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The Gay Days of Old

View looking down St. George Street, St. Augustine Florida.

St. George street and the old Dodge house.

To appreciate the city gates to the fullest, you must have imagination. You must go back three or four centuries and imagine that you are a belated wayfarer. It is night and dark. A tropical storm is raging. The bridge is raised and the gate is closed. The guard, sheltered from the driving rain and sardonically toasting his heels by the fire of the sentry box, first challenges your approach and then orders you to remain without until morning. Without what' Without a rain coat and food and lodging. It was verily a gay life in those days when St. Augustine erected barriers to check the entrance of the tourist, were he friend or enemy, bent on sight-seeing or thirsty for conquest.

View of the ruins of Fort Matanzas

The ruins of Fort Mantanza on Anastasia island.

Although St. Augustine boasts of three oldest houses—Reddington's, Dodge's and Whitney's—I honored but one, Reddington's, with my inquisitive presence and found it an old curiosity shop worth far more time than I was able to give it. According to the caretaker, a white-haired, wrinkled-faced woman endowed with that charm of age befitting a caretaker of such an old house, the dwelling was built in 1665, the year that work was started on Fort Marion, and was used as a monastery by Franciscan friars. A short time afterwards, it became the residence of the Spanish governor and was occupied by him and his descendants until the middle of the nineteenth century when it was purchased by a philanthropic resident of St. Augustine and made a repository for a most interesting collection of antiques, all of them genuine and many of them purchased by collectors and placed in the old house after being exhibited at the World's Columbian exposition at Chicago.

Distant view of Franciscan monk Monestary.

Monastery of the Franciscan monks, now used as a state arsenal.

You are rubbing elbows with history as soon as you place your hand on the brass knocker of the door. It's metallic rapping once heralded the arrival of a visitor at the portals of Ponce de Leon's castle in Spain. The soles of your unholy shoes shuffle over a stone floor paced by the sandaled feet of meditative monks 250 years ago. The dusty beams of the ceiling were hewn from cedar logs by captive Indians more than two centuries back. The swinging doors between the rooms once hung at the entrance of cabins on Spanish galleons.

The old market in the plaza of St. Augustine.

Each of the antiques stored in the old house has a history. You can sit on the bed of Maria Theresa, the German empress and mother of Marie Antoinette, and wish that you had invested in Bethlehem steel or other "war brides." If you are superstitious and believe that wishes come true when made on the couch of a queen, you immediately cease to envy John D. Rockefeller and other members of the Awful Rich. You rub your hand over the red plush top of Napoleon's council table, the gift of Marshall Ney to the child of destiny, and look in your pocket for an envelope in which to preserve the dust that you have filched from furniture of such historic associations. You drop a copper penny, of a mintage of the '30's, in the slot of a tobacco-vending machine just as Henry Clay did almost a century ago and wonder for what brand of weed the great defender of state's rights wrote testimonials, if he endorsed Tuxedo as do Christy Mathewson and Francis X. Bushman today.

Side view of the old Governer's house in St. Augustine'

The governors' palace, which serves as a postoffice at the present time.

Nearby Reddington's old house is the state arsenal and a former barracks, a two-story, rambling, white structure featured by a long porch across the front and supported by pillars. This was once the retreat of devout priests and not a storehouse for arms and ammunition or a garrison for English and American troops. Across the street is the parade ground, now a park but once the scene of martial maneuvers, and a short distance south of the arsenal is a military cemetery, conSspicuous because of three low pyramids, the tombs of officers and soldiers that lost their lives in the Seminole war, and a memorial shaft erected in memory of the 107 men that marched with Major Dade in 1835 to be massacred by a band of Indians lying in ambush. All but three of Dade's command were killed.

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