We were finally able to visit the historic preservation society’s museum in our last week in St. Thomas, which, like the rest of the town, is only open when a cruise ship is in port, as if other visitors or locals are not worthy. It had been recommended as having a good display of historic photos and artifacts, and I thought I could find some information about the buildings my ancestors owned. You have to be buzzed in and we were greeted at the top of the steps by the director. First she had us sign the guest book, then as we started to look around at the displays I noticed a beautiful tree outside the window with bright plum-sized fruit.
“What’s that tree?” I asked.
“That’s a mango tree! Would you like one?” I had never seen tiny mangoes like that and I eagerly said yes, but she was already moving an antique rocking chair away from the window. She squeezed an office chair into the space, grabbed a fruit picker, maneuvered it through the security bars and plucked a few little mangoes for us.
I asked if she had any information about the age of buildings in the historic district but she looked puzzled as if no one ever asked that of the director of historic preservation. Just then someone else arrived who seemed more important than we were and she parked us in front of a video about the history of Hassel Island. It was interesting at first, but what we thought would be an 8-10 minute video went on and on and on, with guest appearances by many notables whose only reason for being there seems to be an ego stroke to the participant. We know the signs; we used to be in the business. Non-media-savvy PR folks who produce videos often think they have to include every person involved in a project to lend legitimacy or to get funding or sometimes just to get the go-ahead for the project. After a few minutes we stopped paying attention to the story and instead discussed how the program could be massively edited to keep it interesting and avoid the dead spots of the “VIP” segments. It was also unbearably hot in the room, with only one small window and no cross-ventilation.
Eventually we abandoned the video and went back to the hallway to continue our tour, but Ms. Director had retreated with the other visitor into the air-conditioned sanctuary of her office. Left on our own we didn’t know what we were looking at, as the displays weren’t for the most part self-explanatory. It was the first museum fail in recent memory and we took to the streets in search of more accessible St. Thomas history, which we found at the Old Danish Cemetery.
I think maybe the historic preservation people might want to consider that there may be visitors with an actual interest in St. Thomas history and not assume everyone is a cruise ship passenger to be guided only toward the gift shop. Just a thought.