Posted on January 31, 2020
Way back in the bookend of the 19th century and the outset of the 20th Florida was the Wild West. The true final frontier of American ingenuity and expansion. It was a savage land of Indians, outlaws, corruption, man-eating lizards and apocalyptic hurricanes. It truly was the outskirts of the American dream and not even Washington with all its tin soldiers could tame that MOFU.
By the late 19th century, most Americans were looking at that big peninsula attached to the nation and thinking:
“Do you think there’s a lifetime guarantee on the Florida Purchase Treaty? Maybe call up the right Adams’ heirs and see if they can ask the Spaniards what there return policy.”
The only way to make a dent into that wild forest that was Florida was with an imaginative property more powerful than any tangible machete… Cold Hard Cash. You need to be a power-hungry Mongol with the steely-edge of the self-assured and elf entitled to think you could dominate and reign in nature.
Luckily, for millions of snowbirds, back in those days, American was brimming with these types of grade A personalities. Millionaires that could have given the Pharoehs a lesson or two on who to whip people and build pyramids.
The History Of Flagler University.
In 1882-83, Henry Flagler – the American Industrialist and Founder Of Standard Oil, the man who would later be known as the father of South Florida – decided to spend the winter months in St. Augustine. In 1879, Flagler’s wife Mary had fallen gravely ill, and the doctors advised Henry to take her to Florida.
“The sea, the air, and the weather will help.”
Mary died in 1881, but Flagler had by then fallen in love with the wild and unruly state.
Two years after Mary’s death, Flagler had already gotten hitch and was once more acting like the titan of industry that he was. Flagler arrives in St.Augustine and is blown away not only on account of its lush greenery and pristine beaches but on its untouched and intact historic architecture. For him, it was like slipping back in time and traveling back a hundred years. St.Agustine, thanks to the myriad hands and flags it had passed under, was an artistic enclave of different cultures and a true historical hodgepodge.
Flagler saw the potential for a winter resort for wealthy northerners and started scheming. Back in his home office, he started to build the blueprints for the Florida East Coast Railway. Flagler was going in big and had huge plans for the State and the money to back his play. He needed a sound transportation system to support his hotels and ventures. While he was doing this, he sent out an army of scouts to buy up real estate at pennies.
Meanwhile, he personally approached a St. Agustine local called Franklin Smith.
Smith, who was well-versed in concrete constructions was commissioned to start construction on Flagler’s base of command and flagship hotel. The place he would spearhead his expansion nd conquest of Florida. While Smith was grafting the hotel into the land, Flagler – who knew just about everyone – approached his persona friend Thomas Edison. Edison, who needed to prove the stability of his DC currency and gain the upper hand over Westinghouse’s AC alternative, saw an opportunity and supplied Flagler with a couple of DC dynamos. Edison oversaw the installation and the hotel was lauded as the first in the world to be wired for electricity and constructed with that technological resource in mind.
“It was sort of funny, because for a month after it opened up the hotel didn’t have any electricity. Not because the installation was faulty, but because local staff and even people staying in the hotel were too afraid to turn the switches on and off by themselves. Flagler had to hire men from Edison’s company to actually turn the power on and off… In each occupied individual room.”
In 1888 the Hotel opened to instant success and with 5 years Flagler’s had to build other hotels or acquire other buildings to accommodate quest. Flagler’s vision was coming true and he was on his way to creating an “American Riviera” in the viable and ripe for development Florida.
During World War II, the Ponce de Leon Hotel was taken over by the federal government and was used as a Coast Guard Training Center. St. Augustine is considered to be the birthplace of the Coast Guard Reserve.
In 1967, the hotel was permanently closed. A year later in reopened as the centerpiece to the newly established Flagler College.
Now a burgeoning campus and one of the most visited spots in St. Augustin, Flagler College thanks in part to its very turbulent past seems to be embroiled in all manner of supernatural escapes like the one mentioned above.
Here are some of the stories associated with the hotel.
- Flagler was a rather peculiar man with his own set of religious beliefs and practices. When he died, he ordered that all his properties would open their windows and doors. He was afraid of being trapped in one of his constructions. All of them obeyed the overlord, except for – you guessed it – Flagler College. A janitor closed all the doors and windows while Flagler’s funeral was in full swing. They say this action trapped Flagler’s ghost inside his cherished building and that he’s the apparition some have seen around the campus.
- Flagler’s second wife, Ida Alice Flager, was a bit batty… mentally unstable and quite possibly off her rocker. She was committed multiple times to various sanatoriums and ultimately died of consumption. Ida was said to have been driven mad by Flagler’s philandering ways. The man had multiple mistresses. Her ghost is said to haunt the College and is oftentimes seen in front of a large painting of Flagler himself, staring at the image and damming the man.
- Another ghost is of one of those mistresses Ida wanted to ensnare her husband with. One of them, an actress, is said to have died in the hotel. Ida would constantly barge in and Flagler would grab his mistress and hide her in a 4th-floor room that was completely covered in mirrors. The room was, in fact, a psychomanteum, a place designed to not only alter one’s mood but to also contact the dead. Flagler loved seances and the ethereal arts. One day, the mistress had an experience in the room, no one knows what exactly, but she was driven mad. That very night, the girl went and hung herself from a chandelier. Nowadays the room ins used for storing equipment. Why? Because when it was repurposed for housing, the students wouldn’t spend more than a month in the place. They alleged that screams in the middle of the night would rock them awake, or that their beds would shake uncontrollably.
- The final ghost that haunts the College is a small boy. Legend has it that you can see his shade wandering the halls.
“The only thing that scared me into shivers was a morning in November when I was showering and the door seemed to slam and suddenly, the light burned out. Now, everyone knew that you are probably most vulnerable in the shower. I was petrified! I jumped out of the shower, ran the 12 or so feet to the door and ran out in my towel! I quickly threw on a t-shirt and ran outside to the rotunda where all the lights were on and no one seemed frantic about a blackout. It never happened again, but it was enough for me. If you want a semi-active night, go sleep in room 300 in Ponce Hall.”