By Charlie Carlson
John King lived in Mayport, Florida’s haunted house for so long, eventually it took his name. The two-story wooden structure was built in April 1881 on the site of a boarding house destroyed by fire in the same year and, according to local lore that’s a little short on facts, both houses were built atop an old graveyard.
In the 1970s, the colorful Mr. King gained folklore fame as the town’s storyteller. Both locals and tourists attended his weekly sessions to hear tales from Mayport’s past, which often included accounts of strange encounters inside the King house. Today, Mr. King is still seen around town, usually at sundown when the temperature cools. Locals regard him as one of the town’s friendliest when the temperature cools. Locals regard him as one of the town’s friendliest souls, even though he’s been dead since the late 1970s.
The King House has been examined by various ghost-hunting groups and once by a visiting parapsychologist from the Rhine Institute. They all agreed that the house’s atmosphere is ideal for a haunting and that it contained a presence of the supernatural kind, possibly connected to a violent past.
Indeed, history agrees with the “violence” connection. According to several witnesses, a green rocking chair in the house “rocked on its own,” having once belonged to King’s great-aunt, who died while sitting in it. It was a simple case of a pitchfork being thrust through her chest. The perpetrator is alleged to have been her jealous boyfriend – a sailor, who evaded arrest by sailing out of town on a cargo ship.
Some folks say they’ve seen apparitions of two different women in the house, usually in the hallway and kitchen. Those in the know claim one is John King’s great aunt, but the other specter is clad in a flowing white gown. The most popular story has the “Lady in White” taking up residence after being killed on her wedding night in a car crash near the King house. Another account relates how she was killed at the jetty rocks along the river. Whatever the case, Mr. King said he was awakened by her cries the night she died. A few days later he saw her ghost standing in his kitchen, where she has been seen off and on ever since. Apparently she’s been a good housekeeper, even washing dishes, cleaning the table, and putting things away in drawers.
The problem for Mr. King was that every time he hired a woman to keep house, the Lady in White would pull pranks such as opening and closing the stove or cabinet doors, or causing food to burn and cakes to fall. She may have also been responsible for opening closet doors in bedrooms or jerking quilts off overnight guests. Eventually hired help would get fed up and quit. “She didn’t like other females in her kitchen,” King liked to say about his ghostly housekeeper.
The King House also had its own spirit butler, known locally as the “Little Man in Red.” Described as a short fellow dressed in a red uniform-style coat, he was full of humor and enjoyed pulling pranks. Sometimes he would answer the door and have guests wait for Mr. King in the parlor. When guest remarked about the courteous butler, Mr. King would answer that he had not butler, at least of the living variety. The Little Man in Red has also been in town, walking along the road, and a few times sitting in the backseat of cars parked in front of the King house.
There have been recent sightings of the Little Man in Red, and even a few of John King, on cool evenings near the ferry landing. If you drive through Mayport and catch a glimpse of a short fellow wearing a red coat, don’t be surprised if he vanishes. If he appears in your backseat and tries to direct you to the King House, however, don’t go.
The King House is now a private residence.