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Give Back Its Lost Dignity
Historical St. Augustine
"St. Augustine has a background and has a history and is dignified by it. Let us not diminish its dignity by making it a catchpenny town."
-Dr. ANDREW ANDERSON
Supplement to the pamphet "Fact versus Fiction for the new Historical St. A ugustine. A review in support of Dr. Verne E. Chatelain's declaration: 'The program at St. Augustine must be absolutely sound historically without any flimflams or phoney
By CHARLES B. REYNOLDS
Member Florida Historical Society and Florida State Historical Society
MOUNTAIN LAKES, N. J.
PUBLISHED hY THE AUTHOR 1938
Give Back Its Lost Dignity to
Historical St. Augustine.
In the course of his Armistice Day speech of 1921, addressing a gathering assembled to receive from him the bronze flagstaff base adorning the Circle named for him, Dr. Andrew Anderson, at a point in the speech deploring the tourist hoaxes of the city, exclaimed:
"St. Augustine has a background and has a history and is dignified by it. Let us not diminish its dignity
by making it a catchpenny town."
It was the voice of a loyal son of St. Augustine, the voice of a benefactor whose bestowments on his native city have aggregated many hundreds of thousands of dollars, the voice of one who by his life and carriage among men gave dignity to his home town, the voice of one who loved St. Augustine and whom St. Augustine loved and honored.
His words were a plea and an admonition. But the plea met no response, the admonition fell on unheeding ears. St. Augustine chose to disregard them.
Recalled to memory after this interval of time, the plea is as urgent, the admonition as truly the counsel of wisdom, as when spoken, and today more insistent and imperative than then.
For greed, low cunning and audacious mendacity long since despoiled St. Augustine of the dignity conferred upon it by its history; and tricky practices have degraded it to a catchpenny town with decep tive devices based on frauds to delude the stranger. Mean and vulgar in origins the mercenary deceptions have developed into big business institutions counting their dupes by thousands, dominating the town politically and supported by public sentiment because of bringing revenue to the city. The Mayor, who by virtue of his office is charged with upholding the dignity of the city, maintains flimflam markers in his privately owned Fountain of Youth Park. The local newspaper, The St. Augustine Record, has been a strenuous defender of the frauds from their inception. Truly, Dr. Anderson's plea was in vain. For seventeen years his admonition has been flouted.
Time and the course of- events have, today brought a situation in which St. Augustige i' a in'"Ulld 6 mal&.~oice of its future and by a decision not4es'i ro' entous than that of f 921 .':
I -: .! :,: : .
The alternatives open to it are whether it shall continue its system of flimflamming the tourist, or, on the other hand, having accepted the Carnegie restoration plan, it shall render whole-hearted co-operation to secure the attainment of the Carnegie objective.
Only with this co-operation can be achieved the objective as defined by Dr. Chatelain, when, speaking for the Carnegie Institution and its associate sponsors, he said: "The program at St. Augustine must be absolutely sound historically without any flimflams or phoney stories."
From the day of his announcement in January, 1937, this has been accepted as being the St. Augustine intended in the Carnegie plan. It was the city the National Committee members understood they were to sponsor, and it is the only city those members who have expressed themselves to me would stand for.
It was the .St. Augustine for which the State appropriation of $50,000 was made. The Legislature would not have voted the grant for a town they knew was to deal deceitfully with visitors coming into Florida.
It was the St. Augustine for which Dr. Merriam gave assurance that the funds would be forthcoming if the object was worthy, the only one for which he can now ask contributions, the only one to which he will accord the world-wide prestige of the Institution.
It is such a city of the future as will give back the lost dignity of historical St. Augustine--a city absolutely sound historically without any flimflams or phoney stories.
And, be it repeated, this Carnegie objective cannot have realization without the full co-operation of the city of today.
This co-operation means that every object and every institution spuriously represented as having historical interest but actually being devoid of it must be eliminated or so altered as to conform with the truth of recorded history. ("Must" as used here and following means must if the city shall co-operate to obtain the Carnegie objective.) Specifically this applies to the things discussed in Fact versus Fiction and there demonstrated to be unhistorical. They include the following.
The Cordova Street Marker. The Plaza Market.-The unhistorical false and deceptive markers erected by the Fact-Finding Committee and legalized by the City Commission, designating Cordova street as the western bound of the city up to 1885; and describing the Plaza market as the Slave Market, and saying it has been so-called since 1783.
The Unhistorical Post Office Panel.-The panel in the Post Office falsely stating that the present building, or the one preceding it on the
site, built in 1834 as a Court House, was a Spanish Governor General's Palace built 1597-1603. The unfinished exterior wall space must be shown to be a remnant of the 1834 Court House.
