Sunday, December 27, 2015

Reading between the lines - or fruits

1885 image of Florida hotel dining room on Christmas Day
Ready for dinner on Christmas Day 1885. Restrained tastefulness or
exuberant display? It can be hard to tell. (Credit: State Archives of  Florida)
The type of natural Christmas decorations I wrote about in my last post are displayed nicely in this 1885 image from the State Archives of Florida. What I can't figure is how the decorators managed to secure the palm fronds to the walls. If anyone has an idea, leave a comment.

This picture depicts a Christmas dinner at what is labeled on the Florida Memory website as a "restaurant or club" in DeLand. I've seen this photo before, though, and it shows the Putnam Inn.

DeLand in 1885 had some notable boarding houses, and the Putnam Inn was one of the them. Others included the Parce Land Hotel and the Grove House. Another photo on the Florida Memory site shows the same room, set for dinner, but without the wait staff and centerpiece display. It clearly states that the image is of the dining room of the Putnam House (the hotel's later name) on Dec. 25, 1885.

The mystery (to me, anyway) is the condition of the palm-frond decorations. They are decidedly droopier in the image identified as the Putnam and dated Dec. 25.

I share the photograph now - a few days after Christmas - for two reasons:
  1. The 12 Days of Christmas begin Dec. 25, they don't end on that day. So it's still Christmas, in my book. (When I was a child, we didn't decorate our tree until Dec. 24, a tradition that generated much youthful whining.)
  2. People who dined out in 1885 Florida had more disposable income than the average pioneer family. The diners were often winter residents, and some were fairly wealthy. Yet there isn't anything really fancy about the dining room. The decorations aren't lavish. The table decor is notable only for the fanned napkins. The scene, overall, leads me to think people back then didn't expect over-the-top everything as many do today.
I'll now argue against my notion in Number 2, because of the fruits tied to the legs of the big display table. It's possible such decoration was part of the era's definition of overabundance. I mean, who dresses up table legs?

And I question what fruits are piled up on the display. Pineapples? Giant avocados? Papayas? Excess can have different measures. Perhaps in an era when locally sourced meant the Back 40, having a papaya in the dead of winter flashed a message louder than any holiday light display.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Green Christmas a hard sell

Potted citrus tree decorated for the holidays
Florida citrus made for unique holiday decor at my
house one year. The Satsuma tree survived the
cat's curiosity and was later planted in the garden.
(Gerri Bauer photo)
In 1892, editor Walter N. Pike of the Floral Department section of the Florida Agriculturist decried the:
 "... almost utter indifference shown by the people of Florida for the unlimited profusion of holiday 'greenery' with which our woods abound. Every home in  Florida might be decorated during the approaching holidays in a manner that would cost a round sum in the northern cities."
Note the reference to the "approaching" holidays. The article was published on Dec. 21. Nobody hung mistletoe in October back then.

But in December they embraced the era's trends in holiday decor: "... glass ornaments and gold cardboard camels, storks, peacocks, pianos, and sailboats ..." according to the 2001 book,  Guide to American Popular Culture, by Ray Broadus Browne and Pat Browne. Also available were wax angels, silver foil icicles, blown-glass storybook characters, and tinsel garland. Greenery paled by comparison.

Mr. Pike was undeterred in promoting his cause. He gave examples of decorative materials that required naught but "the mere labor of gathering" (the following capitalizations and descriptions are his, not mine):

  • magnificent clumps of Mistletoe, fresh, unwilted and unbroken
  • stately Palms
  • long-leaved needle pines
  • lovely silvery-grey Spanish Moss
  • waxen, shining Magnolias
  • crimson-berried Holly
  • graceful wild Smilax vines
"All of these are shipped North in great quantities at this season of the year, and find ready sale there," he wrote.

You know, he was right. And still is. All these are still available, if not as abundant as in the past. I've used many as decorations here and there over the years. Before we ran out of room on our property, my husband and I decorated potted trees for Christmas and then planted them after the holidays. Magnificent they weren't, but they were fun. The year of the Satsuma citrus Christmas tree is pictured with this blog. Other years we had cedar, pine, and holly. 

The holiday greens of the 1890s and today were/are native Florida flora. Which can't be said for laser lights, icicle strands, inflatable Santas, and twinkling reindeer. I'm a big fan of a green Christmas. Especially when the greenery is highlighted by strands of blue icicle lights.  Merry Christmas to all.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Giving thanks at table and pew

vintage photo of crowds leaving church on Thanksgiving 1915
Even into the 20th century, people went to church before
sitting down to dinner on Thanksgiving. This photo shows
crowds leaving St. Patrick's Church in Washington, D.C.,
after the Pan-American Mass on Thanksgiving Day 1915.
(Photo credit: Library of Congress)
Thanksgiving in the late 19th century was as much a day of churchgoing as it was of feasting. I was surprised to learn that. Records show up in more than one Florida newspaper in online archives.

