The bastion's embattled past extends past the battle-scarred walls and into the surrounding waters. In the late 1500s, while Castillo de San Marcos was under Spanish command, a French coastal village near modern-day Jacksonville was wiped out. As refugees sought shelter on Anastasia Island across the bay from St. Augustine, they were massacred by the Spanish. The bloodstained waters became known as Matanzas, Spanish for slaughters.
The Military Prison
Over the years evidence has surfaced that Castillo de San Marcos was home to more foul play than initially thought. Decades after the Spanish occupation, a hidden room was discovered within a wall in Castillo's dark lower chambers. A heavy American cannon fell through the floor revealing a room containing ashes and human bones. Some believe this could have been a room used for torture during the gruesome Spanish Inquisition.
During October of 1837, Seminole war chief Osceola lost an attack led against Americans at the Castillo and was captured. He was imprisoned along with many other Seminole leaders, however, their confinement didn't last long. Osceola and 19 others escaped the prison after such extreme starvation that they could slip between the bars on their windows.
After the Civil War, the castle served out its military service as a prison only. During 1886, more than 500 Apache prisoners lived within the castle walls. Their quality of life was undoubtedly low and it's anyone's guess as to how many perished while being held against their will.
One of the Castillo's best-known ghost stories involves a love triangle between Spanish Col. Garcia Marti, his wife, Delores Marti, and Capt. Manuel Abela. In 1784 during the second Spanish occupation, Col. Marti, the fort's commanding officer, suspected his wife of cheating on him with Capt. Abela. His suspicions and temper were fueled when he claimed to smell his wife's perfume on Abela's uniform. Inexplicably, Delores Marti and Capt. Abela mysteriously disappeared soon after. Ghostly reports from the grounds of Castillo describe a female apparition in a white dress, believed to be the forlorn spirit of Delores Marti.
Other spiritual sightings include the ghost of a Seminole seemingly leaping to freedom from the high fortress walls. Night watchmen at the Castillo, now a U.S. National Park, have also reported seeing ghosts of Spanish soldiers patrolling the grounds.