The Haunted Legend of Ponce de León Hotel

by Rev. Sinthyia Darkness

Henry Flagler was born in 1830 and was a partner and friend of John Rockefeller who both made their fortunes with the Standard Oil Company. In 1853, he married the daughter of his step-uncle, Ms. Mary Harkness. The couple had three children, Jennie Louise, Carrie and Harry Harkness Flagler. Carrie was only three years old when she died on December 7, 1861. In about 1878, Flagler retired from Standard Oil and he visited Florida with his wife Mary who was suffering from tuberculosis. Their visit to Florida was per her physician’s advice who felt that the mild weather would be beneficial to her health. Despite the mild climate, Mary’s health continued to decline and she passed away in on May 18, 1881 at the age of 48.

Mary Harkness was initially buried with an extravagant and costly monument placed over her grave. Her monument there was forty feet fall, measured twenty-six feet in diameter and carried a fifty thousand dollar price tag. Tragedy would befall this family again in 1889, when Flagler’s infant grand-daughter Margery died nine hours after her birth February 9, 1889 . She was buried in New York alongside her grandmother Mary. Jennie Louise Flagler Benedict would soon follow her daughter in death on March 25, 1889, dying of complications resulting from childbirth at age 34.

By this time Flagler had already to remarried to Ida Alice Shourds in 1883 and there is evidence that Flagler actually developed the Florida legislation that allowed him to marry a second wife. Ida Alice had been Mary Flagler’s nurse. The couple had visited St. Augustine and it was there that Henry saw the potential to turn Florida into a tourist trap. Unfortunately, it was his marriage to Ida that strained his relationship with his son Harry.

In St. Augustine, Flagler built two new hotels; the Alcazar and the Ponce de Leon. He also acquired a third hotel and renamed it the Cordova. Construction on Hotel Ponce de Leon began in 1885. Flagler purchased and developed several railroads and he would continue to improve railroad travel through eastern Florida for the next few decades.

The Ponce De Leon Hotel was designed by New York architect Thomas Hastings. It is built in Spanish Renaissance Revival style, modeled after a Moorish castle and is one of the grandest hotels ever built within the state of Florida. The interior is adorned with Tiffany stained glass, mosaics and terra-cotta relief.

Like the Biltmore in Coral Gables, it has hosted it’s share of the rich and famous, from Teddy Roosevelt to Mark Twain and baseball legend Babe Ruth. The hotel was one of the few of Henry Flagler’s hotels that were not casualties of the Great Depression.

Throughout most of its history, the Ponce De Leon was a segregated hotel. Of course, St. Augustine itself was a racially divided city. Dr. Martin Luther King called St. Augustine “the most lawless city in America.” The Ponce de Leon Hotel was open exclusively to whites up until the year 1963. That was the year that vice President Lyndon Johnson had been invited to attend a banquet in honor of the city of St. Augustine’s 400- year anniversary. St. Augustine is the oldest city in the United States. Civil Rights activists protested the exclusion of blacks from this event and as a result, two dining tables were reserved for colored attendees. This incident prompted Martin Luther King to lead demonstrations in St. Augustine the following year in 1964.

On March 1, 1964, the opulent Ponce De Leon hotel’s dining room was the location of a sit in lead by King and many other activists. The events that transpired in St. Augustine were directly responsible for the passage of the Civil Rights Act. The hotel was sold in 1967 and re-opened as Flagler College in 1968.

This building is said to be haunted by several spirits; one of them, Flagler’s insane second wife Ida Alice. There are three conflicting stories as to just who died on the fourth floor and whose restless spirit still lingers. One story says that Henry Flagler Had his wife locked up in one of the rooms on the fourth floor and then after Ida tried to commit suicide, he had her committed. Some say he did so to remarry his daughter’s friend. At this time in history, insanity was not ground for divorce either in the state of Florida or Flagler’s home state of New York. Henry Flagler proposed and passed Florida law making insanity legal grounds for divorce- a law later repealed. However Flagler went on to marry his third wife Mary Lily Kenan.