An article in the Chipley Banner on Nov. 26, 1898 reminded readers that: “In every State of the Union the people last Thursday, assembled in the churches and in their homes to render unto Almighty God their thanks for the blessings that had been vouchsafed to them, and to their country during the past year.”

Several years earlier, the Florida Agriculturist reprinted the governor's entire Thanksgiving proclamation in its Nov. 28, 1892 edition. The proclamation read, in part:
The past year has been replete with blessings to the people of Florida. 
In accord with a custom honored in its observance, I, Francis P. Fleming, governor of the State of Florida, do hereby appoint and set apart Thursday, November 24, 1892, to be a day of thanksgiving and recommend to the people of our State, on that day, to attend their respective places of public worship and render thanks and praise to the Giver of all good for bountiful harvests; for peace and prosperity, for freedom from pestilence; for health and happiness; for civil and religious liberty and all other blessings of His Divine Hand, and invoke the continuance of His mercies and protection. 
In the enjoyment of our many blessings, let us not forget those in need and distress...
After church, people dined at home or at places like the Montezuma Hotel in Ocala, where manager J.P. Galloway planned an elaborate Thanksgiving Dinner in 1901, as noted in the Nov. 27 issue of the Ocala Evening Star:
All who desire to partake of an excellent dinner and do not care to go to the trouble of preparing one at home are respectfully referred to the accompanying menu. Dinner served from 12:30 to 3 o'clock. Only 75 cents.
If you're wondering what was on the menu, here it is:

  • Soup: Beef and Celery Bouillon; Cedar Key Oysters on Half Shell; Red Snapper, Genoese Sauce
  • Relishes: Celery; Mixed Pickles; Chicken Salad, with French Dressing'
  • Roast: Prime Ribs of Western Beef, Brown Gravy; Wild Turkey, Oyster Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce
  • Entrees: Compote of Quail, with Olives; Veal Croquettes, with French Peas; Banana Fritters, Wine Sauce.
  • Vegetables: Potato Croquettes; Candied Yams; Asparagus, Hollandaise Sauce; Turnip Greens, with Bacon; Steamed Japan Rice; Old Fashioned Corn Pone
  • Dessert: Pumpkin Pie; English Plum Pudding, Hard Sauce; Frappe Creme de Menthe; Assorted Cakes; Assorted Nuts; Crackers; Fruit in Season; American Cheese; Iced Tea; Coffee; Buttermilk.
I hope no one went hungry back then, and won't go hungry today. Let us all pause and give thanks before taking the first forkful. Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Florida roses 'a joy forever'

Part 2 of 2 

"Think of a roof of white roses in February!" So wrote Florida newcomer Julia Daniels Moseley in 1882, in a letter to her friend Eliza in Illinois. Julia and her husband were en route to their new homestead in what is now the Tampa area, and had stopped overnight in Limona. It was south of Crescent City, but no longer exists. Julia wished she could send Eliza "a few yards" of climbing roses after seeing "beautiful old homes and more than one lovely old garden" (18) during a twilight stroll.

Closeup on a Bermuda Spice heirloom rose bloom
This Bermuda Spice, aka Hume's Blush, heirloom rose
grows in my yard with little care. (Gerri Bauer photo)
Rose references are threaded throughout the narrative in Moseley's Come to My Sunland: Letters of Julia Daniels Moseley from the Florida Frontier, 1882-1886. A friend once came to visit with her hands full of crimson roses (144). Another time, roses and oleanders decorated a room (81). 

These weren't the roses you see at the florist's or on Valentine's Day. They were old-fashioned roses, today known as heirloom or antique roses. Their blossoms are smaller, they don't hold their petals long when cut, and most have one or two peak flowering periods a year. They generally have rich rose fragrance. 

They also weren't what pioneers were growing up North. "As yet, they are hardly worth the ground they occupy; and whether they ever will do anything is a matter of doubt," (183) groused author Harriet Beecher Stowe in Palmetto Leaves. She was speaking about the "fine varieties of roses" she'd brought to Florida from her Northern home in the 1870s.

As her transplanted shrubs struggled, Stowe noted that: "Meanwhile we have only to ride a little way into the pine-woods to see around many a rustic cabin a perfect blaze of crimson roses and cluster roses, foaming over the fences in cascades of flowers" (183). "These are Florida roses, born and bred ..." she added. 

Easy-care heirloom roses beautified many a pioneer homestead. On March 2, 1892, a Pasco County correspondent wrote to the Floral Department of the Florida Agriculturist newspaper to praise Marechal Niel as a glorious rose. "Well pruned, watered and fertilized, it will richly repay you with its golden wealth of richly scented flowers; a thing of beauty, a joy forever" (135), said the writer, identified only as P.A.L.M.  (See Part 1 of this post for more on the Marechal Niel.)

