Facts to Inspire

March 14, 2012

I’m feeling somewhat uninspired so far this week, so I’m looking for something to capture my attention and maybe motivate me to plan my next Florida exploration. Fortunately there are many ideas out there.  And many of them start from such lists as this one, compiled by the Fizber real estate agency.


  1. Greater Miami is the only metropolitan area in the United States whose borders encompass two national parks. You can hike through pristine Everglades National Park or ride on glass-bottom boats across Biscayne National Park.
  2. Saint Augustine is the oldest European settlement in North America.
  3. The name Punta Gorda, which means, “fat point” when translated from Spanish. The moniker was given to the city because a broad part of the land in Punta Gorda juts into Charlotte Harbor. The harbor itself is somewhat unique, as it is the point where the Peace River meets the ocean.
  4. Orlando attracts more visitors than any other amusement park destination in the United States.
  5. New England Congregationalists who sought to bring their style of liberal arts education to the state founded Rollins College, the oldest college in Florida, in Winter Park in 1885.
  6. Cape Canaveral is America’s launch pad for space flights.
  7. Florida is not the southernmost state in the United States. Hawaii is farther south.
  8. A museum in Sanibel owns 2 million shells and claims to be the world’s only museum devoted solely to mollusks.
  9. The Benwood, on French Reef in the Florida Keys, is known as one of the most dived shipwrecks in the world.
  10. Safety Harbor is the home of the historic Espiritu Santo Springs. Given this name in 1539 by the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto. He was searching for the legendary Fountain of Youth. The natural springs have attracted attention worldwide for their curative powers.
  11. Niceville is home to the famous Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival celebrated the third weekend in October.
  12. The United States city with the highest rate of lightning strikes per capita is Clearwater.
  13. Gatorade was named for the University of Florida Gators where the drink was first developed.
  14. Young aviator Tony Jannus made history on January 1, 1914 when he flew the world’s first scheduled passenger service airline flight from St. Petersburg’s downtown yacht basin to Tampa.
  15. Dr. John Gorrie of Apalachicola invented mechanical refrigeration in 1851.
  16. Miami Beach pharmacist Benjamin Green invented the first suntan cream in 1944. He accomplished this development by cooking cocoa butter in a granite coffee pot on his wife’s stove.
  17. Neil Smith and his brother of Montverde developed the first Snapper riding lawn mower.
  18. Key West has the highest average temperature in the United States.
  19. The Saint John’s River is one of the few rivers that flows north instead of south.
  20. The largest lake in Florida is Lake Okeechobee.
  21. May 20, 1970 Florida lawmakers passed and sent to the Governor a bill adopting the moonstone as the official state gem. Ironically, the moonstone is not found naturally in Florida…nor was it found on the moon.
  22. In 1987 the Florida legislature designated the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) the official state reptile. Long an unofficial symbol of the state, the alligator originally symbolized Florida’s extensive untamed wilderness and swamps.
  23. Miami installed the first bank automated teller machine especially for rollerbladers.
  24. Ybor City was once known as the Cigar Capital of the World with nearly 12,000 tabaqueros (cigar-makers) employed in 200 factories. Ybor City produced an estimated 700 million cigars a year at the industry’s peak.
  25. Plant City, the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World, holds the Guinness record for the world’s largest strawberry shortcake. The 827 square-foot, 6,000 pound cake was made on Feb. 19, 1999 in McCall Park.
  26. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge is a cable-stayed concrete bridge. Opened in 1987 the bridge coasts through the clouds at 190 feet above water. Its bright yellow support cables spread from the two center pillars. The structure gives drivers unobstructed view of the water during the 4.1 mile trip over Tampa Bay.
  27. Nearly 80 percent of the states intake of sweet Atlantic white shrimp is harvested in Amelia Island waters. Two million pounds of shrimp are delivered to Fernandina docks annually.
  28. A swamp such as the Fakahatchee Strand in the Everglades functions in three major ways. First, its vegetation serves as a filter to clean the water as it makes its slow journey southward. Secondly, it’s a major habitat for wildlife and plant life. Finally, it actually prevents flooding by slowing down the flow of water after heavy rains.
  29. DeFuniak Springs is home to one of the two naturally round lakes in the world.
  30. The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens at Delray Beach is the only museum in the United States dedicated exclusively to the living culture of Japan.
  31. Fort Lauderdale is known as the Venice of America because the city has 185 miles of local waterways.
  32. Fort Meade is the oldest settlement in Polk County. It dates back to 1849 when a settlement grew up around the United States Cavalry fort during the Seminole Indian Wars.
  33. The Fred Bear Museum in Gainesville is a tribute to the accomplishments of Fred Bear a promoter of proper wildlife management and the founder of Bear Archery Company.
  34. The Hawthorne Trail a part of Florida’s Rails to Trails program and attracts many outdoor enthusiasts to walk, cycle, or ride horseback through its 17-mile length.
  35. Just north of Haines City is the Baseball City Stadium the spring training home of the Kansas City Royals. Haines City is known as The Heart of Florida.
  36. The city of Hypoluxo’s name comes from the Seminole expression water all ’round — no get out.
  37. Islamorada is billed as the Sports fishing Capital of the World.
  38. Key Largo is known as the Dive Capital of the World.
  39. Marathon is home to Crane Point Hammock, a 63.5 acre land tract that is one of the most important historical and archaeological sites in the Keys. The area contains evidence of pre-Colombian and prehistoric Bahamian artifacts, and once was the site of an entire Indian village.
  40. Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West was built between 1845 and 1866. Controlled by the Union during the Civil War, the fort was the home base for a successful blockade of Confederate ships that some historians say shortened the conflict by a full year. The fort also was active during the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II.
  41. The first graded road built in Florida was Old Kings Road in 1763. It was named for King George of England.
  42. During the 1991 Gulf War the busiest military port in the country was Jacksonville. From this location the military moved more supplies and people than any other port in the country.
  43. When first completed in 1989 the Dame Point Bridge became the longest cable-stayed span in the United States, the longest concrete span of its type in the Western Hemisphere, and the third longest cable-stayed bridge in the world.
  44. The longest river sailboat race in the world is the Annual Mug Race. The event runs 42 miles from Palatka to Jacksonville along the St. Johns River.
  45. The Olustee Battlefield State Historic Site commemorates the largest battle fought in Florida during the American Civil War.
  46. Venice is known as the Shark Tooth Capital of the World. Collecting prehistoric sharks teeth has been a favorite pastime of visitors and residents of the Venice area for years
  47. The Florida Museum of Hispanic and Latin American Art in Coral Gables, is the first and only museum in the United States dedicated to the preservation, diffusion, and promotion of Hispanic and Latin American Art.
  48. The Pinellas Trail, a 47 mile hiking/biking trail connecting St. Petersburg with Central and north Pinellas County, is the longest urban linear trail in the eastern United States.
  49. Titusville, known as Space City, USA, is located on the west shore of the Indian River directly across from the John F. Kennedy Space Center.
  50. Florida is the only state that has 2 rivers both with the same name. There is a Withlacoochee in north central Florida (Madison County) and a Withlacoochee in central Florida. They have nothing in common except the name.

