7 Haunted Places In Jacksonville

If you're the type of person who believes in ghost, ghouls, and goblins, here are few sites in town you might want to avoid this month.

Published October 29, 2015 in History - MetroJacksonville.com

7. TacoLu Baja Mexicana

The living aren't the only ones enjoying the dishes being served inside Taco Lu's 81-year-old two-story log cabin. Over the years, bartenders and other employees have claimed the place is haunted by the ghost of Alpha Paynter.

Paynter once operated a boarding house in the cabin and is buried behind the building. It is said her apparition has appeared near the huge limestone fireplace in the center of the main dining room and in other parts of the restaurant. Paynter has been seen so much that the building is now listed in The National Directory of Haunted Places.

The next time your chips disappear, don't be so quick to blame the diners next to you.

6. Evergreen Cemetery

Evergreen Cemetery is the oldest fully operating cemetery in Jacksonville, with the first burial occurring in 1881.

The cemetery comprises 170 acres and over 70,000 burials. When the cemetery opened, remains were moved there from the Old City Cemetery and another downtown area near State Street. At one time, Evergreen had a train depot for visitors from the city and holding vaults nearby awaiting bodies for burial.

Evergreen is said to be haunted by several spirits, including the "Lady in Violet," a man in old-fashioned attire near an unmarked mausoleum, and the ghost of a woman near the "Ugly Angel" tombstone.

5. Old City Cemetery

Established in 1852, the Old City Cemetery on East Union Street is one of the most overlooked and underrated historic sites in Jacksonville's urban core. Cut off from downtown by the Mathews Bridge Expressway ramps, the cemetery is home to a who's who list of early 19th-century Jacksonville settlers and residents. One is Marie Louise Gato, the 19-year-old daughter of local cigar factory owner Gabriel Hidalgo Gato. She was shot five times as she was entering her father's house in North Springfield on April 20, 1897. On her deathbed, she accused her spurned boyfriend Edward George Pitzer. A week later, the police lieutenant investigating the case was attacked and murdered near the corner of Liberty and Phelps streets.

Attracting a horde of female admirers, Pitzer's two week trial became one of the most sensational murder cases in the city's history. Pitzer was eventually found not guilty and Gato's murder was never solved. Over a century later, some claim they have encountered the sounds of weeping, spooky lights, and the ghost of the young lady buried near the back of the cemetery.

4. El Modelo Block

This building at 501 West Bay Street is one of a handful in downtown that survived the Great Fire of 1901. During its early years, it housed Gabriel Hidalgo Gato's El Modelo Cigar Manufacturing Company. After Gato's death, the building was occupied by the Plaza Hotel and a number of bars in what became known as a seedy area of the city.

In 1907, a Spanish-American War veteran entered the front door one of these bars in what would be his last act. He was immediately shot in the chest with a sawed-off shotgun. Upset over the tragic events - and still waiting on that drink - the victim's ghost allegedly haunts the building.

3. Carriage House Apartments - Chelsea Courtyards

Listed on the National Directory of Haunted Places, this Arlington apartment complex is credited with extreme poltergeist activity. It is said the front office is haunted by the spirit of Billie Boyd, who managed the complex for more than two decades before dying in 1987. According to local legend, so many strange events happened in apartment 40 that management decided to stop renting it and converted it into a storage room.

Considered to be home to a force not interested in cohabitating with the living, apartment 40 has accrued a number of sightings. Witnesses describe strange events such as things being thrown, blood-dripping walls and the smell of rotting flesh. Despite no longer being a rental unit, some tenants still claim to occasionally hear whispering sounds and other strange noises emanating from the vacant space. The property is also home to unearthly cat that when seen, vanishes into thin air. To make matters worse, the apartment was the scene of a murder in 2000, and a tenant who resided in apartment 20 was killed in a 2009 overnight three-alarm fire.

If you're looking rent an apartment with that comes with a few spectral roommates, this place awaits you.

2. The Riverside House

This structure was originally constructed in the 1860s as a resort hotel known as the Rochester House. Originally located near the current intersection of Leila Street and Riverside Avenue in Brooklyn, the building was moved via barge to its present location on River Boulevard in Riverside in 1911. Shaded by wild orange, oak, and magnolia trees, the hotel was known for its boating facilities and fishing. Guests came from New York, Rhode Island, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and other states to rent rooms for $2 to $3 per day. Mary Todd Lincoln may have been its most famous guest. Lincoln came to Jacksonville in late 1874 overpowered with grief and depression, following the death of three sons and her husband Abraham Lincoln.

While at the Rochester House, Lincoln became unshakably convinced that her surviving son Robert was deathly ill. Hurrying to Chicago in March 1875, she found him healthy. During her visit with him, she told him that someone attempted to poison her on the train and that a "wandering Jew" had taken her pocketbook. After she nearly jumped out of a window to escape a non-existent fire, she was institutionalized in an Illinois asylum.

We'll never know what impact the Rochester House had on Lincoln, but many believe the building is haunted. The building was barged upriver to its present location on Riverside's River Boulevard in 1911, and it is said that the ghost of a long departed guest came with it. Visitors have reported the apparition of a young blonde woman in a long black dress, supposedly the bride of a Confederate blockade runner, and say that her footsteps can occasionally be heard on the third floor.

1. Old Red Eyes and the Ghosts of Kingsley Plantation

Kingsley Plantation, which features the state’s oldest plantation house, 23 slave residences, and associated buildings amid a pristine wetland, is one of Florida’s most important historical sites. As with many similar landmarks, local folklore holds that former residents still haunt the place. The plantation dates to 1797. From 1814 to 1837, it was owned by the South's most atypical slaveholders: Zephaniah Kingsley and his wife Anna Madgigine Jai, a Wolof slave he married and later freed. The property came into public hands in 1955 and became a national park in 1991.

According to Jaxlore: Folklore, Urban Legends, and Regionalisms, legends that Kingsley Plantation was haunted spread just after it became a park. The plantation’s historic architecture and sublime surroundings encourage ghost stories, and its status as a national park gives it a core of dedicated caretakers who foster its lore and pass it to visitors. Easily the most famous of the plantation ghosts is Old Red Eyes, who’s been spotted since 1978. The story goes that he was a slave who raped and killed girls in the slave quarters until the others caught him and lynched him from an oak tree beside the roadway. The villain’s ghost still appears as a pair of glowing eyes in the woods. The legend relies on some nasty old tropes – mobs used stories like this to rationalize lynching.   However, it’s worth noting that the legend portrays Red Eyes’ deeds as crimes against and avenged by slaves. This development may reflect the unusual social dynamic of the Kingsley days, a legacy the park’s staff fastidiously memorialize.

The legends and sightings extend well beyond Old Red Eyes. Staff have reported hearing a ghostly child crying in the well and encountering a turban-wearing African in the main house. Joyce Elson Moore, author of the Haunt Hunter’s Guide to Florida, snapped a photo she believes shows an ethereal “woman in white” – none other than Anna Kingsley herself. Zephaniah is also said to be present; the staff maintain a tradition of never saying “Goodnight, Mr. Kingsley,” as “something bad” may happen.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com

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