by Wynnie Fahey
The Menorcan Cultural Society presentation at the Gazebo Stage on Saturday, September 5, 2015 at 4:50pm was an informative event about Menorcan history and Menorcans in St. Augustine today. It began with an introductory speaker who thanked the ones involved in making the event happen. She spoke clearly and loud enough for everyone to hear. Although the event had not officially began, there were children walking in front of the gazebo. They continued to talk as the speaker began discussing the history of the Menorcans.
The audience for this event was half as large as the band performance immediately before, suggesting that a significant amount of attendees came for the entertainment rather than the historical aspect of the 450th celebration. The audience was mostly middle-aged and up. Only a few children were present. Some groups sat in lawn chairs, others sat on the ground, and most were standing. Many women had cross-body purses, which supports the assumption that most attendees of the 450th celebration are not from St. Augustine and are therefore using purses convenient for traveling and walking. Most, if not all, of the audience was dressed casually, such as shorts and a regular shirt or a sundress. A few people wore hats. No one dressed in suits or business attire was present, indicating city officials were not present. The audience appeared more attentive compared to non-historical events previously held at the gazebo. Less conversations among the audience took place at the presentation compared to other, more popular events.
Others were walking down the sidewalks nearby and only glanced at the speakers. It appeared that the ones passing by were the ones walking between the gazebo and the audience and were talking the most. The passersby appeared not to make an effort to use sidewalks at the edges of the plaza to not disrupt the event.
The event had three speakers, one of which was dressed in Menorcan attire of the past, playing the role of a Menorcan from the timeframe being discussed. She sang a couple songs as well. While she discussed a pastry made only for Easter Sunday, some of the audience was engaged in conversation. Tourists with Old Town Trolley stickers were walking through the audience. The last speaker taught the audience about how the Menorcans fished. One tourist was looking at an Old Town Trolley map of the downtown district during the last speaker’s portion of the presentation. He showed two types of fishing nets and explained how the Menorcans used them. Towards the end of his portion of the presentation, a lady wearing a dress walked up to the gazebo with her child. She talked to the presenter before he was finished. He was not asking for questions or input from the audience at this time.
A part of the presentation that went well was the during the second speaker’s portion, who was dressed in a Menorcan woman’s clothing. The audience did not have full attention until it realized she was playing a role and stayed in character the entire time without explaining she was going to do that. The audience had seemed confused when she told the audience she does not see any familiar faces. Despite that, the audience seemed to listen more to her than the other speakers. On the other hand, the male speaker who discussed fishing did not hold as much of the audience’s attention compared to the first two speakers, possibly due to the sudden specific topic and his lower enthusiasm level compared to the other two speakers. Fishing does not immediately come to mind when thinking of Menorcans. Additionally, he was the last speaker and much of the audience had been standing during the duration.
The impact of this presentation was small. It was a brief event with a small crowd. It did not have loud music or elaborate demonstrations that some other events had. There were no cameramen with large, professional cameras documenting the event. No city workers attended. It did have a real relation to the meaning of the 450th anniversary of St. Augustine, however the city and attendees did not emphasize this event. This presentation is in no way a significant life event, as the 450th celebration as a whole may be considered.
Nelson H. H. Graburn, in an excerpt in Tourists and Tourism: A Reader by Sharon Bohn Gmelch, explains that people better recall symbols marking the passage of time rather than exact numbers such as years (Graburn 2010). Years from now, people who visited St. Augustine during the festivities may remember they visited during the 450th anniversary of St. Augustine, but may not remember that the year was 2015 because the name 450th identifies a meaningful event (Graburn 2010). This particular presentation for the celebration may not be specifically remembered by the audience years from now, but the excitement from the band presentations and larger events may prevail in their memories because the louder performances are more of a contrast to everyday life (Graburn 2010). The meaning to the ones who attended the festivities may be that they were in St. Augustine while the 450th mark happened. The location and timing is important. The ones who attended the Menorcan Cultural Society presentation appear to the ones who visited for historical and cultural knowledge.
David Lowenthal’s points in The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History can explain why the presentation was created and why people attended. The Menorcan people have made roots in St. Augustine. He states “To identify a past as heritage one need not have known it firsthand” (Lowenthal n.d., 10). Being in St. Augustine creates a connection with the people who lived there in the past and continue to live there today. Visitors can share the spirit of the Menorcan heritage, history, and memories of the area, as well as view the 450th celebration as a landmark in American history as it relates to the United States. The people attending this historical presentation clearly came to learn and appreciate the history. Lowenthal also states that more people have been engaged with different pasts than ever before (Lowenthal n.d.). American visitors, as well as visitors from other places, to the presentation want to learn about the Menorcan past. The land creates a shared past with Menorcans and Americans.
Overall, most of the audience was attentive and appreciated the history presentation, although the small size crowd indicated that many people were attending festivities that related to music and bands rather than the true meaning of the anniversary. The passersby did not usually stop to listen to the speakers; they strolled through the sidewalks in the middle of the plaza where the audience was located. The presentation was a small, simple one.
Graburn, Nelson, and Sharon Gmelch. “Secular Ritual: A General Theory of Tourism.” In Tourists and Tourism: A Reader, 25-36. 2nd ed. Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland Press, 2010.
Lowenthal, David. “Heritage Ascendant.” In The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History, 1-30. Cambridge University Press.