The Casablanca Inn
The Lady with the Lantern
In the early part of the twentieth century, the Old City of St. Augustine became a hot bed of smuggling activity, thanks to the Volstead Act which prohibited the import and sale of alcoholic beverages. Much of the illegal rum clandestinely brought into the United States from Cuba entered along the St. Augustine waterfront. As a result, the fabled "G-Men" of Eliot Ness fame were frequent visitors to the Old City. The Casablanca Inn, then known as the elegant Matanzas Hotel, became the setting for much bootlegging activity.
The proprietor of the hotel was an enterprising widow of high breeding, who, never one to pass up an opportunity, fell into league with the brigands, one of whom she took as her lover. The rumrunners set up shop in her boarding house and sold liquor to the guests and locals who were familiar with the operation. The rumrunners would stay here, right at the St. Augustine waterfront, for a few days at a time, then move along by sea to their next setup.
Apparently it was quite a lucrative business, and the government boys sought to put an end to all this activity. The widow was questioned, but remained silent as she worked out a plan. When the bootleggers were coming through the inlet, the lady would climb to the roof of the building – where you see the pillastered railing today – with lantern in hand. If the government boys were in town, she would wave her lantern back and forth several times. The bootleggers would then know to pass by and travel by the St. Augustine waterfront without stopping. When the contraband liquor could be brought ashore in safety, the infamous lady would reap her rich reward. By the passing of prohibition, the lady's fortune was won. (Her name remains anonymous, in deference to her descendants still living in the city.)
While her name remains secret, however, the lady of the hotel still makes her presence known. Some guests of an adjacent property reportedly have been awakened by a light shining in their windows. Thinking it was the lighthouse on Anastasia Island, they peered out the window toward the bay. Only then did they realize the light came from the Casablanca Inn. Many a shrimp boat or other watercraft has entered the inlet just after dusk on a moonless night to be greeted by an eerie lantern swinging in the darkness above the Casablanca Inn. Most witness only the light, but some swear they spy a dark figure on the distant rooftop. Perhaps the rumrunner's lady still paces the roof, signalling safe haven to her lover and his cohorts as they cruise by. And who knows...maybe Eliot Ness and his G-Men still roam the St. Augustine waterfront trying to catch them!
Innkeeper Jayne James says “I feel like I’m not alone in the room sometimes. Sometimes people say they can see a bright light and someone waving a lantern on the roof of the inn.”
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