Tag Archives: Collections

Discoveries at the Barracks

The World War II-era United States Coast Guard (USCG) structure on site is currently being restored after serving as office space for many years at the Museum. The structure was constructed after the US entered into World War II. Before December 1941, the US military was in various stages of mobilization that included increasing military personnel, munitions and equipment.

The official telegram that head keeper Daniels received, which initiated a military mobilization plan that officially directed the US Navy to absorb the USCG (note that this occurs in November 1941 before the Pearl Harbor attack).

As war was declared, there was rapid action to train troops and prepare the US for overseas warfare. As the US prepared to enter into multiple war fronts, plans were developed and initiated for home front security. As part of this process, the USCG fell under direction of the US Navy. The Museum’s collections provide a glimpse into some of these rapidly developing events and the role the Lighthouse and Light Station played during the wartime effort. We are fortunate enough to have some of the original Keepers’ records here at the Museum.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, military actions were intensified. Lighthouses along our coastline were immediately designated coastal lookouts serving to monitor boat traffic and identify any German U-boats in a region that would pose as an immediate threat. The US military forces, including the USCG, initiated routine patrol to guard our shorelines, albeit with limited resources. Coastal defense needed additional support and the USCG developed a series of infrastructure series of lookout towers strategically placed along the coastline. Additionally, a beach patrol was established on the coast with a combination of coastguardsmen: on foot with patrol dogs, on horseback and in some areas, in Jeeps. Training centers were established for this new defense effort and local infrastructure further grew to protect our coastlines from saboteurs and to help identify foreign invaders.

At our Lighthouse, the strategy was to construct a coastal lookout dwelling; it was finished and occupied in 1942. The dwelling (aka the Barracks) was built to house at least four coastguardsmen. Their job was to be on duty at the top of the tower 24/7, and report boat traffic (among other things) as part of the coastal defensive system. Unfortunately, there is limited documentation regarding this structure, but some information has been gleaned from past renovation projects as well as some of our original Keepers’ records. A Barracks reroofing project years ago produced a couple of fascinating finds. Among the layers of the former roofing projects, interesting details emerged surrounding construction activity at the Light Station. Original roof material was still present beneath a replacement metal roof. When this metal was removed, examples of original shingles were found! On the reverse side of these shingles was the name and location of the local manufacturer (nearby Palatka).

Shingles with manufacturer’s stamp.

The other amazing find was a section of roofing liner below the wood shingles with a portion of it signed by the individuals believed to have laid the roofing material, as well as the person who completed the electrical work. The fragments of paper are amazingly preserved and one can still clearly read the date of “April 28th 1942” for when the work was completed, and that the laborers were from Daytona Beach (possibly an indication of how busy it was in St. Augustine).

Fragment of paper showing the name and location of the laborers.

By the beginning of May, keeper correspondence suggests the structure is ready for occupation with mentions that the furniture has arrived (including a studio couch, for those who are curious). As staff has conducted searches in correspondence, we have previously been able to note some timeline issues or like most construction projects, a “delay” or “problem” during construction. For example, the coastal dwelling Keeper correspondence from August 1942 indicates the structure and wiring are complete, but additional work is required in order to connect to the main power line. We have also discovered that our first coastguardsmen reporting for lookout duty arrived in July 1942.

Letter from C.D. Daniels confirming arrival and subsequent assignment of coastguardsmen.

A copy of Keeper Daniels’ official report to superiors notes their arrival, and that yet again the dwelling is not quite ready for occupation. When we examine the roster of who arrives, one name is familiar to us: H.D. Defee. He is of interest to us because Defee’s name was previously found etched in concrete by the garage of the same time period. Interestingly, we know the concrete work was completed in 1944 so apparently he had at least a couple stints at the Lighthouse during the war. Restoration projects often reveal history that would not ever be found in any record. This is the case here at the Lighthouse. We suspect that as the restoration project continues, we are sure to find additional surprises!

Contributed by Chief Curator Jason Titcomb, edited by Student Intern Jayda Barnes

American Alliance of Museums Accreditation

Last year, the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum sent in an application to become an accredited museum with the American Alliance of Museums.

Our Museum is working toward accreditation with the American Alliance of Museums.

The AAM has brought museums together for over a hundred years. They have assisted with the development of standards and best practices, gathering and sharing of knowledge, as well as been a catalyst for museum advocacy.

Being an accredited AAM museum is national recognition of your museum’s commitment to excellence and highest professional standards with regards to museum operation and public service.

In the United States, accreditation is one of the highest honors a museum can receive, and only around 1,000 museums are accredited.  Additionally, accreditation provides access to more resources to better serve the public trust through our mission to preserve the stories of the Nation’s Oldest Port. Continue reading

What’s in a Collection? A Comical Chain Letter

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.

chain-letter1

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

What’s In a Collection? Fact or Fiction Night

Each month we have a special event for our members. Last month was Fact or Fiction, where we provided two stories for each object brought from the collections storage. It was up to the members to decide which story was the correct one.

Many of these objects might not see the inside of an exhibit space and to have the opportunity to highlight them is fun for us. We thought that since not everyone could be at the event we would share the facts with all of you.

Enjoy this in-depth look at some of the artifacts that caught our interest!

Hygrometer

HygrometerMonitoring the weather was one of many tasks assigned to a lighthouse keeper. They would use a tool called a hygrometer, which we highlighted in a previous blog, to take humidity readings. Horsehair was strung across, which would react to the change in humidity causing the needle to move indicating the relative humidity of the area. Here are the inner workings for a 19th century Hygrometer.  It was found during an archaeological excavation of the keepers’ trash pit while building our visitor center. We have found many objects that the keepers had discarded that we have used to help us better understand their lives. Continue reading

What’s in a Collection? Sailmaker’s Palm

Our artifact highlight this month is an interesting example of some of our maritime heritage collection.  This object is referred to by several names such as a sailmaker’s palm, sewing palm or sailors palm thimble.  The multiple names are probably a reflection of the diverse audience that would actually use one.

Photo 2

Sailmaker’s palm is associated with the art of sail making.  This tool was important for sewing through tough material like leather and multiple layers of canvas.  This “specialized glove” would protect a person’s hand from the sewing needle.  The sailmaker’s palm would go over your whole hand with a hole for your thumb and a strap across the back of the hand to keep it in place.  Continue reading