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. The architecture featured in the college’s Ponce de Leon Hall 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 up-scale hotel, Henry Flagler hired a company who had plenty of experience and talent, the McGuire and McDonald Company, who had already built the San Marcos Hotel in St. Augustine. The company went on and built 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 craftsmanship found inside is most impressive. Tom and I really enjoyed the tour! Flagler hired the best people, who had done great work in New York City, and other places of interest. 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, located next to the Capitol in Washington, D.C. This 1889 luxury hotel was a fully electrified building with both steamed heating and electric lighting; 4,000 electric lights, courtesy of the Edison Company.
Flagler hired the talented Louis Comfort Tiffany to create the building’s interior, including the beautiful stained glass and mosaics. The mosaic tile floor is truly lovely. Tiffany also had 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 metalwork, furniture, jewelry, and ceramics in addition to glass. His glasswork can be found in Union Congregational Church in Montclair, N.J., Trinity Episcopal Church in St. Augustine, and Grace United Methodist Church
The grand parlor is something to see, with many caryatids supporting the rotunda designed by Thomas Hastings. He carved elegant Spanish dancing maidens into the caryatids.
Its rotunda and dome on top of the entrance/parlor are truly beautiful. The dome is built within a dome that is open at the top, to allow light to brighten the grand entrance. The murals on the rotunda and dome were created by George Willoughby Maynard and Virgilio Tojetti. Maynard’s work takes one’s breath away. He made glorious murals, with the elements of nature represented by standing ladies, and the seated ladies represent “the classical conquest, civilization, knowledge, wisdom, etc.”
There are several ballrooms. There was a the ladies lounge and the gentleman’s lounge, located on either side of the long hall which runs from the parlor. They are now used for meetings, concerts, and events of the college. The central staircase leads up to the various ballrooms/event spaces, one of which is the students dining hall. The original women’s dorm and the men’s dorms are located on the various floors of the West Wing and an East Wing.
Henry Flagler and his son, Harry Harkness Flagler had a rocky relationship, ever since Henry married Ida Alicia, the nurse of his first wife who died.
Perhaps hoping to get his son interested in finance, instead of music and the arts, Henry came up with a plan after his hotel coordinator quit. In 1894, Henry Flagler put his son, Harry Harkness Flagler 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 isn’t easy working with relatives, and it was a disaster.
Henry Harkness Flagler was over-all coordinator of all three hotels for only a year, because he quit after a huge blowup fight with his father. Henry Harkness Flagler wisely returned to Columbia College in New York. Sadly, he never talked to his father again, though he made it to his father’s 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 to guests of the hotel, but also gave art lessons to guests.
Besides the rich guests from high society, escaping the cold winters, famous/soon to be famous people, such as Theodore Roosevelt and Admiral Dewey stayed at the Ponce de Leon Hotel. President Warren G. Harding was a frequent visitor to St. Augustine and the Ponce de Leon Hotel.
Around 1913-’15, St. Augustine was discovered by the movie industry. Ponce de Leon Hotel became a favorite place 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 of the luxury hotels in Florida, Ponce de Leon Hotel was drafted into service. In October 1942 the Coast Guard established a training academy at Ponce de Leon Hotel. The Coast Guard’s auxiliary SPARS also came to St. Augustine. After the war, Ponce de Leon Hotel 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. It’s 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 this now fixer upper opportunity for 1.5 million dollars. To open Flagler Junior College, a lot of work had to be done. Biltmore Campbell Smith Restoration firm was hired to renovate and retrofit for the hefty sum of $19 million. 2 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, but Henry Flagler’s grandson, Lawrence Lewis, got involved in a big way, and became the driving force to not only reopen the college, but to grow it into a , small, liberal 4 year college. Lawrence Lewis was gifted in finance and had the gumption to make things happen. Lawrence Lewis was able to funnel to the college, millions of dollars through foundations, family money and his own personal funds. This insured that the college would have funds for new construction, restoration projects, endowment and various other programs, that helped Flagler College to become a continued success in offering a top-notch higher education to students. Lawrence Lewis was on the governing board to make sure things were managed correctly. Over the years, the college has spent more than $43 million dollars restoring the historic campus, as well as constructing new buildings and athletic fields to meet the needs of the students.
HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS
Ponce De Leon Hall is said to be home to three spirits
The following stories are the 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 – He loved his hotels, especially Ponce de Leon Hotel. This mover and shaker was a rich entrepreneur who loved this hotel. 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. the doors were opened again, and his earthly remains were carried to the Mausoleum at Memorial Presbyterian Church as planned for burial. Some think that his spirit remained, not wanting to leave his hotel; this labor of love. Later, when the janitor was cleaning the mosaic tile floor, he saw a thumbnail picture of Henry Flagler’s face, in one of the intricate patterns.
Another version of the story claims that Henry Flagler’s spirit was trapped in the rotunda, when the janitor accidentally closed the doors when Flagler’s body was on display.
In some hotels listed on HauntedHouses.com, the founder of the hotel often likes to stay or visit their cherished hotel, after they die, perhaps keeping an eye on the living.
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, showing symptoms of perhaps of a manic-depressive, or bipolar illness. She eventually spent some time in a mental hospital. Urban legend claims that she was pushed over the edge, by playing with a Ouija board, and died there.
People with mental issues sometimes have a hard time letting go of this earth and passing through the light to the other side.
Henry Flagler’s Mistress? – Woman in Black
In a lot of big hotel stories, there is commonly told yarn about the mistress of the hotel owner who winds up killing herself in some way, because of depression or madness.
This alleged affair may have started when Ida Alicia was said to have been hospitalized. Or, perhaps Henry Flagler had a roving eye, or his relationship with Alicia drifted a bit. 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 Flagler to be a “self-aggrandizing bully”.
The story goes that Henry Flagler had an on-going extra-marital affair with a young woman, who stayed at the Ponce de Leon Hotel. She always wore black. When Henry’s wife Ida Alicia came to stay at the hotel. Henry kept his mistress in a suite of rooms, far away from his wife, not allowing her to leave these rooms. It is said that she went crazy from depression, and hung herself.
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 her love – a common cause of female suicide.
People who commit suicide often don’t improve their mental state, and can’t find the peace they were looking for, becoming restless spirits.
Entity of Henry Flagler –
It is felt that his strong, unseen presence is keeping a fatherly eye on the living, as students and staff go about their lives and business in Ponce de Leon Hall.
An experience of a college student, boarders on being a story told to keep younger students in line, but it does stay true to Mr. Flagler’s personality, who wouldn’t put up with disrespectful behavior from anyone.
It is said that a male student, Mark, a skeptic of the paranormal, found the thumb-nail 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 & mocking way, would polish the mosaic tile, and invite Henry up to his room for a visit, much to the amusement of the 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 didn’t appreciate Mark’s disrespectful attitude. After making a point, the entity of Henry Flagler opened the door, walked out, shutting the door behind him. For dramatic effect, this story goes on to say that Mark supposedly walked out of his room and never returned to Flagler College.
Entity of Ida Alicia –
She supposedly likes the East Wing women’s dorm, when she is active.
One story that is told about her, resulted in a young female student switching colleges. 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, this entity of Ida Alicia became very active indeed.
At first, she was seen searching up and down the halls. She settled in this young student’s room. Though Ida wasn’t harmful, she was disturbing.
The young woman would awaken in the middle of the night, to see this female entity staring at her. When the student would come back to her room, she could see Ida’s face on the door. Even after switching rooms, the young student still had Ida Alicia as an entity roommate. This female student transferred to Rollins College.
Entity of the Woman in Black –
This entity is supposedly still seen wandering around the top floor of the West Wing.
Unknown – It probably depends on who you talk to about the paranormal experiences that may have happened. College officials deny any such thing, while a few students have told about their experiences it seems. There is no hard evidence to back up these stories, and of course no paranormal investigators are allowed inside. If there were investigations here, it was not disclosed to the public, but done in privacy. Informal investigations by enthusiasts are limited to the ground floor. All the student dorms are closed to people without security clearance and key cards.
Perhaps Henry Flagler is content just to be the fly on the wall, watching to see if things are going well, acting like a supervisor. Ida Alicia may only make herself known in specific instances, and the Woman in Black may still walk the halls, when few people see her; still hiding from public view.
74 King Street
Saint Augustine, Florida 32084
Flagler College can be found in the heart of historical St. Augustine, on 74 King St., taking up several blocks. The front of the college is on King St., but the majority of the college lays between King St. and Carrea St., and between Markland Place and Cordova St.
- 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