Cheré Dastugue Coen
Lily at the St. Francis Inn
Some folks refuse to check out of St. Augustine's oldest inn.
On a recent visit to St. Augustine, I had the pleasure of staying at the St. Francis Inn, considered the oldest inn in the country. Naturally, there’s a ghost story. I wasn’t lucky enough to stay in the actual haunted room where “Lily” resides, but I enjoyed a room a few steps down the hall on the third floor. While I was listening for ghosts and utilizing my Ghost Radar app, I had the equal pleasure of reading about the inn and said ghost in Kathleen Walls’ “Host With Ghosts: Haunted Historic Hotels in the Southeast.” Walls lives near St. Augustine so she’s a true expert on Florida hauntings. She graciously allowed me to reprint her ghost story on the inn from the book. Here it is:
Just around the corner from St. Augustine’s Oldest House, stands the St. Francis Inn, the city’s oldest inn. It was built by Gaspar Garcia on a lot granted to him by the King of Spain in 1791.
Now since he was a mere sergeant and would not normally have been able to afford the magnificent thick walled fortress style home, the fact that he was in charge of construction of the public buildings for the government might explain his living so far above his means. He had access to the best building materials and tools available in his day.
St Francis Inn has two permanent residents, Lily and her lover. Lily was a beautiful slave girl who worked in the home in the 1800’s. A young British soldier lodged in the house. The two fell hopelessly in love. They had clandestine trysts in a room on the third floor. Today it is called Lily’s room.
Since the property was built after the British occupation of the area, the affair probably took place during the ownership of Colonel Thomas Henry Dummett, since he himself was retired from Britain's Royal marines, or his daughter, Anna. She was the one who converted the family home into a lodging establishment in 1845. She raised 10 nieces and nephews in the inn, children of three of her deceased sisters. Since she was a staunch Confederate during the war and a slave owner, this is the most likely time frame for the doomed love affair.
The young soldier was probably one of Anna’s nephews. The affair was discovered when Lily became pregnant. The family was able to end the affair but not Lily’s love. Rather than live without her lover, she hanged herself in the attic room where had met. It is now named Lily’s Room and one of the most popular rooms in the inn.
Many people have reported seeing Lily. They usually see her from the back. They seldom her face. She is known for playing around with the female guests’ makeup and jewelry, perhaps since she had no such amenities to make herself attractive for her soldier. Guests, especially in Lily’s room, often tell of being touched or gently kissed at night while in their beds. Psychics who investigated the inn found lipsticks they deliberately left on a dresser unmoved while other lipsticks from the investigators’ private bags mysteriously moved to other places. They did not see Lily but recorded disturbances and sounds in “her” room. They did see a slightly built Hispanic male and an older man dressed in a tri-cornered hat. No one has any explanation for these apparitions.
Bev Lonergan, who works at the St Francis, told me of an unusual experience. She was working the front desk on the night shift. “I got off at 10:30 one night and was sitting downstairs figuring out the books. I felt the hair on the back of my neck and arms start to stand up as if I had received a fright. When I looked up there was the soldier! He was short and was wearing a bright red uniform coat with brass buttons, just leaning against the wall with his arms folded. He was looking straight at me and smiling. Then he was gone.” She got out of there fast and left the books for the next day.
Bev also says she has frequently glimpsed Lily but always from the back as the phantom girl hurries away from her. She hopes that “One day Lily will trust me enough to show her face.”
Kathleen Walls is the author of several ghost books, including Hosts With Ghosts, plus numerous historical novels. She writes travel by day as the owner of American Roads and Global Highways blog.