The Human Spirit

The human spirit is an unwavering thing. By nature, we are curious and optimistic even in the most uncertain times. Grounded in family, community, and shared experience there is a constant that can be found across time and miles. When faced with the worst and the unimaginable is often when we find the best in ourselves. Our ability to band together in the worst of times is perhaps our greatest gift.  In the early 18th century, St. Augustine was often cut off from a friendlier outside world. Decades of destruction in Florida’s interior efforts, continuous English raids, European wars, and pirating created perfect storms. Food, money, and goods were often hard to come by as farming became near impossible (due to the English) and Spain focused its efforts away from their colonies. Were it not for spirited entrepreneurs this would have been the end for our city. Shops often closed and reopened, providing any goods they could find. Trading with the British was illegal, but starving was worse. To save the town some turned to piracy themselves, and while many still struggled our town was able to endure. ​Cristobal Contreras was one of these entrepreneurs whose shops sat on the land the Ximenez-Fatio House Museum occupies today. Another entrepreneur, Juan de Ayala y Escobar​, a Captain and Sergeant Major of the colony, who saved the town in 1712, during one of the worst food shortages, by bringing in five boatloads of edible British contraband. When the governor tried to arrest him, nearly all the citizens of St. Augustine banded together to protest and successfully saved Ayala.    It’s easy to see humanity as individually-driven and selfish. Certainty, we have our moments – ​Juan de Ayala y Escobar sold those goods at an exorbitant price! – ​but ultimately, human beings are communal. In recent history, we find some of the best examples of this in grassroots efforts, such as the “Cajun Navy” and Occupy Sandy relief efforts. When government-led efforts fall short it is often the community as a whole that steps in and fills the gaps. Not for personal glory or profit but out of generosity for their fellow man. Especially now, when things seem uncertain on a scale we never imagined, it’s important to remember that the human spirit has prevailed during the worst of times. Whether it was over three hundred years ago with bootleg British food or right now while private citizens make much needed facemasks, we have always found a way to lift one another up. And like all disasters we have faced throughout history, this too shall pass, and the human race will have learned what we’re made of!  1914 is a year when we as a race might have been at our worst. Five months into what we will eventually call WWI and already the Western Front had solidified. There had not been a large scale war in Europe in almost a hundred years. Men who had grown up being taught the glories and…

The “New” Museum World of 2020

The world has been changed by the outbreak of COVID-19, not only on a personal level but also professionally for museums of all sizes and styles. Virtually overnight, museums were tasked with determining how to keep their audience engaged while both the museum staff and their followers were sheltered at home. We at the Ximenez-Fatio House Museum have worked hard to bring our social media audience a variety of content during this time. In addition to pretty photos to distract, we have created activities which can be completed from home with family members. Now, as the world begins to reopen, we are looking to the future and planning what needs to be done to ensure the safety of our guests as well as our staff. It can be daunting when considering the steps which might need to be taken to prepare for reopening a museum. The museum community throughout the world has gathered together to brainstorm best practices, while following local and national government guidelines. The majority of the actions required to reopen our museum on June 1 are those which were set in motion from the very beginning of the outbreak. These include social distancing, wearing personal protection equipment (masks and gloves), washing hands well and often, and regularly sanitizing frequently used surfaces. We will also have hand-sanitizer stations available and our guests will be required to wear masks, as well. This is to protect everyone – staff and guests alike! One thing is for certain, in a phrase repeated in museums all over the world, “The museum we closed will not be the museum we reopen.” But, rest assured, it will be as safe and healthy as possible.