6.04.2010

the entrepreneur (iv)

When the city relocated into its new municipal building in 1899, it was a sign of civic success. Gone was the dusty old wooden building dating from Florida’s territorial days and in its place stood a brick center of power, solid, square. In it was all the officers and departments of the city, but a half century later government had outgrown the city hall and relocated again. The city considered itself lucky to find a buyer.

St. Augustine City Hall before it became The Old City Hall Museum

At first Dan lived in the old fireman’s bunk room because it had all the required facilities, but later moved a couple of blocks west into a neglected Victorian house. The old building offered a court room, a jail, a fire station, an auditorium and lots of small rooms that were former offices. In 1954, just five years after opening, The Old City Hall Museum, was the most popular attraction in the city except for the fort. Part of the reason was because there was so, so much stuff in his museum.

The courtroom was now the High Judge’s Chamber and the jail the Inquisition Museum. The auditorium had a map of the Atlantic Ocean from the English Channel to the Gulf of Mexico with St. Augustine centered as the most significant place in the world in 1565. Hourly, the lights would dim and small colored lights--yellow for Spain, blue for the England, red for the France and all pirates--would illustrate the trade routes and the various unsuccessful attacks on the city.

The former offices of clerks and typists were filled with an array of collections Dan had purchased from other museums or, mostly, estate sales of hoarders. There were sea shells and rocks, cigar box tops and hair combs, knives and playing cards, fountain pins and broaches and cuff links, rattles from rattle snakes and hundreds of sharks’ teeth. With each collection went a story about the collector and the struggle The Old City Hall Museum went through to secure the rights to display this one-of-a-kind-in-the-world-collection.

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