America’s Best Idea

April 27, 2011

What could be more democratic than owning together the most magnificent places on your continent? Think about Europe. In Europe the most magnificent places -the palaces, the parks – are owned by aristocrats, by monarchs, by the wealthy. In America, magnificence is a common treasure. That’s the essence of democracy.

Carl Pope, Sierra Club, in the PBS documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea by Ken Burns, 2009

To celebrate our “common treasure” (our national parks),  the  U.S. National Park Service sponsors a National Park Week every year, with free admission to all National Parks in the country. Last week, April 16th-24th, was this year’s sponsored week and we participated by heading to St. Augustine and the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, otherwise known as the old Spanish fort in historic, downtown St. Augustine.

The Castillo de San Marcos is “the oldest masonry fort and the best preserved example of a Spanish colonial fortification in the continental United States.” It sits on the edge of the  historic district, right on the water. It may not be the Grand Canyon, but it is history and it is beautiful.

The courtyard allows access to rooms within the fort, including the guard quarters and a confinement room for those who required a little discipline. Other rooms contain historical information boards.

Courtyard, Castillo de San Marcos

And no fort is complete without cannons….

There are 394 National Park sites in the United States and Florida contains 10 of them. They are:

  • Fort Caroline National Memorial
  • Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
  • Fort Matanzas National Monument
  • Canaveral National Seashore
  • Big Cypress National Preserve
  • Biscayne National Park
  • Everglades National Park
  • Dry Tortugas National Park
  • DeSoto National Memorial
  • Gulf Islands National Seashore

I’m not sure I would call the establishment of the National Park System America’s Best Idea, but it does come close.


Florida Authors

September 28, 2010

This past weekend St.Augustine hosted the 3rd Annual Florida Heritage Book Festival. Although I was unable to attend Saturday’s event, I was able to attend the Writers Workshop held on Friday at the historic Casa Monica Hotel. It was here that I picked up great nuggets of wisdom from some of Florida’s greatest writers.

  • Robert N. Macomber, a prolific writer and speaker, is the master of historical fiction.  His Honor series of naval novels has garnished many awards, including the Outstanding Achievement Award of Florida and the Patrick Smith Literary Award for Best Historical Novel of Florida. The eighth novel in his series was released just this past March.
  • William McKeen, former professor and chairman of the Department of Journalism at the University of Florida, now at Boston University, is the author of several nonfiction works. His latest book, Outlaw Journalist, is about the life and times of Hunter S. Thompson.  Other works include books on Tom Wolfe and Bob Dylan.
  • Karen Brown, Ph.D, who teaches creative writing at the University of South Florida, is a champion of short story writing and has already received the O. Henry Prize not once, but twice. She has an award winning book out entitled Pins and Needles.
  • Larry Baker, a former St. Augustine resident who now teaches at the University of Iowa, has set two of his fictional stories in the St. Augustine area. His book, The Flamingo Rising, became a Hallmark movie. His newest book, A Good Man, is, as he puts it, “about an African-American preacher who arrives in St. Augustine during a hurricane.”

There were plenty of other writers in the audience and I felt privileged to be sitting among them.  Steven Kerry Brown, a private investigator out of Ponte Vedra, is the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private InvestigatingRik Feeney, a former gymnast, is the author of two books on gymnastics and numerous books on writing.

Then there was the 82 year old lady sitting next to me, who is often questioned as to why she is writing now at her age.  My response to this was, why not write at age 82?  She firmly agreed and a short while later handed me a copy of her poem, or as she referred to it, her rhyme, about an old stocking at Christmas time.  One quick read and I knew it should be in print. 

Beginning in October I will be posting only once a week so that I can have more time to pursue other projects.  I will continue to wander the great state of Florida and report in every Wednesday.

Haunted Light

August 13, 2010

Another lighthouse has crossed my path.  This time it lies just to the north of me in St. Augustine.  And from what I hear, it is seriously haunted.

But before I get to that, here are a few of the great things about this Lighthouse and Museum.

WWII Connection:  The Lighthouse and Museum stores and displays a collection of WWII artifacts and dozens of photos from that era.  During WWII, the lighthouse served as a Coast Guard lookout post for enemy ships and submarines.

Archeological Connection:  The Museum maintains the Lighthouse Archeological Maritime Program (LAMP) which researches maritime archeological sites around the St. Augustine area.  This research includes German U-boats which traversed the waters just off shore during WWII.

Smithsonian Connection:  As of June 2010, the Lighthouse and Museum became a Smithsonian Affiliate.  This is a network of sorts, where the Smithsonian partners with community organizations and shares its educational and cultural resources.  The Smithsonian can lend artifacts to its affiliates, and also share knowledge on conservation, outreach and exhibition development. 

