Around Halloween, it’s part of American tradition to watch scary movies. And the days leading up to Halloween give rise to ghost lore, too. Tonight, Larry King is interviewing ghost busters on his prime time show. Apparently, investigating paranormal activity is a brisk business.
In the seaside town Fernandina Beach, with its rich history and more than 450 structures on the National Register of Historic Places, stories of ghosts and hauntings in some of the old homes and buildings have passed from generation to generation. Ghost tours are offered here year round in the historic district, a popular activity of tourists.
Haunts like the Palace Saloon and Florida House Inn have spirits to drink and stories of other spirits, too. “Uncle Charlie,” the ghost of a bartender who started serving pub patrons in 1906, lived in a room at the Palace Saloon in the old days and passed away there in his room in 1960. Uncle Charlie, in life, had a presence at the pub for 54 years. But in after-life, he’s said to make appearances at this historic saloon on Centre Street in Fernandina Beach. There’s no shortage of ghost stories here on Amelia Island.
One ghost tour departs from a local cemetery, St. Peters, located just a block off historic Centre Street and 8th Street. However, there’s another ancient cemetery on Amelia Island that’s a bit more out-of-the-way from the central district of “downtown” Fernandina — the beautiful Bosque Bello Cemetery.
It’s probably not a place many folks have visited (and most would feel lucky for this…). It’s actually a pleasant place to wander through in quiet solitude on an Amelia Island autumn day. It’s also one of the most scenic areas of Fernandina Beach.
The Spanish thought so, too. Called “beautiful woods” by the Spanish, Bosque Bello is located off North 14th Street in Fernandina, toward Amelia Island’s northwest, close to “Old Town.” The Bosque Bello Cemetery’s original section is said to have been founded by Spanish colonials in 1798. However, according to the Amelia Island Genealogical Society, “the oldest identifiable grave, of French Soldier Peter Bouissou de Nicar, dates from 1813.”
First occupied by the Timucua Indians and then by Spanish colonials, the nearby “Old Town” was platted by the Spanish in 1811. Bosque Bello reportedly is the burial ground of soldiers who fought with Napoleon, and those of the Revolutionary War, Spanish-American War, and Civil War.
The historic cemetery is both tranquil and aesthetically pleasing, with its multitude of native, ancient oaks draped in Spanish moss, cabbage palms, magnolia trees and sago palms, galore. There are angels here, indeed, and crumbling walls of old family plots. Ancient walls made of oyster shells (tabby) and some of brick.
Here in the Amelia Island area, oak trees draped in Spanish moss are a distinguishing characteristic of the local landscape. To many people not living here, “Florida” connotes coconut palm trees — not these ancient oaks with “beards.” The name, “Spanish moss,” is thought to have originated from its resemblance to the Spaniard explorers’ beards. It is said that the Indians called it “tree hair.” It’s not a true moss, but rather an epiphyte (or air plant). Visually, it adds interest, and drapes the local landscape with a distinctly southern charm.
A city property, this cemetery is owned by Fernandina Beach. According to the city’s web site, at this writing, a city resident burial lot costs $1,000 (4′ by 10′), non-city resident $1,250. Not sure how many small cities own cemeteries, but this sounds inexpensive for a resting place in a splendid setting.
But super-naturally speaking, is it haunted? Some believe there’s paranormal activity at most cemeteries.
One thing for sure, it was lovely and serene by day.