10 Bizarre Attractions along Florida's Historic Coast

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Posted 2021-12-23 by Colleen O'Neill Mulvihillfollow
The oldest continually occupied English settlement in America is located just outside of Jacksonville along Florida's Historic Coast. St. Augustine, settled by the Spanish in 1565, had been home to many generations of Native Americans before the arrival of the Spaniards. History along this historic coast is not your ordinary one-and-done tourist attraction. There are over 60 historic sites scattered throughout these 42 miles of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean, and here are 10 of the most unique and, well - bizarre.

The Lightner Museum
Located within the former Alcazar Hotel, built by Henry Flagler in 1888, the Lightner Museum houses the bizarre "collection of collections" once owned by the wealthy newspaper editor Otto Lightner. The building itself is awash in history and worthy of a visit on its own. The bottom floor of the building contains what was once the largest indoor swimming pool in America, and not one cast in a concrete container. Flagler filled the entire 120'x 50' bottom floor of the hotel with water to create a swimming pool, then drained it to set up the area for events such as wedding receptions and the like. Don't miss the upstairs rooms once containing Russian and Turkish Baths, rumored to have had medicinal waters for healing everything from hysteria to skin infections.

The extensive collection of oddities on display will leave you wondering why anyone would want to collect such a variety of artifacts. Art displays made from cigar bands to human hair, the mummified body of a 7-year-old Egyptian child, and a shrunken head are present for viewing. Tiffany glass, varieties of musical instruments, rare furniture, and Winston Churchill's stuffed lion in a massive glass enclosure remind visitors of Otto's theory on life, "everyone should collect something."

The Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park
Located in a Timucua Indian village, the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park was the first settlement within St. Augustine in 1565. Housing Ponce de Leon's Spring of Eternal Hope, which has been flowing for centuries, visitors are encouraged to grab a cup and take a drink of the mystical water. I'll warn you, though, its mineral-rich water has a robust taste and was off-putting to my palate.

Perhaps most bizarre is the excavated Native American burial site on display here. In 1934, work crews started to find human bones while digging on the property. The University of Florida and the Smithsonian Institute began to evaluate the sight, eventually uncovering the bodies of more than 90 Native Americans. The area is now on display for visitors to see the unearthed bodies.

Villa Zorayda Museum
Franklin Smith is likely a man you've never heard of throughout early American history. A wealthy Boston architect and businessman, F.W. Smith, made his fortune in the hardware business. In 1883, Smith had a winter home built in St. Augustine. Desiring to pay tribute to St. Augustine's Spanish heritage, he utilized architectural details from the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. He hoped to build a home that would be fireproof and impervious to moisture, so Smith invented the poured concrete and coquina material you see today, widely used throughout St. Augustine.

Throughout the years, the villa morphed from a private residence to a restaurant and roaring 20's club, a speakeasy, and eventually a casino. It wasn't until 1933 that new owner A.S. Mussallem turned the villa into a museum. Still showcasing the intricate architectural details of the Alhambra, the estate also showcases over 98% of the original items. Here you'll find original art, antiques, pottery, sculptures, furniture with inlaid mother of pearl, and even the world's oldest authentic Egyptian rug made entirely of cat hair that was once used as a cover to steal a mummified foot bedazzled in jewels.

The Tolomato Cemetery
Originally built as a burial place for Christian Indians in the early 1700s, Tolomato is one of the oldest cemeteries in St. Augustine. What makes this cemetery unusual is the variety of cultures, religions, and history represented in slightly less than one acre. Burials from the first Spanish period, from when the British ruled, from the second Spanish period, and even soldiers from both sides of the Civil War lay in eternal rest here.
Many legends and tales surround the strange hauntings in Tolomato. Could it be the ghost of the man who may one day become a saint, Father Felix Varela? Only you can decide. The cemetery is open to the public on the third Saturday of each month, free of charge. Guided tours are available upon request, and self-guided strolls are also permitted.

