Did you notice the creepy mannequins in the “Looking Back” feature in the last print issue? Want to know what the deal is with those? I’m here to help.
It all started at the Spanish Military Hospital on Aviles Street, which was reconstructed by the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board in 1966 to resemble a hospital of the 1790s. In 1969 the hospital got 14 permanent residents to help immerse the visitors in the experience, in the form of mannequins. This included nine patients, a doctor, a ward attendant, a pharmacist, a corpse, and a mourner (the only female).
To maintain authenticity they had to order 16 year old boy sized mannequins because the period appropriate hospital beds were only 5 feet, 7 inches long, and adult sized mannequins at the time were all 6 feet tall. Period clothing for all 14 mannequins was sewn by Margorie Adelsperger and Ruth Calkin. However, two glaring problem remained: they were all very white (blond hair/blue eyes) and they were smiling, which was especially creepy for the corpse.
The challenge for curator Carleton Calkin was turning them into Spanish colonial hospital patients. With the help of spray paint, colored pencils, and putty (for wrinkles) the complexions and expressions were sufficiently remedied. The blond hair was so think that the darker colored wigs wouldn’t fit over them, so the tops of the heads were completely removed. This was the first, and only, surgery performed on the patients and with it the transformation to a colonial era Spanish Military Hospital was complete.
Photos via UFHSA Government House Research Collection