The Phantom Ladies of Flagler College Oct 11, 2016 15:33:48 GMT -5 Joanna, pat, and 2 more like this
Post by Graveyardbride on Oct 11, 2016 15:33:48 GMT -5
The Phantom Ladies of Flagler College
There probably isn’t a college or boarding school in existence that doesn’t have a ghost story, usually a tale involving a student or teacher who died as a result of suicide, murder, or in some bizarre accident. Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, is no exception, but most of its spooks were around long before the liberal arts school was founded in 1968. In fact, its three spectral ladies are all from the 1890s when the building now occupied by the college was one of the grandest hotels in America.
Often referred to as “The Man Who Founded Florida,” self-made millionaire and railroad magnate, Henry Morrison Flagler, fell in love with the ancient city of St. Augustine and decided to turn it into a vacationer’s paradise. He opened his Ponce de Leon Hotel January 10, 1888, and the mammoth four-story Spanish Renaissance Revival structure with its medieval towers, terra cotta roof, 10,000-square-foot interior courtyard and vine-covered verandas sprawled over almost five acres. The hotel’s maritime theme was evident: water spouted from the mouths of dolphins, mermaids supported shields bearing the name “Ponce de Leon” and the exterior featured carved seashells and various creatures of the deep. If possible, the interior was even more opulent. An imposing archway led to the great rotunda which was inlaid with brightly-hued mosaic tiles. Situated around the huge oval expanse were eight massive figures, allegorical representations of the four elements: fire, water, air and earth, with the other four symbolizing adventure, discovery, conquest and civilization.
The Blue Lady. Behind the rotunda were two stairways of polished marble leading to the grand dining hall, a 70- by 150-foot circular area with a seating capacity of 700. It was dubbed the “Tiffany Room” because of its stained glass windows by Tiffany. This setting of awe-inspiring splendor is the lair of the Blue Lady. The apparition of the lovely young woman has been seen a number of times through the years and – if the stories are true – on a few occasions, actually conversed with the living. Though there are questions as to her identity, old-timers who once worked in the hotel diningroom recalled hearing about a lady with a penchant for dresses of pale blue lace, broad-brimmed white hats adorned with flowers, white gloves and high-button shoes of white kid. She always sat at a particular table near the window and requested tea and cakes. Gossipy guests whispered that the woman never ordered a full meal.
One story, proffered by Florida historian Robert R. Jones, is that the Lady in Blue was the mistress of Clifton Ward, a friend of Henry Flagler’s. Although married, Ward became smitten with a dark-haired beauty staying alone at the hotel. There was an affair and before long, the girl discovered she was in the family way. She told Ward who, by this time was head-over-heels in love with the young woman, and he, in turn, asked his wife for a divorce. Mrs. Ward refused and that afternoon, he joined his sweetheart at her favorite table where she was partaking of tea and cakes, and informed her there could be no marriage. With tears filling her brilliant blue eyes, the lady bolted from the room and up the stairs. When she reached the top, the heel of her shoe caught on the carpet and she tumbled to her death.
While this is a romantic tale, there is evidence that instead of falling down the stairs, the woman may have taken her own life. In one of Henry Flagler’s journals, he wrote: “We have received tragic news today about Cliff’s lady friend. I know how heartbroken he is because he had very strong feelings for her. He had even given up his present family to be with her. It’s a real shame that she couldn’t have waited a few days longer. Her beautiful face and blue silk lace have become a part of this hotel.”
It is too late to ascertain the truth of the matter, but soon after the young woman’s untimely demise, guests and employees alike spoke of encounters with a filmy blue wraith in the diningroom. For years thereafter, her chosen table, below the magnificent window, contained a card that read: “Reserved for our Lady in Blue and her Guest.”
There are still sporadic sightings of the Blue Lady at Flagler College and those of a more sensitive nature have heard what sounds like muffled sobs. It is presumed she is weeping for her lost lover and unborn child. She is most often encountered near her favorite spot in the diningroom (above) or on the stairs.
