True Confession: The Lightner Museum was not on our list of things to do while in St. Augustine on our recent road trip.
The Lightner Museum
75 King Street
St. Augustine, Florida 32084
We love getting lost in a local museum with more extended visits. Unfortunately, with a 9 Day Southern Road Trip and only three days in each city, we didn’t include exploring museums.
As luck would have it, we were wandering through the Plaza de la Constituciòn and ran across a longtime colleague of Mark’s. He was headed to the Lightner Museum and invited us to tag along. This colleague of Mark’s was checking in on the setup of a wedding that evening in the museum.
Something we rarely talk about in our travel blog – Mark is one of only 47 people in the world who hold the designation of Master Wedding Planner. Mark sold his wedding planning company in Philadelphia when we moved to Florida and currently writes for the wedding industry.
Otto C. Lightner
In 1948, Otto C. Lightner, a Chicago publisher, founded The Lightner Museum.
Lightner was the publisher of Hobbies magazine. The passion for hobbies and collecting swept America around the time of the Great Depression. Not only was Lightner a publisher, but he too loved collecting.
The Lightner Museum’s Mission Statement: To inspire curiosity, excite minds, and enrich lives through our unique collection, historic building, and dynamic exhibitions and programs.
Lightner initially displayed his collections in Chicago, encouraging readers of Hobbies magazine to send him their collections. After visiting St. Augustine, Lightner purchased the current space to display his collections.
And, an exciting collection it is. The museum includes everything from shrunken heads and a sarcophagus to a carved wooden statue of Francis I, King of France. It also has immense collections of stained glass, porcelain, and crystal. There are tens of thousands of pieces in the collection ranging from fine art pieces to oddities.
We were intrigued by the African lion that is part of the collection. The Zoological Society of London presented it to Winston Churchill to recognize victories in North Africa.
The Excelsior blew our minds. It is a blown and drawn glass steam engine. Built in the 1890’s it was exhibited in complete working condition across the North East, including P.T. Barnum’s first museum.
The Music Room
One small room in the exhibition showcased a collection of unique musical objects, including player pianos and Victrolas.
One of the most intriguing was a coin-operated Violano-Virtuoso. The creation was built in 1927 and used mainly in hotels and restaurants. The electric violin and piano are played alone or together with each violin string playing with a circular bow operated by a small motor. The music is programmed on a paper roll that automatically rewinds itself.
The Former Alcazar Hotel
The entire collection is housed in the former Alcazar Hotel. It was a hotel resort built in 1888 during the Gilded Age. Railroad magnate Henry Flagler commissioned the Spanish Renaissance Revival building.
The museum has beautiful gardens and fountains leading into a fantastic building. Weddings are hosted in what once was the hotel’s pool area.
In other exhibits, you walk through the hotel’s sauna. Each space is woven through beautiful balconies, hallways, and rooms, preserving incredible architecture.
We’re so glad we were given the opportunity to explore this unique part of St. Augustine’s history.