By Orrin Grey.
When it was first opened in 1918, the Annie Lytle Elementary School—then simply known as Public School No. 4—must have been an impressive structure. The brick walls and white columns out front probably made the Jacksonville, Florida school seem almost palatial.
Today, however, the ruins of the Annie Lytle Elementary School are a far cry from their fancier past. The halls are choked with trash and debris, and vivid graffiti covers virtually every surface. A fire that broke out in 1995, and was blamed on vagrants, gutted parts of the building, and caused the roof of the auditorium to cave in, leaving it open to the elements.
The school was designed by architect Rutledge Holmes and built by the Florida Engineering and Construction Company. It served students until the 1950s, when the construction of highways I-95 and I-10 left the school cut off at their junction. It was condemned in 1971.
After its closure, the school became a popular spot for wayward teens, as well as drug addicts and squatters. As people began to explore the abandoned building, the legends surrounding it grew, and it didn’t take long before the school had acquired the reputation of the “most haunted place in Jacksonville.” In these tales, the building is often known by another name—”the Devil’s School.”
According to one popular tale, the janitor of the school used to take students down into the boiler room where he burned them alive. One day, one of the students escaped, and in the process caused an explosion which blew up the boiler room and started a fire. As the Abandoned Florida website pointed out, this story sounds pretty familiar to anyone who has seen A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Another variation on the tale says that the principal of the school was a cannibal, who kept kids who were sent to detention in a special meat locker in his office. The students were gutted and hung on spikes until the Hannibal-esque principal could get around to devouring them. In addition, rumors of satanic and occult activity taking place at the abandoned schools also run rampant.
Some who have visited the site say that a huge tree grows somewhere in the depths of the abandoned school, though photos of the site today show no such arboreal inhabitant. Given the sheer number of specters said to inhabit the decaying halls, there’s every chance this is some sort of ghost tree, and that you might still bump into it if you’re walking the hallways at night.
In 1999, the school was purchased with the intention of knocking it down, to replace it with Lytle Place Condominiums. The project was halted when the city granted the building a historic landmark designation in 2000. Today, the halls of the Devil’s School still stand empty, save for whatever ghostly denizens they may contain.
This article was first published on The Line Up.
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