Later in the year, on Nov. 30, 1892, another correspondent identified as New Resident wrote of being "encouraged by success rooting rose cuttings, several together, in large-mouthed, low glass bottles on a south window sill in the heat of May, and also in the open ground in summer in the partial shade of an allamanda" (759).

Pioneers were surrounded by roses during shrubs' heavy flushes of blooms in spring and fall. Some people may have made the rose-petal jams, rose-water cakes, and rose-petal sandwiches author Jean Gorden said were popular in Victorian times (Pageant of the Rose, 92). But Florida homes in that pre-air-conditioned era were open to the smells of the farm and homestead. I rather think more people followed the advice of one K.B.S of DeLand, who shared this Rose Jar recipe in the July 13, 1892 issue of the Florida Agriculturist:
"Gather roses, take the petals only; after well dried place them in thin layers in your jar with a light sprinkle of salt between layers. After your jar is full of roses, or petals, you mix an ounce of cinnamon, ounce of allspice and ounce of cloves with the roses; then put on five cents worth of essence of wintergreen from the druggist's, also five cents worth of lavender and another sweet perfume that you like, and you have your sweet jar that will perfume the whole room."
Now, as then, such scents become memories that linger.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Hangings as entertainment

screengrab of a 1964 historical newspaper photo
This historical photo of the 1927 hanging was reprinted in the
DeLand Sun News as part of a 1964 article about the hanging.
On this day of manufactured macabre, I'm reminded that real-life morbidity is never far from the surface. That was as true in pioneer Florida as much as it is in today's violent culture.

Although I generally prefer to write about cozier domestic doings, the reality of everyday life in frontier Florida included the occurrence of legal hangings. Illegal too, as in lynchings, but that's a topic for a different post. This post's focus is on legal instances, which some people considered a fine source of entertainment.

In 1907, a Catholic priest in Fernandina took to the pulpit to denounce the "morbid curiosity of the people who rushed and crowded around the jail" during the execution of a man named John Brown. Father John O'Brien chastised those who craved a look at the man or a chance to "see him as the trap was sprung."

The priest had been the former rector of St. Monica's Catholic Church in Palatka. The report of his sermon was first printed in the Fernandina paper and then carried in the Palatka Daily News on Dec. 27, 1907. Under the headline "Roasts Morbidly Curious," the article said Fr. O'Brien spoke with kindness but "severely condemned those who were present upon occasions of this kind only to see a condemned felon die."

Fr. O'Brien had provided spiritual counsel to Brown, which was why he was present at the hanging and noticed the crowd's attitude. In a comment years ahead of his time, Fr. O'Brien told his congregation he felt capital punishment "ought to be abandoned if people looked upon it as they appeared to do when Brown met his fate."

The article concluded by saying O'Brien's sermon met with approval not only from his congregation, but from the people of Fernandina in general.

But memories can be short. Several miles downstate, and exactly 20 years later, a large crowd gathered for the last hanging of a state prisoner to be carried out in Florida. It took place in downtown DeLand in April 1927.  In eerie coincidence, the condemned man in the 1927 hanging was also named Brown. That name, though, was an alias. Charles Brown's real surname was some variation of Pisella, Pisellia or Piselli.

In a 1964 writeup about the hanging, the DeLand Sun News noted that more than 2,000 people attended the execution in the heart of DeLand. The city's population in 1920 was 3,324, and in 1930 it was 5,246. You do the math. The spectator count was at least the equivalent of 38% to 60% of the town's population, if not more. The crowd swelled the city. To compare, had that hanging taken place in 2014 it would have drawn between 11,000 and 17,500 people to town, or more. That's a sorry statistic. No wonder Fr. O'Brien got upset back in 1907.

At least, in 1927, spectators seemed somewhat more cognizant of the event's seriousness. In staff writer Bernard Bishop's 1964 look-back article, he wrote, "The crowd was silent as the rope swung back and forth ..."

May they all rest in peace.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Heirloom roses bloomed for pioneers

Screengrab of my Pinterest board about Heirloom Roses of Florida
I've started a Pinterest board of the roses mentioned
in an 1892 Florida newspaper gardening column.
Visit the board on my Pinterest page.
Part 1 of 2

Roses aren't the easiest flowers to grow in Florida, but that doesn't stop any of us from trying. Through trial, error, education, and a fondness for heirloom varieties with scented flowers, I've learned that the China, Tea, and Noisette classifications are the best old-style types for Florida.

These are also the ones pioneer Floridians relied on. But there are thousands of varieties within these classes. It's a challenge to learn what the frontier rose aficionado grew after watching Northern-grown imports languish. A treasure chest opened for me the day I read the many varieties named in a Jan. 20, 1892, garden column in the Florida Agriculturist newspaper.

