9 Frequently Asked Questions at the Top of the Lighthouse

When you visit us here at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, you will most likely climb to the top of our famous Lighthouse to enjoy the breathtaking views of our beautiful town. Tourists and locals alike all seem to have the same several questions they ask when they get to the top of the Lighthouse.

1. “What are those giant white tents?”

We know what you’re thinking, no it’s not a circus or fair of any sort. It may look a little different from an aerial view but is in fact the St. Augustine Amphitheater!

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2. “How many stairs did I just climb?”

This question is usually asked with a lot of huffing and puffing involved. There are 219 stairs from the base of the tower to the top with eight landing areas to rest in between. It may sound like a lot, but we promise it’s not that bad and it is totally worth the view!

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3. “How tall is this thing?”

The tower stands tall at 165 feet from the ground. It is 95 feet taller than the Old Spanish Lighthouse. The Lighthouse is the 5th tallest in Florida and is also much wider than most lighthouses. For guests, the highest point you can reach is the gallery deck, which is 140 feet above the ground. Continue reading

State of the Museum: Membership Meeting

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Last night we were pleased to present some updates on all of the exciting things happening at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum at our annual State of the Museum Membership Meeting. membermeeting For those who were unable to attend the meeting, we have included a few highlights below from the night’s presenters, Executive Director Kathy A. Fleming and Division Director for Maritime Archaeology Chuck Meide.

Museum Highlights:

  • As of last night’s meeting, we now have 3,994 member households — up from 1,267 last year.
  • Last year over 206,000 people visited the Museum including over 15,000 from St. Johns County and another 7,000 from Duval County.
  • The final phase of our capital campaign has begun, bringing us closer to our restoration goals that will help honor the World War II history of the Light Station.
  • We are just $200,000 shy of completing the campaign, with $2.4 million already raised to date.
  • The capital campaign has helped to cover critical restoration projects on the tower, Keepers’ House, and Fresnel lens as well as our newest exhibitions, At Home with the Harns and Wrecked!.
  • This year, the Museum will begin construction on the new Maritime Archaeology & Education Center at the Light Station. This new 2,500 sqft facility will provide much needed space for public education programs and maritime research, as well as new experiences for our visitors so that they can see archaeology up close!
  • Accompanying that effort will be the restoration of our 1936 Jeep garage (used as a Jeep maintenance facility during WWII for beach patrol) and the 1941 U.S. Coast Guard Barracks, in which five Coasties lived while they kept a 24-hour watch over the Lighthouse. The restoration project is expected to be completed in the late winter of 2017.
  • Donations to this campaign will help honor those who served to protect our nation while German spies landed on local beaches and U-boats patrolled American shores.
  • Gifts of $2,500 or more over five years ($500 a year) will entitle the donor to a prestigious spot on our donor wall in the new building, tying your family’s legacy to the Light Station forever.
  • We are so close to launching these huge milestone projects for the Museum, donations of all sizes WILL make a difference to completing this campaign.

Maritime archaeology highlights:

  • Another successful field season for our team of Lighthouse archaeologists from the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) yielded more artifacts and an even greater need for the new Maritime Archaeology & Education Center.
  • LAMP completed 22 days of diving on the Anniversary Wreck, believed to date to the late 1700s.
  • In that time, LAMP archaeologists, students, and volunteers safely completed 22 dives for 276 hours, 40 minutes bottom time, which averages to 12.58 average hrs. bottom time/day.
  • LAMP had a record number of students, 12, in the July 2016 Field School, along with another five student supervisors. We had volunteers and interns from as far away as the Netherlands and India, visiting from schools across the U.S. and the world, including Oxford University and the University of Montreal.
  • LAMP has discovered three historic shipwrecks since July 2015.
  • We are closely following events related to the discovery of a 16th-century French shipwreck off Cape Canaveral. This wreck is believed to be the Trinite, the flagship of Jean Ribault’s lost French Fleet of 1565. Chuck will be travelling to Paris, France, next week where French government archaeologists and state officials will be discussing the possible future investigation of this important shipwreck site.
  • Pledge your support for maritime research and education today »

We Get By With a Little Help from Our Friends

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This month we focus on two great guys and two great boats that helped us move forward this summer. Mike Potter and Kevin Carrigan are supporters who literally help our research stay afloat. If you haven’t seen us around town, or offshore, here’s the skinny on our boat ops from the summer of 2016.

