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Monument destruction

Dear Editor,

I am no longer annoyed by Rev. Ron Rawls and his followers attempts to destroy our monuments, I am angry. We don’t obliterate history, we teach it.  The reverend’s point is legitimate and I agree that we have not achieved equality within the races, but tearing down the monuments in not the answer. The church I attend, Memorial Presbyterian Church, and Rev. Rawls’s church, St. Paul’s AME, have partnered on numerous occasions and would like to do more.  We have many positive ways of looking at the problems. Tearing down monuments is not a solution.

The city made the correct decision about the Confederate monument. The monument should remain as is. Additionally, it is not legally the city’s decision to do anything about the Loring monument. Both monuments mean more than just the racial issues. I challenge Rawls or any of his followers (except Sandra Parks, who would know) to name the women who erected the Confederate monuments.  They didn’t put that up because of racial issues; they did it to remember people they loved. Do you want to destroy this?

William Wing Loring was an amazing military man. The Civil War was a battle front more than a racial issue to him.  We need to know more about people like him, not destroy their legacy.

I think education is the issue here and I commend Rev. Rawls and Sandra Parks for bringing the issues to the surface. Yes, they are “making noise.” They were right in doing so; however, removing the monuments is like flag burning.  It is disrespectful and unproductive.  One speaker in favor of removing the monuments said, “We should remember history, but not honor it.” You can’t remember history if you don’t teach it and it is the choice of the beholder whether or not to honor it.

I would like to move forward by providing more information about both monuments and include the Foot Soldiers monument in any of the tours.  I have never heard a tour or trolley driver talk about either the Confederate Monument or the Foot Soldiers Monument.  Why not educate those who take our tourists around about explaining our past?

When I do Black History tours I try to describe the past accurately and I always say we have not achieved the ultimate goal of equality.  Take down the monuments and I will have less to point to as I explain it. I walk on the foot prints of Andrew Young and show people the corner where he was assaulted.  I know the churches where Marten Luther King preached and organized. We don’t want to destroy those.  Why destroy other testaments of our past?

We cannot be so negative as to obliterate important signposts of our history. It is our responsibility as the nation’s oldest city to educate our own and inform our visitors.  We can do that with monuments.

Thank you Rev. Rawls for bringing the issue to the front.  Now, leave our monuments alone.

Karen Harvey

St. Augustine

 

Karen Harvey is a local author and historic interpreter. She conducts tours of the city to include black history tours.


Osceola’s Head

Spooky St. Augustine

Osceola’s Head

 

 

Osceola, the great Seminole warrior, did indeed lose his head to a surgeon’s knife. The bizarre part of the story is that his head was cut off in Fort Moultrie, SC, in 1838. It was then transferred back to St. Augustine and years later lost in a fire in New York City in 1865.

Why then, do people see his image imprinted on the coquina stone of the Castillo de San Marcos? Why to visitors claim to see the head floating over the fort like a moon rising from the ocean above the ancient fort?  Legends abound concerning the death of the celebrated Seminole warrior who was imprisoned in the Castillo de San Marcos in 1837. Reality and legends blend with those stories of Osceola’s head.

Although Osceola was held captive in the fort, he did not die there. He was moved to Fort Moultrie, S. C. in a weakened condition resulting from malaria.  His doctor, Frederick Weedon, accompanied him.  It is known that Weedon was with him at the time of death.  It is also known that Osceola’s head was severed from the body after his demise.

Apparently, Weedon returned to St. Augustine with the cranium.  Stories are told that the doctor hung the head on his children’s bedposts to punish them when they misbehaved.

There is a house on the corner of Bridge and Weedon streets where Dr. Frederick Weedon is said to have lived with his family.  In the 1990s a little boy was visiting his grandfather in that house. The youngster was awakened in the bed room, startled by the figure of a tall Indian peering over his bed.  Although surprised, he was not frightened and reported the vision to his grandfather in the morning.  The grandfather was unwilling to admit that he knew the legend of Osceola’s head and that Dr. Weedon would discipline his children by placing the disembodied head in the room at night. Perhaps he feared the grandson would not return for a visit.

The only problem with that story is that the house was not built until 1925 and Weedon died in 1857.  Perhaps, though he did live on the street named for him and spirits exist.

It is known that Weedon kept the embalmed head in his office or in a drug store.

