This past weekend my husband and I went to St. Augustine to take in the sites, and ride our bikes someplace new. I polled my FB friends for a the best museum in St. Augustine and the Lighthouse came up a few times. I was suspicious about the amount of engagement or amusement I would find in a lighthouse, but I was pleasantly surprised!
This museum is very cool. Part of me wants to write a step by step description of our visit, but no one wants to read that, so I’ll stick to a short list of topics and a lot of photos.
A Community Museum
From the Junior League display in the lobby to the Boy Scout sign on the nature trail, the community’s involvement in the lighthouse is hard to miss. Rather than talking about the people who ran the lighthouse and lived on the property like untouchable past characters, the museum approaches past keepers like members of the contemporary community. The museum displayed exhibits about both the nineteenth century lighthouse keeper and his late twentieth century lighthouse counterpart. This inclusive narrative brings the distant and recent pasts closer together, making the remembered past a part of the often celebrated (or romanticized) past.
The Innovative House Museum
I like house museums. I understand many people do not, but I do. I appreciate old style house museums that celebrate interior décor and are themselves relics of the past. I also like innovative interpretations of the classic model. People talk constantly about the over abundance of house museums and debate about calling for an end to them, but I think those talks are short sighted. What we need to remember is that the classic house museum is only one way to interpret a building. I found The Lighthouse Museum to be a great example of how creative reinterpretation can enliven house museums and (hopefully) silence nay-sayers.
The Lighthouse Museum mixes together elements from a hands-on museum with the thoughtful design elements of a classic house museum. These two worlds come together in the form of digital screens embedded into mock antique furniture. The screens show first person accounts of daily life, the Civil War, gender roles and archaeological work. Each display features a mother, a father, and a daughter’s perspective on nineteenth century life, work, politics, and the site’s archaeologist who offers insight into the museum’s interpretive process.
Many museums suffer from their attempts to keep the public and the interpretative process separate. The lighthouse uses its archaeological research and documents to show guests the logic and hard work behind the museum’s narrative. Introducing all guests, not just special ticket holders, to the museum’s evidence creates a greater sense of trust between the guest and institution. This trust helps make the museum a part of the community, not a monolithic institution separate from its local constituents.
It is truly a neat place.