Local lore has long crowned Louis Philippe as the Florida Cracker rose. I can attest to its perfection. Two plants I dug from a friend's yard lived for years in mine, until I transplanted them one too many times. Another word-of-mouth favorite is the yellow climber Marechal Niel. When I finally tracked down a specimen, it died soon after transplanting. Modern strains of this beautiful rose are believed to be weakened by a virus.

Both these varieties are named in the Florida Agriculturist Floral Department column by R.B. or R.H. Burr, whom I haven't yet identified. The first two initials are fuzzy and hard to read. The writer gave a rose named Agrippina equal status with Louis Philippe:
closeup of Louis Philippe rose bloom
Louis Philippe rose from my garden.
"Agrippina and Louis Philipe [sic] are both excellent ... fair growers and profuse bloomers. They cannot be dispensed with."
That was the first time I've ever heard of Agrippina. A Google Images search turned up a flower that looks much like Louis Philippe, only with a deeper crimson color. No word on its scent. Louis Philippe has a fruity-spicy aroma that's part of its charm.

Mr. or Ms. Burr's list was lengthy and apparently based on his/her personal Florida garden experiences. Most of the varieties are unfamiliar to me, and Old Blush - another favorite that did beautifully for me until I tried to transplant its 6-foot-tall mass - isn't even included.

A partial list of Burr's is below, with additional information added by me after referencing Best Rose Guide by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix. Those notes are prefaced by the letters BRG and a page number.
  • Bon Silene: fair grower, constant bloomer, spicy fragrance, single flower. BRR, 91: color varies from bright pink with deep yellow in center to crimson; sweet fruity scent.
  • Madam Berard: half climber, vigorous growth on own roots, "... in favorable weather produces buds as near perfection as a lack of fragrance will admit."
  • Caroline Kuster: fairly good bloomer. "Good rose of its color which is much lighter than that of Isabella Sprunt."
  • La Sulphide: good grower. "Buds are superb in favorable weather but have little odor."
  • Madam Alfred Carriere: vigorous grower on own roots, constant bloomer.  BRG, 103: white with flush of warm in center; Noisette rose.
  • Queen of Bedders: poor grower but a profuse bloomer. BRG, 117: double flowers, excellent scent; Bourbon rose.
  • Red Malmaison: "Doesn’t come up to expectations, too poor a grower to lose time with."
  • Madam Caro: strong grower, constant bloomer, flowers large.
  • Perle des Jardins and Coquette de Lyon:  Burr found these two very similar, and advised gardeners to instead choose Isabella Sprunt and Marechal Neil.
  • Agrippina and Louis Philipe:  both excellent, fair growers, profuse bloomers. " (Burr spelled Philippe with one p.)
  • Empress Eugenie: strong grower, flowers beautifully formed.
  • Duchess de Brabant: good grower, constant bloomer, good rose of its class. Burr expressed a preference for Madame Caro. BRG, 98: nodding flowers of salmon or shrimp pink. Duchess de Brabant is a secondary name of a rose identified as Comtesse de Labarthe.
I'm still deciphering spelling and names on the Burr roses not included here; I'll try to write about them in the future. In Part 2 of this blog post, we'll look at how pioneers used roses. Right now, I'm going out to smell the roses of my Bermuda Spice shrub, which I learned in BRG was rediscovered in Bermuda after dying out in Europe, where it was known as Hume's Blush Tea-Scented China. You gotta love the detective work!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Stitching lives together

Young women sew by hand and at sewing machines in 1899 classroom
This 1899 image from the Library of Congress shows young
women in a sewing class at the Agricultural and Mechanical
College in Greensboro, N.C. The scene was similar at Florida 
schools. Women predominated in the needle trades in that era. 
Part 2 of 2

In my first post about the 1890 U.S. Census, I reviewed the primary fields of employment nationally and for Floridians. This second post addresses some of the other jobs held by Florida pioneers that year.

Because I come from a long line of women skilled in the needle arts, I'm especially interested in that line of work. My ancestors were plying the trade in Central and Southern Europe in 1890, and in New York City sweatshops and garment factories in the early 1900s. My grandmothers and great-grandmothers were tailors, seamstresses, and milliners. Not sure what the difference is between tailor and seamstress, but the former was a label held by my maternal great-grandmother in Sicily. From what I understand, it was a title of honor. She was specifically known as a tailor and not a tailoress. She was said to create fitted garments for clients without needing a pattern.

No matter where the trade was practiced, its elements and processes were similar. Women bent over needles in Florida the same time my ancestors did elsewhere, in much the same way. The heroine of my second novel, Stitching a Life in Persimmon Hollow, is a seamstress who works by hand and on a treadle sewing machine in late 1880s Florida. In the novel, she apprentices with the town dressmaker. Most towns had a dressmaker, sometimes known as a mantua maker in the earlier years of the 19th century. Many tradespeople took in apprentices.