Facts continuing to authenticate the story include Weedon’s presentation of the skull to his daughter and son-in-law as a wedding gift.  Although seemingly preposterous, the fact is, the skull was a precious item historically and scientifically. Weedon’s son-in-law, Daniel Whitehurst, had studied medicine under Dr. Valentine Mott, a well-regarded surgeon in the country.  Documentation shows that Whitehurst eventually presented the remains of the intriguing Indian to Mott who died in April 1865.  Shortly after his death a fire consumed part of the Mott Museum and no written account provides evidence of the location of the famous cranium.

Regardless of the outcome, stories linger on in St. Augustine.  Have you seen Osceola’s head?  Do you know any similar legends?  I also am curious if any members of the Seminole culture find this offensive. I’d like to know. No doubt we can say the stories perpetuate the memory of the nineteenth-century warrior.


Kenny Beeson’s Exorcism

Ghost Legends

Kenny Beeson’s Exorcism Rite

 

It wasn’t the mysterious smells that put Kenny Beeson over the edge.  Nor was it the sounds of booted feet stamping across the floor, or the ships bell that rang when no one entered the shop door.

No, it was when his friend died in the 1960s and he couldn’t banish the spirits from his shop.  That’s when he knew he had to take the next extraordinary step.  He had to ask a Catholic priest to exorcise the evil spirits invading his life.

It all started when Kenny was a young man working as a tailor at Kixie’s Men’s Shop at 138 St. George Street.  Only Kenny could smell the perfumed odors in the back workroom.  Then came the sounds:  stamping feet, a ringing bell over the front door, even moaning and clanging chains.

It was becoming difficult to work alone at night so when Kenny’s friend, Preston, kept him company one night, he was relaxed.  That is until the bathroom door slowly swung open and an overwhelmingly sweet odor drifted through the air.

“We’re getting out of here,” Kenny yelled. The two men sprang to their feet but before Preston went through the door Kenny noticed the image of a face on the back of his shirt.  It was too late to stop him as Preston was high tailing it out to the parking lot.  But Kenny stopped long enough to pull out a tape recorder and leave it running on the workbench.

 

The next day he listened in awe as he heard the documented clamor. Before he could contact Preston, his friend died of a heart attack.  It took all his strength to attend the funeral and as he entered the chapel he was overcome by the stench of funeral flowers, the same smell that had invaded his work space. Then he saw the man whose image had been emblazoned on the back of Preston’s shirt.  It was Preston’s brother.  Had this been a premonition of the death?  The brother followed his brother in death soon thereafter.

Kenny was so shaken by all of the strange events he went to Monsignor Harold Jordan to ask for help. Although Monsignor Jordan had never attempted an exorcism rite, he realized how deeply frightened Kenny was.  He blessed the rooms and ordered the demonic spirits to leave.

The service apparently worked as all was quiet after that.  Kenny said he never heard anything else, although occasionally he did smell flowers.

Kenny Beeson became a leader in the community which included serving two terms as city mayor.  He chose to keep his story quiet, telling it only to his closest friends.  It was not until 1992 when he went public with the story, telling it to me for publication in Compass.  From there it has become one of the staples of the ghost tour litany of tales.

Did the exorcism work?  Shortly after the story was printed a couple living in an apartment down the street from Kixie’s Men’s Shop came to me with their tale of haunting in their residence. Is it possible that the spirit haunting Kixie’s moved down the street?  Does anyone know?


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.


Anecdotal Histories of St. Augustine, Legends and Tales – Karen Harvey

Anecdotal Histories of St. Augustine

Legends and Tales I is a collection of anecdotal histories written and originally published in newspaper form before book publication. These memories reveal that the history of St. Augustine is not always in the recorded facts, but rather in the hearts and minds of the local citizens.
From stories about the early days of baseball and St. Augustine’s strongest man, to the history of the area’s African American population and the civil right movement.  L.O. Davis offers insights in the police work as well as many humorous stories.Anecdotal Histories of St. Augustine

Norton Baskin talks about his wife, the famous Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her book, The Yearling. Baskin recalled the making of the moved “Cross Creek” staring Mary Steenburgen as Marjorie and Peter Coyote as Baskin.  Legends I offers insight from a unique, often-overlooked perspective.

This second volume of anecdotal histories continues to uncover the multilayered history of St. Augustine. These historical vignettes, originally published in the St. Augustine Record will delight and entertain residents and visitors alike.

Written in a conversational style that is accessible and easy-going, Harvey brings the reader face to face with some of St. Augustine’s most interesting characters.  The resulting narrative allows the storyteller to paint a picture of the “oldest city” that is rarely found in other written histories.