The Arsenal Marker Date.-The erroneous date "Erected about 1600" in the legend of the State Arsenal marker must be corrected to the date of the completion of the stone building in 1756.
The Harris House.-The W. J. Harris "School House" on St. George street asserted to be the "oldest frame house in U. S. A.", and termed the "Cradle of American Education". These claims being mendacious, the further claim that the house was built by Juan Genoply in 1778 is to be considered false until an independent investigation by others than the Fact-Finding Committee and the City Commission shall have identified it as a house built by Juan Genoply in 1778.
The "Huguenot Cemetery." The unhistorical marker "Huguenot Cemetery" at the cemetery beyond the City Gates and so called by the negro drivers and the pseudo-historians must be removed.
In Mayor Fraser's Fountain of Youth Park.-The flimflam stone marker describing the Williams well as a spring discovered in 1513. The coquina cross planted and dug up by Luella Day McConnell in 1909, concerning which the guides tell visitors the phoney story that it was laid by Ponce de Leon to record the year 1513 of his discovery. The unhistorical Ponce de Leon landing place marker on Hospital Creek. The Fact-Finding Committee and City Commission marker relating to Fort San Juan de Pinos. The deluding pamphlet, The Fountain of Youth, written for Mayor Fraser by Carita Doggett Corse must be revised to comport with the truth of history. Mayor Fraser's Mock Chapel has been removed.
The Society's House.-The St. Augustine Historical Society's oldest house in the United States, concerning which President Dunham has written that the statement authorized is Miss Wilson's formula: "That according to tradition it was built for the Friars or Monks who came with Menendez." The fact is that, as unwittingly but conclusively demonstrated by Miss Wilson herself, the house cannot be known even to be the oldest house in the city, and therefore cannot be shown as such.
There is presented here a seeming paradox. How shall it be explained that certain members of the Society and other residents, who are themselves truthful and demand truthfulness from others, and whose self-respect forbids them to lie or to be lied to, nevertheless abet and defend falsehoods and deceptions told for the catchpenny hoaxing of tourists?
The answer is for some, we cannot know for how many, that these
do not abet what they know to be falsehoods, but what they erroneously believe to be truthful statements of historical fact. They themselves have been deluded and are as egregiously duped as the victimized tourists. Numerous factors have contributed to and fostered their
When the Historical Society in 1918 fell into the hands of fakers
they adopted the false claims of former owners and concocted new ones of their own. The Society members accepted all these and were deluded.
When the claims, having been disputed, were reported by the official Historian to be true, including the one of the Menendez monk builders, the members accepted her report as historical truth, and again were deluded. President Chauncey Depew, assured by those he consulted in the Society that the claims were valid, believed in them, was deluded, became a militant defender of the fictions and in successive annual meetings declared his faith, thus deluding his hearers who believed as he i himself believed that he was telling them the truth. His connection
with the Society as patron and Honorary President commanded respect for it and confidence in its representations. So far as known he was
In the beginning the Record duped its readers by endorsing the
false claims and the faked antiques in the house. It has been the mouthpiece of the fakers ever since, down to the present when the editorials on this topic-products of ignorance, crotchets and vindictivenessmislead such of their readers as believe them. (It is an occasion of deep regret that the Record should not have recognized its obligation to the public and having investigated the facts aligned itself on the side of
When Mrs. McConnell dug up her coquina cross and converted
the Williams well into a spring discovered in 1513, both the Record and the Historical Society endorsed these and thus added to the delusion of the credulous.
Mayor Bassett's one-man Fact-Finding Committee's markers, with
the false legends legalized by the City Commission, further deluded those who knew no better. (Visiting Daughters seeing the initials appended to Miss Hawkins's name on the markers mistakenly infer that the D.A.R. has sponsored the deluding text.) The printed matter and photos issued by the Chamber of Commerce for publicity purposes featured the commercial fakes thereby misleading the townspeople as well as the tourists.
With these several factors making for belief in the deceptions it
;s little wonder that they should have found acceptance in honest but mistaken minds.
The delusion will not be permanent. It cannot outlast enlightenment. If readers of Fact versus Fiction shall not find their enlighten-ment in its informative account of the origin and development of the
-ourist hoaxes of St. Augustine they will eventually be disillusioned.
Following the receipt of Fact versus Fiction the President of the Chamber of Commerce called a special meeting of the board of ,directors. Representatives of the City Commission, the County Commission and the St. Augustine Historical Society were requested to attend. One of the purposes of the meeting as specified in the call was consideration of the pamphlet. After a period of heated adverse discussion, examination showed the document to'contain a true presencation of the system of tourist deceptions operating in the city. But no action was taken by the Chamber looking to correction of the situation by abatement of the fraudulent practices described. Instead the meeting decided to ignore the pamphlet and a policy of silence was adopted which has since prevailed.
