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
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
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