Read the latest dispatch from the What's It Wagon

11 Jul 2010 Gettysburg

19 Feb 2002 Olustee

27 Jan 2002 Alafia Mountain Man Rendezvous

19 Jan 2002 Brookesville Reenacment

21 Feb 2001 Battle of Olustee 2001

27 Jan 2001 Alafia Mountain Man Rendezvous

19 Jan 2001 Bitter Weather Makes Reenacting A Chilling Experience

23 Oct 2000 Hunsader's Revisited

16 Oct 2000 The Photographist

04 May 2000 Off to the Ancient City

31 Mar 2000 Cow Cavalry Wedding at Hunsader's Farm

21 Feb 2000 Front Lines at the Battle of Olustee, Florida

12 Feb 2000 Return From The 1840s

19 Jan 2000 Mountain Man Rendezvous, Alafia, Fla.

19 Jan 2000 Brookesville Raid Reenactment Brookesville, Fla.

03 Jul 1998 Mountain Man Rendezvous, Fla.

Off to the Ancient City

May 04, 2000

In time for the first official days of Spring, I headed up the road towards St. Augustine and the St. Augustine’s Preservation Board’s Victorian Spring 2,000 Festival. This was my second year to be their vintage photographer, and I looked forward to the event with enthusiasm.

St. Augustine has long been my favorite city, primarily because of the history surrounding the place, but the architecture and over all ambience are special too. The Victorian houses take their place beside the Spanish and British designs. They make a lovely patchwork quilt of home colors. The fern-like trees shed their light shadows on the streets, and stand delicately in contrast to the more massive live oaks. The cabbage palm trees rattle in the Atlantic sea breezes, giving a tropical look to the narrow European streets and alleyways.

As I headed up the highway, I could almost see Florida start to rise from the ocean. More and more tourists were headed North as part of their summer migration, back to their original nesting grounds. The traffic on the interstate was monumental. At one moment it was moving at sixty-five miles an hour, at others it crawled along at thirty. In fact, it became so dangerous, I took to the back roads. I traveled the less frequented highways only known to lifelong residents of Florida. At times I had the road all to myself. I rode through the horse country around Ocala and then north to Orange Springs. I took the back ways only frequented by huge logging trucks.

I saw new born calves, baby donkeys and tiny little churches which must have held minuscule congregations. The roads were sometimes arched over with an oak leaf canopy. They had more twists and turns than a snake. It wasn’t a fast trip, but I had allowed plenty time to travel. It sure beat the insanity of the major highways. I stopped at Cracker Barrel restaurant to get a small breakfast of bran muffins and cinnamon baked apples. When I returned to the van, I realized I had left my lights on. The battery had gone dead. I prayed that this was not a harbinger of further doom and destruction.

Not to worry! The Triple AAA card came to the rescue. An hour later the tow truck came and I was rescued. It was at that point I made my decision to do what I like to do best, escape as much civilization as possible and go by country roads.

By noon, I was in St. Augustine. I parked my gear at the hotel provided by the Preservation Board’s hospitality and headed for the White Lion Tavern across from the Castillio de San Marcos. No sooner had I sat down, than I noticed the gent sitting next to me was dressed in 16th century period clothing. It didn’t take but a moment to strike up a conversation with the man in the knee britches and full sleeved shirt.

His name was Tom Hardy. He directs the personnel at the Historic Spanish Quarters Living History Museum, owned by the city. His interests couldn’t have been any more in tune with my own had I designed the man myself. We talked for three hours and shared personal histories, and every historical question either of us could dream up. The odd thing was, like myself, he was from Philadelphia originally too. He invited me to visit the museum the next morning before reporting to my “shoot” at the Victorian Spring Festival.

Our meeting concluded, I took a walk along the sea wall, and then up St. George Street to gaze in the shops and indulge my taste for pralines, those maple sugar patties crusted with pecans. They’re disgustingly sweet, but since they are only a sometimes treat, I over indulged in a couple.

The next morning I went to the “Spanish Quarter” to find Tom. He suggested I look around wherever my curiosity led me. I went from one cottage to the next, and then to the blacksmiths. I finally wound up in the kitchen run by a sweet young lady named, Ann Marie. She was dressed as a Minorcan housewife in a plain maroon dress with a white apron. Her hair was done up in a scarf. Her shoes were leather sandals. She was making lunch on a charcoal stove. The herbs she had just cut from her garden scented the room with spices. Oddly she was making picadilla which I had made earlier in the week. In addition to the olives which I included, she added rosins for an extra zing. My next batch will have them too.