What do a beach resort, a ballpark and a research library have in common?

February 15, 2012

African-American history.

It’s African-American History Month and Florida has a lot of history to offer.  VisitFlorida has compiled the following list for Floridians and non-Floridians alike to visit and learn. 


  • American Beach, Amelia Island. Florida’s first black-owned beach resort, it still belongs in part to the founders’ descendants.
  • Julee Cottage Museum, Pensacola. Part of Historic Pensacola Village, this African-American history museum resides in the circa-1805 home of free black woman Julee Panton.
  • John G. Riley Center/Museum for African-American History & Culture, Tallahassee. Housed in the circa-1890 home of a local African-American citizen, it scans the history of black Tallahassee and the nation from Reconstruction through the Civil Rights movement. Its historic black neighborhood, known as Smoky Hollow, was home to cookie-maker “Famous (Wallace) Amos.”
  • Kingsley Plantation, Fort George (near Jacksonville). Past the row of haunting slave cabin ruins, Kingsley puts human faces to the horror of slave plantation life by introducing some of the African inhabitants, such as Anna Madegigine Jai, the owner’s freed African wife, and slaves Gullah Jack and Abraham Hanahan.
  • Lincolnville, St. Augustine. St. Augustine’s historic African-American district, originally named “Africa,” boasts the city’s largest concentration of Victorian homes. Here Martin Luther King stayed while supporting local civil rights movements. It was also home to the man who taught Ray Charles, a student at the local school for the deaf and blind, to read music in Braille.