No one reported being a milliner or dressmaker apprentice in 1890 Florida, although two men were tailor apprentices.  No one in the state was employed as a corset-maker, glove-maker, umbrella- and parasol-maker, or shirt-, collar- and cuff-maker. Instead, people in the Florida needle trades were doing the following:
  • Hat- and cap-makers:  8 men, 4 women
  • Embroiderers and lace-makers: 3 women, 0 men
  • Milliners: 109 women, 0 men
  • Dressmakers: Either 604 or 654 women (chart numbers are hard to read), 0 men
  • Seamstresses: 924 women, 0 men
  • Tailors and tailoresses: 130 men, 80 women
Women predominated in the industry, as it was one of the few respectable trades for women in that era. What about some of the less common jobs held by Floridians in 1890? A sampling of what people reported to the census-takers:
  • Actors: 2 men, 2 women
  • Authors, and literary and scientific persons: 18 men, 7 women
  • Journalists: 108 men, 7 women
  • Musicians and teachers of music: 138 women, 56 men
  • Theatrical managers, showmen: 30 men, 1 woman
  • Bartenders: 188 men, 0 women
  • Auctioneers: 14 men, 0 women
  • Hucksters and peddlers: 145 men, 5 women
  • Bakers: 178 men, 10 women
  • Bookbinders: 15 men, 4 women
  • Confectioners: 48 men, 8 women
  • Photographers: 90 men, 4 women
Knowing a little something about how people passed their days brings their lives into sharper focus for me. When I pick up a needle and thread, select fabric for a jacket or quilt, brush up on my crochet skills, or stitch a seam on my sewing machine, I feel a sense of kinship with past practitioners. And that's a good feeling to have.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Off to work we go

Colored period postcard shows workers in a celery field in Sanford.
Celery farming was a major occupation in frontier Florida.
This postcard is owned by the Sanford Museum and displayed
on the Central Florida Memory website.
Part 1 of 2

Each September, we observe Labor Day. A lot of interesting facts about how Floridians labored in the late 19th century are in the 1890s U.S. Census records. Some highlights:
  • A huge chunk - 76.4% - of the farms in Florida were cultivated by owners in 1890.  In 1880, the percentage had been 69.1%
  • Manufacturing and other industry more than tripled over the same decade.  In Florida, products had a gross value of $18.2 million, compared to $5.5 million in 1880. 
  • 13,927 Floridians were employed in manufacturing and industry in 1890, compared to 5,504 in 1880. 
Women predominated within certain fields, primarily in the needle trades. On the national level, women made up:
  • 81.4% of the workforce making corsets
  • 78.8% of the employees making shirts
  • 73.4% of the employees producing millinery and lace goods
Nationally, men made up more than 95% of the workforce in each of the following industries: agricultural implements, brick and tile, cooperage, cutlery and edge tools, flouring and grist mill products, foundry and machine shop products,  leather, painting and paper hanging, and saddlery and harness.

Depressingly, 13.7% of tobacco-industry employees were children, as was 10.6% of the cotton-goods workforce. I was somewhat heartened to see that children made up only 2.7% of the workforce, overall, in 1890, compared to 5.6% in 1880.

Also depressing was the wage disparity between men and women. The following Florida examples are illustrative of how workers fared in other parts of the nation. Per job classification, average annual earnings in 1890 in Florida were:
  • Officers, firm members, clerks: men, $762; women, $443 ($11,200 in 2014 dollars)
  • Operatives, skilled and unskilled: men, $419; women, $304; children, $114
  • Pieceworkers: men, $626; women, $347; children, $120
Women did earn more than men in a few industries. These examples are from a national perspective. Women earned $720 a year in the "safes and vaults" industry, while men got only $566. And a job called "oilcloth, enameled," paid women $643 a year, and men $536. By the way, the $720 was the highest pay I saw for a woman, and it equates to about $18,200 in modern dollars.

Neither of those jobs appears to have been a mainstay in Florida in 1890. Of women 10 and older in Florida who listed jobs in the 1890 census:
  • 47.3% were in domestic and personal service
  • 37.0% worked in agriculture, fishing, and mining
  • 4.5% were in professional service
  • 1.5% were in trade and transportation
Of working men ages 10 and older in Florida in 1890:
  • 51.1% worked in agriculture, fishing, and mining
  • 17.0% were in domestic or personal service
  • 13.2% were in trade and transportation
  • 13.2% were in manufacturing and mechanical industries
  • 3.8% were in professional service
In Part 2, we'll take a look at some of the specific jobs that occupied Floridians in 1890, and at the number of people who worked at them. Then, as now, construction industries boomed, but there were some niche fields. For example, 11 people reported jobs as piano and organ makers and tuners.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The 1880 Hurricane

Screengrab of NOAA satellite image of hurricane, with sepia tone added
NOAA satellite image of hurricane, with sepia tone added.
Florida has been in a frenzy in recent days, as Tropical Storm Erika churned in the Atlantic. The system has dissipated but hasn't fully expired. Rain, wind, and some flooding are in store.

As unnerving as the steady stream of media coverage can be, I'm glad I can track every millisecond of a tropical system's activity. Pioneers couldn't. People often relied on weather lore, close reading of atmospheric conditions, and lived experience of longtime residents.

 Forecasting was still young when a  hurricane hit Central Florida in 1880. That particular storm interests me for two reasons: pioneer Girard M. Parce, a boy at the time, wrote about it in his late-in-life recollections; and the steamship Vera Cruz sank in it, just off the Central Florida coast.

The book Florida's Hurricane History notes that early 20th century assessments considered the 1880 storm a "Great Hurricane" with winds over 125 mph. Fairly recent re-analysis data from NOAA puts it at a Category 2 with maximum winds of 90 mph. Having lived through hurricanes, I can say that anything over 70 mph is very scary indeed.

Girard's recollections corroborate the book's comment that countless trees were downed in the storm, which made landfall between Palm Beach and Cocoa Beach, and then traveled northwest across the state. Girard was in DeLand, where he wrote that:
"... we were kept in the house for two days, not daring to go out except to feed the stock, because so many of the big pine trees were being blown down."
I wish he'd written more about the actual hurricane, which he referred to as "The Big Storm." He focused more on what happened afterward. It's fascinating. Because he says the storm wrecked three ships off the local coast, not just one.
"A short time after the storm I drove [by horse-drawn cart] a party of several men to Port Orange. While there we went up to Daytona and ferried over to the peninsula where lay on the beach the wreckage of a large ship, the Vera Cruz, and two lumber schooners. I believe one could have walked a half mile in either direction without stepping on the ground."
He notes that a salvage company "with a large gang of men" was busy on the scene, and that his older brother William thought the Vera Cruz had carried a cargo of mahogany. You can read a richly detailed account of the steamship - and some of its passengers -  on

Girard recorded his memories in the 1920s at the request of his cousin - the daughter of the city of DeLand's founder. She (Helen DeLand) was collecting material for her history of the city, published in 1928 as The Story of DeLand and Lake Helen, Florida.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Colorful names all that remain

Handful of Costoluto Genovese heirloom-variety tomatoes ripen on a table
Early Floridians weren't growing Costoluto Genovese
tomatoes like these, one of today's popular heirloom
tomato varieties. Many of the cultivars grown in pioneer
days are hard to find now.  (Photo by Gerri Bauer)
A year ago, I wrote about heirloom vegetables and fruits and promised to follow up with a post about heirloom tomato cultivars. Finally, here it is.

I'm both excited and perplexed by what I found about tomatoes in the pages of Florida newspapers dated 1901-1919. Excited because there were more named varieties in ads and articles than I expected to find. Perplexed because only two were familiar to me: Ponderosa and Spark's Earliana, and the latter is a variation of a name known to me.

I've grown a number of heirloom tomato varieties in my garden over the years. They've included a couple believed to have been grown in Florida until as late as the 1920s and 1930s: June Pink and Earliana -  probably shortened from Spark's Earliana. The June Pink didn't show up in my (admittedly unscientific and limited) research. Nor did Cherokee Purple, Brandywine, Eva Purple Ball, Riesentraube, Costoloto Genovese, or Arkansas Traveler. All have produced tasty tomatoes in my Florida yard. As for Ponderosa - it was a fail in my garden the one time I tried to grow it.

So what did Florida pioneers grow when they set out their tomato seeds? My earliest find was also the most comprehensive. A December 1901 issue of the New Enterprise newspaper of Madison had a Farm and Garden article that addressed "newer introductions" of tomatoes. The names are great: Best of All, Dwarf Golden Champion, Early Nuby, Freedom, Fordhook Fancy, Improved Trophy, Lemon Yellow, Matchless, New Combination, State Fair, World's Fair.

A couple of other references made note of a tomato variously named Stone, Dwarf Stone, New Stone, and Livingston's Stone or Livingston's Globe. An October 1911 issue of the Pensacola Journal highlighted Stone as a "general favorite" for shipping purposes. Other tomatoes said to ship well were Beauty and Perfection.

The Ocala Seed Store in 1913 highlighted six types of tomato seeds for sale, according to a February 1913 issue of the Ocala Evening Star: Dwarf Champion, Early Detroit, Livingston's Globe, New Stone, Redfield Beauty, and Spark's Earliana. Seed cost $2 per pound.

Although the types of heirloom tomato varieties available to us has changed through the decades, one gardening caveat from the past remains true now. As the Pensacola Journal advised readers in 1911, "There are a great many seedsmen in this country, and very little attention should be paid to the many glowing descriptions given in catalogs."