Each summer, the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP), research arm of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, heads out to sea for a field season of shipwreck discovery. Our field laboratory floats on the Atlantic Ocean, packed with researchers, volunteer assistants, equipment. Each day it sets out in the soft amber light of a Florida summer sunrise. During this part of the year the St. Augustine inlet settles down into a somnolent state, rarely raising its head in anger. I guess even an inlet needs to take a break from shipwrecking. Only occasionally does a far-flung storm from well over the horizon raise and send us a sea that prohibits work, or sometimes an unseasonal trade wind that dipping into the Atlantic bight runs its invisible hand over the sea to rake up haystacks. But for the most part, our summers are defined by a rhythm of heading to sea at sunrise, mooring on a shipwreck site while the sun is well above the yardarm, and getting underway for home sometime in the late afternoon.

Our laboratory, for the past seven years, has been a steel trawler named Roper. Most of you reading this are familiar with Roper as she has become part of our research family, as much as 17 tons of steel and iron can. But, this year she played only home games, plodding the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay in the name of science. That left us without a research vessel – a commuter bus, pickup truck, office, wet lab, and dive platform all rolled into one. While Roper had important work to do, stopping fieldwork for lack of a research vessel meant losing more than a decade of momentum, allowing the beating heart of research to pause. As with most near-crises, friends of Museum came to the rescue.

Mike Potter

With water streaming down the outside of the windows and lightning flashing outside, it was a dark and stormy night last November that found LAMP Director Chuck Meide and myself in a pizza joint in Cocoa, Florida. Our friend, Mike Potter convened a dinner to bring like-minded divers together. During the meeting we told Mike that Roper’s dance card was completely full in the Chesapeake for 2016 and that she wouldn’t be available for a Florida cruise. Without hesitation, Mike jumped at the opportunity to fix a problem, he volunteered his own boat. As a boat mechanic, he is used to looking at problem and seeing solutions. Sandra, Mike’s wife, sat by us quietly noting the conversation. She is full partner in their adventures. While she doesn’t dive, Sandra is the ‘sanity on the surface’ and has relentlessly supported Mike’s SCUBA mission, always ready to host out of town divers, never wincing at repair or equipment bills, ever-vigilant when the boat is out. She is Mike’s Mission Control.

A homeboy from Cocoa, Florida, Potter has always immersed himself in the sciences of the Cape, a place where rockets flew to the moon during his boyhood and the area code is still ‘321’. Like many people with a sense of adventure, Mike was called by the sea. Through the 80s and 90s, he grew into the diving community around the Cape and became a leader in new technology that allowed humans to explore deeper into Davy Jones’ locker. The diving club he was part of wasn’t your typical fish and reef folks, dives over 200’ were as common as breathing helium mixtures to prevent decompression sickness. Their dive sites were shipwrecks, scattered around the waters of Florida’s only Atlantic cape.

On a routine 240’ dive one summer, Mike explored the silent remains of Cities Service Empire, a 465’ tanker torpedoed in the Battle of the Atlantic. The twisted steel of the wreck rested at such a depth that artifact looters had yet to work it over. Portholes, ceramics, everything seemed to lie in and on the wreck; the place was almost untouched. Mike and his friends had occasionally brought up artifacts from the wreck as souvenirs, medals for having penetrated the deep and come back alive. During the dive, Mike thought of his father, who served in the Naval Armed Guard during WWII when Empire was sunk. He thought of the fifteen men who lost their lives in a burning sea, a backwater of the war that Nicholas Monserrat described as

“a private war. If you were in it, you knew all about it. You knew how to keep watch on filthy nights, and how to go without sleep, how to bury the dead, and how to die without wasting anyone’s time.” 