The second version of the mysterious events of the fourth floor, tells that Ida succeeded in committing suicide by hanging herself in that room. Yet another story is much different and tells that Henry Flagler had a mistress and that one day his wife Ida showed up unexpectedly at the hotel. Henry Flagler is said to have hidden his mistress in the fourth floor room and that it was his mistress who hung herself from a chandelier. I believe, the latter version is most likely to be true. Whomever killed themselves on the fourth floor, it was not Ida Alice, although I can see how people might think so.

Allow me to share with you a bit of the interesting history that I discovered about Ida Alice that may clear up some of the confusion. She was born the daughter of an Episcopalian minister in 1848. Her father died when she was quite young and so for most of her life lived in poverty. Because of her low social class, she was not accepted by the well to do, with whom Flagler surrounded himself. This was especially so in New York. Ida worked briefly as an actress before deciding upon being a nurse.

There are some historical accounts of Ida Alice’s mental instability. Ida Alice began interacting with a Ouija Board and began communication with the Czar of Russia. The use of the Ouija board itself is not unusual when you consider that this was the Victorian period during which time, interest in the paranormal was almost as great as it is today. However, it was at this point that she did have a break from reality, truly believing that the Czar was her husband.

Ida would display sudden outbursts of anger and there were rumors of opiate dependence. Ida was aggrieved because she could not bear any children. Ida Alice was sent away briefly for treatment and while she was gone, the Ouija board disposed of. Upon her return, someone had given her yet another Ouija board and the little progress her psychiatric treatment had been undone. Her doctor came to see her and it was then that she attempted to stab him to death with a pair of scissors. Shortly after, in the year 1899 she was legally declared insane and committed to a sanitarium in Central Valley New York.

Flagler’s divorce from Ida was finalized in August 1901. Within three days, Henry Flagler did marry Mary Lily whom he had known for the past eight years. `

Henry Flagler had set up a fund of one million dollars, to provide for his ex wife’s care. Ida passed away on July 13, 1930 in the sanitarium. I think the saddest part of Ida’s history, is the legal battle over the money that Henry Flagler set aside for her. The one million dollars accrued interest and when Ida passed away, she had over twelve million dollars. She had aunts, Uncles, cousins and grand-nieces all coming forward to claim their share, filing petitions as to why they were deserving of the money.

Despite the fact that she did not meet her end in this building, her spirit had returned and never left. Many witnesses who have seen her apparition were later able to identify her from photographs. That is not at all unusual for spirits to linger at locations to which they have strong emotional connections.

As previously stated, this building is now a Flagler college and the door to this particular suicide room reportedly is the only locked door- off limits to students and faculty. This area is now known as Ponce Hall and used as the girl’s dorm. It has been reported that phantom music that is heard on the third floor and reportedly is coming from upstairs on the 4th floor. Although the floor is now empty, it once served as the ballroom and does explain the music of a bygone era.

Perhaps the most famous ghost of this building is the Lady In Blue. The Lady In Blue was a guest of the hotel, who has never left. During her earthly stay, she met and had an affair with a married man. The affair resulted in a pregnancy. The woman wanted her lover to divorce his wife and marry her. There was an emotional scene at the hotel where the lady, her lover and his wife met at the hotel and discussed the possibility of their divorce. The Lady In Blue stood up and ran upstairs, heading for her room. On her way up the steps she tripped over her skirt and tumbled down the stairs to her death. Her ghost is one of the most frequently reported. She has been seen and heard crying in the hallways in the middle of the night and sitting in the dining room.

Another ghostly resident is a little boy who fell to his death in the hotel. Many people have reported having a little boy tugging at them, asking them to play with him. Others have reported seeing a ball bouncing or rolling down the hallways.

The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. In 2009, Flagler College refused to allow a Freedom Trail marker to be placed on the property. This marker was intended to commemorate its part in the civil rights movement.

original link to The haunted legend of Henry Flagler and the Ponce de León Hotel, St. Augustine – National Paranormal |

This entry was posted by miamighost.

Thank you for taking the time to contact the Miami Paranormal Research Society, a division of Love And Light Ministries

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