Florida Is Not All Football – There’s A Big Art Scene


The other day Tampa was packed with people from Iowa and Florida Gator fans for the annual Outback Bowl.  Next weekend the Clemson-Alabama NCAA Championships will bring 100,000+ football fans into the city.

But Florida is more than football.

My wife and daughter and I weren’t at the game Monday.  We drove over to the spectacular Salvador Dali Museum on the Saint Petersburg waterfront to see the Frida Kahlo Exhibit.  The museum was crowded so much that parking was moved to the parking garage at the Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg’s performing arts facility and concert hall.


Crowds Pack Dali Museum

The Dali Museum, the largest collection of Dali works outside of Europe, is just one of many Florida art museums that many visitors don’t expect in the state more famous for amusement parks, sports, and white sand beaches.


Art lovers know that the Florida State Art Museum, the 1927 John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, is a massive 21 gallery complex on a multi-acre setting including John Ringling’s waterfront mansion, and the Circus Museum with the largest collection of circus art in the world.  Ringling’s coverage of 16th to 20th century European art is famous, but his Ribens paintings are world-renowned.


Most people don’t know that the Ringling Art Library of 90,000 art books, including rare manuscripts, is used by art researchers from around the world.

Do you like the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright?  The world’s largest single site of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings is on the Florida Southern University Campus in Lakeland on a 100 acre lakeside site called by Princeton Review in 2012 the most beautiful college campus in America.  The Pfeiffer Chapel alone is worth the visit.


The Beautiful Florida Southern Campus

Winter Park, near Orlando, is the home of the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, housing the most extensive collection of the diverse works of Louis Comfort Tiffany in the entire world.  When Tiffany’s estate Laurelton Hall burnt down, the staff rescued priceless artifacts.  The museum has part of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition by Tiffany.


The Morse Museum Is Unique

All major Florida cities have art museums.  Perhaps my favorite is the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach.  With 7,000 works, it actually has more art work than the giant Ringling holdings.  It is big of contemporary American art, but the top floor European collection has everything from Monet to Gauguin to Chagall to Matisse.


The Norton Museum Is A Work Of Art

On your next vacation trip around Florida be sure to look up the area’s art museum.  It can be as exciting as a football game.

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Key West: Still Crazy After All These Years

Anyone who has spent some time in Florida knows that the island of KEY WEST is the place to go for weird and crazy fun.  There is nothing ordinary about Key West and its wild and diverse population.

People don’t go to Key West to relax and look at the clear green waters.  There are so many weird items about Key West, we decided to give KEY WEST its own category.



 People in Key West like to refer to themselves as “THE CONCH REPUBLIC” and it is not just the isolation of Key West ninety miles from the mainland that is noted.  During the Civil War when Florida seceded from the Union, Key West seceded from Florida.


In a town filled with Cuban fishermen, transplanted Yankee sailors and merchants, a few pirates, and unknown others, the island remained loyal to the Union and Fort Taylor was a major supply center for naval operations in the blockade.  Ever since then Key West has told Tallahassee that they will take no guff from wrongful taxes and rules.



Key West has always attracted an arty crowd.  Writers, poets, singers, and entertainers are always welcomed in Key West.  And since the town’s nightlife never closes down, most freelance people like the fact they are left alone.  Tennessee Williams walked to the shops from his little cottage without attracting a glance.  Jimmy Buffet opened his first Margaritaville.  Robert Frost rented a tiny cabin.

But no one was more beloved than Ernest Hemingway who bought one of the oldest sea captain’s houses and even built the islands first private swimming pool (a costly venture for it had to be cut from coral rock).


Just about half the tourists who come to Key West visit his house, look for the ancestors of his deformed cats, and buy a Sloppy Joes T-shirt, even though most locals know that the original bar Hemingway drank in is two doors down.

To honor Hemingway, the town has a Hemingway Look-alike contest.  Maybe it’s just an excuse not to shave.  The town fills up with so many Hemingways that every table has a bearded one.    Hemingway’s Spain has the running of the bulls – Key West has its own version.


A town that plays and lives as hard as Key West should die as hard.  And no town dies with as much crazy class as Key West.   Most Key Westerners believe this is the way to get the last laugh on their friends and enemies.


The most popular tombstone in Park.

The cemetery is so popular it has a public toilet … which looks like a tomb.


