Tip-toeing through the Ripley’s Castle Warden in the dark is creepy enough for a lot of people (employees included), but an amazing and bizarre incident recently sent no less than five guests running for the exit in a panic.
“Let me out now!” is what one man yelled out as soon as he saw the Sumatran Soul Boat (behind storyteller in photo below) move on its own accord, smash its plexiglass case and send the pieces tumbling to the ground in full view of about 20 witnesses.
“Me too!” screamed a mother of three. Five guests beat a hasty retreat that evening from the haunted castle Warden as the remaining dozen or so braved the final minutes of a Ghost Train Advenure ghost tour that none will ever forget.
“I was really scared,” said Kira Buske of Port St. Lucie, Florida, “but I wasn’t about to leave the building. I didn’t think anything was going to hurt me, but I certainly felt like something WAS threatening us.”
Buske and the other guests were listening to Ripley’s Ghost Train Adventure story-teller Justin Krol’s tales about the third floor room known by employees as the “Vortex Room” when the incident occurred. Krol said he and his group had entered the room three minutes earlier as part of the final leg of the 90 minute nightly paranormal investigation in which guests use EMF meters and cameras to detect potential paranormal activity throughout St. Augustine. The train goes to various locations for 60 minutes, then returns to the Ripley’s Castle (an historic 1800’s Victorian era castle once owned by Pulitzer Prize winner Marjorie Rawlings) where guests examine rooms on three different floors of the museum.
“Then out of nowhere, there was this huge crashing sound and lots of screams,” said Krol. “After seeing part of my group scurry away from the fireplace I realized the plexiglass casing around the Soul Boat had mysteriously flown off the mantle. No one in the group was within five feet of it when it happened.”
Soul Boats were used by various culutures in the Far East as vessels to “deliver” souls of the deceased into the afterlife, according to Edward Meyer, Ripley’s archivist for over three decades.
“The boats often held the ashes and occasionally the blood of the deceased,” said Meyer. “And sometimes the boats were set aflame and ferried across a body of water, signifying the soul had ‘crossed over’ to the afterlife. This particular boat has been encased in that plexiglass and on display on that mantle in St. Augustine since the 1980’s.”
“When my heart started beating again…” said Krol, “I walked over and saw the damage, but there was a family of five that were absolutely screaming to get out, so I took everyone to the first floor. I was pretty shocked that about 12 or 13 people wanted to go back upstairs, so I gathered my courage, took a deep breath, and went back up.”
As for WHY the plexiglass cracked, Buske offered her opinion, “That’s a restless spirit. If the boat wasn’t burned, maybe the soul is still inside. It freaked us all out. Plus, right before it happened I took a picture, and you can see a strange white light, like a spot, in my photo.”
Paranormal investigators and various psychics have told Ripley’s staffers they believe no less than 18 entities are haunting the Castle Warden, and that some of the spirits are attached to the strange objects in the museum. Ghost Tours Director Ralf Ingwersen (shown holding broken plexiglass) said he understands the premise, “If you shrunk MY head in Equador, I’d probably follow it to the creepy museum in St. Augustine, too. We have four very real shrunken heads in this place. Heck, Robert Ripley was infatuated with bizarre religious customs and collected crazy things from around the world…and many of those things have been here since 1950. Half of our stuff is from Robert Ripley’s personal collection of oddities.”
The Sumatran Soul Boat has a brand new plexiglass covering, and also has a new home. It’s still in the museum, and still on the third floor, but is now located in a hallway where ghost tours do not enter at night. “We’re giving it a rest — figuratively and literally,” said Ingwersen. “I’ve simply learned to expect the unexpected in this place. I sometimes envision myself running out of here screaming, too.”
Buske said she’ll certainly come back, “Creepy? Yes. Intriguing? Heck, yeah! Will I come back? Can’t wait!” And Krol? “My friends ask me all the time ‘are you scared?’” said Krol. “I tell ‘em it’s not that I’m scared, I’m cautious. As long as someone’s willing to join me in here, I’ll keep telling the stories. Just not alone, okay?”