What does it take to build a brand new museum exhibit? Over the next few months, we’re going to give you exclusive access behind the scenes as our team works together to create Wrecked! a new experience coming to the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum in May 2016.

Wrecked! A (brief) origin story

Here’s the first thing you need to know about making an exhibit: It takes a long time.

If you want to be technical about it, the origins of Wrecked! go all the way back to August 24, 2009. On that fateful day, our team of archaeologists from the Museum’s research arm, the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP), were wrapping up their summer field season when they first laid eyes on an 18th century shipwreck buried in the sands just off St. Augustine’s coastline.


Actually, wait, we have to go back even further.

See, archaeologists don’t just stumble across a shipwreck. They search for them with scientific precision, technological assistance, and, okay, maybe a little bit of good luck.

At any rate, our story really begins earlier that summer, when LAMP used special equipment to enhance a 1995 survey of the ocean floor off St. Augustine. The survey identified a number of targets with magnetic anomalies that could be shipwrecks.

One of those anomalies, a little blip on a map, is what brings us to today.

Shipwrecks tell stories

After six years of research and excavation, we have pages upon pages of stories tied to this shipwreck. Stories of hope and loss, survival and disappointment, all told through artifacts, historic texts, and all of those tiny context clues that are so critical to archaeology.

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In 2012, we began making plans to share these stories with you.

With grant support from the Department of State, Division of Historical Resources, and the State of Florida, our 501(c)3 nonprofit museum was able to fund exhibit plans including additional help conserving our artifacts, hiring a creative exhibit design team, and covering all of the fabrication and installation that goes along with a new exhibit.

Building an all-star team

While our amazing Museum staff has worked incredibly hard on all the research and planning behind the exhibit, we knew going into 2015 that we would need some additional resources to go outside the box and create a unique experience unlike anything else you can find in Northeast Florida.

We want this exhibit to engage everyone in our community — tourists, residents, members, donors, school groups, senior citizens, academics —  because this a piece of our shared history. With its direct ties to the American Revolutionary War, this shipwreck is stitched into the fabric of our nation’s earliest beginnings.

(So, really, when you think about it, the Wrecked! exhibit has been in the works since 1782!)

Knowing that we wanted to make this new exhibit exciting and accessible to people of all ages, we conducted a nationwide search for the right team to meet our needs.

Enter: Peter and Sharon Exley of Architecture is Fun.

This dynamic husband-and-wife duo put together a stunning concept for our new exhibit filled with interactive technology and a bevy of tactile experiences that would reach our visitors through every one of their five senses.

Exhibit Sketch3

Seriously, wait ’til you see it!

Change begins with boxes

Over the next few months, our research and the Exley’s vision will come to life as the new exhibit is installed in our 1876 Keepers’ House.

But before the new pieces can be added, we have to carefully remove the artifacts currently on exhibition in the Keepers’ House. This includes pieces from the Industry shipwreck, a few historic lighthouse lenses, tools from the U.S. Lighthouse Service, and a scale model of the old Spanish watchtower that became Florida’s first lighthouse.

Quick question: How do you move a 2,000 lb. cannon?

Check back on the blog next week and you’ll find out!

» Read the next entry: Moving Ain’t Easy!

This project is sponsored in part by the Department of State, Division of Historical Resources, and the State of Florida.

Shannon O’Neil, Director of Public Relations,  joined the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum team in 2013. She is a native of St. Augustine and holds two degrees from Florida State University.