Ladies and gentlemen
Children of all ages
Step right up
And witness the wonders
Inside this cabinet
Cabinets of Curiosities began as Wunderkammern and first appeared in the homes of royalty and the aristocratic in 16th century Europe. Traditionally known as ‘wonder rooms’ they were small collections of extraordinary objects which, like today’s museums, attempted to categorize and tell stories about the wonders and oddities of the collections.
Wunderkammern were the aristocrats’ way of entertaining guests and would range from a single cabinet to whole rooms or buildings filled with wondrous objects they acquired during their journeys to foreign lands. To the elite, these objects were expressions of their wealth and power, but weren’t always truthful as to what their contents were. Often the objects were purchased rather than discovered, such as the mermaids that were the bodies of monkeys and fish stitched together. But the cabinets were not there to be historically or scientifically accurate. Their purpose was to ignite the imagination and show off.
In the late 1700s, privately owned cabinets of curiosity lost their charm and made way for the modern museum concept. The fantastic was replaced with facts and the objects were organized more according to the natural order rather than wonderous storytelling.
For our cabinet, however, we found items that made us question, “What is that?” and other items that made us wonder, “How did we get that in our collection?”
Did you know that Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964 and chairman of the country’s Council of Ministers from 1958 to 1964, visited St Augustine in wax figure form? It took us a little while to realize why the figure looked a little stiff. In this photo, former Mayor Earl Mickler and Bill Edmiston pose with the figure near the Bridge of Lions in this image from our photo collections.
Have you heard about the St. Augustine Sea Monster? In our cabinet we have a sample of the creature washed ashore and hotly debated for decades. Learn more about it here.
An item from celebrations past, known as Gigantes is on display. These the paper mâché heads were worn and paraded through the streets during the Days of Spain festivities celebrating the birthday of the Oldest City.
We also have items from a collection gifted to us by a prominent member of the Historical Society from the early 1900s. Greville Inverness Bathe lived on Marine Street and died in 1964. Mr. Bathe attended the London Polytechnic Institution, majoring in mechanical drawing and steam engineering, which launched him on an engineering and manufacturing career in England and in the United States.
Following World War I, he came to the United States and settled in Philadelphia, where he married Dorothy Williams of that city in 1919. He retired from active business as a manufacturer and inventor of small machinery in 1936. He was author of a number of publications on engineering and was interested in history, being a member of the Historical Society o f Pennsylvania, the St. Augustine Historical Society and the Historical Association of Southern Florida.
He was interested in the study and collection of books on steam engines and over a period of 30 years collected over 1,000 books and around 800 models of old toy steam and electrical models.