Now for the hauntings.  According to the Lighthouse website:

The lighthouse and surrounding buildings have a long history of supposed paranormal activity. Allegedly, visitors and workers have seen moving shadows, heard voices and unexplained sounds and seen the figures of two little girls standing on the lighthouse catwalk…Other reports are of a woman seen on the lighthouse stairway or walking in the yard outside the buildings, and the figure of a man who roams the basement.

The two little girls are said to be the daughters of Hezekiah Pittee who served as Superintendent during the Lighthouse’s construction.  Pittee and his family lived on the site during construction and the two girls tragically drowned there before the lighthouse was completed.

Lights, Camera, Action

Apparently our Florida ghosts have made it to national television.  The paranormal experts from the show Ghost Hunters have filmed two episodes here already.  A quick search on  YouTube leads to these and other amateur videos of claimed ghost sightings in the lighthouse and the surrounding grounds.

One way to find out more is to take the Dark of the Moon tour offered by the Lighthouse and Museum.  Touted as a “paranormal tour,” it lasts for two hours, from 8:30pm until 10:30pm, but only on select nights.

Hauntings or Trappings

Are they really hauntings if the ghost doesn’t attempt to scare the wits out of you?  I mean, maybe they are trapped there.  Or maybe they are only trapped in our minds.  Who knows for sure, but it does make me curious enough to want to find out.

Orchestras to Belly Flops

July 2, 2010


Fourth of July Weekend Happenings Around The State

Most Florida cities, large or small, have something planned for the 4th of July weekend.  Here are just a few that go a step beyond the traditional fireworks display.

Starting in the Northeast, Amelia Island, just north of Jacksonville, will present the traditional parade and fireworks in the historic downtown/marina area.  For something different, you can take a candlelight tour of the waterfront Fort Clinch and enjoy the fireworks from there.

Classy is what you would expect from the oldest city in America.  St. Augustine’s Fireworks Over the Matanzas program takes place from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on the 4th. The All Star Orchestra will present a two-hour show full of Big Band and Swing music, as well as traditional patriotic songs.  Fireworks go off at 9:30 p.m. to a “stirring soundtrack of great popular music.”

For those into NASCAR, Daytona Beach continues the tradition of holding the 160-lap, 400-mile Coke Zero 400 on the 3rd of July at the Daytona International Speedway.  The race starts at 7:30 p.m.  There will be a pre-race concert by Darius Rucker, and post race fireworks.  On the 4th, watch the fireworks from Daytona’s main pier.

Saturday or Sunday you can head over to the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford for the Red, White and Zoo festival.  Enter the watermelon eating contest, or just enjoy games, crafts, live music and something called “waterslide zoo animal encounters.”  9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. each day.

If you want to party 50’s style, head over to Celebration.  An All-American Sock Hop is happening, along with a 1950’s costume contest, concerts, and food, all followed by fireworks set to the “best loved music” of the 50’s. 

If you’re looking for a beer garden and dunk tank atmosphere, head over to Kissimmee and enjoy their Independence Day Celebration at Kissimmee Lakefront Park.  There will also be patriotic crafts, snow-cones and bounce houses for the kids.  Sunday, 5:00-9:00 pm.  Fireworks go off at 9:10 p.m.

The Florida Aquarium in Tampa is staying open until 9:30 so you can watch the fireworks over the Channel. The Aquarium is also taking their two-deck Bay Spirit II, a 72-ft. long catamaran, on a sunset cruise, ending with a spectacular viewing of the fireworks from the boat.  Hors d’ouvres and an open bar for wine and beer are included, with a cash bar available.  The price of $50 covers aquarium admission, parking, food, beer and wine. 

Cedar Key celebrates the holiday with Clamerica, described as a “down home 4th of July party, but with a clammy theme.”  Just the place for clam lovers.  Clams on the half shell, steamed clams, clam chowder, clam fritters…

And then there’s tiny Madison County in the extreme North Center of the State, midway between Pensacola and Jacksonville, where not one, but three celebrations will be held.  God & Country Independence Day Celebration takes place on Saturday from 5:00 p.m. until 10:30 p.m.  Fireworks included.  Celebrate the Stars and Stripes takes place July 2-5th with watermelon eating contests, mini golf, volley ball and horseshoe tournaments, and candy bar bingo.  Saturday at noon is the not-to-be-missed Non-Alcoholic Red Neck Games. Mud football, belly flop contest, and the ‘ole bobbin’ for pig’s feet.  Who could ask for more.