By ANGELA deGREGORY
SAINT AUGUSTINE – When visiting the Lightner Museum people immediately take notice of the exhibits. Under the surface however, there are other important details too. For example, keeping the lights on at the Lightner.
“Keeping the lights on,” refers to not only the straightforward sense of the words, but symbolically as well. What happens in the depths of any museum is a whole lot more interesting than you could imagine, especially when you consider the all-encompassing collection, and the creative, quick-witted staff and volunteers at the Lightner Museum. Behind the scenes at the Lightner, there is an entire closet dedicated to storing the various types of bulbs that our inumerable and diverse light fixtures require.
Fun Fact: There are exactly 123 bulbs lighting up the Ballroom Gallery.
James Gibbs has been the custodian at the Lightner Museum for about 15 years, and one of his major responsibilities is changing the hundreds of light bulbs in the building when they burn out. James is often overlooked by those who do not know him, but once he gets comfortable with you, his dry humor is brilliant and adds a spark to your day. He is one of those colleagues that makes it easier to enjoy the work day.
If you see a burnt out bulb at the Lightner please know that it happens frequently, and James is probably around the building replacing one of the other hundreds of bulbs. We promise to get to it soon!
When the building that is now the Lightner Museum was constructed in 1887 as the Alcazar Hotel, it was one of the first buildings in Saint Augustine to have electricity. When the Alcazar opened in 1888, guests staying at the hotel were afraid to turn on the light switches for the fear of being electrocuted.
Fun Fact: Thomas Edison’s Company electrified the Alcazar Hotel!
During the evenings at the Alcazar, 1000 lights would illuminate the Casino. The museum discovered the lights during the restoration of the Ballroom Gallery in 1997, when rows of lights were found concealed behind the original moulding. The impressive lights in the Casino were written about numerous times in Saint Augustine’s newspaper, the Tatler.
“Beautiful as the effect is during the day, the many electric lights, nearly 1000 in number, that are concealed in the moulding, enhances at night.” January 20, 1894
When large parties and events were hosted by the Alcazar Hotel, it was common for the guests to spill over into the gardens throughout the evening. It became common for the gardens to be lit up with thousands of lights that created an ambiance for the party. The Alcazar hosted the occasional light show for visitors of Saint Augustine, which was something very advanced for Florida during the Flagler era. The massive Alcazar Hotel sign even lit up with electric lights. The Lightner still owns the Alcazar sign, and we hope to have it restored sometime soon!
As we approach the 130th Anniversary of the Alcazar Hotel, the monthly electric bill is now approximately $6,000 a month. With 123 light bulbs in the Ballroom Gallery alone, you can imagine why the electric bill is so astronomical. The Lightner is working towards replacing all of its bulbs with LED bulbs as they are more sustainable, and better suited for preserving the Museum’s artifacts.
Oct. 19 the Lightner Museum will be hosting an event called Promenade the Alcazar to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the Lightner Museum, and the 130th Anniversary of the Alcazar Hotel. Stay tuned for more information about the event, and to hear about more enlightening events and programs that will be coming our way. Just know that the lights are staying on, and the Lightner Museum will be as illuminated as ever!