Ep.3: The Pittee Girls
Podcast by Mattison Hansen
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Mattison: Hello. My name is Mattison Hansen, and thanks for tuning in to “Legends Revealed.” Being a resident of St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city, I’m surrounded by history and stories that have been passed on for centuries. But when it comes to the stories that we hear, it’s hard to figure out what’s real and what is just a story.
I’ve taken it upon myself to learn all I can about different St. Augustine legends, where I look in to A LOT of various resources to help us discover what the truth is behind the story.
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Nestled on the northern edge of Anastasia Island is a lone sentry. Looking up at the 164-foot-tall structure, with its twisted, black and white striped base and blood-red crown, you can almost sense the memories held within the walls carved by the history and salt.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse is one of America’s oldest and most haunted structures. With centuries of happy occasions and tragedies, the one I’m discussing this episode is about the urban legend of the Pittee Girls.
An urban legend is a story about an unusual event or occurrence that many believe are true, but is in fact not. For instance, a ghost story, which is what the Pittee Girls have become to explain unusual phenomenon that occur at the St. Augustine Lighthouse.
But behind that urban legend, the Pittee Girls were once living children. So how did their story twist into a folk tale? Let’s talk about it.
The real story takes place in 1871, when a new lighthouse tower was being constructed because the old one was becoming eroded from natural causes.
The superintendent of the lighthouse construction was Hezekiah Pittee, who moved from Camp Elizabeth, Maine with his family to oversee the construction. Pittee lived on the site with his wife Mary and their children.
The Pittee children were just like any others their age and turned their new home into a playground. One of their favorite past times was riding a railway cart from the building site to the supply ship docks and bringing it back up to the site to ride again. The only thing keeping the cart from tipping in to the water at the end was a wooden board.
According to the story, on July 10, 1873, three of the Pittee girls, 15-year-old Mary, 13-year-old Eliza, and 4-year-old Carrie, along with an unnamed 10-year-old African-American girl whose father may have worked on the site, were riding in the cart as normal – but the wooden board that stopped the cart was not in place. The cart flipped into the water, trapping the girls underneath.
Mr. Dan Sessions – a young African-American worker – witnessed the tragic event and raced to the water. By the time he reached the cart and lifted it, three of the four girls had drowned – the only survivor being the youngest, Carrie.
145 years since the accident, while the Pittee Girls aren’t the only tragedy that occurred at the lighthouse, strange occurrences have been repeatedly credited to the spirits of the girls.
In 1970, the keepers’ house stood empty, but burned under mysterious circumstances and left only the coquina basement and a few charred timbers. Rather than demolishing it, 16 women in the all-volunteer Junior Service League of St. Augustine stepped in. They raised $1.2 million over the following 15 years to restore and renovate the keepers’ house, lighthouse tower, and the original Fresnel lens. During the renovation, both construction workers and the JSL volunteers reported numerous unexplained incidents in the home. The basement was a particularly active area for ghostly encounters, being the only part of the home that hadn’t completely burned. Today you can still feel an eerie presence. Perhaps the girls like to play there.
As playful spirits, the girls enjoy playing hide and seek with unsuspecting people.
One story reported in the 1950s by a relief lighthouse keeper that lived in the home at the time brings up how he heard footsteps upstairs, but when he went to investigate, no one was up there.
Another story claimed by a lone staff member working the night shift, talks about how when he was closing, he heard giggling at the top of the tower. Thinking he’d left someone on top, he climbed up the stairs to find it empty, and when he began to head back down the tower, he heard the same giggles below him. Once again, he found no one when he got there.
While numerous others claim of hearing giggles and other unexplained noises, the girls also sometimes appear to people in fully formed apparitions.
For instance, in 1955, when the lighthouse lamp was fully automated, the United States Coast Guard replaced lighthouse keepers with a position called “lamplighter.” The local lamplighter had all the duties of a lightkeeper, but didn’t live on site, so the keepers’ house was rented during this time. This story comes from a local man who crafted leather goods and rented the house in the 1960s, in which he tells the story of waking up one night with a small girl standing by his bed. However, once he blinked his eyes to get a better look at her, she disappeared.
One time, a woman on a St. Augustine ghost tour approached another woman to compliment her daughter’s behavior on the tour. She was then shocked when the other woman was confused and said she didn’t have a daughter. The woman then told her that she had seen a little girl standing by her side most of the tour. There were no children on the tour that evening.
Psychics contact staffers frequently, in which one recently claimed that the young African-American girl’s name was Ellie or Eleanor, which the Lighthouse continues to research in their archives to find historical evidence to support this claim.
Now the question is – do you believe in the urban legend that the Pittee Girls might still be with us? It’s certainly difficult to explain most of these reported events, but not impossible. Something we do know is whether or not they really are continuing to use the Lighthouse site as their own personal playground, what happened to the Pittee Girls was a tragedy.
Mattison: Thank you for listening to “Legends Revealed,” a podcast where I talk to you about the truth behind popular legends circulated throughout the nation’s oldest city.
I can’t wait to learn more about St. Augustine legends with you, and until next time, my name is Mattison Hansen.
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