Saturday, May 30, 2020

Time to revise art of calling

1887 photo depicts people in young citrus grove with farmhouse in background
Social distancing, pioneer style?
Calling on friends and relatives was a way of
life in frontier Florida, where many people
lived on isolated homesteads. The citrus grove
in this 1887 photo was in Seminole County.
(Photographer Frank Nelson; Florida Memory photo)

We need to revise the lost art of calling. It was a regular part of life for people in 19th century Florida. Actually, for people across the United States and beyond. Everyone went visiting to see relatives, friends, and neighbors. In uptown society, calling evolved into a highly specialized form of etiquette. Detailed rules governed how, when, and upon whom one called or received callers. Each person even had a calling card, kind of like a business card.

The rules of calling were so elaborate they even dictated who sat where during a visit, depending on  social status. Woe to the person who failed to give up her seat to a social superior. For more on these arcane rules, listen to the Dressed - The History of Fashion podcast episode of Feb. 25, 2020, titled "Call Me: The Perils of 19th Century Etiquette." 

I'm promoting the more relaxed form of the art, the kind my husband and I found ourselves doing during the height of the coronavirus lockdown. Informal and rules be darned, except for keeping one's distance.

Back in the day, people in rural areas, farms, and citrus groves welcomed callers who rode out to say hello. The visits were welcome breaks in the daily routine for people who, as a rule, spent most of their time isolated on their homesteads. As we've been doing these past months.

Depending on time and place, a call could last from minutes to hours. Upper class people following the etiquette rules in towns sometimes made a number of calls within a single afternoon.

I thought about the art of calling when my husband and I made the rounds of two homes of friends one after another, the same day we ventured out to the supermarket for supplies.

At the first stop, I picked up sour-orange seedlings my friend had potted for me from cuttings taken from a tree in her yard. The original tree froze years ago and regrew from its tough, sturdy rootstock. It seems to be resistant to citrus greening, a menace in Florida, and I definitely want to try establishing it in my yard. The tree produces what we call Seville oranges, which are sour and used like lemons. 

My friend and I walked through her veggie garden and chatted about oranges, muscadines, and other gardening things while our hubbies waited patiently for us to finish. It was a friendly visit that lasted about half an hour, and we all practiced social distancing. 

Then my husband and I drove over to another house to check on friends we hadn't heard from recently. They had made an impromptu call on us some weeks back. We went outside when we saw them pull in the driveway and had a friendly chat. We expected the same when we arrived at their place. Only half the couple emerged, though. Turns out, the husband had a bad sinus infection, which was why he'd been out of touch. Keeping our distance, we had a cheery few minutes of talk and then were on our way. The final stop was the grocery store.

Not much, but you know, the mini-visits were bright spots. I'm a homebody. I love to stay home. But even I occasionally felt the weight of the lockdown before restrictions started to ease. Things are opening up gradually here. Baby steps are fine with me. I keep my mask, wipes, and hand sanitizer near and use them when venturing into stores. I'm in the high-risk group and so is my husband.

For young or old, calling could find a niche even now that things are starting to get back to normal. Whatever normal ends up to be. Brief personal calls would be like quick conversations on social media, only done in fresh air and in person. Because there truly is something special about the human connection, even when done from six feet away.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Losing one's mind, for real

Screengrab of cover of 1904 medical manual
Cover of a 1904  home health medical manual.
Credit: UF Health

Watching and caring for an elderly loved one who is dying is no easy task. You see them decline, day by day, until the time comes when your nursing care is pretty much useless. They're near death, and you pray, and tell them you love them, and treat them with gentle care. Finally, the day comes when you kiss them goodbye.

I just went through all that. My husband and I nursed my father through his final days in our house. And thank God for that. Had my father been in a nursing home, he would have died alone because of the coronavirus lockdown. He wouldn't have understood why I or other family members weren't with him. His Alzheimer's had clouded his mind too much by then. 

AdventHealth Hospice Care guided us every step of the way, for which I'm grateful. You learn quickly how to do things you never thought you'd have to do. And you don't mind. Your life isn't your own, because the needs of a dying Alzheimer's patient are great. And then, suddenly, everything stops. You know the time is coming but you're not ever really prepared. Dad's been gone less than two weeks and the void in the house is great. I'm still reeling from it all.

With more time at hand, I started wondering how people cared for dementia-suffering elders in Florida during pioneer days. Nursing homes didn't exist. My own ancestors from that era considered hospitals a place to be avoided at all costs. My early 20th century ancestors were in New York City. I don't know if Florida had hospitals outside its major cities at that time. My guess is that care for the elderly was done primarily in the home.

I turned to the U.S. National Library of Medicine's online version of the 1901 edition of Dr. Gunn's New Family Physician Home Book of Health to check the era's home-health advice. The book was popular and had been updated and reprinted numerous times over decades.

On page 722, we're told that old age is "the only disease natural to man." Dr. Gunn believed that "dosing and drugging" with non-natural remedies would bring on an early old age. People were advised to stick with roots, barks, and herbs and steer clear as much as possible from "Mineral Remedies."

The book is massive. On page 1,022 there's an entire discussion about bones. While the medical explanation is outdated, the author is spot on when saying the bones of people of extreme old age "are extremely brittle and easily broken." Other pages hold decidedly modern notions, such as one that stresses the importance of healthful eating and unrushed, regular mealtimes. People who acquire such habits were said to reach old age "cheerful, sprightly and youthful in their feelings." 

All that is interesting, but a home-health manual of that size ought to contain something about dementia. In the old days, people who had dementia were said to be senile. Yet that word doesn't appear in the book. Nor does the word dementia. Or forgetfulness, or memory loss. Yet dementia was recognized by the medical community. "Alzheimer's" would be named a scant few years later, in 1906.

I had slightly more luck accessing the word "senile" in the HathiTrust digital library's 1904 The Favorite Medical Receipt Book and Home Doctor, Comprising the Favorite Remedies of Over One Hundred of the World's Best Physicians and Nurses. Whew, what a title. In the book, though, the word senile is associated with something called Senile Gangrene, which the book describes as a limb that becomes useless in an old person due primarily to heart problems. Again, no mention of dementia in this book, either.

Maybe people didn't live long enough to suffer end-stage dementia in olden days. Life expectancy was a lot shorter then. But people suffered from it. It just wasn't as commonly known or understood as it is today. I can't imagine how bewildered the sufferers and their caregivers were upon dealing with the relentless loss of cognitive abilities and memory. It had to be terrifying and sad. Because it still is today.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Florida, 1918 Spanish flu, and coronavirus

Screengrab of part of a 1918 Pensacola Journal newspaper front page
Pensacola was hit hard by the 1918 Spanish flu. This
screengrab is from the Oct. 4, 1918 Pensacola Journal.
The coronavirus pandemic has made me think about the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. How did Floridians fare during that crisis? I wondered a lot of things - did they hoard supplies, practice social distancing, and argue among themselves about how serious the situation was? 

They had no instant means of communication back then. Telephones existed but weren’t yet in every home, particularly in rural areas. Radio wasn’t widespread until the 1920s. Seems to me common people in Florida in 1918 had the telegraph, postal service, and newspapers.

So I turned to historical newspapers to see how the flu was covered. Here’s what I found searching through the America's Historical Newspapers and the Chronicling America databases. Many things were eerily the same.

Then, as now, calmness was advised. The Pensacola Journal, on Oct. 12, 1918, told people not to panic. The newspaper explained what to look for when feeling unwell, and offered tips on how to self-treat. 

Many symptoms of the Spanish flu sounded familiar to those of COVID-19: chills, aches, sometimes nausea and dizziness, general feeling of weakness, temperature up to 104 degrees that lasted three to five days, a hard cough that grew worse at night, sometimes a sore throat, and often the appearance of a severe head cold.

People were told to go to bed at the first symptoms, both for themselves and to avoid spreading the flu. Then, as now, there was no cure. In 1918, flu victims were advised to take a purgative, eat nourishing food, and take medicine as advised by their doctor. 

Home options included taking quinine, aspirin, something called Dover’s Powder, and rubbing the throat, neck, and upper back with Vick’s Vapo-Rub. At that time, it was a relatively new product. The newspaper felt a need to explain that it was a salve whose ingredients included menthol, camphor, and oils of eucalyptus and thyme.

The chief worry was the threat of additional complication in patients with compromised systems because of underlying health conditions. The elderly were particularly susceptible. In general, patients were advised to stay in bed for two more days after their fever subsided. Those over 50 were to stay in bed four extra days. Back in 1918, anyone older than 50 was considered well up in age. Life expectancy in the United States in 1918 was 36.6 years for men and 42.2 years for women, according to a University of California, Berkeley, demographic table.

“Evidence seems to prove this is a germ disease spread principally by human contact …” explained the Oct. 12 Pensacola Journal article. People were told to avoid crowds, common drinking cups and towels, to take plenty of exercise in the open air, and to eat good food. Exactly what we’re being told to do today.

Then, as now, younger people also succumbed. The Daytona Beach News Journal, on Dec. 29, 1918, carried news of the death of a 17-year-old girl who had fought the flu for 10 days. She wasn’t the only young person whose death I noticed while browsing online.

Illness also spread through the armed forces. The country was still fighting World War 1 in 1918. Even after the war ended in November, war news predominated in newspapers as peace commissions met and troops started to return home. The Daytona Beach News Journal, on Dec. 5, 1918, reported a snapshot of how the flu affected men in uniform. Of the 20,500 deaths among troops between Sept. 14 and Nov. 8, an astonishing 19,800 deaths were attributed to the epidemic. 

Individual cases around Florida were cause for newspaper updates. The Ocala Evening Star, on Oct. 7, 1918, reported that Doc Lanier in Fort Lauderdale was much improved after a week’s illness “with the fashionable Spanish ‘flue.’ ”  Doc was again to be found behind the prescription counter at Beck’s drugstore. Also, a local Ocala man, Mr. L.E. Yonce, a baggage master on the A.C.L. Railway from Jacksonville to Leesburg, was reported to be finally able to get up after being down with the flu at home for several days. 

While much flu news was relegated to inside pages - war news took precedence on most days - the Pensacola Journal on Oct 4, 1918 gave top placement to news that all area agencies were cooperating to combat the flu. Representatives of the U.S. Public Health Service, city health department, civilian relief committee, and Red Cross planned a morning press conference that day to combat what had become an epidemic in the city. The Red Cross had ordered more civilian aid in Pensacola, in which many industries were said to be handicapped. 

“Interference of the disease is beginning to be felt in every quarter of the city,” the article said. Only 18 of a force of 102 were able to report to work at the city’s electric company. Elevators and telephone service were disrupted by illness of the operators. People were urged not to use the telephone unless absolutely necessary. The Naval Air Station was sending six pharmacists to local drugstores to help get out medicine to the sick.

Just like today, gatherings were canceled.  A War Camp Community Sing was canceled, as were the Naval Air Station’s weekly dances. Churches canceled services, and lodges and guilds halted meetings.

Of depressing note: what I always knew as the “1918 Spanish flu” started earlier and ended later. On Dec. 1, 1918, the Daytona Beach Morning Journal reported that experts from the United States, Canada, and South America would meet in Daytona Beach the following week for the American Public Health Association’s annual convention. At that time, the experts were to coordinate plans for battling the flu epidemic in 1919. Another wave of illness was expected to sweep the country in 1919. Dr. W. A. Evans, former health commissioner of Chicago, was quoted as saying the Spanish flu first made its appearance in Spain in 1913. He also noted that, by 1918, Spain was already having its second outbreak. 

We’re only weeks into high-alert mode here in Florida as coronavirus cases continue to climb. Stay safe, all.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Of missions and marriages

screengrab of a 1922 newspaper article about a Catholic picnic
All friends were cordially invited to attend St. Peter Catholic
Church's annual picnic in 1922. Screengrab of DeLand
Daily News article is from America's Historical Newspapers.
Vintage archival copies of my town's local newspaper have moved from microfilm to online. The paper's current iteration, the West Volusia Beacon, made the announcement last month. The DeLand News Historical Archive is hosted on America's Historical Newspapers. I can access the database through my Volusia County Public Library account.

This opens up a new portal for me! Day-to-day local history is only a click away.

I love the way newspapers in the olden days kept track of the common aspects of regular folks' lives.  The papers reported on people's vacations, houseguests, picnics, and so on. Such minutiae gives me a sense of domestic life in earlier periods.

Because my parish church, St. Peter, was established in DeLand in 1883, I first browsed the online archives for a look at church doings in years gone by. Here are some examples, with quotes taken directly from the articles:

  • On Jan. 15, 1904, John Francis Cairns and Mary Ellen Donahue were married. "The day opened with a storm, which continued up to 9:30 raining torrents; but notwithstanding this, the little church was filled with invited guests. At 9:30 the skies cleared and the sun came out and there was beautiful weather for the marriage." January weather is generally nice in Florida, and I imagine it was even prettier after the storm blew through. The rest of the wedding day was splendid, according to the newspaper reporter: "The impressive ceremony of the Catholic Church was used. After the ceremony, about 65 invited guests repaired to the home of the groom's parents on Amelia Avenue, where congratulations were extended and a most sumptuous wedding breakfast partaken of. Bushnell's orchestra was present at the house and discoursed sweet music." The DeLand Daily News ended its account by wishing the couple a long and happy married life. 
  • The bishop came to town March 18, 1904, to celebrate the sacrament of Confirmation at St. Peter Church. "Bishop Kenney of St. Augustine was assisted by Father Chisholm of DeLand," the article notes. Nine candidates were confirmed and the church was filled with people for the occasion. "Before performing the impressive ceremony, Bishop Kenney gave a most lucid explanation of the procedure and the symbolisms," the reporter wrote. Then, as now, some editorializing crept in. The reporter said "Bishop Kenney has an easy, quiet way, a pleasant speech that impresses one very favorably." We also learn that the "music was exceptionally good."
  • The Jan 23, 1918, edition of the paper reported on a week of missions at St. Peter. The mission was opened on a Sunday by Dominican fathers. The opening night sermon focused on mortal sin. On Monday evening, the missionary preached on "The Evil of Gossiping." The next night - the day the newspaper was published - was to focus on "The Home." The reporter closed the article with a wish that parishioners and their friends "will take advantage of this precious opportunity of hearing exposed and explained the doctrines and teaching of the Catholic Church." 
  • Not all church doings were inside the building. On June 21, 1922, the newpaper announced that "members and friends of the St. Peter's Catholic Church will hold their annual picnic Thursday, June 22, motoring to Coronado Beach. About 15 or 20 cars will leave from DeLand, being joined by a car from Leesburg and two cars from Eustis." The group was to use Ocean View hotel as headquarters. A picnic dinner, games, and surf bathing "are among some of the delightful attractions which are on the program to make this the best picnic ever." I hope they had a good time.
Reading such accounts helps me understand that the anti-Catholicism prevalent in early 20th century Florida wasn't practiced by everyone. Non-Catholics attended many of the church events listed above. The newspaper reporters in all my cited examples were generous and open-minded in their coverage of events.

That realization gives me hope that, in the future, people browsing 2020 domestic history will understand that some of us - even in today's fractured, politicized culture - stayed firmly on the side of kindness and fairness.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Progress steamrolled sacred grounds

This sign was photographed at an abandoned cemetery in
Charlotte County. Efforts were made to clean up the burial
ground about 10 years ago.  (Photo credit: Jeremy
at the Waymarking website.)
Cemeteries are on my mind. For two reasons. One, I am helping my elderly father through his final days. In the not-too-distant future, I'll stand at the New York burial site he purchased some 50 years ago and watch as he and my deceased mother's cremains are put to rest next to a baby they buried decades ago.

At least I know where my long-gone brother's grave is. And where my parents are to be buried. And what the family tombstone looks like and what names and dates will be added to it. Finally, I'll have the peace of knowing my loved ones will rest undisturbed in a long-established Catholic cemetery.

That's not the case with lost and/or forgotten African-American cemeteries in Florida. It seems every week I hear another news report about the discovery of a lost cemetery. We're not talking isolated resting grounds hidden in overgrown woods. I'm hearing disturbing reports of established cemeteries that were paved over during the first half of the 20th century. Roads, stores, houses, you name it, were built atop what should have been protected sacred ground.

Such wanton disregard is hard for me to understand.  These aren't isolated cases. There are 49 videos in  Tampa news station 10 News WTSP's YouTube playlist "Erased: Tampa Bay's Forgotten Cemteries." They focus on several cemeteries in the Tampa area.

Closer to my part of Central Florida, there was news a few years ago about an African-American cemetery split from its community - and subsequently forgotten - when Interstate 4 came through Lake Helen.

Another nearby abandoned cemetery is associated with a late 19th-early 20th century African-American community named Garfield. The settlement of Garfield was founded by ex-slaves after the Civil War. The land was lost to back taxes during the Depression and pre-World War II years. Today, what used to be Garfield - and its cemetery - are swallowed by the city of Deltona.

The Garfield cemetery was briefly in the news 15 or  20 years ago, when someone stumbled across its location. I haven't heard a thing since then. The city of Deltona apparently did an archaeological survey. It, too, was buried. I tried to read it over a decade ago, but the city refused.

In another local case, a forgotten potter's field was rediscovered during construction of a hospital expansion in DeLand. Only a few old-timers remembered the site had been the burial place for people who had died indigent and/or unclaimed.

It's chilling to realize these local cases, plus what's being uncovered in Tampa, plus others I've read about, are signs of a disheartening disrespect that likely infected much of Florida in the past century. May all the deceased and the sacred grounds they rest in once again regain their dignity.

Here's the playlist of 49 short videos about lost cemeteries in the Tampa Bay area:

Friday, December 20, 2019

Secret sanctuary a holy place

Colorized postcard from 1938 showing Shrine of Ste. Anne des Lacs in Lake Wales, Florida
Segment from a colorized postcard from 1938 shows the
Shrine of Ste. Anne des Lacs in Lake Wales, Florida.
Photo credit: Florida Memory
Tucked away in Lake Wales is a small, serene Catholic shrine. It once drew hundreds - maybe thousands - of people on pilgrimages in the early 20th century. The shrine even has an entry in the 1939 Federal Writers Project's Florida, A Guide to the Southernmost State.

Today, only handfuls of the faithful and the curious make their way to the lakefront Shrine of Ste. Anne des Lacs. Stonework crumbles in places and chipped inlaid tiles tell of past glory. An ornately decorated church once on the property is long gone.

But the essence and spirituality of the shrine remain.  Many visitors describe feeling a sense of peace when they stop -  and perhaps pray - before a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in a grotto built to resemble the one at Lourdes. In a 2015 article, the Lakeland Ledger dubbed the shrine a secret sanctuary.

Secret, indeed. I've lived in Florida a long time and love to explore historic sites and Catholic-related places. How can I have been ignorant of the very existence of the Ste. Anne des Lacs shrine? The site is apparently overseen by the Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Lake Wales. But I found no mention of the shrine on the parish's website.

Instead, I cobbled together the place's history from the WPA guide, the Ledger article, YouTube videos, Wikipedia, and Florida Memory, which is where I located the colorized postcard pictured with this post. Among things I learned is that the local neighborhood has a protective attitude toward the shrine. Local residents look after the property, tend the grounds, and share information with tourists who find their way there.

Thanks for the shrine's very existence are due to a long-ago resident named Napoleon Pelletier. He was among a group of Canadian Catholics who wintered in Lake Wales to escape harsh weather in the early 20th century. Different sources diverge on why the shrine was built. One says the devout Pelletier was the driving force behind creation of a shrine in the group's winter retreat. Another source says either Pelletier's son - or French artist Francois Morsollier's son - recovered from a serious illness while in Florida. The recovery was attributed in part to the healing waters of Saint Anne Lake. The shine was then built in gratitude for the child's recovery.

Either way, we do know the date of the shrine's construction: 1920. By the time of the WPA guidebook's write-up in 1939, the property contained stone grottoes, statuary, and a little church in which Morsollier had painted scenes from the Holy Land. Even relics were kept at the shrine.

Here's how the guidebook describes shrine activity:
"Pilgrimages are made here annually as to the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France and the shrine of Ste. Anne de Beaupre in Canada. High dignitaries and priests of the Roman Catholic church in the United States and Canada assist the local priest in conducting the ceremonies." (page 466)
Those days are long gone. The place's faded grandeur - but also is current dignity - are evident in the YouTube video I embedded below and in the photos on Facebook. The Shrine of Ste. Anne des Lacs continues to nurture all who find their way to her doorstep. You can find the wooded retreat at 1207 St. Anne Shrine Road, a circular road that winds around the lake a few miles east of town center. Say a prayer for me if you get there before I do. I'll return the favor.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

In search of Dr. Annie Mae Walker

Closeup of gravestone
Dr. Annie Mae McClary Walker is buried in Greenwood
Cemetery in Daytona Beach. This image is from the
 Find A Grave website. 
Born in a Florida turpentine camp in 1913. Died with a string of "firsts" and awards to her name in 1998. Why hasn't anyone written an in-depth biography of Dr. Annie Mae McClary Walker?

I'd write the bio, but this is an #ownvoices story if ever there was one. I say that even though I'm ambivalent about that movement. I believe writers, actors, artists - all creatives - deserve the freedom to create at will, with no barriers placed. So my former-journalism self could write her life story. But I instinctively know an #ownvoices writer would produce a deeper bio than I could achieve.

1944 head-and-shoulders image of Annie Mae Walker  when she was known as Annie Mae Tooks
Screengrab is from an article,
"The American Negro in
College, 1943-1944," in a 1944
issue of The Crisis Magazine.
Annie Mae McClary Walker
was known as Annie Mae
Tooks at the time.
Dr. Walker was a pioneering African-American-Seminole educator whose strong personality and amazing life shine in a conversational biography penned by Dr. Lynn Hawkins, Always the First, The Story of Annie Mae Walker (Taylor and Seale Publishing, 2016)The book is based on hundreds of hours of recorded interviews between the two educators, who were friends. But when my Ravenclaw self went searching for more information about Dr. Walker, I found almost nothing.  A search of academic databases turned up zilch. She doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. Dr. Walker, where are you?

This was a woman who created Black Studies programs, was integral to the Head Start program, fought hard for civil rights, integrated neighborhoods, and was the first black professor of Black Studies at SUNY Stony Brook in New York. Among other achievements. And she knew what it was like to have a cross burned on her front lawn.

Her life journey intersected with an incredible roster of people. She was related by marriage to Mary McCleod Bethune and was taught by Zora Neale Hurston during the writer's brief tenure at Bethune-Cookman College (now University). She marched with Dr. Martin Luther King and had Malcolm X as a houseguest.

Dr. Walker's life was not without warts, as are all our lives. I haven't yet met a perfect being and won't until I meet the Lord. But the combined parts make up a fascinating whole. I look forward to reading an in-depth biography on this most interesting woman.