Newspaper references in this blog post are from the Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers website of the Library of Congress.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A glimpse of 1880s luxury

Current photo of the historic dining room at Flagler College
Just your average dining room .... Aristocratic guests dined
here in the late 19th century. Today, students attending
Flagler College take their meals here.
If you wonder how the 1 percent vacationed in the late 1880s, take the guided tour of Flagler College in St. Augustine. You won't be disappointed.

The college's main building is the former Ponce deLeon Hotel, built by oil magnate and Florida promoter Henry Flagler in the mid-1880s. It opened in 1888. He spared no expense, and the hotel launched high-class tourism in Florida. 

The luxury of the structure remains evident today, and must have awed visitors in its day. At least those visitors who gained access. Our tour guide said patrons had to be on the Social Register to be considered guest-worthy. Then they had to pay $4,000 to vacation there. I don't remember if that amount covered a month or the entire season - which was about three months. I do remember that Flagler demanded the fee be paid in cash. In advance. (That $4,000 in 1888 would have been $103,800 in 2014.) 

People did get what they paid for. Much has been written about the hotel's architecture and service, so I deem it best to cut my ramblings short and let photos and links tell the rest of the story. It's a feast for the eyes. In a future post, I'll take a look at the people behind the scenes - the servants who ran themselves ragged making sure the cocoon of perfection contained no jagged edges.

Enjoy a virtual tour, but make sure to see the real thing next time you're in St. Augustine.

  • Google Images offers multiple views of photos and illustrations. 
  • Flickr users have posted more than 1,800 images.
  • This short Flagler College video is about the summer restoration of the aluminum-, gold- and silver-leaf plated murals in the rotunda:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Blue suns and hollow earths

1918 photo from Florida Memory's Koreshan Unity Collection
shows a man looking at a  hollow-earth glass globe. Members
of the Koreshan Unity faith, who established a Florida colony
 in the 1890s, believed the universe existed in a hollow sphere.
Even a history aficionada like me looks ahead when something as exciting as #PlutoFlyby is taking place. Fresh from watching the latest press conference on the NASA Channel, what else can I write about but our final frontier? Specifically, how the topic fit into the life of our 19th century predecessors.

We expect great things to be found with each incremental step of space exploration. Did they hope for the same?  Surely, some average dreamers pondered the possibilities of reaching other planets and worlds beyond. Yet I've rarely encountered the subject in any of the 19th century diaries and letters I'm so fond of reading. The night sky elicited the comments. People wrote of feeling awed or insignificant when staring at the stars. This was before light pollution dulled the brilliance of the view. And we still feel awed and insignificant when looking up.

Scientists then as now were hard at work. But there wasn't any Internet, no #askNASA hashtag, no television or radio. Word-of-mouth, print media, telegraph and, later in the century, the telephone were the means of communication. None was capable of connecting vast numbers of people simultaneously for a shared real-time experience such as #PlutoFlyby.

Pioneer Floridians were hungry for scientific knowledge, though, even if they didn't write about it in diaries. In 1898, the Ocala Evening Star reported that two public lectures by a Professor Burgess, titled "The Solar System" and "Other Stars in Space," were "largely attended." An 1895 issue of the Bradford County Telegraph reprinted a column of moon facts from Popular Science Monthly. One was that the moon was "thought to be the only member of the planetary system which is wholly devoid of the least trace of an atmosphere." NASA tells us we only found out otherwise fairly recently.

Then, like now, knowledge inched forward in fits and starts, with some wrong turns. Members of the utopian Koreshan community in Southwest Florida believed the universe existed in a hollow sphere. An 1886 article in the Palatka Daily News noted a professor's assertion that the sun was blue, and only appeared yellow because of atmospheric dirt. To inhabitants on Mars, the article's main focus, the sun would appear white unless distorted by volcano-generated lava dust. Still, it was a bit surprising to learn the sun - to our eyes - really does appear white, according to the Stanford Solar Center. No word on the view from Mars. Yet.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Earthquake in DeLand?

Photo of part of an 1879 letter
This excerpt is from a photocopy of the original 1879 letter.
As we near the weekend of loud pyrotechnics on every corner, I think of other happenings that jolt local residents. Like earthquakes. In Florida? Yes, many years ago: either late 1878 or early 1879. The only reference I have is in a letter* from Lucy Mead Parce in DeLand to her son up North. The Jan. 22, 1879, letter is worth quoting in length:
"I suppose you have heard all about our earthquake before this. There were some pretty frightened people here that night. I know I was but not as much a some. A number thought the world was coming to an end.
"It woke us from a sound sleep about 20 minutes to twelve. I can't describe it but it seemed as though the foundations of the earth were being broken up & everything was going to pieces.
"The bed and house shook, the timber creaked and windows rattled and it seemed as though everything in the house had come to life & was jumping around. My first thought was that a terrible tornado had struck us.
"I could hear a heavy rumbling sound and something that sounded a little like wind though not like it either. I exclaimed 'What is it. What is it. Are we having a terrible tornado.' I sprang out of bed and looked out the window. It was a beautiful still moonlight night not a breath of air stirring. I said then, 'It's an earthquake.'
"There were three shocks but the others about half an hour after were very slight. Adda [letter writer's daughter] was very much frightened and we were both taken sick of the stomach after it. I suppose it was the rocking motion that caused it. Mr. Codrington from the West Indies where they [earthquakes] are very common says he never experienced so hard a one before.
"I believe there was no damage done except that hole in the ground. They have reported in adjoining towns that DeLand has sunk. But I guess they will find out it's a mistake & that we are all alive here though I presume some would be glad to have it so."
Note that 19th century snark in the last sentence. I like the way it makes Mrs. Parce more approachable and real to the reader, some 135 years after she put pen to paper. The "hole in the ground" must have been a sinkhole. There are several old sinkholes of size in the area, but I've no clue about the location of the one mentioned in the letter.

