While writing my first two books on Florida’s ghosts and its historical background pertaining to paranormal activity and hauntings, I discovered the quaint Mayport Village. Founded in 1562, this ancient fishing spot for the Sunshine State’s seafaring had served as a seaport since at least the 16th century, though many historians feel it was used as a fishing village for centuries before that. Now a thoroughly modern fishing hamlet, Mayport also serves as the headquarters for The Marine Science Education Center, as well as the home of the Mayport Navel Base. This village should be on everyone’s agenda when visiting Florida’s northeastern parts, not only for its ‘ghostly’ locations, but also for its notoriety as a seafood-lover’s destination, for which it certainly lives up to its favorable reputation. Located just north east of Jacksonville and Atlantic Beach, and nestled between Fort George Island and Amelia Island, Mayport Village has a unique feeling of ancient and adventurous sea history that should not be missed.
The Timucuan Indians once lived and thrived here, as well as throughout most of this area for centuries, later to be settled by the French Huguenots in the mid 16th century, and finally utilized by English settlements. Because Mayport and Fort George Island sit at the mouth of the Saint John’s River, it also became the stalking grounds for many of histories notorious pirates, buccaneers and other opposing naval forces, right on up to the American Civil War. Indeed, Mayport’s history is actually quite intriguing, but it should also be known for its modern contributions to our country’s defenses, where the United States Naval Fleet Training Center has been training sailors since 1966. Taught everything from fire fighting and propulsion plant operations, to nuclear-biological-chemical warfare and undersea combat, these sailors will certainly be experts in their field when finished with their school. Mayport also houses the U.S. Coast Guard Recovery and Rescue Base, which is always ready to launch in a moment’s notice, though for many of Mayport’s residents and it’s tourist population, it’s the deep sea fishing boats and offshore casino cruses that offer a relaxing atmosphere to be the real attraction.
With all the history and events that have taken place here at Mayport Village over the many centuries, it stands to reason that there would be a definite spiritual residue left behind. A residue of all those tragic wars, the pirate attacks, the Indian battles and the conquest for land, leaving thousands upon thousands dead — Such makes for a good legend and a hearty ghost story or two.
The legend of John King and a ghost ship too
Mayport Village is certainly no stranger to horrible events or tragedy. Perhaps many of those who died here over the space of time may not have left this earth satisfied or content. Perhaps many of those unfortunate victims of war and sickness over the centuries still roam this little fishing hamlet, where as the sun goes down and the fog rolls in, so do the many spirits of this interesting little community. One such spirit is said to be that of John King, one of Mayport’s more colorful characters, as many of the older folks will recall. It is said that he had a kindly, youthful reputation, and loved telling ghost stories to the local children. Stories of haunted houses and graveyards and things that go bump in the night were his favorites to tell. He would relate stories of the sometimes playful; sometimes frightening ghosts and wandering spirits that roamed Florida of his day, and even those that resided in his very own home. Though Mr. King is no longer with us, he had managed to pass his delightful legends on to us, which continues to resonate on into the wee hours — Yet, there are seemingly far more ghosts haunting this little seafaring town than one might know.
The John King House
John King at the far right, circa 1935. Courtesy the Florida Memory Project
The John King House, built in 1881, is said to be one of the most haunted houses in Florida, probably because it is said to have more than one ghost residing there, and the fact that so many people have had experiences in and around the home over the years has given it a haunted reputation. One thing is for sure however; the location of the old house is built directly on top of an old Spanish burial ground, where the bodies were never recovered or relocated. Although John King lived in the house until his death in the 1970s, he apparently did not take the ghosts with him when he crossed over himself; in fact, he’s likely one of the many ghosts that checks in on this delightful landmark from time to time. There are paranormal echoes here, strange happenings that many of the locals are aware of, and because of such events being reported, many psychics have visited the old house to investigate. Many of these psychics have reported of the many vibrant and unique spirits inhabiting the home, though some are reported as being more frightening than others, these psychics have claimed that this location is without a doubt haunted. Moreover, the famous Rhine Institute of Duke University had visited the location for the purpose of its own psychic and paranormal research, allegedly stating that the King house did indeed have both the right atmosphere for the classic haunting, as well as there being a definite presence in the house.
Of the notable spirits within the King residence, and one of my personal favorites, is known as the ghostly butler. This petite man, who is said to wear a maroon-colored uniform, has been seen opening the front door for many unaware visitors. He is also said to politely direct the witnesses to the living room until the master of the house arrives. In John King’s storytelling heyday, there were several such occasions when these events actually took place, to the delight of the jovial storyteller. However, the “little butler” has never been faithfully identified as to who he could have been in life, though his costume is said to resemble those from the 1920s or 1930s. The little butler has been reported walking up and down the streets from time to time, and on rare occasions, as a car passes him, the driver will see the little man through the rear view mirror, sitting solemnly in the back seat of his car. Naturally the driver pulls off the road in an understandably fit of fright, only to find his back seat completely empty. Who was the little butler who seems to have been one of Mayport’s congenial gentlemen of a more civilized time?
