Saint Augustine Florida
All three sprits who reside here have interesting ways of interacting with people.
The original Ponce de Leon Hotel building, known now as Ponce de Leon Hall, is the centerpiece of Flagler College. Its architecture is considered a “masterpiece of Spanish Renaissance architecture.” This National Historic Landmark is the first major poured-in-place concrete building in the United States.
To build this upscale hotel, Henry Flagler hired a company with plenty of experience and talent: the McGuire and McDonald Company, which had already built the San Marcos Hotel in St. Augustine. They went on to build many fine hotels, such as the Sanford House (Sanford), Seminole Hotel (Winter Park), Hotel Ormond (Ormond Beach), and The Continental (Atlantic Beach). Ponce de Leon Hotel, the dream of Henry Flagler, opened with much fanfare in 1889.
Built to be a luxury hotel for the elite of society, the Ponce de Leon featured impeccable craftsmanship inside. Tom and I really enjoyed the tour when we visited. Flagler hired the best people, who had done great work in New York City and other places. To design this hotel for the well-to-do, Flagler picked two young architects, John Carrere and Thomas Hastings, who also designed the New York Public Library and the House and Senate Office Buildings next to the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
This luxury hotel was a fully electrified building with both steam heating and electric lighting in 1889 when it opened. It also featured 4,000 electric lights, courtesy of the Edison Company. Flagler hired Louis Comfort Tiffany to create the building’s interior, including the beautiful stained glass and mosaics.
The mosaic tile floor is truly lovely. Tiffany had also worked with Thomas Edison in 1885 to develop decorative and stage lights for the Lyceum Theater in New York City (the first theater ever to have electric illumination). His range of materials included metal, jewelry, and ceramics in addition to glass. His glassworks can be found in the Union Congregational Church in Montclair, N.J., the Trinity Episcopal Church in St. Augustine, and the Grace United Methodist Church.
Its rotunda and dome are truly breathtaking. The dome is built within a dome that is open at the top, to allow light to brighten the grand entrance. Murals were created by George Willoughby Maynard and Virgilio Tojetti. Maynard’s work takes one’s breath away, featuring elements of nature represented by standing ladies, while the seated ladies represent “the classical conquest, civilization, knowledge, wisdom, etc.”
There are several ballrooms (now used for meetings, concerts, and events of the college). Ladies and the gentlemen’s lounges are located on either side of the long hall, which runs from the parlor. The central staircase leads up to the various ballrooms/event spaces, one of which is the students dining hall. The original women’s and men’s dorms are in the East and West wings.
Henry Flagler and his son, Harry Harkness Flagler, had a rocky relationship after Henry married Ida Alicia, the nurse of his first wife, who had died.
Perhaps hoping to get his son interested in finance, (rather than music and the arts), Henry came up with a plan after his hotel coordinator quit in 1894. He put his son in full control of his hotels: the Ponce de Leon, the Alcazar, and the Cordova. Uh oh! Perhaps both men wanted a better relationship, but it often isn’t easy working with relatives; and in this case, it was a disaster.
Henry quit after only a year, after a huge blowup with his father. He wisely returned to Columbia College in New York. Sadly, he never talked to his father again, though he made it to his death bed. Unfortunately, his father wasn’t conscious.
Many activities were offered to guests who were spending the winter in St. Augustine. Guests enjoyed parties and balls, with live orchestras and bands, singers, and entertainers. Henry Flagler built a residence just north of the Ponce de Leon for artists, who not only sold their paintings, but also gave art lessons.
Besides rich visitors from high society escaping the cold winters, famous and soon-to-be famous people (such as Theodore Roosevelt and Admiral Dewey) dropped by. President Warren G. Harding was a frequent visitor.
Around 1913-’15, St. Augustine was discovered by the movie industry. Ponce de Leon Hotel became one of Hollywood’s favorite places to make films.
The Great Depression was a tough time in St. Augustine. In 1932 two of the Flagler hotels, the Alcazar and the Cordova and its casino closed, putting a lot of people out of work. Ponce de Leon managed to stay open, and eked out a living.
Like many luxury hotels in Florida during WW 2, the Ponce de Leon was drafted into service. In October 1942, the Coast Guard established a training academy there. The Coast Guard’s auxiliary SPARS also came to St. Augustine. After the war, the Ponce de Leon became a private hotel once again.
During the Civil Rights years in the early 1960s, a group of 150 demonstrators marched into the Ponce de Leon dining room where 117 of these folks were arrested.
1967 was the final year of the Ponce de Leon Hotel. Its last dinner dance was held in April of 1967.
However, this fine building didn’t stay closed for long. In 1968, Dr. F. Roy Carlson (the President of Mount Ida Jr. College in Newton, Mass.) and his organization bought it for 1.5 million dollars.
To open Flagler Junior College, a lot of work had to be done. The Biltmore Campbell Smith Restoration firm was hired to renovate and retrofit for the hefty sum of $19 million. Two million more dollars were spent to restore the glorious dining hall.
It wasn’t surprising then when the fledgling college ran into financial woes. They had to go through a reorganization in 1971. Its future became bright when Henry Flagler’s grandson, Lawrence Lewis, got involved in a big way, becoming the driving force to not only reopen the college, but to grow it into a small, liberal four year institution.
Lewis was gifted in finance and had the gumption to make things happen. He was able to funnel millions of dollars to the college through foundations, family money, and his own personal funds.
This ensured that the college would have funds for new construction, restoration projects, endowments and other programs would help it become a success.
Lewis was on the governing board to make sure things were managed correctly. Over the years, the college has spent more than $43 million restoring the historic campus, as well as constructing new buildings and athletic fields to meet the needs of students.
HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS
Ponce De Leon Hall is said to be home to three spirits.
The following stories are urban legends associated with the entities that are claimed to still enjoy the lovely building that they knew as the Hotel Ponce de Leon.
Henry Flagler – This mover and shaker was a rich entrepreneur who loved the Hotel Ponce De Leon. When he died on January 15, 1913 in Palm Beach, after falling down at his Palm Beach home, his body was laid in state in the hotel’s rotunda. When it was time to carry the body out of the rotunda, all the doors slammed shut. They were opened again, and his earthly remains were carried to the Mausoleum at Memorial Presbyterian Church as planned for burial.
In some hotels listed on HauntedHouses.com, the founders’ spirits often like to stay or visit, perhaps to keep an eye on the living.
Monteleone Hotel, New Orleans, LA (The spirit of the hotel’s founder, Mr. Monteleone, still keeps a watchful eye on his staff).
Eldridge Hotel, KS ( The spirit of Col. Shalor Eldridge who loved his hotel while alive, still resides there).
Bullock Hotel, SD (The spirit of Seth Bullock is an active spectral owner, supervising the living staff, and helping out with guests).
Second wife, Ida Alicia – She was the nurse for the first Mrs. Flagler. Described as being a strawberry blonde, Ida was outgoing, but said to be a bit off, perhhaps showing symptoms of manic-depressive illness. She eventually spent time in a mental hospital, where she eventually died. Urban legend claims that she was pushed over the edge by playing with a Ouija board.
People with mental issues sometimes have a hard time letting go of earthly life and passing through the light to the other side.
Ludwell-Paradise House, VA (A spirit suffering from mental illness is known to be staying here).
Kalamazoo Sanitarium, MI (Spirits who were mentally ill simply moved into the homes built on this former property, once the location of this mental hospital).
Henry Flagler’s Mistress? – Woman in Black
In many big hotel stories, there are commonly told yarns about mistresses of the owner who wind up killing themselves in some way, because of depression or madness.
Baker Hotel, TX (Mr. Baker’s mistress killed herself in a fit of depression because the man she loved wouldn’t divorce his wife).
Skirvin Hotel, OK (Supposedly, owner William Skirvin made a maid pregnant, and kept her captive in a room on the top floor, even after she had her baby. She went crazy and jumped. Or, more likely, she was abandoned by her boyfriend, and jumped because she was pregnant).
Ponce de Leon Hotel, FL (An alleged affair may have started when Ida Alicia was said to have been hospitalized. Henry Flagler may have had a roving eye, or his relationship with Alicia had drifted. Or, it could all be a big lie, started by those in the community who didn’t like the power Flagler had in St. Augustine and considered him to be a “self-aggrandizing bully”).
The story goes that Henry Flagler had an ongoing extramarital affair with a young woman, who stayed at the Ponce de Leon Hotel.
She always wore black. When Ida Alicia came to stay at the hotel, Henry imprisoned his mistress in a suite of rooms, far away from his wife. It is said that she went crazy from depression, and hung herself.
Could be Another Female Spirit who Suicided
It is also possible that she wasn’t Flagler’s mistress, but a woman who killed herself in the hotel because life seemed too hard, or she was abandoned by a lover which is a common cause of female suicide.
Hassayampa Inn, AZ (A bride on her honeymoon hung herself after her new husband went out to buy some smokes and didn’t come back).
17-Hundred-90 Restaurant and Inn, GA (A young maid slept with an amorous English sailor who made her pregnant. He promised to come back and marry her but didn’t do so. She jumped from the second floor and died).
The Palace Hotel, WA (A prostitute killed herself after her beloved changed his mind and didn’t marry her).
Spirit of Henry Flagler
It is felt that his strong, unseen presence keeps a fatherly eye on the living, as students and staff go about their lives and business in Ponce de Leon Hall, the oldest part of the college.
When a janitor was cleaning the mosaic tile floor, he saw a thumbnail picture of Henry Flagler’s face, in one of the intricate patterns.
His spirit may be an unseen presence at music recitals and other events held in the first floor men’s and women’s lounges.
Better Be Respectful
The experience of a college student borders on being a cautionary story told to keep younger students in line, but it does stay true to Mr. Flagler’s personality, as he was a man who wouldn’t put up with disrespectful behavior from anyone.
It is said that a male student named Mark, a skeptic of the paranormal, found the thumbnail sized picture of Henry Flagler that is supposed to exist in the mosaic floor tile.
He didn’t believe in spirits, and in a joking and mocking way, would polish the tile, and invite Henry up to his room for a visit (much to the amusement of other students).
After a week or two of asking Henry to visit, Mark had a paranormal experience. He went into his room and felt someone at the doorway. He said, “Come in,” thinking it was one of his friends. The door closed by itself. He turned to see who it was, and no one was there.
He instinctively called out, “Henry?” He felt an over-powering, unseen presence surround him, letting him know that he was not alone, and that his disrespectful attitude toward Mr. Flagler was not appreciated.
After making this point, the entity of Henry Flagler opened the door, walked out, and shut the door behind him. Mark supposedly walked out of his room and never returned to Flagler College.
The Spirit of Ida Alicia
According to oldcityghosts.com, the spirit of Ida likes to stand in front of a large painting depicting Flagler in a positive light. She looks hard at the painting perhaps “damning the man.”
She supposedly likes the East Wing women’s dorm when she is active.
One story that is told about her is that she is attracted to students who look like herself.
When a strawberry blonde female student, who looked very much like Ida Alicia, (and had the same sunny personality, but no mental issues) moved into the East Wing of Ponce de Leon Hall, the entity became very active indeed.
At first, her apparition was seen searching up and down the halls. She settled in this young student’s room.
Ida’s Startling Behavior
Though Ida wasn’t harmful, she was disturbing and still likes to do this with other young women.
Her targets awaken in the middle of the night, to see this female entity staring at them.
When students return to their rooms after an absence, they see Ida’s face on the door.
Even if they switch rooms, targeted women may still have Ida Alicia as a spectral roommate.
One female student ended up transferring to Rollins College.
Spirit of the Woman in Black
This entity is supposedly still seen wandering around the top floor of the West Wing, perhaps looking for Henry.
Her mental state keeps her here, even as she tries sometimes to leave.
Students have had experiences with these three spirits through the years, in the haunted part of Flagler College, as well as in other parts of the historic buildings. The spirit of Ida still likes to visit young women and stare at them while they are sleeping. (oldcityghosts.com).
Staff as well as visitors have also had paranormal experiences. No investigations are allowed, so I couldn’t find any hard evidence. Other ghost stories on other websites do find students who tell what they have experienced.
It depends on who you talk to. College officials deny any such thing, while a few students have told of their experiences. There is no hard evidence to back up these stories, and of course no paranormal investigators are allowed inside. If there were investigations here, they were not disclosed to the public, but done privately.
Informal investigations by enthusiasts are limited to the ground floor. Student dorms are closed to people without security clearance and key cards.
It’s likely that Henry Flagler’s spirit is content just to be the fly on the wall, watching to see if things are going well, acting like a supervisor, probably not afraid to set the living straight when needed. Ida Alicia may only make herself known in specific instances, and the Woman in Black may still walk the halls, where few people see her.
74 King Street
Saint Augustine, Florida 32084
Flagler College can be found in the heart of historical St. Augustine, on 74 King Street, taking up several blocks. The front of the college is on King Street, but the majority of the college lays between King Street and Carrea Street, and between Markland Place and Cordova Street
- Ghosts of Saint Augustine
by Dave Lapham
Pineapple Press, Inc., 1977
- Flagler College Website
- Doctor Bronson’s History of St. Augustine
- Doctor Bronson Tours — Harry Harkness Flagler page
- Flagler College Wikipedia page
- Doctor Bronson Tours — “St. Augustine Rebounds”
Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr