History of the Museum


Do You Believe?

“I saw her – she was just standing in the window on the third floor, looking out. I thought she was a maintenance man, but then I realized there was no one in the building.”
Roni Engals, staffer at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Museum quoted in the St. Augustine Record newspaper September 1998

“A television along the tour route (inside the museum would turn itself on…regardless if it was plugged in. It has become commonplace to hearing doors slamming, footsteps, and the scraping of furniture on the 2nd floor, where there are only massive display cases and no moveable furniture. In my relatively short association with the museum, my views regarding the existence of spirit energy or unusual activity have changed dramatically!”
Kevin Saintonge, staffer at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Museum quoted in April 2006

“And the sound of a woman sobbing started again, just like moments before, and again, I went to the 2nd floor and found no one – and we’d been closed for almost 20 minutes”
Robert Drent, staffer at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Museum quoted in December 2008-

“We came back to the third floor and Joanne started to enter the room…but she was visibly shaken, saying I’m having a panic attack! Something or someone doesn’t want me in that room!”
Susan Harrell, manager at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Museum reporting the words of a sensitive brought in to investigate the Castle Warden in May 2002

Who (or what) is causing these disturbances? Why is the Ripley’s building so haunted? Why are so many employees experiencing these bizarre things with such regularity?

The answers might be in the history

History of Castle Warden

Castle Warden when it was a hotel

The Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Museum is housed in one of St. Augustine’s most unique buildings, an 1880′s poured concrete castle. Originally built by Standard Oil partner William G. Warden, it later became a classy hotel when owned by Pulitzer Prize winning author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (“The Yearling”) and her hotelier husband Norton Baskin.

Two women died in a fire in April 1944 at the Castle Warden Inn, as it was called during the World War II era. But many observers now believe that Ruth Hopkins Pickering and Betty Neville Richeson were murdered and the fire set to cover up the evil deed.

It is highly unlikely they knew each other. In fact, Betty, a woman in her 20′s, had only checked into the hotel 90 minutes before her death. Ruth, on the other hand, was staying in the 4th floor penthouse apartment for a lengthy period at the behest of her good friend Marjorie.

Many believe Ruth was “hiding” from an abusive spouse and Marjorie knew Ruth would be safe and comfortable there, just a few blocks away from Ruth’s residence on Magnolia Avenue.

Your visit to the 2nd and 3rd floors during the Ripley’s Ghost Train Adventure will allow you to hear other theories and stories concerning the tragedy at the Castle Warden and the sightings of both women still gazing out the windows of the rooms in which they perished.

Add a sprinkle of Ripley

And we haven’t even mentioned the talented (and bizarre) Mr. Ripley himself. Although Robert Ripley was a frequent visitor to St. Augustine and stayed in the building often, he did not create the museum. He died in 1949 and a year after his death, the Castle Warden was purchased to be the ideal, uniquely glamorous building to house his collections.

Collections that include real shrunken human heads, rosaries made of human bone, and a drum kit featuring two human skulls fused together and covered with human skin. Perhaps those who once belonged to these items feel a certain “connection” and may be joining Betty and Ruth and many others who call this creepy castle “home” long after their deaths.

To experience these paranormal stories and more, jump aboard the Ghost Train Adventure Tour every night.