I even found a section for pet animals and that was not typical.  It’s KEY WEST!


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In Florida Christmas Is A Post Office and a Fort

This is the season in Central Florida when people drive Southeast from Orlando to the town of Christmas to mail their Santa letters and special packages.  But Christmas, Florida, is not named just for holiday cheer – on Christmas day in 1837 2,000 soldiers started the construction for a fort to protect the area farmers from Seminole attacks.

Today there is a wonderful replica of that Second Seminole War fort filled with pioneer and Seminole artifacts developed by the Fort Christmas Historical Society and the Orange County Park Department.  There is even a store with facilities and three large picnic pavilions at the well-designed complex.


Fort Christmas is more than just a wooden fort.  The park contains a dozen Florida Cracker farmhouses dating from the 1870’s to the 1930’s.  The rural setting makes the village appear to be realistic and several times each year major events are held to honor Florida’s past.

My favorite sites include a 1906 school complete with a delightful lunchroom and the 1917 Beehead Ranch House which has all the farm equipment needed to operate a frontier business.


If you are driving from Orlando to the Florida East Coast you might want to take a side trip off County Road 420 to see Fort Christmas.

MERRY CHRISTMAS .. I’ll be back with Florida vacation news.

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Man Made Disasters: A Time Of Reflection

This is the time of year when reporters review the good and the bad events of the year.  In Florida, most of our disastrous events have been caused by nature – hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and forest fires hit by lightning.

But there are also man-made disasters and terrible events, and Florida had one in 2016 that will impact American society and politics for some time.  It was the terrible mass killing at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

June 11, 2016 – Pulse Nightclub Terrorist Attack

On the night of June 11, 2016, Omar Mateen of Port St. Lucie, Florida, entered the crowded and darkened Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando and fired away with an automatic rifle, killing fifty people and hospitalizing 53 others. Mateen had traveled over one hundred miles several times to investigate entertainment places in Orlando, even the Magic Kingdom.


Despite being interviewed three times by the FBI for making inflammatory remarks to fellow workers, and later questioned because his Afghan father Seddique Mateen hosts a YouTube show where he is portrayed as President of Afghanistan and fan of the Taliban.  Mateen was able to purchase his weapon after being turned down twice by gun shops mainly because he showed he was employed for seven years in Florida by the largest private security firm in the world, a British company.


I was asked what I thought were “man-made: Florida disasters that would be recalled like this event and unfortunately too many came to mind as a historian.

May 3, 1901 – The Great Fire of 1901

Most Floridians don’t know that other than the Chicago Fire and the San Francisco Earthquake Fire, the greatest urban fire in United States history took place on May 3, 1901, in Jacksonville, Florida’s largest city and the gateway to the state.  Workers at the Cleveland Fiber Company on the corner of Davis and Beaver Streets, were at lunch, when a spark from a nearby chimney landed on one of their pile of drying Spanish moss.  The city was in a drought and the wind was gusting.


Only San Francisco & Chicago Was Worse

Before the workers could stop the fire, it was spreading from house to house.  Since North Florida was a lumbermen’s dream, most homes and stores were wood frame.   Within eight hours 146 city blocks and 2,368 buildings were in flames, and people in Savannah, Georgia, were watching the glow from the fire that left 10,000 people homeless and ruined the business community.

January 28, 1986 – the CHALLENGER disaster

The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986, was a horrifying event for millions of people who watched the 11:39 EST take-off on television, but thousands of Floridians watched the event live.


I was one of them despite being 130 miles to the west.  I was going to my classroom and going up the outer stairwell at the Ybor Campus of HCC when a person called out the “Challenger” name.  I turned and looked eastward across a cold but clear sky and saw the spacecraft ascending.  Seventy-three seconds into the flight, the white smoke split into what looked like three strange lines.  A cleaning woman at the nearest landing turned to me and asked, “Is that normal?”  All I could reply was a slow “No.”

May 9, 1980 – The Sunshine Skyway Bridge

The 1971 Sunshine Skyway Bridge crossing Tampa Bay between Saint Petersburg and Bradenton was a Florida landmark and a scenic route for millions of people traveling south along the Gulf of Mexico.  At 7:33 a.m. on May 9, 1980, a blinding thunderstorm with high winds convinced some of the bridge staff that the bridge might be temporarily closed.  What they did not expect was the cargo ship Summit Venture colliding with a pier on the southbound span, sending 1,200 feet of bridge collapsing into the bay.


