T.T. Wentworth Jr. Florida State Museum
330 S Jefferson St, Pensacola, FL, 32502 (850) 595-5990
T.T. Wentworth, Jr., as the story goes, was a compulsive collector who never threw anything away. As an eight-year-old, he found an 1851 gold coin on the beach, which sparked a fascination in history. Over time, thousands of items comprised his eclectic collection. Examples include a petrified cat from 1850, a piece of Thomas Edison’s birthday cake, and a shoe donated by the world’s tallest man.
Opened in 1957 as a roadside museum north of Pensacola, he offered to donate his 150,000-item collection to the city of Pensacola in 1983, but only if they agreed to provide a permanent place for his collection. His collection opened there in 1988, housed in the former City Hall.
The Wentworth collection is one part of a general history museum with plenty of rotating exhibits, all showcasing different aspects of Florida’s centuries of history. Recent exhibits have included a Civil War gallery, a look at the iconic Trader Jon’s, Coca Cola, and American football.
75 King St., St. Augustine, FL, 32084 (904) 824-2874
The Lightner Museum, self-described as the “Smithsonian of the South,” makes its home in the historic Hotel Alcazar. It was originally built for the upper crust of travelers during the 19th century, and today it’s one of the most random collections of stuff you’ll ever see. One moment you’re looking at 20th century earrings from Senegal, next a stuffed lion given to Winston Churchill, and then you’re in front of a shelf full of old-school tobacco jars. You can’t miss the stuffed alligator suspended from the ceiling, or an antique vending machine with a stuffed chicken inside.
On the first floor, you’ll see most of the bizarre exhibits. but the upper floors are worthy of exploring as well. The second floor holds plenty of glass, ceramics, and a collection of toasters. While you’re there, make your way through the Turkish and Russian baths, along with the largest indoor pool in the world at the time. The third floor is a great lookout over a formal restaurant.
International Independent Showmen’s Museum
6938 Riverview Drive, Riverview, FL, 33578 (813) 671-3503
Today’s carnivals and county fairs are a pale example of the big top’s rich history, but then again, times have changed. From the old-school Tilt-A-Whirl cars to an epic setup of miniatures and a big-top circus to the carnival games, there are examples from the ages. The posters on the wall add to the flavor as well.
More than 54,000 square feet across two floors is enough to keep the entire family busy for at least an hour. To be sure, some aspects might be unseemly to the modern, more politically correct visitor, but remember, the early to mid-20th century wasn’t the most politically correct time. From the notably unfair carnival games to the flashing lights to some looks at the people that served as attractions, it’s a kid-friendly look at an America that’s faded into history. Be sure to give the souvenirs a close look before moving on — plenty of original exhibits are available for a surprisingly small price.
Waste Pro Garbage Truck Museum
3705 St. Johns Pkwy, Sanford, FL, 32771 • (407) 774-0800
A collection of antique garbage trucks and memorabilia that’s been meticulously restored. It’s described as a labor of love by John Jennings, the CEO of Waste Pro, Inc. Located on the same property as their corporate offices, the owner has a personal connection to some trucks. A 1926 GMC flatbed, for example, was the truck Michael Jennings (the CEO’s father) originally worked on. A 1975 Ford truck was one of John’s first purchases; it was tracked down, repurchased, and restored to be a part of the museum. A highlight is the Dunn coal and oil truck, circa 1921 — a chain-driven truck that’s probably one of the oldest ones around.
But this museum isn’t just about old trucks, of course. Two of the trucks on display were used in the Denzel Washington film Fences. The curator, called Mr. Bill by the staff, knows a little something about every truck on display. Let him lecture a bit, and you’ll learn something interesting. The shop, in a separate room, holds another dozen or so trucks, and a larger space is in the works. While still unknown to most tourists, the staff are always welcoming to the few they receive.