Brad Taylor-Hicks stood behind a battered old table that was built in South America, then shipped to St. Augustine sometime in the 1600s, as the tale goes.
The wooden table is on display today in the kitchen of the oldest home at the Colonial Spanish Quarter Museum along St. George Street. Said Taylor-Hicks:
If this table could talk, I’d be out of a job.
As it turns out, Taylor-Hicks, 34, is losing his job as a museum guide at the end of September. And no, the old table did not learn to talk. The city of St. Augustine is dismissing Taylor-Hicks and 19 other museum employees to cut costs (see more museum photos here).
The city is firing the museum employees and closing the facility to tourists on Oct. 1. Asked what he thought about it, Taylor-Hicks said:
It’s a terrible, terrible, terrible tragedy. It’s the end of an era. I practically grew up in this museum. I’ve been here 15 years. I’m one of the old-timers.
He moved to the United States from Essex, a county northeast of London. He celebrated his 15th anniversary at the museum on Sept. 8.
The museum was not profitable in 2010-11. On Aug. 25, the St. Augustine Record quoted City Manager John Regan as saying:
We can’t keep losing money at the rate we are. We need a brand-new plan.
The Quarter’s gift shop and tavern are profitable and will remain open. Local school students will also be allowed to visit and a few part-time employees will be hired to handle those tours, workers said.
One museum employee said that while the museum is popular among tourists, many local residents seldom visit or don’t even know about it.
An official website calls the museum “St. Augustine’s best kept secret.” It says:
…leave today’s world behind and discover life in another time. Visit with the blacksmith, carpenter, or soldier’s wife as they go about their daily activities. Located at 29 St. George St., you’ll see costumed historical interpreters tell the story of everyday life in 1740’s St. Augustine when the city was a remote outpost of the Spanish Empire.
Discover St. Augustine’s best kept secret and only living history museum! The museum is open daily and tours are self-guided.
Museum tickets are $7 for adults and $4 for children, and include a guided tour of the DeMesa-Sanchez House.
In all, the Quarter collected $1.81 million during the 2010-11 budget year, but spent $1.79 million, leaving a surplus of only $15,462, the Record said.
Carla Hull, of Middleburg, Fla., is among those losing her job. She doesn’t agree with the decision to close the museum. She said:
To me, it’s absolutely ridiculous. The city doesn’t understand what it’s losing.
Her duties at the museum range from working as a cashier to handling school tours.
I drive 46 miles each way to work. That’s how much I care about my job here.
John Powell, 61, of St. Augustine, works as a museum technician. His duties include showing visitors how rifles worked in the 1700s. The weapon he was demonstrating today was a replica of one built from 1725 to 1735. It fires a lead ball. Powell said:
If it hits you, you will be in deep pain. And it will create a wound the size of my fist.
Powell said the city’s need for budget cuts led to the decision to close the museum. He said:
They can’t afford us.
Some workers who are losing their jobs plan to leave Florida. Asked about his plans, Taylor-Hicks told a museum visitor that he received an email from a wealthy relative in Nigeria who assured him that he had a fortune waiting for him in Africa.
He said, “I’m banking on my Nigerian cousin to pull me through,” just as his visitors realized he was joking about the email scams that are so common on the Internet these days.
Aug. 25, 2011, editorial about the Spanish Quarter Museum