Lady in Black. The Lady in Black stalks the west wing of Flagler College. There is speculation as to her origin, but the most oft-repeated explanation is that she – like the Blue Lady – was the mistress of a married man. Her lover, it seems, was a brazen fellow who brought both his wife and paramour to the Ponce de Leon. He shared a suite with his family in the east wing and ensconced his lady love in luxurious quarters on the opposite side of the hotel. She was registered as a married woman and wore a wedding band to avoid any unpleasantness should she and the gentleman’s wife meet.
At some point during the season – which lasted from January until March – the young mistress discovered she was pregnant and after a few weeks, could no longer fasten the waists of her dresses no matter how tightly she laced her corset. To allay suspicion, she told people she had received word her husband had died abroad and confined herself to her room, even taking her meals there. It wasn't until the sun began to set that the sad-faced lady donned widow’s weeds – which included a voluminous veil and cape of black lace – and left the confines or her chamber to stroll about the grounds as darkness enveloped the ancient city. In Victorian times, this was considered acceptable behavior for a recently widowed woman and no one questioned the overabundance of black lace which served to obscure her expanding waistline. At other times, she climbed the stairs to the upper balcony of the west observation tower where she was seen pacing back and forth.
The visits from her married lover became less frequent and the once vivacious girl was convinced he no longer found her attractive because she was losing the hourglass figure he had so admired. Moreover, it was clear he was not going to marry her and she would be left alone to raise a bastard child. The best she could hope for was that he would support his son or daughter. Finally one night, in a fit of desperation, the lady made the arduous climb to the top of the tower where she tied one end of a heavy silk cord to a slender pillar and the other around her neck. Then, hoisting herself atop the railing, she stepped into eternity. There was a full moon that night and guests outside taking in the fresh sea air looked up to see the form of a woman in black silhouetted against the buff-colored stone of the west tower.
The Lady in Black is seldom seen today, but in the past, there were sporadic accounts of a woman in black stalking the corridors in the west wing of the hotel. Others spotted her wandering the grounds on mild winter evenings. Those who encountered the wraith described a figure dressed entirely in black with only the hint of a chalk-white face discernable through her voluminous veil. And prior to 1967, when the Ponce de Leon closed, on nights when the full moon bathed St. Augustine in its silvery light, there were sightings of what appeared to be a shadowy figure, gliding to and fro, on the balcony of the west tower.
The White Lady. The final – and most active – phantom female of Flagler College is the White Lady but, unlike her spectral sisters, her identity is not in question. Her actions establish beyond doubt that she is Henry Flagler’s second wife, Alice, who was allegedly driven mad by supernatural forces summoned via the Ouija board.
Flagler’s first wife, Mary, died of tuberculosis in 1881. During her lengthy illness, Alice Shrouds, a comely woman in her mid-30s, was one of Mrs. Flagler’s nurses and two years later, she married her former patient’s husband. Alice was not rich in her own right and following marriage, her favorite pastime seemed to be spending her indulgent mate’s money. She particularly enjoyed throwing lavish parties at the Ponce de Leon Hotel. Society editors dubbed one such affair the “Pearl Dance” because of the size and number of pearls worn by Alice. On another occasion, her costume was described as “. . . a beautiful gown of white tulle, the front bodice being embroidered in mother-of-pearl and gold and the skirt bordered with pearl fringe half a yard deep.”
The couple had no children and Alice, a high-strung redhead, was temperamental, but from all accounts, the marriage was a happy one until around 1893 when a friend introduced her to the Ouija board. To be fair, the second Mrs. Flagler was already somewhat peculiar and at age 45, was likely exhibiting the symptoms of menopause. Nevertheless, there are those who insist the Ouija board can be harmful if not used properly and claim at least two people must be present when the oracle is consulted. If true, then Alice may have sealed her fate by using the board alone.
