Today, the historic Hotel Alcazar building in St. Augustine, Florida exists as the Lightner Museum, which is dedicated to fine and decorative 19th-century art. But when it was first built in 1888, the luxurious hotel served as a playground for sun-worshippers on holiday. More than 25,000 guests flocked to the Alcazar during the 1890s to waltz across its grand ballroom, enjoy its bowling alley, and splash in what was then considered the world's largest indoor swimming pool.
Not surprisingly, hotel life at the Alcazar was different for its staff, many of whom were immigrants from Ireland or Italy. These seasonal workers lived in a dormitory on the hotel's fourth floor—and their graffiti, recently discovered by a mason repainting rooms, sheds new light on what it may have been like to wait on America's vacationing elite.
According to The St. Augustine Record, the mason was sanding and smoothing the hotel's plaster walls when he noticed faint penciled words—some hidden inside closets—that had been whitewashed over decades earlier. Dating all the way back to 1915 (the Alcazar closed in 1932) are servants' names, signed next to a year. Other workers sketched their work schedules, restaurant menus and prices, and even poetry across the walls.
And of course, there are complaints about the guests—some of whom were probably not accustomed to the practice of tipping, according to Lightner Museum curator Barry Myers. "They were more polite than we are today, so the rudest comments described customers as ‘a pain in the neck' or a ‘pain in the back,'" Myers told The Record.
So far, workers have discovered graffiti in three of the museum's 44 fourth-floor rooms that once housed staff. Museum educators have instructed workers to leave the markings alone, and are working on translating phrases written in Italian and Spanish. They plan to incorporate the century-old scribbles into a living history exhibit—and if even more writing is discovered, open the fourth floor to visitors.
Learn more about the historic discovery by watching The Record's video below:
[h/t The St. Augustine Record]