All posts by Paul

Five Things You Might Not Notice at the Lighthouse

As you might imagine, visitors to the St. Augustine Lighthouse are often excited about climbing the tower and enjoying the amazing panoramic view from 140 feet in the air. But in your excitement to climb the 219 steps to the top, you may overlook many small details that reveal some interesting stories of the Lighthouse. And if climbing the tower is your only concern, then there are many other details you will miss in and around the Keepers’ House and grounds. Next time you visit, see if you can spot some of these staff favorites.

1. Stair markingsThe number 18 is visible on this stair

It is quite a climb up 219 steps to the observation deck, also called the “gallery.” Eager to complete the climb, you could easily miss the first item on our list. If you look very closely, you will find small numbers and letters on the iron staircase. Continue reading

Are you ready to get “Enlightened”?


Presenting Enlightened! A New St. Augustine Lighthouse Educational Program

Have you ever wondered about the history and science behind the St. Augustine Lighthouse? Well, wonder no more! We are going to take you along on an exploration of all the amazing things we do here at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum in our new YouTube series, Enlightened!

Enlightened is a way for us to share more with you — more stories, more history, more preservation, and more of the research we are doing every day to expand our understanding of people who interacted with the waterways around St. Augustine as part of their livelihood.

As the series grows and expands, we hope to add more interviews, viewer Q&As, and other elements that will allow our viewers to interact with the show and get all their burning Lighthouse questions answered.

Episode 1: The Fresnel Lens

For our first episode, we wanted to explore the heart of our Lighthouse (and all lighthouses, for that matter): the Fresnel lens! This magnificent piece is equal parts science and art, built with care and now preserved with care by our Museum staff.

Join us as we go inside the lens room (one of the few places at our Museum that is not accessible to the public) for an up-close look at our first order Fresnel lens.

Make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel to catch each additional installment of the Fresnel lens episode in the coming weeks.

And don’t forget to follow us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for more great content!

Paul Zielinski is Director of Interpretation for the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. He received his master’s degree in Public History from the University of West Florida and joined the lighthouse family in 2011.

We’re Still Here: Hurricanes
and St. Augustine


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

Florida Association of Museums Conference in Pensacola

Florida’s Emerald Coast, the stretch of land running from Panama City Beach to the end of the state at Pensacola, is the site of one of the earliest attempts at European settlement in our nation’s history. Before that, Native Americans called this area, with its tall pine trees and white sandy beaches, home. Its story is documented in written records and in its soil, where artifacts and building foundations serve as testament to the generations who have lived there.

Staff outside the Florida State Museum in Pensacola. Front row, L to R: Loni Wellman, Barb Holland, Chuck Meide and Brendan Burke. Back row, L to R: Shannon O’Neil, Dr. Sam Turner and Andrew Thomson.


This rich history served as the backdrop for the 2016 Florida Association of Museums (FAM) Annual Conference in Pensacola, where museum professionals from around the state came together to meet, learn, and network. St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum staff members made the drive down I-10 to the City of Five Flags to share our work and to see the great things our fellow Florida museum professionals are doing for our state.

Several of our Museum’s staff members presented their work at the FAM Conference. One of our largest projects this past year was the development and creation of the Wrecked! exhibit detailing the story of a 1782 British Loyalist shipwreck that our archaeologists spent six years investigating.

Director of the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) Chuck Meide presented on the shipwreck research behind our Wrecked! exhibit.


Our staff conducted two sessions during the conference detailing the research and museum work that went into the exhibit. The archaeologists shared how their original research revealed this amazing story of evacuation and danger on the ocean. Our conservators explained the challenges of cleaning and protecting the artifacts so we could display them for our visitors. And the Museum’s exhibit team revealed the techniques and strategies that make the Wrecked! exhibit interactive and engaging, sharing the story of these doomed ocean-goers and the people who found their ships hundreds of years later.

Director of Public Relations Shannon O'Neil and Director of Interpretation Paul Zielinski gave a presentation about social media in museums (with help from Star Waters!).
Director of Public Relations Shannon O’Neil and Director of Interpretation Paul Zielinski gave a presentation about social media in museums (with help from Star Waters!).

Our social media team supports our work here by sharing our stories and what we do through our various social media platforms. Their efforts have been important in generating interest and awareness for our exhibits and events. During a conference session, they shared their strategies and lessons they’ve learned with social media teams from other Florida museums so they too can support what they do through social media. Marketing and public relations is a huge part of any organization’s success and our Museum is no different. Museum staff shared their approaches to marketing toward millennials, that elusive generation of young adults who make up the next great segment of museum patronage.

Conferences are also an excellent opportunity to explore the area and, in this case, discover some of the amazing museums and historic sites in Pensacola. Old Christ Church, one of the oldest surviving church buildings in Florida, served as the venue for several events during the conference. Evening events also included stops at the Pensacola Museum of Art, the Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum, and the National Naval Aviation Museum. The University of West Florida Historic Trust hosted the conference in Historic Pensacola, where conference attendees walked the historic streets of the city and enjoyed the many structures and museums that make up the site.

Our staff enjoyed a private event at the National Naval Aviation Museum. From left to right: Andrew Thomson, Loni Wellman, Shannon O’Neil, Starr Cox, Paul Zielinski, and Barb Holland.

On the closing evening of the 2016 FAM Conference, our Executive Director Kathy A. Fleming was named as the organization’s new president for a two-year term. At the same ceremony in Old Christ Church, Brenda Swann, Director of the Interpretive Division, was also recognized with the prestigious Museum Excellence Award for her leadership in the development and execution of the Wrecked! exhibit.

Executive Director Kathy A. Fleming, the new president of the Florida Association of Museums, poses with Director of the Interpretive Division Brenda Swann, who won the 2016 Museum Excellence Award.

Staff from the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum have returned invigorated with new ideas and the energy of sharing our work with other museum professionals from around our great state.


Paul Zielinski is Director of Interpretation for the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum. He received his master’s degree in Public History from the University of West Florida and joined the lighthouse family in 2011.

The Lamplighters


Lighthouses conjure up romantic images of windswept shorelines and the intrepid keepers who maintained the light through the night.

However, by the mid-20th century, technology conspired to eliminate the light keepers’ responsibilities. Electric bulbs replaced the glow of oil lanterns; electric motors made the clockwork mechanism that turned the lens obsolete. Photocells, like the kind you find on the tops of streetlights around the country, now turned the light on and off.

And in 1955, with the St. Augustine Lighthouse completely automated, there was no longer a need for nightly visits by the light keepers.

The Lamplighters

David Swain with his wife Mary posing during his time as keeper at Cape Canaveral Lighthouse

Despite the removal of light keepers, the U.S. Coast Guard still needed people to ensure the lights came on each night and perform routine maintenance. They called these people lamplighters. To fill these positions, the Coast Guard turned to those most familiar with the keeping of lighthouses: former light keepers.

The first lamplighter at the St. Augustine Lighthouse was a familiar face. David Swain had served as first assistant keeper from 1933 to 1944 before moving on to other lighthouses in Florida.

Continue reading