Friday, February 12, 2016

Gravity gone wild, atomic nonsense at Mystery House in St. Augustine

This pristine undated brochure, which measures 3½ inches by 6 inches, touts the Mystery House in St. Augustine, Florida.

The oddball structure — one of numerous built-on-an-angle attractions that dotted the nation mid-century — was in operation from the 1940s through 1960s. It was located across the highway from the still-in-existence St. Augustine Alligator Farm.1

Here is a description of the attraction, which charged 40 cents admission, from the inside of the brochure:
Can the Law of Gravity be Defied?2
The whole world's a bit upset these days, but at one spot in Florida it's more upset than usual — so upset in fact that even the law of gravity has gone completely berzerk!

THE MYSTERY HOUSE ... has thwarted all attempts to explain the weird power that exists within and about it.

What IS this power that haunts THE MYSTERY HOUSE? It makes persons shrink a foot before your very eyes. Toss a ball in the air and it travels away from you and then returns! Step onto the average-size dining table with the ease of stepping onto a three-inch curbing! See a free-swinging pendulum that takes twice as much power to push one way as the other. Walk at a 45 degree angle and feel the terrifyingly powerful pull of the earth at this spot. Walk up a parlor wall as if you were weightless!

Some astonished visitors claim that they have been magnetized by the pull of the North and South poles3 — others suspect that an atomic reaction has taken place4 — still others have sworn off drinking forever!

The really amazing part of it all is that this is a natural mystery — no tricks — nor mirrors — nothing moving. To look at the MYSTERY HOUSE you'd say it was a normal house on a hillside — but once you get near it the world goes topsy-turvy. Once inside, gravity goes wild! Even the landlord, Al Mosher, can't explain it. It's uncanny. after you've seen it, you'll want to bring your friends and have fun watching their faces as gravity goes on the rampage. You'll have dreams about it the rest of your life!

According to a January 2012 article by The St. Augustine Record, the Mystery House was fairly small, with about four rooms. The "mysteries" were all done with distorted perspectives, and Mosher never revealed his construction secrets. You can check out some additional vintage photographs of the attraction here. One reader commenting on the 2012 article added the following:
"I was a tour guide at the Mystery House in 1953 and '54, during my high school years. Didn't make much money, but back then, you didn't really need much. I worked weekend during the school year, five or six days a week during the summer. It was a lot of fun. There was no real mystery to it, but the angle of the house distorted your perception and affected your inner ear/equlibrium. People got a kick out of it and I enjoyed sheparding them through. We were just across from the Alligator Farm, so we got a lot of action. Met some nice people from a lot of different places."

Finally, an interesting read is "Buddy Hough and the Ordinance of Doom" by Geoff Dobson, which mentions the Mystery House and states: "St. Augustine had always been fairly well laissez-faire attitude with regard to tasteless or historically inaccurate tourist attractions. Hucksterism was no stranger to the city. At the turn of the century there were four different structures operating at the same time claiming to be the 'oldest house in the United States.'" The essay specifically discusses Hough's Tragedy In U.S. History Museum, which could be a whole nother post for a whole nother day.

1. The Alligator Farm, by the way, has a BOGO special on the Crocodile Crossing and Python Farm this Sunday for Valentine's Day, if you're looking for a romantic excursion.
2. In other gravity news, it was announced yesterday that gravitational waves, as predicted by Albert Einstein, have been detected.
3. Wut.
4. I'm not sure these people understood atomic reactions in the slightest.


  1. This reminds me of a couple brochures I found a while back. One for The Haunted Shack at Knottsberry Farms and the Magnetic House in Cascade, Colorado.
    Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO has a similar walkthrough attraction called "Grandfather's Mansion".

  2. The was also a House of Mystery in Haines City, Florida during that time frame.