Monthly Archives: September 2017

Pittee Sisters and Little Black Girl

Ghost Legends

Death of Pittee girls and black child


The children knew they shouldn’t play around construction equipment.  The tram car sat on tracks sloping from the lighthouse tower to the roiling sea below. Riding the cart was a tempting fun adventure and probably off limits for the lively youngsters.  But July 10, 1873, on the site of the newly constructed St. Augustine Lighthouse Tower, 15 year-old Mary Pittee, allegedly clothed in a blue velvet dress, enticed her siblings and a friend to board the vehicle.  Mary and Eliza, 13, encouraged younger siblings Edward and Carrie to climb on. The ten-year-old daughter of a black worker didn’t hang back.

Then, something went horribly wrong.  The vehicle took up speed and shot down the tracks pitching forward when it hit the sand and pinning the children beneath it in the ocean waves.  Workers scrambled to their aid and rescued Edward and Carrie.  Mary, Eliza and the little black girl, whose name we do not know,  could not be saved.

Today Mary is seen, sometimes with such clarity that the blue velvet dress can be identified. Occasionally, she appears dripping wet.  The two sisters often appear together around the light station.  But, as far as we know, the little black girl has never been spotted.

During several months as a tour guide at the Lighthouse House I tried to see Mary and Eliza.  Mary appears most often, frequently emerging in the second floor window of the keepers’ house. I would stand quietly waiting for her to materialize — she never did. Then, one summer day I entertained a couple from Ohio who did see the girls, but not in my presence.   After the tour, we left the grounds and drove off in different directions.  What happened next prompted them to call me a week later from Ohio to tell me their story.  They drove toward the pier and as they passed the playground, the car lights swept across a swing set. They saw the image of two girls playing on the swings. The couple  stopped and pointed the lights toward them.  The girls disappeared.. They turned off the lights and could see the girls and hear the creak of the swings. After a few seconds the images disappeared, but the swings continued to move. Although mystified, the observers did not get out to investigate.

At another time, I was surprised to learn about a sighting by a young boy. It was daylight and I was talking to some visitors on the lighthouse pier about the ghost girls. “I saw them over there,” a youngster standing within earshot said, pointing to the keepers’ house.

He said he saw them “on the steps,” but I don’t recall which steps he was referring to.  The only steps inside the residence today lead to the basement.  The steps to the second floor are outside the building.  Regardless of the location, he clearly saw the Pittee sisters during the day. He did not see the little black girl.

Where is the little girl and why can’t we see her?  We don’t even know her name. Certainly there are ghosts of black people just as there are of white?  I would like to know if anyone has seen the little girl and not mentioned it. I also would like know more about ghosts of black people. Where are these stories? Why don’t we talk about them? Do you readers have any thoughts on that?

Yellow Roses

Ghost Legends

Yellow Roses

Horruytiner House


Brigita Arrendondo was enchanted by the garden in the courtyard of her house on St. George Street.  She had frequent conversations among the flowers with the dearly departed spirits of Maria and Antonia Horruytiner.  Maria Ruiz was the wife of Don Pedro Horruytiner who had occupied the house in the 1600s.  Antonia was her daughter-in-law.

The house became an issue with Brigita and her husband Fernando in 1819 at the time Florida was being transferred from Spanish to American occupation. Fernando Arrendondo wished to return to Cuba but Brigita loved the house and wanted to stay in St. Augustine.  Brigita’s husband told her he would keep the house if she would give up her nonsensical dreams of chatting with the mystical women.

One day Brigita was seated in her lovely garden, amidst her gorgeous roses dreaming and wishing about going back in history to meet the ladies who had lived there.

As she contemplated her beautiful surroundings, Maria Ruiz appeared to her and talked of her roses and how she had planted lovely flowers. So Brigita picked the yellow roses and handed her a bouquet. As they were talking, Maria asked if Brigita wanted to meet her daughter‑in‑law. Of course she did and Maria called to Antonia to join them.  The three ladies conversed at length about the garden and the house before Maria and Antonia departed, leaving Brigita breathless with her experience.

When Fernando came home he expected to find Brigita finishing with preparations for a dinner party. He couldn’t understand why she wasn’t dressed and when she tried to explain her encounter in the garden, he refused to believe her. He went off to get her a glass of wine to calm her nerves. While he was out of the room a good friend, Mr. Alverez, came to the door. Brigita told Mr. Alverez about her experience and he, too, refused to believe her.

“My dear lady,” he said, “It is just a figment of your imagination.  Try to put it away from you.”

She said, “He has promised me the house if I would stop talking about the spirits. I want the house. I don’t want to give it up.  But, this was so real.”

They talked for awhile and finally he left her. As he reached the gate he stepped on a bouquet of freshly picked yellow roses. Slowly he returned to the house. “You must have dropped these,” he suggested softly, presenting the bouquet to Brigita.

