What’s Normal?

Working in an historic home, one gets a daily dose of how simple life used to be, yet continually amazed at how “modern” some of the items we have in the museum were to the 19th century lifestyle. If these folks only knew how much their lives and expectations from society were about to change. “How,” they might ask, “could life get any more convenient…more amazing?!” We demonstrate in every room how much the 19th-century “normal” was changing, which brings many smiles and giggles as to how archaic and old-fashioned these items seem to us today. Historic home museums not only show us what life was like way back when, but how far we have come in our endeavors to improve upon our daily existence. But have we truly come as far as we believe that we have? We think that so much has been improved upon over the last one-hundred years and yet here we are in a global pandemic. None of our technological advances, as astronomical as they have been, fended off this crisis. Right now, we would all be happy if things to just got back to normal! But…what will the new “normal” be? If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed how much our society misses some of the simpler things in life – things that we stopped taking time to enjoy years ago – like borrowing a cup of sugar from the folks next door, visiting grandma and grandpa on Sunday afternoons, going to a ballgame or a movie or out to eat. Going anywhere for pleasure rather than purpose. Children are actually missing school! I don’t know about you, but I’m not that anxious to get back to “normal.” Not knowing your neighbors, or even wanting to know your neighbors, used to be normal. Crowding into elevators and shoving our way past people on the sidewalk used to be normal. School shootings were becoming normal – never acceptable but, sadly, normal. I am just not anxious to relocate that brand of normalcy. We have an opportunity to reinvent our societies through this crisis; a way to come out of this with a degree of positivity. The Humanities may never be viewed the same once this is over. An entire population may learn to never again take art, live performances, and museums for granted. We may learn to be kinder, more patient, more tolerant, more helpful from this. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful new normal? Here’s the good news – it’s up to us! As Yule Brenner so famously said, “So let it be written. So let it be done.”  

The Essential Service of Storytelling

At the Ximenez-Fatio House Museum we interpret 19th-century historic living, as seen in the lives of three single women who owned, consecutively, this grand old house and operated a very respected boarding house within its walls. Here we offer a glimpse at the simplicity of the 19th century, as we display its most fashionable designs and daily comforts that couldn’t possibly, ever be improved upon! It truly was a simpler time back then. Yet, if you think about it, 19th-century America was bigger than it is today. It was more spread out, with more distance between cities and towns, and fewer people to occupy the wide-open spaces. The nation as we know it today was incomplete. Ranches and farmlands dominated the western lands, with several territories still awaiting statehood status. It was a time when neighbor helping neighbor was essential to survival. Essential. Now there’s a word we hear a lot about these days. Essential personnel. Essential job descriptions. Americans need their neighbors more now than perhaps we ever have, yet we’ve never been farther from one another, metaphorically, than we are in this pandemic. That is one reason that so many “non-essential” organizations are collaborating via the internet in order to survive. Museums, libraries, historical societies, archives, orchestras – all of those places we begrudgingly dragged our feet toward on school field trips (presumably for doing something terribly wrong to deserve such a fate!) – have come together to keep the people of the world’s lives enriched with their information; their resources; their harmonies. We need harmonies right now. We need old-style neighbor helping neighbor activities to help the world maintain some sense of balance, if not for ourselves then at least for the children. Isn’t that what the Humanities are truly about – keeping humanity balanced? The Ximenez-Fatio House Museum is striving to collaborate with other similar institutions to bring stories to homebound children who are looking for…needing…an outlet of innocence and “happy endings” in their lives. Stay tuned as we put this program together so that we can bring you a schedule of old fashioned entertainment and distraction – storytelling. What a concept! What an essential, wholesome concept for our children to hear and remember. Talk to any adult who lived through a crisis of global proportions as a small child and they will recall the games that they played and the stories they heard. That’s why one of our missions right now is to ensure that today’s children have no shortage of stories to hear. Please join us by submitting your favorite children’s stories so that we can help you help them as we read these stories live on Facebook. Let’s make sure that the children of today have the same remembrances of childhood that the rest of us enjoyed and have held so dear.

The Asiatic Cholera Pandemic

April 13, 2020 This latest pandemic is not the first time that St. Augustine has experienced a quarantine. On October 1834, when Dr. Seth Peck, his wife Sarah, and their children Mary, Rebecca, John, Lucy, and baby Sarah arrived in St. Augustine, they were not allowed to disembark. The schooner Topic, which brought them from New York, was ordered to quarantine everyone and everything onboard. The quarantine was imposed by the St. Augustine city council due to the threat of yellow fever and the Asiatic Cholera reported in nearby states. There was reason to be fearful! Cholera, an infection of the small intestine that causes diarrhea, vomiting, muscle cramps, dehydration, and death had spread from India across Asia, Europe, and America. The Asiatic Cholera caused more deaths in the 19th century than any other epidemic. Although no cases of cholera or yellow fever had been reported in St. Augustine, the city council declared that all streets, lots, houses, outhouses, and gardens were to be kept clean and dry. Observance of such regulations and the quarantine, “with the blessing of Heaven,” would avert the pestilence. Citizens were asked to “keep themselves clean and be temperate in drink, diet and exercise.” The city fathers were indeed wise in their decision. The spread of cholera and yellow fever was halted even before it started. As for Dr. Peck and his family, they spent three years boarding at Mrs. Whitehurst’s Boarding House, known today as the Ximenez-Fatio House Museum, where they added their own story to the long history of the house.

Caravaca Cross

History Repeats in St. Augustine

March 31, 2020  Human history is rife with plagues and pandemics. Just say the word “plague” and most people will conjure images of the Bubonic Plague (1347-1351) and Monty Python characters calling “Bring outcha dead!” That was a hilarious scene until you are reminded that over 200 million people lost their lives to this disease. Most recently, the Spanish Flu (1918-1919), with a death toll somewhere between 40-50 million people brought the world to its knees. COVID-19 is the new, unimaginable micro-biotic enemy in our midst. The Ximenez-Fatio House has a unique history with pandemics and infectious disease outbreaks. In our own backyard, an archaeological dig in 2002 unearthed a Caravaca Cross made of white bronze. One of only two such amulets found in North America; the cross was sanctioned by the Spanish Catholic Church to celebrate the end of the plague of the 1660s that ravaged Europe. When this plague is over – and it will be! – let us celebrate by holding high the historic Caravaca Cross in our possession as a reminder that we are all part of history. It’s what we do with our knowledge that will determine if we ever need such a cross again.