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?