  • Jackie Robinson Ballpark, Daytona Beach. Robinson scored a home run for his people as the first African-American to join an all-white team. It happened here, where a sculpture and park commemorate the 1946 event.
  • Mary McLeod Bethune House, Daytona Beach. Dr. Bethune, a civil rights leader who advised presidents and fellow educators, lived here in the early 1900s. Visit her home (renovations were done in November 2010) to view her personal library, artifacts and photographs on Bethune-Cookman University, where some of the buildings are designated national historic landmarks.
  • Howard Thurman Home, Daytona Beach. Howard Thurman lived in this home until he moved to Jacksonville to attend the Florida Academy Baptist High School, the closest high school available to black Daytonans in the 1910s. Thurman is the author of over 20 books and provided spiritual guidance to prominent civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Parramore District, Orlando. A reviving downtown row of African-American shops and restaurants selling African wood carvings, caftans, masks, jewelry, reggae paraphernalia, barbecue, greens, roti, jerk and other African- and Caribbean-inspired food, art, clothing and gifts.
  • Wells’ Built Museum of African-American History & Culture, Orlando . Bo Diddley, B.B. King and Ella Fitzgerald were among the performers of “the Chitlin Circuit” who boarded here. The hotel has been restored to house a tribute to notable local and national African-Americans.
  • Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts, Eatonville.  Named for Eatonville’s famous Harlem Renaissance writer and folklorist, it exhibits the work of changing African-American artists and hosts an annual winter arts and humanities festival. Ask for a walking tour brochure of Eatonville’s historic sites.


  • African-American Research Library and Cultural Center, Fort Lauderdale. The ultimate word on black history, it contains an art gallery, research document collection and book and photograph libraries.
  • Bahama Village, Key West. In the Florida Keys, proximity to the Bahama Islands meant free interaction between the two lands. Bahama Village grew up after the Civil War as home to the “Conchs,” as the Bahamian immigrants came to be known. Today, Bahamian restaurants, roaming chickens, shops, an 1865 church and a park keep the neighborhood lively.
  • Old Dillard Museum, Fort Lauderdale. Once a segregated school for black children where saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley directed band, it traces the history of the city’s jazz scene and displays masks, musical instruments and other archival artifacts.
  • Overtown, Miami. Soul food restaurants, historic churches and the circa-1913
  • Lyric Theater mark the cultural importance of “ColoredTown,” as it was originally known. One of Miami’s oldest neighborhoods, it dates back to the 1890s.

Florida Had Pioneers Too

February 1, 2012

Over the weekend I ventured into the past with the help of the best tour guides ever, my parents. We explored the Pioneer Settlement, located just west of Daytona Beach in Barberville. According to the self-tour literature, the Settlement contains a growing historical collection of 10,000+ objects.  Here are just a few of those objects that caught our attention.

At the sight of this old bottle capper, my Dad reminisced about how his mother used to make her own Root Beer then use one of these cappers to cap the bottles.

In the old Train Depot, my Dad attempted to remember the Morse Code he used back in World War II.

My Mom grew up on a farm, so it was easy for her to identify these plowing tools and explain what each was used for.


Lilian, Lucille and Stephen Crane

January 18, 2012

While looking for a place to take my visiting parents this past Sunday, I remembered an article I had read in a local newspaper about Lilian Place, a historical home in Daytona Beach that had recently been restored and opened to the public.  Built in 1884, Lilian Place is the oldest house on Daytona’s beachside.

Its unique design is classified as Italianate High Victorian architecture. And that yellow and green paint? Apparently common colors during the Victorian age.  