Included in the compilation are sections about the history of the African American community in St. Augustine and accounts from the city’s legendary “Mr. St. Johns County,” Dan Mickler. Legends II continues to open doors to St. Augustine’s vast history.  If you enjoy anecdotal histories, these two volumes will fill your time with some of the most colorful recollections you can imagine.


St. Augustine and St. Johns County: A Pictorial History – Karen Harvey

A Pictorial History of St. Augustine and St. Johns County

This coffee-table style pictorial history of St. Augustine and St. Johns County was first published in 1980 (now in its ninth printing) by Donning Company Publishers of Norfolk, Virginia, the largest specialty pictorial history publisher in the United States. It is a summary of the rich history spanning more than four centuries of survival and success in St. Augustine, the Nation’s Oldest City. Well-documented text succinctly describes historic events with maps, charts and illustrations depicting the earliest centuries and photographs focusing on life after the camera.

Pictorial History of St. Augustine and St. Johns County
The book is divided into the natural time periods of St. Augustine’s history. The story of the arrival of the founder, Don Pedro Menédez de Avilés in 1565 lends credence to the claim of this settlement being older than the British counterparts of Jamestown, Virginia (established 1607) and Plymouth Colony (1620).

The short twenty-year British Period of 1763-1784 is given substance with attention placed on the families of the group known as Minorcans who arrived in St. Augustine in 1777 and to this day remain the core group of St. Augustine’s population.

The return of the Spanish and the arrival of the peninsula into the fold of the United States bring the book up to the Gilded Age of Henry Morrison Flagler.   Flagler was a legendary in the development of Florida’s history.  Having made himself wealthy  in a partnership with John D. Rockefeller, he came to Florida and envisioned the potential we see today.  His histroy in the railroad business only made it all the more rich. The story of growth and change continues until 1980.

The book remains popular with residents whose roots are deeply planted in the soil as well as newcomers eager to familiarize themselves with the town and with visitors wishing to take a bit of history home with them.


Five Women Five Stories – Karen Harvey

Five Women Five Stories

Five women from Karen Harvey’s book Daring Daughters: St. Augustine’s Feisty Females were selected as subjects for five historic portraits. Artist Marianne Lerbs was commissioned by Richard Kessler, founder of The Kessler Enterprises Inc., to create themed works for the Casa Monica Hotel in downtown St. Augustine.  The women chosen by Ms. Lerbs spanned five centuries and represented five diverse cultures. All are reflected by different historic sites in and around St. Augustine.

Antonia, the Indian bride of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, begins the sequence. She is followed by Mary Evens known as “Maria” associated with the “Oldest House” in St. Augustine. Abbie Brooks wrote about Florida in the late 1800s and died in St. Augustine in 1914. Anna Kingsley is the black women, a former slave, who became the wife of a plantation owner and a wealthy woman in her own right. Her story is told at Kingsley Plantation, Jacksonville, Florida. The last of the five is Luella Day McConnell known as “Diamond Lil” who, more than a century ago, created the Fountain of Youth attracting visitors from all over the world.

The story behind the paintings accompanies the images in Five Women, Five Stories. More can be learned about these women and others important to St. Augustine’s history in Daring Daughters.

Marianne Lerbs – Artist

Marianne Lerbs is a Venezuela native who arrived in St. Augustine in 1992. Her work was seen by hotelier Richard Kessler, of The Kessler Enterprise Inc., who commissioned her for a portrait of Seminole Indian leader Osceola, which is now displayed in the Celebration Hotel in Orlando, Florida. In 1997 Kessler purchased the former St. Johns County Courthouse on Cordova Street and restored it as the Casa Monica Hotel. He approached Lerbs about using her designs and flare for color to enliven the décor of the Casa Monica.
She is a graduate of the Instituto de Diseño Neumann in Caracas, Venezuela, and has attended schools in a wide variety of art fields. Her commissioned artwork in Venezuela and the United States is an eclectic mixture of materials creating murals, sculptures, paintings and fabric furnishings. Her artwork in Florida and Georgia includes such diverse creations as marble horse heads and bronze sculptures. In Jacksonville she painted trash cans with colorful designs portraying St. Augustine’s Lincolnville musicians, and designed “ethnic door murals” on St. Jose Elementary School doors. For two years she was Artist in Residence for the Duval County School System.