Defunct Florida Roadside Attractions, No. 3


Tragedy in U.S. History Museum, St. Augustine. “See Jayne Mansfield’s death car – learn the truth!” Some considered it in bad taste but the Tragedy in U.S. History Museum once served as a Mecca for roadside attraction aficionados. Opened in 1965 as the brainchild of L. H. “Buddy” Hough, the museum (basically a cluttered residential house located across the street from the “Authentic Old Jail”) featured such artifacts as Lee Harvey Oswald’s bedroom furniture, a wax figure of Oswald peering out of a window labeled “Texas School Book Depository,” a train whistle from “the wreck of the old 97,” antique torture equipment, a copy of Elvis’ last will and testament, the ambulance that carted Oswald away, a leather jacket once worn by James Dean, a frame-by-frame display of the Zapruder film and a limousine that John F. Kennedy once rode in (not the infamous Dallas limousine). In addition, the museum boasted the “death cars” of Bonnie and Clyde (actually the car used as a prop in the 1967 Bonnie and Clyde movie) and Jayne Mansfield (although it was the wrong make of car). Hough, who once claimed that on a good day that museum would get 10 visitors, battled with the City of Augustine for years in his efforts to open (he had to take his fight to the Florida Supreme Court), maintain and publicize his attraction (callers to the St. Augustine Chamber of Commerce were told that the museum had closed and they were snubbed by all of the official travel guides). According to Hough, in a 1989 interview with the Florida Times-Union, “Every human being has a morbid curiosity.” In another interview, Hough stated, “Tragedy is what made us great as Americans. Tragedy is what sticks with people. And the things that go with tragedies are very valuable. People want to see them and remember them. I don’t care what others say.” Hough passed away in 1996, the museum closed in 1998 and all the artifacts were auctioned off.