Here are a few interesting things about the house’s history:

  • The house was built by Laurence and Mary Eliza Thompson, who moved to the area from Cincinnati, Ohio. Laurence was an early entrepreneur, first opening a General Store then later a real estate and insurance partnership. The Thompsons had three children, the youngest of which, Lilian, is the namesake of the property.
  • In 2002, the new owners turned the house into a Bed and Breakfast. After the wife died, the husband returned to New York and left the house to deteriorate. The Heritage Preservation Trust took it over in December 2009 and is continuing to restore it to its 1880s glory.
  • There have been several reports of ghostly encounters at Lilian Place, one concerning a young lady named Lucille. As far as anyone can tell, Lucille was a woman spurned by her fiancé, a former resident of Lilian Place.
  • Perhaps the property’s biggest claim to fame is its literary significance.  After his boat sank on December 31, 1896, Stephen Crane, author of The Red Badge of Courage, made it to shore and sought refuge for a few weeks at Lilian Place. As a result of his experience, he wrote his famous short story,  The Open Boat.

If only I had known about this place when it was still a Bed and Breakfast!  Old, quaint, and  potentially haunted. What a great combination.

The First Thanksgiving

November 23, 2011

Another Thanksgiving is right around the corner and I’m thankfully heading to the mountains for my feast. Before heading out, however, I had to find a little Florida related history on this Fall celebration, and what I found surprised me. Apparently this holiday’s roots lay much deeper than the Plymouth Rock celebration.

It’s Florida, not Massachusetts, that has the right to claim the very first Thanksgiving.

History books agree that a thanksgiving feast was held in Florida on Sept. 8, 1565, a good 56 years before the feast at Plymouth Rock.

After Spanish Adm. Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed his ship in St. Augustine, soldiers, sailors, civilian families and the Timucuan Indians gathered and gave thanks at a makeshift altar before holding a feast of thanksgiving.  What was on the menu?  The Spanish brought garbanzo beans, olive oil, bread, pork and wine while the Timucuan Indians brought oysters and giant clams.

To get the word out, at least two books have been written.  The first, in 1965, is The Cross in the Sand by Michael Gannon who argues that this St. Augustine feast should be recognized as the first Thanksgiving.

In 2007 Florida school teacher Robyn Gioia came out with a children’s version of the story, America’s REAL First Thanksgiving, geared towards 9-12 year olds. Her book includes a recipe for a Spanish dish most likely served at the first thanksgiving called Cocida (pronounced “coSEEDo”). Here is that recipe:

  • 16 to 20 ounces garbanzo beans (canned)
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 medium potatoes, diced
  • 1 teaspoon saffron
  • 1/2 head green cabbage, quartered
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 pound salt pork (or bacon, ham or pancetta), diced
  • 2 large carrots, thickly sliced
  • 1 leek, cut into short lengths
  • 1/2 pound sausage (or fresh chorizo), sliced

Drain beans, rinse, and put in large kettle.

Add water, spices, and garlic.

In skillet, fry salt pork and onion until brown. Drain then add to kettle. Simmer for 45 minutes.

Add remaining ingredients and simmer an additional 45 minutes or more depending on desired thickness. Salt to taste.

Serves 4 to 6 people.

Bacon, ham or pancetta may be substituted for salt pork. Regular sausage works nicely, but chorizo has a distinct flavor.

Can you imagine replacing your turkey with this?  Although Codica is undoubtedly good, I really like my turkey.

Will any of this change how I celebrate Thanksgiving this year?  No. But it’s just the kind of Florida trivia that amuses me, and a piece of history that educates me.

Florida Needs A New Song

November 9, 2011

After tossing and turning for hours and hours last night, I finally gave up and made my way to the computer.  For some reason I started wondering about the Florida State Song.  So what better way to cure insomnia than with a little trivia.

In 1913, Florida My Florida was adopted as the state song. True, it befitted the times, with lyrics such as:

 The golden fruit the world outshines
Florida, my Florida,
Thy gardens and thy phosphate mines,
Florida, my Florida,

In country, town, or hills and dells,
Florida, my Florida,
The rythmic chimes of the school bells
Florida, my Florida,

Will call thy children day by day
To learn to walk the patriot’s way
Firmly to stand for thee for aye
Florida, my Florida.

Yet, digging a little deeper, you find that the melody of the song is taken from another state song, Maryland My Maryland.  This is hardly acceptable for an independent Florida.

