Friday, December 16, 2011

A History Lesson

Posted: December 8, 12:19 pm | (permalink) | (0 comments)
You’ve seen them on Main Street – those souvenir shops selling t-shirts that mockingly proclaim Annapolis to be “a quaint little drinking town with a sailing problem.” By contrast, local artist Dean Quigley described St Augustine to me as “a quaint little drinking town with a history problem.” Wazzup here? Are all the locals overwhelmed with their town’s past? First Grace Sparrow and her [broken] time machine, now this? Maybe so. Maybe you can’t help but have a sense of history if you’re surrounded by reminders of it. Or maybe, it’s just so darn colorful. Or maybe there’s a special interest that we just happened to tap into, since we arrived here as the town was gearing up to celebrate its 450th anniversary.

When I retired, I made a promise to myself that I’d read at least one non-fiction book per month, cover to cover. This, I hoped, would keep my brain from turning to jello without the stimulation of the work world. That was one reason; the second was that my friend authorMary LoVerde once said that only 1% or less of the population read one non-fiction book per month and I wanted to be part of that statistic. (You know that “richest 1%” that we’re hearing so much about in politics these days? Well, I’ll never qualify to be part of that 1%. But a non-fiction-book-per-month 1%? That I can do.) Anyway, I learned that the city was building awareness of the anniversary with a series of free public lectures on aspects of that history. Figuring that maybe a historical lecture might count towards my nonfiction for the month (hey, cut me some slack – it’s the holidays, after all!) Dan and I made plans to attend.

It might as well have been a rock concert, because that’s the only place I have ever seen an eager crowd like that packing the steps in front of the locked auditorium doors more than an hour before the program would start, standing in the chilly drizzly rain on a weeknight to get the best seats … until last night. For a history lecture? Well, yes, because all those folks knew what we were about to learn; this was no ordinary dry scholarly history lecture, although there was lots of scholarship and lots of facts. There were also music and swordfights and costumes and a guest appearance by the mayor (in pirate garb); what the local paper called “an evening of pirate and maritime information and entertainment.” (You can read their excellent account of the event here.) The next event in the series is in January, and I guess Dan and I will be among those standing in front of the locked doors an hour or more before the event will start, in order to get good seats.

[Quentin Mosier demonstrates historical navigation tools. I love the mathematical elegance of these old techniques (but at the same time, I wouldn’t voluntarily give up my GPS!)]

[Maritime archaeologist Sam Turner took us on a tour of this map of St Augustine and the inlet from the sea, the oldest item in the State Archives of Florida. More than just a map, he explained; the tiny illustrations dotted all over depict the story of Sir Francis Drake’s attack on the town in 1586.]

[Actor Chad Light explained various weapons of the period … from a pirate’s point of view.]

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