Famous Tampa Bay Time photograph

Six cars, one truck, and a Greyhound bus fell 150 feet into the water, killing 35 people.  Truck driver Wesley MacIntre incredibly survived when he landed on the deck of the Summit Venture.  The bridge was rebuilt with a new series of protective barriers at the piers.

May 11, 1996 – Value Jet DC 9 Miami

At 14:04 Value Jet Flight 592 from Miami International Airport to Atlanta (Hartsfield-Jackson) took off from Runway 8R at 14:04.  The 27 year old former Delta plane carried 110 people despite a number of investigations regarding old equipment.  Ten minutes into the flight over the Everglades, smoke poured out of the floor of the airplane.  The two pilots made three minutes of conversation as they tried to turn back.  At 14:13 the airplane crashed into the marshes of the Everglades with no survivors.


January 28, 1980  – The U.S. Coast Guard Blackthorn

It is rare to have two disasters in the same place in the same year, but four months before the Sunshine Skyway was destroyed by a ship, the United States Coast Guard seagoing buoy tender Blackthron (WLB-391), just finishing a major overhaul in Tampa,  collided in a fog with the tanker SS Capricorn.


I think I have mentioned enough misery for one article.




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Florida: The Reenactment of America’s Longest and Most Costly War

This time of year dozens of Floridians and volunteers from across the nation dress up as United States Enlisted Soldiers to reenact the longest and most costly (in today’s money) war in American history.

It is the Seminole Indian Wars, which we divide into three wars, but to the Seminole Indians it was one continuous conflict from 1821 to 1855, when the United States decided it wasn’t worthwhile chasing a few hundred Indians in the Everglades. The United States Government paid Indians to surrender, captured Osceola under a white flag of truce (Ow!), and argued over a conflict that delayed Florida statehood for two decades.

Since 25 to 35% of the Seminoles were actually runaway slaves from plantations in North Florida and Georgia, the Seminole Wars could also be called the longest and largest slave insurrection in American history.


The Stage Is The Real Place Where the Event Took Place

This time of year is an ideal time temperature wise and rain wise for outdoor events. Some of these Seminole War reenactments have grown into multi-activity fairs honoring life on the violent Florida frontier.


Fort Foster Is Also Open On Weekends

On December 9th and 10th there is an unusual night reenactment at Fort Foster, a full size replica of the fort built near the actual 1836 site off US301 at Hillsborough River State Park.  The fort was attacked several times as well as the key bridge built over the Hillsborough River on the Road to Fort King.


On January 7th and 8th the most famous event of the wars – the Dade Massacre – takes place on the actual site in Bushnell, just a few miles off Interstate 75 in Sumter County. On January 24, 1838, Major Francis Dade and 107 tired men marched north to reinforce Fort King (Ocala) and came into a trap set by Halpatter Tustenuggee (Alligator) and Jupiter in which just 3 soldiers escaped death.


Until an idiot named George Armstrong Custer came along, it was the worst Indian attack in American history and forced the U.S. Congress to pour troops into Florida.  The Dade Battlefield Historic State Park has a fine museum with artifacts and camping facilities.

FLORIDATRAVELER dades-battle-1a.jpg

The Dade Massacre Is Not G-Rated

On January 28-29 there will be a historic presentation at the Loxahatchee River Battlefield Park outside Jupiter.  Here on January 24, 1838, Major Thomas S. Jessup with a massive 1500 man army attacked the Seminoles in the Battle of Loxahatchee.


A battle that helped make a President – Zachary Taylor – is presented on the original site at Okeechobee Battle State Park off 38th Avenue in Okeechobee.  This event in what was the beginnings of the Everglades has developed into an extensive festival honoring Florida folk culture and pioneer life.

FLORIDATRAVELER BattleofOkeechobee.jpg

The Battle That Is Now A Festival



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Christmas In Florida Is Snow-Less, But Not Show-Less

Growing up outside Boston as a child meant dreaming of a white Christmas.  As often or not we had frigid weather, icy roads, and no snow.