In 1935 the Florida Congress, in its infinite wisdom, replaced Florida My Florida  with The Swanee River,  otherwise known as Old Folks at Home, as the state song.  I understand that the song’s composer, Stephen Foster, is a cultural icon of sorts, but the guy never even set foot in Florida, much less visited the Swanee River.  It’s even reported that the only reason he used Swanee in the song was because its cadence happened to fit nicely in the music he had already composed.  It was an afterthought, not an inspiration. I say our state politicians at the time were caught up more in celebrities than state patriotics.

Obviously it’s time for a change.  Florida needs a new song.

A quick look around netted three Florida-themed songs presently out there.

One, Florida by Patty Griffin, quickly falls out of contention when it starts with: 

A couple of young girls went sailing down A1A
Into the arms of Florida, sailing down the highway
Singing their heads off, protected by the holy ghost
Flying in from the ocean, driving with their eyes closed

The next find was that of a song entitled Moving to Florida by the very mature sounding group Butthole Surfers. Their brilliance starts out like this:

Well, well I been movin’ down to Florida.
And I’m gonna bowl me a perfect game.
Well I’m gonna cut off my leg down in Florida, child.
And I’m gonna dance one-legged off in the rain

I braved one more find, which was Florida by Mofra.  At least this one makes a statement, with lyrics like this:

Now skyscrapers and superhighways
Are carved through the heart of Florida
Building sub-divisions while the swamps are drained
Makin’ room for people and amusement parks

It’s like watchin’ someone you love die slow
Yeah, they’re killin’ her one piece at a time
I know some fools who think I should let go
But they never seen Florida through my eyes

Florida I know you’re out there hidin’ from me
You get harder and harder to find
Everyday she keeps slippin’ away
Florida, please don’t fade on me now

I’m hoping there’s something better out there. Or at least someone willing to step up and write something better.

Florida needs a new song.

And I need some sleep.

At the MOSH

October 19, 2011

It took a delayed flight from Pittsburgh to Orlando to alert me to an exhibit at a Museum of Science & History right here in my home state.  While stuck at the Pittsburgh airport well into the night, I took up the airline’s magazine and read the happenings in each and every state in the union. Under Florida, an exhibit entitled “Savage Ancient Seas” snagged my attention enough for me to write it down in my planner. I then promptly forgot about it. Until this past weekend that is.

Jacksonville Museum of Science & History (MOSH)

Located in downtown Jacksonville, a stone’s throw away from the Stein Mart Corporate Building, the museum’s entrance enticed with an old piano set up out front for anyone to play (which Matt did). After paying the $10 entrance fee, and buying a ticket for a show in the museum’s planetarium for another $5, we headed in. Although we were specifically there to see the Savage Ancient Seas exhibit, we also wanted to see what else they had.

The Body Within exhibit at the MOSH

The first exhibit we ventured into was “The Body Within.” Here you guess at what you are touching or smelling (think tennis ball or root beer), manuever a prosthetic arm, examine actual body parts in jars, or watch a video of a knee replacement surgery or a colectomy.

We wandered around the remaining exhibits on the first floor, all in some way relating to Florida’s natural history, then headed upstairs. A top-notch local history exhibit occupied 1/3 of the second floor, along with the Ancient Savage Seas exhibit and the Planetarium.

 Savage Ancient Seas

This exhibit contains skeletons of creatures that swam the oceans during the time of the dinosaurs.

Savage Ancient Seas exhibit

My favorite skeleton was of the Xiphactinus audax.

Xiphactinus audax

The only disappointing part of the day was the show, Sea Monsters, in the Bryan-Gooding Planetarium.  Planetariums should leave these shows to IMAX theaters. This couldn’t even compete in the slightest. Definitely not worth the extra $5.

After the show, we wandered around the exhibit one last time. At the center was a sandbox of sorts. Earlier in the day, children would climb in, grab a brush and dust away, uncovering archaeological finds beneath. By the time we came out of the 4:00 show, it was near closing time and we were the only ones in the room.  I walked over to the sandbox and picked up a brush. As I dusted off the sand between bones, I imagined being an archeologist on a real dig (a brief interest of mine back in college) and daydreamed.  Museums can do that. They let you explore interests you have, ones you’ve forgotten you had, and ones you didn’t even know you had.