This past Friday I found myself exploring our neighbor to the south, St. Augustine. I had always been curious about the various lighthouses I’d seen throughout the years standing tall across the coastline of North Florida, thus I decided to pay a visit to the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum. I got in touch with Shannon O’Neil who is the director of public relations for the museum. Shannon was kind enough to spare me a half hour of her time to discuss the history of the lighthouse as well as talk about some fun activities that the museum is about to launch. The interview took place in a historic building right next to the light house and that in it’s own right made for an interesting story. The building I conducted the interview in was originally built in 1876, but was very close to being bulldozed by order of the St. Johns County local government as it had stood abandoned for decades after a ferocious fire destroyed most of it.
The Junior Service League intervened and prevented the historic landmark’s certain destruction and revitalized the building to create the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum which opened in the early 1990’s. I asked Shannon what got her personally involved with her current work and she told me that she grew up in St. Augustine and that she’d always had an interest in history. She’d also studied public relations and sports administration at Florida State University.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum started it’s Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program in 1999. LAMP has been a big part of the museum’s latest exhibit called “Wrecked” scheduled to open this week. Over the course of the last six years the archeological team has been involved in an underwater excavation project of a ship that ran aground close to St. Augustine’s shore in 1782. The ship was carrying expelled British loyalists from Charleston South Carolina to St. Augustine which was still controlled by the British. While many of the crew survived the wreckage most of their belongings remained on the ship as it was lost. LAMP has been able to recovery many artifacts from this wreckage over the course of many dives off of St. Augustine’s coast.
The museum features a modern tactile and interactive exhibit experience that is meant to engage young kids in learning while still offering an interesting experience for grown ups. The newly redesigned exhibit experience was created by the husband and wife team at Architecture Is Fun that specializes in modern museum exhibits. One can come to expect the traditional museum displays mixed with interactive tablet games and a simulated ocean floor design which is meant to provide the excavation experience to the museum visitor.
The museum hosts several fun events throughout the year including the “Dark Of The Moon” haunted ghost tours where guests can even rent an EMF reader to detect spirits wandering the grounds. Shannon also told me that their museum has been featured on the SciFi channel’s Ghost Hunters program. In addition to the ghost tours visitors can also enjoy a glimpse at the Heritage Boat Works workshop where local craftsmen build boats the very same way that they were built over two hundred years ago. They also have the Keeper’s Cafe which serves refreshments and snacks to the museum’s visitors.
Shannon let me in on a little secret, during the Fourth of July they sell a very limited amount of tickets to a viewing of St. Augustine’s firework display from the top of the lighthouse. The tickets are pretty much sold out the first day that they go on sale. They also feature camps for toddlers called the “Little Keepers” program where toddlers learn basics of science associated with light.
I asked Shannon what one of the biggest challenges that the museum faces on a regular basis is and she told me that the property is constantly undergoing historic preservation due to the age of the site. A recent example of this was the new paint job that the fourteen story tower had recently undergone, the price tag of this project alone was around $280,000. The museum is a non-profit linked to the Smithsonian Institute, but it relies heavily on donations, memberships, and visitor admissions fees to cover it’s operational costs.
Admissions for adults will run you $12.95 and the “Dark Of The Moon” tours runs every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night at a price of $25.00. Behind the scenes tours are also available every hour on the hour Monday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Active military get in for free.
To find more information on the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum visit their website at www.staugustinelighthouse.com.
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Written and published for BUZZ Magazine, April 2016.