Old Haunted Jail in St Augustine, FL
The jail was finished in 1891 and was in operation until 1953. The founder of Standard oil, Henry Flagler, Rockefeller and the founder of the East coast railroad donated The majority of its money to build it. Being the oldest surviving government building in the St. John’s county.
Originally built to house up to 72 prisoners, the two-story northern wing of the Jail consists of a general population and maximum security area, a women’s section and a lower level kitchen. Maximum Security housed the most dangerous prisoners held at the Jail and includes a Death Row cell, for those condemned to die.
Only condemned prisoners had windows, but that was just to provide a view of the gallows. The most dangerous of the prisoners were locked up in maximum security, which included the death row cells. Many of the other many men and women died from the inhumane conditions that they were subjected to. Every prisoner was forced to work as a free farm laborer while they were incarcerated… and work was hard. Often, inmates would go months without baths or showers, and bathrooms were out of the question. Each man and woman were given one bucket which acted as their bathroom and toilet paper was not an option. Many times the inmates were not fed and would have to resort to catching animals while they worked in the fields just so they wouldn’t starve to death. At the jail, disease, violence, and death were commonplace.
Death by hanging was the preferred mode of execution at the Old Jail. while there were only 8 men officially executed during the years that the jail was open. Unfortunately, authorities often got the physics of weight, rope length, and fall distance wrong, so the eight hangings here took up to 14 minutes.
The Gallows was by far the most interesting part of the tour. Because it was also the only place where the back of my hairs stood up. But also was the only place where I had camera difficulties. Just all around the Gallows, the camera seemed to have a hard time figuring out what it was picking up.
While my son and I were in the back taking pictures and I decided to snap a picture above the gallows aiming up into the tree and sky. However, after standing still the picture came out distorted exactly like this. I feel it is a time warp or maybe it’s exactly what the inmate had experienced the entire time they hung spinning.
Today, it is a living history museum, where a prisoner trustee or perhaps one of the deputies will take you through this nationally-recognized historic building. They will tell you tales of life back in the late 1800s for the male and the female prisoners. If you are lucky, they might even sneak you into the office and the living quarters of Sheriff Joe Perry, which was connected to the jail itself. He lived there with his wife and two young children during his two terms as a St. John’s County Sheriff.