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Century-Old Graffiti Written by Hotel Waiters Discovered on the Walls of Florida Museum

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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]

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Courtesy of Freeman's
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For Sale: More Than 150 Items of Victorian Mourning Art, Clothing, and Jewelry
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Courtesy of Freeman's

Funeral fashion hasn't always been reserved for memorial services, judging from a massive memento mori auction that's being billed as perhaps the largest collection of mourning art ever offered for sale. Spotted by Atlas Obscura and sponsored by Philadelphia-based Freeman’s auction house, the online sale—which kicks off on Wednesday, November 15—features more than 150 works from a renowned private collection, ranging from clothing and jewelry to artworks.

During the Victorian era, people paid tribute to their loved ones by wearing black mourning garb and symbolic accessories. (The latter often featured jet or real locks of hair, according to a 2008 article published in the academic journal Omega.) They also commissioned death-themed artworks and objects, including paintings, as exhibited by Angus Trumble's 2007 book Love & Death: Art in the Age of Queen Victoria.

These items have long since fallen out of fashion, but some historic preservationists amassed their own macabre private collections. Anita Schorsch, who’s arguably the most famous collector of memento mori, used her historic treasures to launch the Museum of Mourning Art back in 1990. Located in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, the museum is—as its name suggests—the only institution in the nation devoted exclusively to mourning art. The museum has been closed since Schorsch's death in 2015, and the items featured in Freeman's auction are from her collection.

Check out some of its memento mori below, or view the online catalogue here.

Hairwork choker, 19th century-mori, from the Collection of Irvin and Anita Schorsch
Hairwork choker, 19th century-mori, from the Collection of Irvin and Anita Schorsch
Courtesy OF Freeman's


Hairwork shroud pin, 19th century, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

Gold, enamel and pearl "Stuart crystal" mourning slide, made in late 17th century England and part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Gold, enamel and pearl "Stuart crystal" mourning slide, made in late 17th century England and part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

Group of 19th century ladies and gentleman's mourning costumes, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Group of 19th century ladies and gentleman's mourning costumes, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's


18th century iron and brass cemetery padlock from London, England, part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Christie's Images Ltd. 2017
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Abraham Lincoln Letter About Slavery Could Fetch $700,000 at Auction
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Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, in which future president Abraham Lincoln spent seven debates discussing the issue of slavery with incumbent U.S. senator Stephen Douglas, paved the way for Lincoln’s eventual ascent to the presidency. Now part of that history can be yours, as the AP reports.

A signed letter from Lincoln to his friend Henry Asbury dated July 31, 1858 explores the “Freeport Question” he would later pose to Douglas during the debates, forcing the senator to publicly choose between two contrasting views related to slavery’s expansion in U.S. territories: whether it should be up to the people or the courts to decide where slavery was legal. (Douglas supported the popular choice argument, but that position was directly counter to the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision.)

The first page of a letter from Abraham Lincoln to Henry Asbury
Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

In the letter, Lincoln was responding to advice Asbury had sent him on preparing for his next debate with Douglas. Asbury essentially framed the Freeport Question for the politician. In his reply, Lincoln wrote that it was a great question, but would be difficult to get Douglas to answer:

"You shall have hard work to get him directly to the point whether a territorial Legislature has or has not the power to exclude slavery. But if you succeed in bringing him to it, though he will be compelled to say it possesses no such power; he will instantly take ground that slavery can not actually exist in the territories, unless the people desire it, and so give it protective territorial legislation."

Asbury's influence didn't end with the debates. A founder of Illinois's Republican Party, he was the first to suggest that Lincoln should run for president in 1860, and secured him the support of the local party.

The letter, valued at $500,000 to $700,000, is up for sale as part of a books and manuscripts auction that Christie’s will hold on December 5.

[h/t Associated Press]

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