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Catalina's Ghost

At 46 Avenida Menedez, facing St. Augustine’s waterfront, there is a restaurant that has changed names several times, from Chart House, to Catalina’s Garden to Puerta Verde Restaurant, and at this writing it simply goes by “Harry’s Bar and Grill,” but one thing that hasn’t changed is the haunting of this building.

The original building was constructed some time around 1745 according to what I found in the records of the St. Augustine Historical Society. Documents indicate that it was home to Juana and Francisco de Porras and their nine children. One of their youngest children, Catalina, is the one that is allegedly responsible for the ghostly antics here, or at least some of them.

In 1770, when she was about eighteen years old, she married Xavier Ponce de Leon and in 1783 when the Spanish regained Florida from the British, Catalina and her husband returned to St. Augustine. She found that the house where she had spent the first ten years of her life had been used by the British as a storage barn. Catalina and her husband asked the governor to return the house to her. She regained ownership of her childhood home in 1789 but she was not to enjoy the house for long. In 1795 Catalina died and that ended her story, or did it?

Not much is known about the house until 1887 when it was destroyed by a big fire that swept though a portion St. Augustine. Based on 1840 drawings of the house, it was rebuilt in 1888. The house was built on its original foundation according to the way it looked when Catalina had lived there, however, instead of using tabby, a plaster and bonding agent made from oyster shells, the new house used concrete for the walls.

It is difficult to tell how many people have lived in this house before it became a restaurant but everyone that has been associated with the place has reported strange occurrences. Customers of the various restaurants have reported feeling a strange presence in the place which some believe is Catalina. Other people say there is a ghost in the building that is called Bridget who appears in a wedding dress. Those who have seen this apparition claim that it is only a fleeting glimpse, she appears and quickly vanishes, sometimes walking right through a wall or closed door. While most sightings of the ghostly bride seem concentrated around the ladies room, she has also been seen on the patio.

Not all people see the ghost, some only catch a whiff of her perfume, and there is indeed a slight drifting aroma in this place that reminded me of cheap perfume. You cannot smell it all the time because food odors get in the way, but if you concentrate and flare your nostrils you might be able to detect it.

There is an ongoing debate about whether the woman in the bridal attire is Catalina or someone named Bridget who lived in the house in later years. The bridal spirit is not the only ghost in this place, there is also a man in a black suit and hat frequently seen. This man has been witnesses throughout the building and on all three floors. There is a rumor, with a little supporting evidence, that two men died in this building. One perished in the 1887 fire and the other succumbed to an illness around 1900.

The ghosts of this building do not seem to cause any harm and are believed to be friendly. Many customers come in just to see if they can encounter one of the spirits, or perhaps just to get a whiff of that strange perfume. I can honestly say that while having dinner in this place the lights flickered several times, went out and came back on, of course this was in the middle of a thunderstorm.

From an interview with a customer: “I have never seen any ghosts in here, but there is a feeling that somebody is like watching you, I mean sometimes it’s like somebody is sitting in an empty chair at the table with you but you can’t see it. I do believe in ghost but have never seen one.”  –Sue H.

From an interview with a customer: “Oh yeah, sure I’ve seen the woman two different times. I come in here all the time and have been for years. I saw her in the mirror when this used to be called the Chart House. It was just a real quick look, maybe only a second but long enough to tell it was a female with a white veil on her head. Then about a year, maybe two years ago, I got a glimpse of a woman dressed in white rushing across that side of the room. I got a good look that time and she looked almost transparent. My friend used to work here and she said that she saw both a man dressed in black and a woman dressed in white several times.”   –Cissy H.

From an interview with customer: “Nope, never seen anything that I know of but I’ve heard about the woman they see in here. I wished I could see a ghost. I never get that lucky, maybe I’m not psychic enough…but the food is great and we love the place. I’m always keeping my eyes open.”  –Megan

From an interview with a customer: “I haven’t seen the ghost but my husband saw the man in black that they talk about. He said the guy was just standing in the corner, he was wearing those old fashioned clothes…what do you call those long coats with tails? A frock coat or whatever…anyway this man just disappeared while he was looking at him. He said he thought at first it was one of the actors that work at the fort who had come in to eat but when he disappeared that convince Bill that it was a real ghost that he saw.”  –Lynne M.

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