Sunday, July 25, 2010

Real Life Cabinet of Curiosity

Earlier this month, our family took a vacation to Florida. One of the places we visited was the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine. Otto Lightner was a "collector of collections", especially collections of items from America's Gilded Age in the late 1800's.

The scene above is what greets you when you walk into the Science & Industry room. This is enough to surprise anyone, but especially me, since it was as if my blog had come to life! A while back I wrote a post on "cabinets of curiosities", and I included an old engraving of one these proto-museums:

You can't help but notice the similarity between these two pictures (hint: it is the alligator hanging from the ceiling).

I knew this could not be a coincidence. Since Mr. Lightner had passed away in 1950, I guessed he had not gotten the alligator idea from reading my blog. Maybe the present curators of the museum had read my blog and thought, "What a great idea - let's get that old stuffed alligator out of the basement and hang him on the ceiling". I knew I should have copyrighted my blog!

The truth was finally revealed when I found a copy of the above engraving on the wall of the Science & Industry room. Apparently Mr. Lightner had seen this engraving before I had, and decided to recreate it in his museum. Many of the items in this room, and even the beautiful woodworking of the display cases, was typical of cabinets of curiosities.

This got me wondering - how many other museums around the world also have stuffed alligators hanging from the ceiling? If you know of any, please tell me.

If you are ever in St. Augustine, be sure to visit the Lightner Museum. You will not be disappointed.

Here is my favorite item from Mr. Lightner's collection. What American home in the Gilded Age would be complete without a colorful ceramic mandrill?

35 comments:

  1. Apparently, the crocodile on the ceiling was a common leitmotif of Wunderkammer or Cabinets of Curiosities in the 17th and 18th centuries.

    A good reference book is Cabinets of Curiosities by Patrick Mauries.

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  2. There is a book by Lawrence Weschler about Cabinets of wonder. The Stae House in Hartford, CT has a similar cabinet of curiosities display in its own room on the second floor.

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  3. Thank you to both Anonymous commenters. I just love these old Cabinets of Curiosities, and I am always interested in seeing ones that have been preserved or restored.

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  4. Thank you to both Anonymous commenters. I just love these old Cabinets of Curiosities, and I am always interested in seeing ones that have been preserved or restored.Thank you to both Anonymous commenters. I just love these old Cabinets of Curiosities, and I am always interested in seeing ones that have been preserved or restored.Thank you to both Anonymous commenters. I just love these old Cabinets of Curiosities, and I am always interested in seeing ones that have been preserved or restored.Thank you to both Anonymous commenters. I just love these old Cabinets of Curiosities, and I am always interested in seeing ones that have been preserved or restored.Thank you to both Anonymous commenters. I just love these old Cabinets of Curiosities, and I am always interested in seeing ones that have been preserved or restored.Thank you to both Anonymous commenters. I just love these old Cabinets of Curiosities, and I am always interested in seeing ones that have been preserved or restored.

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