Her face was pale as she held the flowers tenderly, whispering only,” Maria’s roses. Maria’s yellow roses.”

This story was related to me by Eleanor Philips Barnes, a prolific genealogical researcher of St. Augustine residents. While producing records for family interests, Mrs. Barnes uncovered facts which enriched our understanding of the heritage of the city.  This story is of particular value since it connects several periods of history into one story. It takes place in a house still in existence at 214 St. George Street.

Luis Benedit y Horruytiner was governor of Spanish Florida from 1633-1638. His brother, Mosen Gilbert Benedit y Horruytiner, was a rancher in Florida with lands along the St. Johns River.  His son, Pedro Alcantatra Benedict Horruytiner, the nephew of Luis, became governor of Florida from 1646-1648

The ownership of the Horruytiner House has been thorough­ly documented. Don Pedro Alcantara Benedict Horruytiner y Puevo did indeed live in the house in 1763, selling it the following year to a Spaniard, Juan Elixio de la Puente, who had been appointed by the King to dispose of Spanish property at the outset of the British Period. The house changed hands many times until it was purchased by Fernando de La Maza Arrendondo in 1801.  Arrendondo was an aide to Governor Vincente Manuel de Zespedes and probably did keep his promise to Brigita. The house was not sold until 1839 when Virginia Watson purchased the struc­ture by auction.

The individuals named in this legend have been thoroughly documented. The basis for the apparition, however, I leave for the reader to determine.  It is a St. Augustine tale with Spanish flavor.  It would be interesting to know if there are similar Spanish stories of spirits and rose gardens.  Or is it the house?  Everyone knows the Horruytiner House is filled with ghostly spirits. Don’t they?


Nurse, Nun and Soldier

The Nun, the Nurse and the Soldier

Paffe House Story

Ed note: Ghosts abound in St. Augustine.  Do you know the stories?  Are family legends

part of your heritage?  Author Karen Harvey is investigating the cultural history of the “ghost” tales told in St. Augustine. Let us know if you can contribute to the rich history of the city’s spiritual lore.

Maggie Hunter was a dedicated nurse with a soft spot in her heart for the elderly matriarch of the Paffe family. It was not unusual for her to visit at unusual hours and on this particular dark and stormy night in 1927 Maggie felt she should check on her charge. She let herself into the house, ascending the stairs to the apartments above the shops.  As she walked to the end of the hall where the grandmother’s bedroom was, she was startled to see the image of a religious figure wearing the habit of the Sisters of St. Joseph.  The nun was fingering rosary beads as she knelt by the elderly lady.  As suddenly as the image appeared, it vanished from sight.

The presence of the nun was so unexpected, Maggie fled down the hall to the room of the grandson, Clement, who was working as a ham radio operator.  Breathlessly, she told him what she had seen.

After calming Maggie, Clement explained that the “nun” was there to tend to his grandmother’s needs.  She was welcome in the house he said, “Don’t worry.”  No further discussion was forthcoming.

Maggie returned to the room to find the grandmother resting comfortably in her bed–alone. There was no sign of the nun’s presence. Over time Maggie observed the nun near the door when she arrived, then the image disappeared. She noticed that the “nun” began to appear when the elderly lady was in distress.  Soon Maggie became accustomed to the existence of the spiritual entity and found solace in her presence.

Then one day Maggie arrived and, upon reaching the grandmother’s room, was shocked to see a Spanish soldier standing at the door as if on guard.

Maggie hastened to the grandson’s room expecting to hear some sort of an explanation.

Instead Clement raced down the hall yelling. He threw open the door to his grandmother’s room and ran inside, only to find her lying in her bed — dead.

When he recovered enough to talk to Maggie he explained that legends in their family told of the nun coming to provide comfort to the sick and dying.  “But,” Clement said, “When you see the soldier, he has come to take the person to the other side.”

The sentimental story of the nun, the nurse and the Spanish soldier is often told near the Bull and Crown Publick House at 53 St. George Street.  The wooden structure was originally constructed as the Pellicer-Peso de Burgo House honoring two Minorcan families.  Constructed by the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board in 1974, the building used a 49 St. George Street address and went through numerous phases including a period when it served as the entrance to the Spanish Quarter Museum.

The story is about the Paffe family who occupied a business and a home on that site. The large brick building occupied three lots with 49 St. George Street housing a stationery store and print shop. Number 53 was assigned to the portion used as a toy store and card shop. Above the shops ran the apartment using a 51 St. George Street address.

When I first heard this story I went to Joseph Paffe who, at the time, was teaching middle school math.  He impressed me as a very solid, down-to-earth person whom I expected to disparage the legend.  His response surprised me.  “Oh, yes,” he said. “The grandson was my uncle Clement.”  He assured me that the story was known in the family to be true.

There are numerous versions of this story, some acted out with professional story telling skills.  Some say the storm was the big hurricane of 1927.  Others give a name to the nun. What is your version?

So far no one has identified the grandmother by name.  Do you know?

