‘If these walls could talk, they would scream:’ Frightful history of St. Augustine’s Old Jail

Stephen Mitchell with Historic Tours of America shares his ghostly encounters in America’s oldest city

This week on Florida’s Fourth Estate, hosts Matt Austin and Ginger Gadsden get the haunting details on what is considered to be one of, if not the most haunted cities in America: St. Augustine.

What is it about being terrified that brings people so much joy?

Why do some relish thrills so chilling it could lead to heart palpitations?

This is certainly the time of year curiosity gets the best of anyone looking for a scary good time.

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When you think of creepy stories — whether in real life or in the movies — strange, unexplained things almost always happen in places that have stood the test of time. They are old, musty and mysterious.

Think of the creepy hotel in The Shining, the mansion in The House on Haunted Hill or the house in The Amityville Horror.

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All places that send a chill up the spine just thinking about them.

This week on Florida’s Fourth Estate, hosts Matt Austin and Ginger Gadsden get the haunting details on what is considered to be one of, if not the most haunted cities in America: St. Augustine.

The man brave enough to pull back the curtain on the dark side this haunting season is Stephen Mitchell. Mitchell, with Historic Tours of America, knows about things that go bump in the night in St. Augustine because he has been bumped by a spirit or two while working at the Old Jail in St. Augustine.

Mitchell has been featured on shows that conduct paranormal investigations and St. Augustine is a hot spot.

Mitchell said while doing research on ghost tours in America he discovered the first ghost tours may have started in St. Augustine.

“There is so much history and so much happens, people come looking for the ghosts and they have been for much longer than we’ve had ghost tours,” he said. “But the ghost stories keep building and building and so much keeps happening there it’s no wonder that hundreds of tours go out on any given night all over the city. It’s really incredible.”

One of those takes place at the Old Jail on San Marcos Avenue, just north of downtown.

It served the city from 1891 to 1953 and housed some of the most violent criminals within its walls.

A tourist attraction now but at one point the Old Jail carried out capital punishments in public. It should come as no surprise when Mitchell explains there are nightly sightings and encounters with spirits and dark energies at the jail.

Mitchell said each night there is a paranormal investigation being conducted.

“Every night people are in there from midnight until two o’clock looking for the ghosts, looking for evidence, looking for a sign of some sort of paranormal activity because in that building something happens at least once every 24 hours that nobody can explain. It is truly and certifiably, incredibly haunted,” he said.

Even when you are the only person in the building he said, you are never really alone. The voices echoing in the halls remind you some bad things happened there.

Mitchell said a lot of suffering, punishment and torment happened in the Old Jail.

“If these walls could talk, they would scream,” he said.

When the walls of jail aren’t screaming, curiosity seekers sure are — if they are lucky or unlucky enough to encounter some of these spirits.

Mitchell described one resident entity simply known as “The Crawler.”

“It’s a dark figure, ominous,” Mitchell said “It almost resembles something human. Then it moves across the floor, across the wall to the ceiling. It can disappear as quickly as you see it. But when you see it you’re suddenly overwhelmed with a chill that’s like nothing you’ve ever had before and then it’s gone.”

Mitchell has had his own encounters with dark forces in the Old Jail. He said he has come across things he can’t explain, like the time he was pushed down some stairs.

“I was going up the staircase, it was late in the day and all of a sudden I was stopped. I could feel that push right on my chest as it pushed me backward right back down the stairs. I didn’t get hurt. I didn’t fall entirely. I was able to catch myself, turn around and run the rest of the way,” he said.

Mitchells said the Old Jail isn’t the only place in St. Augustine where you can have a run-in with the unseen.

The Lighthouse is another popular spot where spine-tingling encounters have happened.

If you would like to hear more about the local haunts in St. Augustine take a tour and experience the unknown for yourself. Click here for more information.

About the Author:

Ginger Gadsden joined the News 6 team in June 2014 as an anchor/reporter. She currently co-anchors the 4 p.m. 5:30 p.m. and the 7 p.m. newscasts.