We’re Still Here: Hurricanes
and St. Augustine

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It’s been about a month now since Hurricane Matthew took a swipe at St. Augustine and the rest of Florida’s East Coast before basically tracking along the shoreline up to North Carolina and finally heading out to sea. Low-lying residential areas, especially along the beaches and inland waterways, were hit hard with floodwaters and many downed trees and power lines. Downtown St. Augustine suffered flooding as well.

The Hurricane and the Lighthouse

The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime windowsMuseum, despite our location on Anastasia Island, weathered the storm well. When the U.S. Lighthouse Board picked the location for this Lighthouse to replace the old lighthouse that was threatened by beach erosion, they chose well. No floodwaters reached the Lighthouse or Keepers’ House. The only physical damage, besides several downed trees, were a few shingles missing from the roof of the Keepers’ House and a set of windows blown out of the Lighthouse and later found in a nearby tree. Continue reading

What’s in a Collection? A Comical Chain Letter

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Send this to 20 friends and the Lighthouse will get a pony for every share…

We have all gotten those emails asking us to “continue the chain.”

Written inside is a funny story that, if shared, will bring you luck, love, or money. However, if you break the chain you will be met with opposite results.  You might lose a shoe or your crush will never speak to you again. Though for the vast majority of us we take a look and then delete or depending on how funny it was we may send it to the next group. It has become a silly superstition that we share to brighten someone’s day. Though a century ago this was not the case.

In the summer of 1888, a school in Chicago decided to send out letters asking for support. The recipient of the letter was to send them a dime. That same person was then asked to make three copies of the letter and send those letters to their friends. Those friends send it to their three friends who then share it with their three friends before you know it; it has gone from three people to 273 people.

At the time, the population in Chicago was a little over one million. If each resident of Chicago sent in a dime the school would have $100,000. Similar campaigns were used to fund a memorial for the veterans of the Spanish-American War and a bike trail in Michigan, just to name a few. They came to be known as “Send a Dime” campaigns. While they did not make the original sender piles of money it did provide the world with a new marketing ploy.

As these letters started to veer away from money and focus on jokes and superstitions one such letter emerged. The exact date of the letter is unknown, however in 1947, several newspapers printed the letter because it was a chain letter of an entirely different kind.

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A copy of this letter, signed by Tommy Manville, Artie Shaw, Errol Flynn, and Charlie Chaplin, is currently in our collection. The dark humored joke gained fame as it promised the recipient over sixteen thousand women. That is, provided that he sent a copy letter to five “tired” male friends. He was also instructed to “bundle up his wife and send her to the man whose name was on the top of the list.” Continue reading

Life on the Beautiful Lower Atchafalaya

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A huge truck nearly ran me off the road, whizzing past only inches away. As the horn blare tapered off, I realized rubbernecking on this stretch of road is a full-contact sport. Late September found me on one of the most industrial roads in America, yet deep in the heart of the bayou.

Highway 1 winds south from the Mississippi River, tracing through Belle Rose, Thibodaux (don’t pronounce the ‘h’), Galliano, Golden Meadows, and finally to Grand Isle. The farther south you drive, land gives way to water. The world becomes water sprinkled with dry spots and cut channels. Bayou Lafourche Canal is one of the channels and parallels Highway 1. On dry patches, only inches above the tide, are construction yards, supply depots, welding shops, shipyards, and fenced lots full of giant prehistoric plumbing components. The road is a major artery of the oil business, although a new, raised version of the road flies well above the bayou like a giant concrete millipede.

En route to Patterson, Louisiana for an oral history interview, my schedule changed and I ended up with a day in-limbo. Reconfiguring quickly, it was a rare opportunity to explore the sponge-like coast of Louisiana. I armed myself with tips and tricks from friends who knew the area, and who knew where to eat. Visiting Louisiana, especially Cajun Country, without intending to feast is like a pencil without a lead. Pointless.

Years ago, I was invited on a trip to Patterson to meet the Felterman family. Related to the Versaggi family of St. Augustine, and a dynastic family of the commercial shrimping industry, the opportunity to meet, and record Felterman family history was more than tempting.

“You’re a fool Brendan, it’s the peak of crawfish season and we’re going to be in the middle of the action.” said Grace Paaso, my invitee and one of the Versaggi family keepers of the flame. Continue reading

Clothing Mysteries

The vast majority of artifacts that come through conservation are from our shipwrecks excavated by LAMP. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of objects from the Storm and Anniversary wrecks waiting to be worked on. However, conservation activities for the LAMP sites have slowed down as we pack up and organize for the new building construction. There was also a little event called Hurricane Matthew that stifled conservation duties.

We boarded up the Light Station for Hurricane Matthew. Fortunately, we suffered minimal damage and were able to re-open the Monday after the storm.
We boarded up the Light Station for Hurricane Matthew. Fortunately, we suffered minimal damage and were able to re-open the Monday after the storm.

Fortunately, there was no significant damage to the lighthouse, the museum or any of the offices. Once everyone was back safely and cleaned up the grounds, work could get back to some semblance of normal.

So, knowing that we would not want to begin any new long-term conservation projects or open up new concretions because of the impending construction; coupled with most everything being packed up for the storm, I started a fun, fast project.

Besides the shipwreck artifacts, we have a number of objects in our collections department. A lot of these pieces have been donated by various people over the years. Some, though, come directly from our grounds. Continue reading

What’s in a Collection? Grand Army of the Republic Button

In this blog post we are taking a closer look at an artifact recovered from archaeological investigations at the Lighthouse in 1996. The small object pictured is a domed brass button with the letter G, A and R artistically embossed on the surface.  The letter GAR refers to the Grand Army of the Republic.

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Front face of the GAR button.

 

For those unfamiliar with this organization GAR was founded in Illinois, 1866 by Benjamin F. Stephenson.  The membership to this organization was limited to honorably discharged veterans of the Union Army, Navy, Marine Corps or the Revenue Cutter Service that served during the Civil War.  While this was a national organization within it there was a hierarchy with “Departments” designated at the state level that were comprised  of local community groups called “Posts”.  Each post had its own number and often a name as well.  Confederate veterans also formed a similar organization referred to as the United Confederate Veterans.

Photo of an integrated chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic from Cazenovia, NY (photo from blog.syracuse.com)

These organizations served to help Civil War veterans.  They lobbied for pension plans, developed medical facilities and soldier’s homes for vets and preserved memories.  In St. Augustine, there were two GAR posts, H.W. Chatfield Post and John A. Logan Post.  The Logan Post was established by African-American Civil War veterans that served in the Union military.  GAR at its height around 1890 had over 400,000 members nationally.  Over time the organization declined and dissolved in the 1950s with the passing of the last members.  Records for these posts in St. Augustine are rather limited, but we do know they were active in the late 1800s into the early 20th century.

The GAR button was recovered from a test excavation unit, and more specifically known as “Feature 1.”  Features, archaeologically speaking, are physical elements created or modified by humans that are non-portable or stationary.  Common features include remnants of structure, drains, cisterns, fire pits, and trash pits.  In the case of Feature 1, the function was a trash pit.  Continue reading