Lightkeeper’s death

Joseph Andreu, Lighthouse Keeper

Ed note: Ghosts abound in St. Augustine.  Do you know the stories?  Are family legends

part of your heritage?  Author Karen Harvey is investigating the cultural history of the “ghost” tales told in St. Augustine. Let us know if you can contribute to the rich history of the city’s spiritual lore.

Maria was tending to winter vegetables in the garden of the lighthouse compound.  There was a chill in the December air, but it was not too cold for Joseph to be painting the tower that fateful day in 1859.

She heard a snap, then a bone-chilling bang when body hit tin.  As she turned she saw her husband roll from the roof of the oil shed, hitting the stone wall surrounding the compound.  She and her three children ran to his body as the scaffolding dangled above them from the remaining rope. They gathered around their fallen loved one to no avail. Joseph died where he worked leaving his wife to carry on the difficult duties of a keeper.

Joseph Andreu and his wife Maria de los Dolores Maestre lived on the complex with three of their eight children.  Joseph was the fourth keeper assigned to the St. Augustine light house, the first being his cousin Juan Andreu who illuminated the tower in 1824 making the coquina structure the first lighthouse in Florida.

Caring for the lighthouse was a family affair involving the transportation of whale oil or lard to the top of the tower, trimming the wicks and maintaining the tower.  In addition to those duties, detailed logs were kept and fruit and vegetables were grown in the nearby garden.  It was a difficult but not unpleasant life for the Andreu family.

The city mourned the death of the lighthouse keeper.  Joseph and Maria were both Minorcans who were known in the town. Now Maria, desolate and depressed, climbed the tower carrying up a bucket of lard oil to the top.  She felt alone and feared for her future.  The night winds blew a light mist across her face as she gazed out to the ocean praying a silent prayer for help.  Then, throwing her arms to the elements, she wailed to the winds crying out, “Joseph, what shall I do.  What shall I do?”

The answer came as the rain began to fall.  Joseph’s voice, drifting with the wind, “Tend the light.  Tend the light.”

Visitors to the lighthouse pier often hear the voice of Maria calling in the wind, her anguished cries clear.  Sometimes Joseph’s reply can be heard above the gentle lapping of the ripples on the shore.

Maria’s story is true, and she did chose to “tend the light” as her husband advised. She accepted her responsibility and was appointed by the United States government as the St. Augustine lighthouse keeper.  She has been recognized as the first Hispanic-American woman to serve in the Coast Guard (or its predecessor services) and the first to command a federal shore installation.

In 1821, when Florida became a territory, the watch tower on Anastasia Island was recognized by the government as a potentially useful lighthouse.  After repair work was completed a lens was installed, and in 1824 the light was officially lit by Juan Andreu, a member of the Minorcan community.

“Minorcan” collectively refers to the group of European settlers brought to Florida as indentured servants in 1768.* They remain the core group of St. Augustine. It was understandable that a member of the Minorcan community would be appointed the first lighthouse keeper.  They were seamen who knew the Florida shores and the mysteries of the sea.

Juan’s cousin, Joseph Andreu, became the fourth keeper in 1854.  The year following his appointment whale oil was replaced by lard facilitating the task by reducing the weight of the fuel and producing a cleaner burn. Joseph lived and worked on the lighthouse compound with his wife Maria de los Dolores Maestre, also of Minorcan heritage, and three of their children.

When the Civil War reached Florida’s borders the light was extinguished in an effort to hinder Union Naval operations off shore. Paul Arnau, the city’s Collector of Customs, supervised the removal and disappearance of the Fresnel lens.  With the lens gone, Maria was effectively out of work.

Today St. Augustine’s famous striped lighthouse looms above Anastasia Island neighborhoods.  That tower was completed in 1874 replacing the old coquina structure that originating in the early 1700s.

It is believed Maria left St. Augustine around 1862 to live with a daughter in Georgia.  However, her story and that of her husband is indelibly woven into the fabric of the oldest city’s history.  She had eight children, five of whom were adults at the time of the accident.  Perhaps one of her descendents is reading this story and can come forward with a family version of the inspirational tale.

*The term Minorcan refers collectively to a group of indentured servants brought to Florida by Dr. Andrew Turnbull during the British Period (1763-1784).  Single men and families were imported from the Island of Minorca, one of three Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Ocean which, at the time, was a British possession. People from Italy, Greece and Corsica were included in the mass importation. This was the largest single group of European settlers to immigrate as a unit to the New World.

These Caucasian men and women worked an indigo plantation as indentured slaves in New Smyrna until a group of more than 700 marched to St. Augustine in 1777 for sanctuary.  They remained in the city when Florida was returned to Spain and were firmly established when the land was turned over to the United States as determined by to the Adams-Onis Treaty.   A total of 53 years had elapsed from the day they set foot on Florida soil.  The were the established residents of the city and they remain the core-group of St. Augustine.