With the virus limiting travel and tourism in Florida, I am writing articles oriented toward the entire state summarizing some past content and painting a wide picture. As a history teacher, it irritates me how much of the History Channel and even the Travel Channel is dedicated to UFOs, ghosts, and Big Foot.
But I must admit that people are greatly fascinated by these topics so I am featuring “my favorite weirdest attractions” in Florida. They have to be for real and they have to have value as a location to visit.
CORAL CASTLE (Homestead)
Coral Castle has confused and fascinated engineers and scientists from around the world for decades. The site, just off US1, is a gigantic limestone structure constructed by one 120-pound, heart-broken Latvian immigrant without the help of machinery or other people.
Giant one-ton doors rotate at the touch of a finger. The huge picnic table is shaped like Florida. An observatory that must weight three tons pints directly to various stars as an observatory. Even more amazing, Edward Leedskalnin (1887-1951) secretly moved the entire site when threatened by road construction. All he ever told people is that he learned the use of levers from the Egyptians.
CASSADEGA (Volusia County)
A few miles off the Lake Helen exit on I-4 is a small, unincorporated village known to some travelers as “the Psychic Capital of the World.” It is not a sideshow operation, but the center of the Southern Spiritualist Association. The meeting hall, the church, and most of the Victorian houses belong to spiritualists who believe you can talk to the dead and learn about life.
The village started way back in 1875 by New Yorker George P. Colby, who believed that a Florida winter site would be important to his fellow spiritualists. There is a hotel, often in winter housing believers from around the globe. Walking around the compact community is an experience even if you don’t want to meet a medium.
KORESHAN UNITY (Lee County)
Most people will find a scenic Florida state park with campgrounds and canoe/kayak rentals on a river not to be the likely site for an unusual Utopian community. In the 1870’s Cyrus Teed, known as “Koresh” to his followers, came to isolated Estero to start a colony known as Koreshan Unity. Some eleven historic buildings remain from a settlement that contained miles of roadways lined with bamboo trees.
The village produced electricity in a region which had none. The most fascinating structure is the large meetinghouse where Koresh taught his followers that we live inside the world. In winter there is actually a small restaurant serving food from the Koreshan Unity bakery cookbook.
SHUNK APE RESEARCH CENTER (Ochopee)
Some people would get upset if I didn’t include this Florida icon of a museum on US 41 in the Upper Everglades, dedicated to Florida’s version of Big Foot. The exhibits and evidence might not convince you of the creature, but you’ll like the friendly and informative staff.
Not far away, if you look on the south side of the highway, you’ll see the Ochopee Post Office, the smallest in the United States.
GRAVE OF FLIPPER (Grassy Key)
It may be appropriate for a state like Florida surrounded by oceans that the most visited celebrity grave is that of a dolphin. Located at MM 59 on the Gulf side of US1’s island hopping trip to Key West is the Dolphin Research Center. Obviously closed as an attraction at the present time, the center is more concerned with living mammals than dead ones.
But on the property, complete with a statue, is Flipper (1964-1972), star of the 1960’s television show and movie. Flipper was really Mitzi and she got the featured part for she could do for things than her standbys.
RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OF NOT (Saint Augustine)
I know what you are thinking. This is one of the Ancient City’s typical tourist traps with lots of weird and ugly exhibits, much of which has nothing to do with Florida. So I am going to tell you what the Ripley people don’t tell you in full detail.
The building was constructed in 1887 as Warden Castle, the winter home of Bill Warden, John D. Rockefeller’s financier. It was vacant during the Depression until 1941 when Ocala hotel man Norton Baskin turned it into a luxury hotel. He designed the penthouse into an apartment for his wife famed author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Baskin thought her relationship to the hotel would help promote the place.
Rawlings hated the place for she wanted privacy and half the town could tell if she was staying there. She took her Pulitzer Prize money and bought a nice beach house at Crescent Beach. She really got pissed off when her hubby put a mutual female friend in the penthouse when she was away and town folk felt Baskin was having an affair.
Baskin promised his wife never again to put someone in the penthouse, but on April 23, 1944, with her husband serving in the military, Rawlings violated her own ruling by letting a friend stay in the penthouse. With Rawlings at Crescent Beach, a fire started on the third floor of the hotel and two women were killed, one of them her friend trapped in the penthouse bathroom.
Today Ripley has a “Finding Mr. X Tour” for the second woman who died was not fully identified and a strange man in Room 13 took off after the fire. Workers at the museum complain about seeing a female ghost and if that is so, it is probably the woman in the penthouse. Or maybe it is the ghost of Rawlings cursed by her decision.
#florida #weird #attractions