Friday, Oct 5, 2012
On August 30th, Castillo de San Marcos began an evening exhibit opening with a bang from the Castillo cannon crew. This ceremonial opening of the park’s new exhibits seemed a fitting reminder of the fort’s history serving under the flags of Spain, Great Britain and the United States.
Local dignitaries and partners toured the new displays in preparation for the upcoming season and the roughly 50,000 students who will visit during the school year.
The exhibits replace a display system installed in the early 1990s. The old exhibits were not only dated but suffered from the special environmental factors of coastal Florida. With significant amounts of humidity came rot. Generations of termites found a ready, waiting dinner in the wood supports and backing panels of the exhibits.
Like the coquina stone fortress, the new exhibits are designed to withstand the harsh conditions. The sustainable design elements include powder-coated structural pieces that will not rust. Exhibit panels are made from high density laminates that produce crisp images and are fade resistant. Exhibit bases and cases are made of plastic composite wood. Exhibit lighting is provided by low energy LED lights that also help preserve original paint on the walls of the fort’s casemates.
Preservation of the walls was also a major concern. The Castillo’s walls contain an extraordinary collection of graffiti art left by Spanish, British and American soldiers from their time of service. During the American period, the US Army imprisoned Seminole, Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Caddo and Apache peoples within the fort’s walls. Those people also left their mark in wall art. The new exhibits include protective glass panels that will ensure that these reminders of the fort’s past will remain.
The new exhibits will be joined with other upcoming interpretive activities as the park’s interpretive efforts are strengthened. In preparation for the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine, new wayside exhibits will be installed in February. The park is also venturing into social media with the launch of a Facebook page and Twitter feed on October 2nd – the 340th anniversary of the beginning of construction on the Castillo. Additionally, the park is in the process of developing its first iPad tour and digital interpretation elements including QR codes and virtual exhibits.
“The new exhibits are the beginning of great changes for the Castillo’s interpretive program,” said Gordie Wilson, the park’s superintendent. “Joining our long history of living history programming we are reaching out beyond the walls to engage a whole new audience.”