It all started with my passion for reading coupled with my interest in ghosts and the paranormal. Living just 15 minutes north of St. Augustine, Florida, I am very fortunate to be able to visit the nation’s “oldest city” quite often. Founded in 1565, the city offers a plethora of “haunted” experiences within a rich historic and cultural backdrop.
A number of years ago I was perusing the shops along St. George Street, in the heart of St. Augustine, when I picked up a book, “Haunt Hunters Guide to Florida” by Joyce Elson Moore. It was this gem of a book that changed how I look at travel experiences through more of a historical lens. “Haunt Hunters Guide to Florida“ was a great read that lead me to previously unknown places of intrigue in my own backyard. I started to delve further into the ghost stories with visits to the St. Augustine Lighthouse, Harry’s Seafood Restaurant and the Castillo De San Marcos to learn more.
One of my favorite stories of local haunting stories is about the St. Augustine Lighthouse; the original was built in 1824 and owned by Dr. Alan Ballard. In 1865 he was forced to sell it to the government as there was a perceived danger of it collapsing into the bay (which it did finally in 1880). When he refused to sell, they threatened to take it via eminent domain. Ballard said he would never leave and can still be “seen” in and around the property.
The current lighthouse was built in 1874, prior to the collapse. There are many more spirits present including a former keeper, Peter Rasmussen, who was always enjoying a cigar. The staff at the lighthouse reports that you can still detect the fragrance of Rasmussen's cigar several times a week.
However, the most famous of the St. Augustine Lighthouse ghosts are the daughters of Hezekiah Pity. Pity was hired in the late 1800s to renovate the lighthouse. One day in 1873, Eliza, 13, and Mary, 15, were playing where they shouldn’t on the grounds and climbed into a cart that was being used for carrying building materials from the bay to the lighthouse. Both girls drowned when the cart broke loose and slid down a hill and into the water. It is reported that the two girls are heard laughing in the tower late at night. The eldest Pity girl has appeared, wearing the same blue velvet dress and blue hair bow that she died in.
These stories added so much depth to St. Augustine as a destination; no longer is it just a place on a map. And, of course, living in Florida you can always count on having frequent visitors, so with these stories the next friend or family member who visits is sure to get a “show and tell” at the local haunts.
How can destinations tell their stories to make the destination more interesting and unique? Authenticity is the key.
I notice now as I travel outside of my own backyard that I find that I am always looking for that unique story of historical significance and cultural differences. I relish the new experience of being able to view a place from a deeper perspective and gain that connection that goes back hundreds of years. I guess I categorize myself a “cultural and heritage traveler.”
What is it that makes us want to connect with history and time and place? And how can destinations tell their stories to make it more interesting and unique? Authenticity is key. Research shows that the cultural, heritage and historical tourism market segment will continue to grow and is currently being led by the aging Baby Boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964). I guess my interest makes me a bit ahead of my time as a Gen Xer.
So why is telling your destination’s story so important in capturing this age group of travelers? According to the Luxury Marketing Council:
- Boomers' trips are longer, allowing for in-depth exploration at a leisurely pace
- Trips are often themed or educational
- As grandparents, Boomers are now the force behind multi-generational travel
- Boomers spend an average of $2,995 on 4.2 trips each year
- According to an AARP survey, this age group places travel higher in importance than everything else, including spending time with family, health and working out
With the growth of this market, and generational wealth in the hands of the Boomers, these folks are seeking cultural experiences and authenticity – and not just from a domestic standpoint. The market of overseas travelers coming to the U.S. is also growing at a rapid rate, showing that heritage tourism has become one of the leading motivations for people to travel.
Bottom line: Tell the story, and the destination sells itself.