Floridians don’t have to worry about the white stuff in December.  We still celebrate the holidays with most everything else.  Downtown Tampa even opens an ice skating rink and every Florida theme park turns into a Christmas wonderland, often at additional admission charges.   Most Florida zoos  become Christmas tourist sites – bring out those penguins.

There are a few things Florida has that is rare in the North.  At least fifty Florida towns have Christmas boat parades that match up with most land floats.  Pompano Beach started it five decades ago and this year’s boat spectacular is December 11th.


Some of this years biggest boat parades are: December 10th – Key West, Clearwater, Panama City, and Fort Lauderdale.  Destin’s water show is December 11th.  Miami and Cape Coral are on December 17th.  And just in case you were up North this year, Jacksonville has a light boat holiday parade on December 30th.

If you are in a town with a lake, a river, or coastline, contact your local Chamber for the dates and locations of your neighborhood boat parade.


My favorite indoor Christmas spectacular is inside the massive covered lobby of the Gaylord Palms Resort in Orlando.  You’ll need to buy tickets for this one for people drive miles to see the activities.  It will be cold – about nine degrees.


Orlando’s Garlord Palms Resort Is Christmas Wonderland

The coldness is to prevent the melting of 36 truckloads of special ice recipe (clear ice, white ice, and colored ice) turned into two million pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures.  Thousands of Chinese ice lanterns and lights fill the air.  You can slide down chutes covered with real snow, have a Charlie Brown Christmas, and watch a Cirque show with a holiday theme.  The place is unreal!


And of course, the resort has restaurants and special food stalls.

My favorite outdoor Christmas trip is an extreme contrast.  I like to go to the Bok Tower and Gardens in Lake Wales.  The numerous trails up Iron Mountain are filled with red poinsettias and other appropriate holiday plants.  Beautiful and restful.


Bok Gardens At Christmas Time

You will definitely need to go online to get tickets to the rustic Pinewood Estate in the Gardens.  The mansion is turned into a historic look at Florida’s Christmas past.


Pineland Estate At Christmas at Bok Tower

If after all this, you still want snow coming down, I suggest you visit downtown Celebration, the village designed by the Disney people to resemble small town U.S.A. Every evening during December on the hour from 6 pm to 9 pm it is “Now Snowing on Main Street.”


Snow Every Night At Downtown Celebration, Florida

I may miss the real snow, but not the long double driveway Dad and I had to plow out.

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Saint Augustine 1565: The First Thanksgiving

For a person who grew up in Massachusetts and whose grandfather was a proud ancestor of the Howland family of Mayflower fame, it is hard to accept the fact that the first Thanksgiving took place in September of 1565 and it was not with a bunch of Pilgrim.

You can forget about Juan de Onate in El Paso and George Popham in Kennebec, Maine.  The first European-Indian  food fest took place in Saint Augustine under the leadership of its found Pedro Menendez de Aviles.


The invited guests were the regional Timucuan Indians who we know brought oysters and giant clams.  I like to think they brought some of their barbequed alligator, but there is no record of that menu item.


A Timucuan Roast of Gators

Turkeys?  While Florida has a species of wild turkey that is lean and very energetic, there is no mention that the Timucuans contributed our favorite modern item to the table in 1565.


Not On Menu: Florida Wild Turkey – Lean and Mean

Menenedez had established claim to “La Florida” on September 8, 1565, with a large force of 500 professional soldiers, 200 sailors, several priests, and a mix of civilians mostly artisans and engineers to construct a fort and other needed buildings.  The Timucuans, who had already met with French Huguenots in Fort Caroline,  arrived from their nearby town of Seloy.


I Wager He’s Not Giving Directions To Golden Corral

The Spanish leader,  who was extremely religious, wanted to convert the Timucuans to the Catholic faith and utilize this friendly farming tribe to develop a mission system in Florida.


While there were some tropical fruits and seafood to be gathered, it is assumed that the Indians were treated to a dinner heavy on Spanish military cuisine featuring cocido.


Cocido was a traditional Spanish colonial mash of garbanzo beans, diced onions, potatoes, green cabbage, carrots, sausage, and a lot of salt pork, cooked in water for a few hours.  Fortunately, the Spanish served everyone some wine from kegs.

It is not known if anyone on either side got either a stomach ache or dizziness.   I think I will stick my good old Puritan turkey, cranberries, and a large pumpkin pie.

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