Photos by Kelsey & Scott Walters
With Florida’s discovery dating back to 1513 and thousands of years of Native American occupation before that, there’s no shortage of history to be found on our state’s lands. Where there’s history, there’s bound to be ghost stories. We’ve all heard tales of the supposed apparitions haunting the streets of historic places like St. Augustine and Ybor City, but did you know Amelia Island just north of Jacksonville has a sordid history as well?
Rife with grim rumors of pirates’ dastardly deeds and a past steeped in Civil War history, this little island, home to the city of Fernandina Beach, is the perfect spine-chilling weekend getaway. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the island’s popular ghost tours aren’t available right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create a tour of your own! My husband, Scott, and I set out for a fun Autumn adventure, and found some creepy stops along the way perfect for a Spooky Season DIY ghost tour.
A Haunted Ghost Tour of Amelia Island, Florida
These stops can be visited in any order, and are all within a few minutes’ drive (or sometimes walk) from one another. I suggest you plan your outdoor stops during daylight hours and watch the weather to create your route.
Take along this map to guide your path to the supernatural!
1. AMELIA ISLAND MUSEUM OF HISTORY
Open Thu – Sat: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. // $8 per person
Our first stop was the town museum to get our footing in the local history. This stop is the first spoken history museum in the state of Florida (you will find Amelia lays claim to many firsts) and continues that tradition with regular guided docent tours. While the museum has only been around since 1986, the building it’s housed in dates back to 1878 as the former Nassau County Jail.
This jail only housed those sentenced to a year or less, so you won’t find the spirits of hardened criminals roaming the hallways, but you do have the chance to spend some time in one of the historically accurate cells. You can gather plenty of materials here to discover more stops to add to your tour.
As I mentioned before, much of Amelia Island’s past is laden with the anecdotes of dastardly pirates. Legend has it that the infamous pirate, Luis Aury, was sentenced to hang here after attempting to take over the island in 1817. He attempted to slash his own throat before heading to the gallows out back, but was crudely stitched up to keep him alive long enough for the public hanging.
This museum dives deep into the chronicles of the town’s popular pirate past, and you may be able to hear Aury moaning in the creaky old building or roaming the grounds looking for revenge.
2. EGAN’S CREEK GREENWAY
2500 Atlantic Avenue (behind the rec center)
Egan’s Creek runs through the heart of the island and the greenway is a beautiful example of the area’s marshy landscape. The protected 300-acre oasis on the southern end of the island has plenty of walking and biking trails, ample wildlife and fishing spots.
We visited on a very rainy, dreary weekend, which helped up the spook factor quite a bit. While there are stunning views in the day, this is Amelia after all, so you know there has to be some pirate history on this soil.
Local folklore states that a pirate found the marsh the perfect spot to bury his treasure and enlisted two cohorts to do the digging for him. Just as they finished he murdered them and threw a chain over the tree branch to mark the spot.
He covered his tracks and was promptly bitten by a rattlesnake, only to die and fall into his own pit along with the treasure. The park is open 24 hours if you would like to have your own ghost hunt, but the residents recommend you leave the “money tree” alone if you spot it, still protected by the marauders.
3. EPPES HOUSE
31 S.10th Street (private residence, please respect the owners)
While the island is home to many supposedly haunted houses, the Eppes House is perhaps the most notorious. The large and ominous estate was built by railroad conductor Thomas Jefferson Eppes and was known then as the Mansion Hotel. His wife, Celeste, was a beautiful Creole woman that loved stirring the pot, and made up a tale of the hotel manager insulting her to make Eppes jealous.
Things escalated quickly and Eppes shot and killed the man. When it was time to stand trial for the crime, Eppes fled and abandoned his family, leaving Celeste to go mad with guilt and die during childbirth in the house.
4. OLD TOWN
Just off N.14th Street (private residences, please respect the owners)
For a tiny neighborhood, this spot packs in a lot of legends. Old Town is the original site of Ferandina, settled over 1,000 years ago by the Timucua Indians and later the site of a Spanish fort. A rumored witch named Felipa took up residence in the neighborhood and was famous for her love potions. Situated along the river, it’s said that if you visit on your 16th birthday, the ghost of a drowned 16-year-old boy will appear to ward you off. On a less spooky note, the famous house used as Pippi Longstocking’s eccentric home (pictured above) in the 1988 film (known as the Captain’s House, at 212 ½ Estrada Street) is located directly in front of the park where the fort once stood.
5. THE PALACE SALOON
Open daily from 12 p.m. – 2 a.m.
The Palace Saloon, established in 1903, is Florida’s oldest bar still serving up drinks. For spirits of all kinds, you can pop in here for a drink with the locals (both alive and dead) as it is said that ghosts from decades past join you in drinking to your health. While this spot is pretty lively for a haunted location with live music and right off the main downtown street, it still has its original charm and old-fashioned décor.
When it’s deserted in the early hours of the morning, it’s reported that you can still hear the clinking of glasses and spirits having a good time inside.
6. FLORIDA HOUSE INN
Call (904) 491-3322 for reservations
Frisky Mermaid Bar open Fri – Sat from 5 – 10 p.m.
We ended our night at the oldest operating inn in Florida. Built in 1857 by David Yulee as a boarding house for his railroad employees, it was later used to house Union officers during the Civil War. It has seen more than its fair share of grief and has a few ghost tales attached to it. We stopped in to the Frisky Mermaid Bar, planning for a hand-crafted cocktail to cap off the night.
As we walked in, a couple asked where the child that walked in with us went. Seeing as our daughter was with her grandparents, we brushed it off thinking they must be mistaken. We later retold the experience to the night manager who was visibly taken aback. As it turns out, our “ghost child” matched the description of a little boy who died on-site and can only be found at the entryway and up and down the central staircase, which explains why he disappeared as we came further into the inn.
Other sightings over the years include a woman who died in one of the rooms and a man who likes to stand at the desk, seemingly waiting to welcome guests. We decided to spend the night with the spirits and got one of the rooms original to the house, at the top of the haunted staircase.
While we didn’t have any more sightings that night, the old wooden house on a stormy evening offered plenty of bumps in the night, making it the perfect conclusion to our haunted weekend!