A five-year-old and an eleven-year-old are both children, but an enormous divide exists between them. I understand my five-year-old, but an eleven-year-old is foreign territory. What do you do to entertain a tween in this town? What special bonding event could we do, just the two of us? I ask myself these questions every summer when my niece comes to stay with us.


The Answer

One thing I learned this summer is that it is not only adults that are curious about life’s big questions. In a city so thoroughly steeped in history, questions about life and death come up frequently. One can’t help but let the eyes linger over the ornate headstones in the cemeteries. When I look at the walls of the Castillo, I think of all the emotions that people felt there over the last several hundred years—undoubtedly there was a lot of suffering, and ultimately, death. For me, at age thirty-two there is a sadness in the macabre; when you are eleven, there is excitement. 

I was strolling along a brick-lined street downtown, soaking up the fresh air that felt just a tinge like fall, when I saw a poster. An eerie looking fellow in a top hat was gazing back at me. A ghost tour! Of course, the perfect bonding experience for the niece and I. 

I must point out now that I am ridiculously wimpy. I don’t like scary things and I never have. I sat through my first horror movie with my eyes closed. As a child, I was terrified to trick-or-treat at the houses heavily decorated—something scary was bound to jump out at me. I’m not the sort of person that books a ghost tour for fun. Oh, the things I will do to be a “cool” aunt. 

A Ghostly Tour with an Unexpected Twist

We signed up for a tour with A Ghostly Encounter at 8:30 on a Tuesday night. Downtown was dead (in a not scary kind of way). We wound our way through the little streets, past a lovely fountain, next to a very friendly squirrel, onward to our destination with the flickering torch lights. We sat down next to our fellow guests, and an enthusiastic man immediately struck up a conversation. “Are you excited about the tour?” The man asked. He had ghost hunter written all over his face—we had nothing in common.

My niece giggled as the tour guide approached and began outlining the plan. Unexpectedly, the tour would be ending at an old building on the Native American burial grounds, wherein we would be using equipment to seek out ghosts inside. Warning bells were going off in my head. I was afraid of the Ouija Board as a child, I certainly was not ready for a seance. My niece squeezed my hand, pretending to be scared—tweens think being scared is fun. I don’t get it.  

There was a quick internal pep-talk: You are a grown woman!  You will not be shown up by a tween! You are the cool aunt!

The Tour Begins

We began walking. The glow of dusk cast a blue light on the walls of the cemetery. Our friendly but focused guide began a quick history lesson on the origin of the phrase “dead ringer,” and I began to see the difference in the ghost tours I’d done years ago. The previous oonesinvolved people dressed up in period clothing, acting somewhat silly while rehashing not very convincing ghost stories. That was somewhat a comfort to a sissy like me, but not the real deal. This tour was the real deal. 

The guide told a tale involving a grave robbery and a scattering of bones, which made me gag because I’m a sissy who also has a weak stomach. The niece did not observe this. She whispered as she squeezed my hand in excitement, “Not too scary so far!”

The blue glow of dusk abandoned us for the blackness of nighttime. We wandered from site to site, as our guide shared with us photographs of orbs and spirit ribbons that other guests had captured during tours. One lady in our group avidly took pictures, capturing a spirit ribbon only a few feet away from us. 

The Dreaded Moment Arrives

And then, the moment I’d been dreading. We entered the old house situated on the burial grounds.  The room was dimly lit, with a large screen in one corner that had a security camera view of every room in the building so that you could see any strange occurrences—a very anxiety-inducing technique if you ask me, but effective for its purpose. Our guide passed out those meters with the flashing lights that tell you if something is near—also very anxiety-inducing.

Lastly, he pulled out the divining rods. He began to talk to the resident ghosts, beginning with a nine-year-old girl that has remained so for several hundred years. The divining rods indicate a “yes” or “no” answer depending on whether they cross each other or turn outward. They also are used to point in a direction. The guide asked who the ghost would like to talk to, and I just knew it—like every time I didn’t know the answer to a math problem and that was the exact moment the teacher decided to call on me—yep, she picked us.

Life and the Afterlife, a bit like a muddled reflection.

Being a wimp, I declined a conversation.  I’m just not that cool of an aunt. However, the mood changed in the room as the minutes rolled on. Before I knew it, I was holding the divining rods and attempting a conversation with another of the resident ghosts. It was surprisingly comforting having an open conversation with something that makes me very uncomfortable. And that is what was so unique about this experience: no scare tactics, just open conversation with the great beyond. My niece and I walked out of there at ease and feeling newly bonded.  

Go Ahead, Get Scared Yourself

If you too are looking for a bonding experience with a loved one, or interested in doing a ghost tour with a unique twist, check out A Ghostly Encounter. Our guide was Kevin, and he knows his stuff—or at least a lot more than I do. I’d prefer to keep it that way. 

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Growing up in central Florida, Ginger took annual vacations to St. Augustine throughout her childhood. She quickly learned to love the combination of historic charm and the beach, as well as a deep love for all things Florida—hot and humid summer days, thunderstorms, and the smell of orange blossoms. After meeting her husband in Gainesville, they relocated to St. Augustine where they have been living for the past fourteen years. In 2013 she became a mother for the first time, as well as a stay-at-home mom. Her family has grown since then, which now consists of her shy school-aged son, feisty preschooler daughter, two rambunctious dogs, and ten curious chickens. They are a homeschooling family who enjoy supplementing education with as many outdoor activities as possible.


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