Mike knew that a twist of fate could have put his father on this ship and ranked him among the perished. The wreckage Mike and his friends were diving became grail to this quiet battle, a dark and cerulean crypt patrolled eternally by barracuda. Beginning his ascent to the surface, Mike was a diver reborn -a defender of the Empire -  and a man who takes shipwreck protection as seriously as his faith. Today Mike has led efforts to protect the wreck from disturbance and cautions any diver to “have reverence when you go there. If you don’t have the respect and the reverence, stay home.”

Dockside, Empire Defender shows off her sharp entry. The 31’ dive boat has served as LAMP’s primary research platform for the 2016 field season.
Dockside, Empire Defender shows off her sharp entry. The 31’ dive boat has served as LAMP’s primary research platform for the 2016 field season.

Empire Defender – A lot of story.

Freetime was built in 1978 by Stuart Angler as part of 10 commercial hulls marketed to snapper fishermen and charter outfits. Based on a northeastern-style lobster boat, she was built with a round but shallow bottom and a very fine entry.  For years, Freetime explored the waters of Key Largo as one of Dive World’s fleet of charter boats. Her owner, Capt. Corky, was instrumental in bringing the ex-Coast Guard cutters Bibb and Duane to the Keys. Sometime in the late 90s Freetime ended up in Tarpon Springs where she went un-loved and ended up sinking in a marina. Continue reading

What’s in a Collection? Stereographic Card

For this blog we chose to discuss an object that was recently donated to the museum.  This stereographic card is a new one for our collections, and the image was new to everyone on staff.

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What is a stereographic card?

Stereographic cards or stereoviews were popular in the U.S. from mid-1800s until early 1920s.  They were extremely popular in the late 1800s.  The cards consist of two photographs of object or subject at slightly different angles.  The photographs were glued to cardboard with a slight separation between the images. To view the card one had to use a stereoscope which was very basic containing two prismatic lenses.  When the card is viewed through a stereoscope each picture is focused by a separate lens to each eye.

By separately magnifying each of the images, the process mimics what the eyes naturally do.  As a result the process creates depth perception or gives the appearance of seeing the subject in three dimensions.  Though the popularity of these cards dimensioned stereoscopes did not go away and probably several of us grew up with a View-master. Continue reading

Conservation On The Move

After moving the logfish vat

The most exciting news around the Lighthouse these days is the imminent construction of new buildings for archaeology and conservation. The new Maritime Archaeology & Education Center will be approximately 2,500 square feet dedicated to offices, public education, exhibits and laboratory space. This community facility will be a welcome addition to the Lighthouse grounds and a fantastic experience for the guests.

« Learn more about the Maritime Archaeology & Education Center and see a video from First Coast News here! »

However, before the buildings are constructed, there is a lot of work to be done. For the conservation team, that means clearing the current working area and prepping for the upcoming build. All the artifacts, storage containers, electrolysis apparatuses and equipment need to be moved for the construction to take place.

Inside the conservation "corral"
Inside the conservation “corral”

The first step to be taken was moving the logfish vat out of the middle of the fenced-in conservation “corral.” The logfish vat is a large wood and fiberglass storage container built to hold ship timbers recovered from a previous excavation. For years it stood as a container (and a table for holding field school equipment), and while useful, went largely unoccupied. We moved the logfish vat to help expedite the next stage in the building process.

After moving the logfish vat
After moving the logfish vat

Before any of the buildings pop up in the conservation area, there will be an addition of new sewage lines. Right now, for conservation we just use a regular septic drain. This limits us to certain chemicals we can use for treatments to what is safe to put down the sink. With the sewage, we can use stronger and better (but not any more dangerous or hazardous to the sewage water) chemicals for conservation. Continue reading