Death
Part 14 - Death and Remembrance | Ur Nammu, the Created God
Part 15 - Worlds Apart | You Don't Know What It's Like
     Spinning the Sword | A Destiny Foretold
     Invoking the Archangel
Part 16 - Some Go Forward and Some Go Back | Going Home
     Back Travel | The Miracle of Birth
     The Fire that does not Consume

Copyright Notice - Disk of the World - Text and images copyrighted March 21, 1993-2023, Claire Grace Watson, B.A., M.S.T., U.S. Copyright and under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, All rights reserved.

Copyright Notice - "The Shadow Breakers" Text and images copyrighted March 21, 1993-2023, Claire Grace Watson, B.A., M.S.T., U.S. Copyright and under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, All rights reserved. Additional to these copyrights is TXu 692-656, Isis and Osiris, The Phaistos Disk Deciphered, June 26, 1995, above images included, and The Shadow Breakers, including twenty-two of these images, copyright 2005. All solution images, pictograph tracings, disk tracings, photos of Phaistos and Heraklion harbor, Crete by Claire Grace Watson. No part of this web page may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.