Haunted Tolomato Cemetery
The Tolomato cemetery was started during the British period as a burial place for Menorcians. Later it became a general Catholic cemetery. Many famous St. Augustine residents were buried there including Father Camps, Father Verela, Bishop Jean Verot, and General Jorge Biassou. The site was the location of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe de Tolomato, a church, for the mission of the Tolomato Indians from Georgia. Before the British arrived it was used by German immigrants for a church.
Two hundred years ago Doña Rita Morales died and was buried in the cemetery on the outskirts of St. Augustine, then the capital of the Spanish colony of East Florida. She was of some prominence, her husband was Commandant of the Cuban regiment garrisoned in Castillo de San Marcos, but her 14-year old grandson only knew that his grandmother, his “second mother” as he called her, was the second mother that death had taken from him in his young life.
In 1802, to identify the cemetery as Catholic in this 237-year old Catholic city, would be redundant. It was, and still is, called Tolomato, the original name given to the Native American village located on that site long before Pedro Menendez claimed the nearby land for God and country in 1565. Over the next half century, Tolomato Cemetery would no longer be on the outskirts of the city.
Without moving, it was embraced by St. Augustine’s expanding boundaries. By this time, the city also had wrapped its arms around the saintly man the 14-year old grief-stricken boy had become – Father Félix Varela. A living legend to his Cuban compatriots, this amazingly accomplished, yet unpretentious priest, forced to live in exile, had come back to St. Augustine, now part of the United States, to die and be buried in Tolomato Cemetery beside Doña Rita Morales.
The Apopinax Tree
The story goes that Colonel Joseph Smith, during his first week in Saint Augustine, met a lovely couple and became friends instantly during a party. Plans were made for the couple and the Colonel to meet later. The next night, the woman fell terribly ill and was pronounced dead within a week. The husband then invited the Colonel to attend the funeral, and even asked him to help walk in the funeral procession.
As was family tradition, the deceased girl was placed into a chair and was carried to Tolomato Cemetery in a seated position. The beautiful woman was carried in the chair all the way from the town to the cemetery, with every bump and jostle moving the deceased woman. During the procession, the woman in passed underneath an Apopinax tree located in the cemetery, puncturing her skin on her forehead. This caused copious amounts of blood to pour from the girls head, causing Colonel Smith, who had yet to take a eye off the dead girl, to believe that he saw the girl blink.
Colonel Smith insisted to everyone that the girl was not dead as everyone assumed that she was, and eventually was able to bring the woman home. After a few days, the girl awoke to everyone's amazement, and proceeded to continue living for another 6 years. Colonel Smith is accredited with saving the girls life, because otherwise she would have been buried alive.
Skip forward another 6 years, and again, the woman died. And again, she was paraded to the Tolomato Cemetery, just as it had before. This time, the husband shouted to not bring the girl anywhere near the Apopinax tree, stating that he couldn't handle it if the woman was again, not dead.
This funeral went off without any incidents, and it is generally believed that the woman was truly dead this time she was supposed to be buried, although some people claim that she was laid out for a week before being buried to make sure that she was actually dead.
Ghosts of Tolomato Cemetery
Legend and reports state that this woman still haunts the cemetery, looking for something. Some believe that the woman is searching for her husband, while others believe she is searching for Colonel Smith.
Others claim to have seen apparitions of children playing inside the cemetery. Many of the apparitions are sighted near one of the larger trees in the cemetery, and although the Apopinax tree in the story is no longer in the cemetery, there is a stump where the tree is believed to once stand.