Mrs. Flagler communicated with a mischievous spirit who convinced her the Czar of Russia was in love with her and that she was destined to become the Czarina. Before long, she was calling herself Princess Ida Alice von Schotten Tech and believed there were those who wanted to poison her because of her royal heritage. By 1895, it was felt the lady had become homicidal and Flagler had his wife committed. However, in May of the following year, her doctors deemed her cured and her husband welcomed her back to their New York home on June 5, 1896, their 13th wedding anniversary. All went well for a few weeks, then Alice began begging for a spirit board and attempted to bribe the servants to fetch her one. Finally, on October 10, a neighbor’s wife sneaked a new Ouija board into the Flagler home and Alice resumed her fixation on the Czar and conversed with unseen visitors. Shortly thereafter, she was returned to the asylum and this time, the doctors pronounced her hopelessly insane.
Flagler returned to Florida and soon succumbed to the charms of Mary Lily Kenan, a Southern belle 37 years his junior. After failing to obtain a divorce from his mentally disturbed wife in New York, the railroad baron persuaded the Florida legislature to change the law to allow divorce when a spouse has been declared permanently unbalanced. He and Mary Lily were married in 1901 and lived at Whitehall, their Palm Beach mansion, until Flagler’s death in 1913. According to his wishes, he was buried in St. Augustine, a short distance from the Ponce de Leon Hotel.
Meanwhile, Alice, in a world of delusion, languished in a New York sanatarium. But in the end, she outlived the husband who divorced her and his new young bride. Mary Lily died in 1917, just eight months after marrying her second husband. Alice died July 10, 1930, at age 82. She was buried in New York.
Soon after Alice Flagler’s death, rumors began circulating that the ghostly figure of a woman in white had been observed in the dimly-lit corridors of the spooky old hotel in St. Augustine. Those who saw the specter described a petite, red-haired woman decked out in Victorian finery. No one was really surprised. Even though Alice had not visited Florida in 35 years, it was understandable that her spirit would choose to haunt the place where she had known her greatest happiness – the Ponce de Leon Hotel.
Several female students at Flagler College have reported encounters with Alice, particularly when consulting the Ouija board. Ms. J. Sutcliffe, who attended Flagler in the 1990s, recounts a particularly harrowing experience: “Three other girls and I had heard about the ghosts and we decided to try to contact them. I had played with Ouija boards since I was about 12, so one night we lit some candles and turned out the lights. We were sitting on the floor and two of us had our hands on the thing that moves. One of the girls screamed and there in the corner, I swear, was a woman. I only saw her for a second, but she was in a long, white dress and she was smiling. But it was a weird smile. Someone jumped up and turned on the lights and she [the woman] disappeared. We knew it was Alice.”
Other students have reported similar experiences. One young lady claimed she observed a “smoky form” just outside her door on several occasions. After learning of Alice’s obsession with the Ouija board, the girl surmised she was being stalked by the Woman in White because there was a spirit board in her room. After she took the Ouija board to her parents’ house, she never saw the phantom again.
Why is Alice, in death, attracted to the Ouija board as she was in life? Surely, now that she is on the other side herself, all her questions have been answered. In retrospect, Ms. Sutcliffe regrets she and her friends were frightened by the manifestation. “Just think of the things she could have told us,” the former student laments. “We were trying to talk to the dead and she was ready to talk with us. We got scared and probably scared her as much as she scared us. We missed out on a real opportunity.”
There are still occasional reports of a white misty form in the dormitory halls, so, presumably, Alice is still around. And because young people are imaginative and adventurous, it is only a matter of time before other curious Flagler girls get out the Ouija board in an attempt to contact the phantom ladies. Hopefully, the next group of ghost hunters will be less fearful – or perhaps Alice will be more subtle.
Sources: Florida's Flagler by Sidney Walter Martin; J. Sutcliffe; The Flagler Museum, Palm Beach, Florida; The St. Augustine Record; Flagler's Magnificent Hotel Ponde de Leon by Thomas Graham; Compass Magazine; St. Augustine Historical Society; and Flagler College.