By DANIELA TOPOREK
SAINT AUGUSTINE – During the COVID-19 shutdown, establishments have used the free time to work on cleaning, renovation and innovation, and St. Augustine’s Lightner Museum is no different.
Upon entering the bright, tiled lobby, guests will notice a tall, wooden grandfather clock with detailed carvings, telling the fairytale of Dick Whittington, mayor of London three times in the 1700s.
The fairytale told his life story, but according to the museum’s associate director Ray Eme, the story is completely false.
“When he [Whittington] was a peasant boy, he had a cat who escaped on a ship to Spain and found its way to the king’s castle, and it killed all the rats in the castle,” Eme said. “The king was so pleased he wanted to find the cat’s owner and pay him enough money for him to run his campaign for mayor of London.”
The 2,500-pound clock has been part of the Lightner for some time but was relocated into the lobby while the mechanics of the clock are being repaired off-site, with plans to be reinstalled in August.
Inside the check-in area, the entire first floor was renovated, from new floors to a new gift shop, with more light and space, replacing the Victorian Village.
The Lightner also renovated its Music Room and is currently in the process of assessing its mechanical instruments to be repaired and restored. A blank wall stares right across room’s entrance, waiting for the right artist to showcase their talent.
“That back wall is for the mural contest. Artists have until July 15 to submit their work,” said Angela deGregory, volunteer coordinator and events manager of the museum. According to deGregory, artists can submit mural concepts that
The Science and Industry room was also worked on, with Winston Churchill’s taxidermized pets, a lion and an American alligator.
Up on the second floor, museum regulars will notice that the Stained-Glass Gallery was also replaced with American Brilliant Cut Glass, shining from one end of the room to the other, but there was one exception.
“You see how that glass isn’t as vibrant as the others?” Eme noted. “That’s because it’s not American glass. That’s Irish-cut glass. The difference is that the sand found here has lead in it, which gives it that shiny, crystal tone to it.”
New to the Ballroom Gallery is the newly restored bronze statue, Winged Mercury, c. 1890. (Fun fact, the restoration cost was $5,000), and the painting, Return of Persephone, c. 1906, donated by Jacksonville arts patron David Gonzales.
While Florida continues phase one of reopening, museums can now hold 50% capacity, and in a small town like St. Augustine, the Lightner Museum has found refreshing ideas to give guests a reason to revisit.
“St. Augustine is such a small community that people forget that we have this place,” deGregory said. “I only live a couple miles away from here. This is right here, where we live.”