But Fact versus Fiction is a document not to be answered by the froth of an indignation meeting, nor by a conspiracy of silence. It presents facts to engage the attention of serious minded men and a situation which may not be ignored by the Chamber if it is to fulfill its functions as a chamber of commerce. One of these functions, and in important one, is to maintain an ethical standard of business practices both as to local business transactions and as to the dealings of individuals and of the city with those who may come from elsewhere. But one class of dealings with visitors violates any ethical code of busiaess integrity, is brazenly dishonest and should be suppressed; but the Chamber has taken no steps to suppress it.
The President's explanation of the meeting's failure to act is that: "It was generally felt that the Chamber of Commerce did not have the facilities to delve into the historical facts of St. Augustine and that any effort in that direction would merely be duplicating the very exhaustive work now being carried on by the Carnegie institution of Washington."
This is an astonishing statement to come from a chamber of commerce.
The President says that the Chamber of Commerce did not have Facilities to delve into the historical facts of St. Augustine.
This is to say that, while having for years published abroad as among St. Augustine's historical attractions for tourists such features as Mrs. McConnell's landing place of Ponce de Leon and a coquina cross left by him, the Williams well fountain of youth declared by Mayor Fraser's stone marker to have been a spring discovered in 1513, the Historical Society's oldest house in the United States, built by monks whc. came with Menendez, and the W. J. Harris oldest frame house in the United States-the Chamber has done all this without having had facilities to determine whether these things were based on historical facts of St. Augustine or whether, on the contrary, they were unhistorical fabrications and tourist hoaxing frauds.
Thus the President's explanation of the Chamber's failure to act resolves itself into an admission of ignorance. But if there was ignorance, it was an ignorance which only served to aggravate the Chamber's delinquency; for by the very nature of its obligations to residents and visitors alike it was under an inescapable compulsion to learn the truth before sponsoring the deceptions and advertising them to an unsuspecting public.
Moreover the excuse of ignorance may not be urged in extenuation, because years ago the essential information contained in Fact versus Fiction had been made available to the Chamber, the City Commission, the Record and the public by the present writer, and the Chamber, the Commission and the Record had spurned it.
But this part of the President's explanation relates to the past. His further statement concerns the future and is of good import if it. logical implication shall be followed out. The Chamber has evaded its own delving into St. Augustine history, and the President says that any investigation by it would merely be duplicating the very exhaustive work in the field now being carried on by the Carnegie Institution. The plain inference of this is that the Chamber of Commerce wil) accept the results of the Carnegie investigations. The Chamber and St. Augustine must accept those findings if they are to co-operate for the Carnegie objective.
The Carnegie results will be the affirmation anew of the historical truths of St. Augustine history, the rejection of what is false, the enlightenment of the members of the Historical Society and others who have been duped, the suppression of the system of commercial deceptions for the hoaxing of tourists, and the restoration of historical St. Augustine.
The outcome will bring a vindication of the attitude of that
minority of the community which has refused to lend itself to the
; tourist deceptions.
SThe restoration must be, as it will be, complete. Dr. Chatelain
Sill not stultify himself and those for whom he acts by restoring only
S ..one .selected section such as that fancifully denominated the "Spanish
,. '-:," rm:+in p, ~ flimflams and phoney stories to continue >be. rampant outside of the Quarter. The entire city as embraced within its encircling bounds, including Mayor Fraser's Fountain of
Youth Park, must be made absolutely sound historically.
When this shall have resulted from the Carnegie investigation as
* : the, fulfillment of the Carnegie objective, the lost dignity of the city
for which Dr. Anderson pleaded will have bee:i given back to historical St. Augustine by the intervention of an outside Institution, whose world-wide province is to.discoveri reveal and establish the truth.
Whatever may be..the measure of the physical development of
historical St. Augustine wroght by'the Carnegi restoration plan, a further and still greater service-unmeasurable because intangiblewill have been accomplished by the Institution if it shall have imparted to the restored St. Augustine its own spirit of devotion to the truth.
The effect of this will not be limited to the city; it will extend to the remotest points of the continent from which in the past visitors have come to St. Augustine to be subjected to the indignity of being fooled, but in the future shall come to be treated with the honest dealing that personal dignity and self-respect give one the right to demand and
It remains only to be said that by having met the opportunity
offered it to restore the old town to its place of integrity, dignity and honor, the Carnegie Institution will have won the appreciation and
gratitude of every true friend of St. Augustine.
CHARLES B. REYNOLDS.
Mountain Lakes,'N. J.
June 15, 1938.