The main house to the complex is on St. George Street, the main road through the historic district. It was decorated in the 1840’s style of it’s long past. The furnishings were like the ones in my house, so I was curious to see what decorating touches they had. The most outstanding feature was the contrast between the dark mahogany wood, and the white washed walls. There was no wall paper or stenciling. Actually, the place was fairly stark.

There was still time for more on the morning’s walk, so I headed across town to the “Oldest House”. I browsed their book shop portion of the gift shop. I bought a book by William Dean Howells, Mark Twain’s old buddy. It covered his 1890’s visit to St. Augustine. There was also a book by Eugenia Price called M aria, which had the old city as its setting. Having made my purchase, I headed back to the hotel to dress for the “shoot.”

Attired in dark trousers, a white reenactment shirt, and my blood red vest, and pocket watch, I headed down town to find the city square already surrounded on all sides with antique automobiles of various ages, from Model T Fords to the expensive Pierce Arrows, to a 1939 Florida Highway Patrol car.

It was this last vehicle where I almost had a run in with the law, literally. I wasn't sure whether his car was going to stop when he angled his patrol car up to the curb. My equipment was set up at that very spot. The car bounced up onto the curb, and jarred my table, but immediately dropped down to the street proper. My equipment was saved. The highway patrolman was very concerned that my stuff was O.K. I assured him it was just fine, and proceeded to make a picture of him and his prized cruiser.

At first business was slow, so I took some photographic plates, put them into my canvas bag and wandered the plaza. There was a brass band, a barbershop quartet, a nurses’ station decked out with a staff in early nineteen hundred’s costume. Many of the car owners were also dressed for whatever vintage their car represented. What pleased me most, however, was the antique bicycle club dressed in Victorian dresses for the ladies, and knickers and caps for the men. They had tricycles and Big Wheelers, that were spectacular looking, plus they wanted me to do a group photo of them later in the afternoon. I was more than looking forward to their posing for me. Guaranteed of at least one good job, I went back to my post by Government House, and waited for them to cycle by.

In the meantime I managed to get in a few portraits. Then the owners of the two Pierce Arrows asked me to photograph both cars together. Imagine getting paid for pictures that I would gladly have done for free, just to have a copy of the pictures. The problem was, there were so many people filling in the background in modern dress, I don’t know how absolutely pure the pictures will turn out. There was s Keystone Cop trying to direct pedestrian traffic, but I can’t guarantee how pure vintage the picture will turn out. Perhaps I can vignette the background people out somewhat.

When the bicycle club wheeled over to where I was set up, they created a sensation. Crowds gathered, and it became a question of how to control the mob gathered, and still get my pictures. I gave the amateurs a moment with the cyclists, and then posed them the way I wanted. There were a dozen or so, and the quarters we had to work in were tight. The winds were also terrific. The focusing cloth kept blowing off, the camera jiggled with the strong breezes. I am not sure what I captured on the plates, and eagerly look forward to developing the plates to check for my successes and near misses. I took many shots and combinations of the bikers, and pray for good images. They mentioned they have a national get together in the summer. I intend to make some follow up phone calls to see if I should be on hand to photograph more of these interesting people.

When the main event closed down, I went to the dinner they held beside the marina. I sat with the Mark Twain Look Alike and his family. Susan B. Anthony, the woman’s suffragette reenactor, was sipping a glass of wine, which was rather amusing. Susan B. was a tea-totaller! There was a small symphonic orchestra playing light classical music. The weather was cool and dry, the company pleasant, and I had a few new dollars in my pocket. It was a good day.

The next day I went back to the Spanish Quarter and resumed my friendship with the folks I had met there. There is even discussion of doing a couple of short pamphlets together on a recipe book, and one on the historic gardening. I have heard plans like this before, so know to take them with a grain of salt.

I did go into the museum shop, and purchased a full sleeved muslin shirt of onansburg with the four button placate. I had also purchased a light muslin one from the Panama Shop. Now resplendent in my new attire, I took a final walk down St. George Street to say goodbye to the town that makes me feel so much at home, where history seems to come alive at every turn. I had a quick lunch at the Spanish Bakery and headed to my van for the return trip to Safety Harbor.

Copyright ©2000 City Gallery.