Another legend is of the haunted rocking chair, which is said to rock by itself when you stare at it, but who was doing the rocking? John King believed he knew for sure. Apparently, as local legend tells us, a relative of Mr. King, one of his aunts to be exact, was brutally murdered by an angry lover while sitting in that old rocker. She was stabbed to death with a pitchfork! Naturally a disgruntled spirit should emerge from such a violent act, and indeed, this women’s tormented ghost is said to walk down the corridors and creep around the bedrooms in the wee hours of the morning. Thankfully, this spirit is said to be more of a prankster than that of a malevolent presence. By pulling the bed sheets off while you sleep, or opening and shutting doors right before your eyes or lights going on and off, it has an almost poltergeist-like foolishness to the behavior. Although the rocking chair ghost seems to perform harmless acts of almost child-like behavior, there is another spirit who resides in the kitchen, who is said to be the tragic result of an auto accident years ago just outside the front doors of the King house — A tormented, yet eager-to-please spirit.
Mayport’s Lady in White
This ghost, known throughout the town as the “lady in white,” is thought to be that of a woman who was killed in that auto accident so many years ago, whose confused spirit then wandered into the old King house shortly after her death. At first, only the sound of echoing cries were heard in or near the home, as John King himself claimed. In fact, he not only heard these sad laminations, he also observed this tormented spirit in his kitchen on several occasions. Apparently, this sad, yet gentle spirit is accustomed to continuing her chores in death, as she might had done in life, wishing perhaps to be that perfect, loving wife she never got to be. As a matter of fact, after careful research, it was discovered that this unfortunate woman, this lady in white, died on her wedding night. A woeful testament of love lost.
Although this spirit denotes a rather sad tale of love lost, she has apparently found a place to serve in the King house, as a ghostly maid and keeper of the kitchen. Several people over the years have claimed to have seen the lady in white over the kitchen stove, sweeping the dirt off the floor, or moving objects around throughout the house. The only negative aspect to this particular entity is that she is somewhat unpleasant to other females in “her” kitchen. She has been blamed for many minor mishaps when other “living” ladies would visit, or use the kitchen and has been known to spook others in the process of her ghostly shenanigans. Although the King house is a fine home, with a rather interesting cast of eccentric ghosts to say the least, I should also mention that there appears to be a phantom ship, or several phantom ships that cruse the waters around the jetties and inlets of Mayport Village and the surrounding area.
Tales of phantom ships and ghostly sailors
One of these phantom ships is said to resemble a clipper ship, complete with tattered sails snapping in the wind, and with no crew sighted on her deck. This ghostly hulk of a ship silently glides through rough waters as if looking for safe harbor. A second ship, which looks like an old style fishing vassal has been seen in these waters too, as well as most of the surrounding beaches, from Fernandina beach to Atlantic beach, always appearing to be in dire striates, and in need of assistance. Usually seen on foggy, moonless nights, or when storm winds begin to blow and the waters are high, when the sea mist makes it impossible to see, a select few might catch a glimpse of these nautical spectres. When the weather is just right, the dim beacons of this phantom vessel give alert to the locals that a fellow seaman is in danger, thus setting into motion a quick response from either the Coast Guard or even the U.S. Navy.
As late as 2000, the Navy was alerted of a vassal in possible distress and launched a rescue ship to their aid, only to find empty sea and no remains of a sinking ship. What makes this story even stranger is that these ships have been seen on radar blinking on and off in the same rhythm as the phantom ship’s blinking beacons, as if the ship itself was fading from this reality to another. In addition to this ghostly phenomena, one of the Navy’s own ships in Mayport have their own ghost story to tell. Indeed, the Navy’s ghost is known as “George.” Though completely harmless, he has frightened even the heartiest of sailors. George is said to walk the decks of the carrier USS Forrestal, and deep within the bowels of this massive ship. George has been heard walking up and down the lower levels, and seen walking through an area that was once used as the sickbay and morgue during the Vietnam conflict. He likes to open locked doors, which incidentally, Navy personal does not appreciate, as well as playing with the lights from time to time. On occasion, a phantom telephone call will sound in the dead of night, from a disconnected or non-functioning phone, originating from an unoccupied level of the ship.
U.S.S. Forrestal’s fiery tragedy
The sight of a sailor wearing a khaki uniform walking around is the most common experience, and when an investigation takes place, the sailors doing the investigation will find nothing outside of a cold, spooky room. Many of the sailors ask who George may have been in life, but unfortunately, that is a hard question to answer, as so many have died in the heat of combat. One popular guess is that George may have been a chief Petty Officer who was killed in a fire, which took place on deck in 1967, a fire which killed over 130 sailors. Some believe that he was one of the dead crew that was stored in these lower compartments, which was once used as a makeshift morgue after the accident. Either way, the U.S.S. Forrestal is haunted and the sailors know it.
When visiting Mayport Village, try to remember how ancient this little hamlet truly is, and try to remember the extensive history that took place here. The countless ships lost at sea in and around the waters of Mayport, the countless lives lost during the growth of Florida. Try to remember that before it was the modern navy town it is today, it was once a home to unspeakable violence and war. Keep in mind when driving through the small streets of Mayport in the dead of night, when it’s foggy or raining, to keep an eye out for the little man dressed in the maroon uniform walking alone in the dark, or the sullen spectre of a waiting bride as she stands in an open doorway of the King House as you pass Ocean Street. Look toward the waters of the jetties or out on Ribault Bay for a phantom ship as it passes by within a thin veil of ghostly ether — Remember the haunted village in Mayport Florida.
*When visiting the Jacksonville area, be sure to visit these other, interesting locales for your paranormal and ghost hunting inquiries:
School No. 4: Jacksonville’s Most Haunted –
The Casa Marina Hotel’s Haunted Past –
The St. Augustine Lighthouse Maritime Ghosts and Seaside Spirits –
The Haunting of Fay’s House: A St. Augustine Ghost Story –
Historical photos and history resources: