Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lue Gim Gong: past, present

Photo of Lue Gim Gong on ladder at citrus tree
Thanks to Florida Memory for this image
of Lue Gim Gong tending his citrus in DeLand.
Lue Gim Gong is probably one of the most gifted horticulturists you've never heard of.  He was both lauded and derided in his day - late 1800s to early 1900s. Lauded for his botanical prowess, derided for his ethnicity and his eccentricity. Today he is just mostly forgotten - but not in DeLand, where he developed the award-winning Lue Gim Gong orange.

The Chinese immigrant is on my mind because of recent action at the West Volusia Historical Society. The organization's Heritage Gardening Group is launching an effort to save extant Lue Gim Gong orange trees from citrus greening. I'm a member of that group, and excited about the project.

A recent generation of Lue Gim Gong trees grow on the grounds of the society's museum complex. Cuttings from aged trees were budded onto rootstock and planted in a small grove that frames a gazebo. A bronze bust of Lue is displayed in the gazebo. A mural of Lue is also featured prominently on a storefront in downtown DeLand.

I wonder how Lue would approach the greening menace. For sure, he'd be focused on developing a resistant variety. I like to think he'd be successful. Even Lue's detractors acknowledged his horticultural ability, although they took pains to denigrate his orange variety into oblivion.

The Lue Gim Gong orange was noted for its cold-hardiness and for holding its crop on the tree.
Photo of Lue Gim Gong in 1920
This photo of Lue Gim Gong
is from 1920. (Photo credit:
Stetson University)
Lue bred the variety by cross-pollinating Hart's Late and Mediterranean Sweet oranges. The Lue Gim Gong orange was so outstanding it won a national industry award in 1911. Lue died in 1925. His orange also died, in a sense. It was dismissed as insignificant - a minor seedling of the more famous Valencia orange. (The once-named Hart's Late is now considered to have been the Valencia.)

I can't help but question the long-ago campaign to discredit Lue's work. The references I have seen, that label his citrus variety as minor, aren't attributed to a specific scientist or academic study. It's true Valencia holds its oranges on the tree, and is resistant to cold. But Lue's tree - the supporting structure itself - is said to have been far more cold-hardy than any other citrus tree. People clamored for Lue Gim Gong trees in the early 1900s. The trees were distributed by Glen Saint Mary Nursery, except for the many Lue was said to have given away.

The few accounts that remain describe Lue as brilliant, gentle, loyal to his mentor but distant with her siblings, devoted to his pets (two horses and a rooster), and a devout Christian with Confucianist roots. Legend says that, after his death, stacks of uncashed checks were found in the DeLand house he inherited from his mentor and mother-figure, Fannie Burlingame. She, by the way, is worth a blog post of her own.

Lue died penniless, and nearly friendless but for a few neighbors and townsfolk brave enough to challenge their era's bigotries. His horticultural records and journals disappeared. The least we can do is save his trees.

Learn more about Lue Gim Gong. He's worth it:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hands across religions

As a child in the 1960s, I thought all people were either Catholic or Jewish. There was little evidence of other faith traditions in my New York City environs. When I moved to Central Florida in early adulthood, the known world appeared to be entirely Southern Baptist.

Those perceptions of were based partly on superficial observation of the surroundings as I went about my life. Yet it was true that the people in these - and probably other - faith traditions carved geographical niches at the time.

Historic photo of Sisters of St. Joseph from the book "Miami 1909"
Sisters of St. Joseph at Cape Florida Lighthouse,
as shown in the book Miami 1909.
(Photo credit in book: Charles Mann / Miami Pioneers)
Our postmodern world has moved beyond denominational dominance in most areas of the United States. Interdenominational initiatives are a norm. What intrigues me is how my research on the social history of pioneer Catholicism in Florida continues to unearth similar modernist behavior. I keep finding exceptions in what I previously considered an era of isolationism among faith traditions.

As noted in other blog posts, those circles of friendships may be due to human needs on a sparsely populated frontier. But Miami wasn't exactly a backwoods settlement in 1909. Wikipedia cites the U.S. Census for the 1910 population count of 5,471. Yet 1909 Miami is when my latest example of religious intermingling occurs.

The 1984 book, Miami 1909by Thelma Peters, (Banyan Books), is built around the diary Miami resident Fannie Clemons wrote that year. Peters, herself a Miami pioneer and a former president of the Florida Historical Society, established a rich sense of place in which to situate the diary excerpts. One of the places Peters mentions is St. Catherine's Convent School. In the photo caption for the picture of the school on Page 35, she says the following:
Some non-Catholic children were sent here because the sisters had a reputation for gentility and thoroughness.
I like the sound of that, having been the product of similar teachers at St. Brigid's in Brooklyn.

The Miami convent school was just east of the Church of the Holy Name, built in 1898 on grounds of what is today Gesu Church. The original, small wooden church was built on land donated by Henry Flagler, who I believe was Presbyterian. Peters relays an anecdote in which Flagler, at the time, said that "two institutions that never failed to do what they started out to do were the Standard Oil Company and the Catholic Church."

Flagler was busy extending his Florida East Coast Railway to Key West in 1909. Two of his business associates founded St. Catherine's school, which in 1909 was staffed by six Sisters of St. Joseph from New York, Florida, Ohio, and Ireland. Pupils that season closed the school year with a program that included the following:
  • music by the school's music club, the St. Cecelia Club
  • piano solos
  • readings
  • awarding of medals of excellence
And, we're sure, some heartfelt prayers.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Campaigning through Florida, 1888 style

I'm watching every minute of Ken Burns' "The Roosevelts" and makes me wonder whether any U.S. presidents visited pioneer Florida while in office. My search - and the PBS series itself - notes the many times FDR visited Florida. His era is way outside the scope of this blog. I think most people know Teddy Roosevelt was in Tampa in 1898, getting ready to fight in the Spanish-American War. The Theodore Roosevelt Association says he and his wife, Edith, stayed at Tampa Bay Hotel while Teddy waited for orders to leave for Cuba. But he wasn't president at the time.

The hotel, by the way, is now part of the University of Tampa. You can still experience its turn-of-the-century grandeur by visiting the Henry B. Plant Museum inside the main building.

Historic photo of President and Mrs. Cleveland in Florida in 1888.
President and Mrs. Cleveland in Rockledge, Fla., 1888.
Credit: Florida Memory
Tampa hardly qualified as small-town frontier in 1898. Ten years earlier, though, the Brevard County settlement of Rockledge definitely did. That was the year President Grover Cleveland and his popular wife, Frances, visited the riverfront city. Rockledge had been incorporated only a year before, in 1887, according to Wikipedia.

In those days before Internet, movies, TV, or radio, a president and First Lady were bonafide celebrities. A visit by such a prominent couple would bring out an entire town.

Women couldn't vote for president in 1888 (not 'til 1920), but it's safe to assume that a good number of women in Rockledge wanted to see the young First Lady that day. She was popular throughout the nation. The National First Ladies' Library says American women copied her hairstyle, dress style, and even tried to mimic the way she posed in photos. The C-SPAN First Ladies Influence & Image series features a segment on her as a fashion icon. 

The trip to Rockledge was part of a campaign tour that also included stops in Winter Park, Jacksonville, Sanford, and other cities. Author and blogger Ray Osborne's ebook, President Cleveland's Florida Trip 1888, notes the media's fascination with Frances Cleveland. I found the book - and Osborne's history blog named Time Passages - while digging for information on the domestic details of that long-ago visit. I'll report back about the fashion and food after some more research. In the meantime, you can read what Osborne blogged about the trip. No such thing as too much history!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sharing Catholic peace

Partial view of the front page of a Jan. 7, 1906 newspaper
Front page of the Jan. 7, 1906 Pensacola Journal.
Credit: Chronicling America
Stories in newspaper archives offer wonderful slices of everyday life, and then some. I just found a Catholic lecture series given top billing on the front page of the Jan. 7, 1906 edition of the Pensacola Journal (today the Pensacola News-Journal). The prominent story placement surprised me.

The article tells about the first scheduled program by the Rev. Xavier Sutton, C.P., a "prominent Passionist missionary."  His lectures were to be structured specifically for non-Catholics, and were to cover doctrinal and devotional matters. The news is up there with articles about tariff bills, trade, and the timber market. Father Sutton's photo is larger than the nearby image of the state's attorney, who was featured because he'd just moved to town.

Father Sutton's first topic title was "Why Protestants Are Not Catholic." The reporter took pains to assure the audience they wouldn't hear anything offensive or threatening. The goal was to "enlighten without wounding." My favorite part tells how Father Sutton would help his listeners discern "whether or not the Catholic church can give [them] that peace and security which she promises to those who are within her fold." More than a century after those words were written, I can relate. That promise remains true, as all Catholics know.

You can read the entire article online via a really cool Library of Congress website named Chronicling America, where you can search historic newspaper pages. Be prepared to spend some time.

Pensacola has a long Catholic history. The Basilica of St. Michael the Archangel's website notes the 1559 Mass said by Dominicans who were part of an expedition that landed on what would become Pensacola. That parish's roots date to the 1700s. Father Sutton's talks were at St. Joseph's, established in 1891 in downtown Pensacola. I would have loved to hear his talks, but will settle for some post-lecture coverage. Looks like I'll be spending more time in the archives.