Medieval Torture Museum
Be forewarned that visiting this museum could evoke emotions of repulsion, extreme sadness, and even horror in some cases as you view the collection of torture and torment that was commonplace throughout the Middle Ages. This interactive museum is a unique presentation of confinement and torture devices, instruments of slow death, and torture chambers that tell a dark story in history.

Consider whether you are brave enough to witness the intricately designed recreations of horror before you book a ticket. You can add audio tours and ghost hunting to your entrance fee for those who are brave enough to indulge in the whole sensory experience.

Spanish Military Hospital Museum
Located on the oldest street in America, the Spanish Military Hospital Museum will take you back over 400 years ago to a time when doctors practised medicine in many unusual ways. Living history interpreters guide visitors through the patients' ward and meet an Apothecary who creates therapies using native herbs.
A nighttime, adults-only, one-of-a-kind quackery tour is also available. But be forewarned, this tour is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart. During this interactive tour, learn about some of the most ridiculous, outrageous, and downright deadly treatments used in historical medicine.

Old Jail Museum
Built to look like a Romanesque Revival-style hotel so it wouldn't strike fear into the heart of the general public at the time, the Old Jail Museum is a fun and historical stop for both adults and children. Glimpse into the daily lives of several of St. Augustine's most notorious criminals who lived under the 19th and 20th-century penal system.

Historical reenactments will have you believing that you are in prison with no hope of freedom. Costumed actors tell tales of the jail and its occupants, while visitors can get booked as inmates. Don't miss the extensive collection of weapons and artifacts on display. Some artifacts can be touched and held, allowing for an up-close inspection and an educational experience.

The original Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum
The original Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum that started a worldwide sensation is in the heart of St. Augustine. This Ripley's Museum is unique because it's inside a former seventeenth-century Spanish Governor's mansion, then turned Castle Warden Hotel. Ripley's employees have seen and heard the ghosts of two women killed in a fire at the hotel in 1944. The estate's architecture adds an oddity all its own to the allure of the bizarre. Walking around the eccentric estate is reason enough to want to go inside.

More than 800 exhibits of oddities, quirky interactive curiosities, and macabre artifacts are on display in the "odditorium." Then there is a Statue of David by Michelangelo replica somewhere on the grounds, but you'll have to search to find it! For an even deeper dive into the paranormal, add on a "Ghost Train Tour," which will ferry passengers throughout town on an extrasensory experience of St. Augustine's mysterious past.
Castle Otttis (Yes, it has three "t's")**
When two friends got together and decided to build a castle, they intended to create an artistic rendition of a centuries-old Irish abbey. It was to be a landscape element, not a residence or a business. As the two friends laid the concrete themselves, passersby noticed the unusual structure peeking from above the trees. Soon, the city told them they needed to obtain a building permit to continue construction. A clerical error occurred somewhere along the way, so the castle became registered in St. Augustine as a garage.

After an estimated 7 million pounds of concrete, reinforced steel rods, and 88 window openings, the elaborate "garage" stands today as an expression of artistic, spiritual devotion. An altar, a pulpit, a choir loft, and rows of pews inside the stone structure make for an impressive landmark along the St. Augustine coastline. Visiting the privately owned castle is by appointment only, or you could take part in a once-a-month non-denominational service held here on the last Sunday of each month.

The Prince Road Container House
What do you do when a massive oak tree smashes your home to bits during a hurricane? You rebuild a home that's stronger and better than ever. Although technically not a tourist attraction, the Prince Road home has its fair share of touristy gawkers. Made entirely of shipping containers, this unique home is both functional and obscure. Perhaps the most bizarre part of the home is the container placed at an angle on its short end as if falling from the sky. Complete with a mural on one side, the house is the creative expression of the owner, who is a former artist and gallery owner.

St. Augustine is no ordinary town with typical or mundane tourist attractions. Seeping in history, it continues to draw visitors who are both seeking a stroll through America's earliest days, as well as a look at the unique and bizarre. Perfect for families with differing desires when it comes to travel, a visit to St. Augustine may just tick every box!

79181 - 2023-06-11 05:10:44


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