Less than a decade later, aftershocks from a 7.7 earthquake in Charleston were felt in Central Florida. This 1986 government assessment of the 1886 quake notes contemporary reports from the nearby coast: "At coastal Daytona Beach (then Daytona), a low rumbling was heard and a report that '... artesian or flowing wells [were] greatly agitated.'" (Quote is from page 31 of the linked PDF.)

Things have quieted down since then, seismically speaking. Wish I could say the same about the coming days.

*Letter is from The Parce Letters, Voices From the Past, West Volusia Historical Society, 2004. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Connecting through Mary

image shows interior of church with shadows, light, that present an outline of Virgin Mary
The lighting and shadows form what some believe is an image of Mary.
One of the early 20th century parishes established in Florida was St. Mary of the Lakes in Eustis, in 1912. Joyce E. Welch wrote a compact history, In the Beginning, which is an enjoyable read and is the source for historical elements of this post, with page numbers in parentheses.

My salient points, for this blog post, concern:

  • the church's naming in the early 1900s;
  • the mission church in Mount Dora that grew from the Eustis parish in the 1960s;
  • a photo that may or may not show a Marian apparition in the former mission's current church in 2013.
Our Lady's influence is the thread tying them together, in my view.

Before I go any further, let me note that the Catholic Church has a very conservative stance about apparitions. Supposed sightings undergo a rigorous review and investigation process that stretches years. Very few reported sightings are deemed authentic. I'm writing as a Christian-romance author with a vivid imagination who enjoys considering the "what ifs".

We begin with Eustis's first Catholic settler, Charles G. Megargee. He arrived in the mid-1880s. Several years later, another Catholic named Jerry Ott settled in Eustis. Both were from the Philadelphia area. They would journey to Sanford to attend Mass - a 40-mile round trip that took up to eight hours total (15). Think about that the next time it seems like too much effort to get to Mass.

These two businessman were instrumental in establishing the Eustis church. They funded the land purchase personally, and raised money needed to build a  50x25-foot church debt-free in 1911 (18). As I've found with other Florida pioneer Catholic church stories I've researched, non-Catholics were generous in support.

Megargee and Ott drove parish formation and church construction, but not the parish/church name. A local donor secured a substantial contribution from a Northern relative. It came with strings attached: the church had to be named in honor of St. Mary (18). I don't often refer to Our Lady as St. Mary, but that is one of her titles.

The donation amount was $1,500. Had it been given in 1913, a few years later, it would compare to  an astonishing $35,848 today, according to the government's inflation calculator. That's quite a bit of money, and I assume the donor had a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother.

Fast forward to the 1960s. The Eustis parish that started with about 50 Catholics overflowed even the enlarged church in place by that time. The Eustis parish established a mission church in Mt. Dora, which grew to become St. Patrick's parish.

Fast forward again to 2013. A friend from work sent me a smart phone image forwarded to her by the person who took the photo. The story: Our Lady had appeared in the Mt. Dora church right after morning rosary on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  I stared and stared at the photo and saw nothing but an empty church. After my friend pointed Mary out to me, I could see nothing else.

Even today, when I look at the image, I find it hard to see anything other than Our Lady. Did she appear? Who knows. The image isn't doctored, except where I drew an arrow pointing to the appearance area. But the photo is blurry. Light, shadow, angles, soft focus  - all can distort reality.

The Mt. Dora church sprang from the roots of the Eustis parish, which started with - and continues to have - a dedication to Mary. As do I.  Our Lady led me back to my faith after I lapsed. We'll likely never know if an apparition materialized. But Mary appears to my eyes in the image. And that's what matters.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Nothing counterfeit about Florida

Cover of Samuel C. Upham's 1881 book, taken from Project Gutenberg,
Samuel C. Upham wrote this in 1881.
Source: Project Gutenberg
Frontiers attract many kinds of people, including the flamboyant. One who fits that category was Samuel C. Upham. I discovered him via his 1881 Notes from Sunland,  his self-published booklet about the climate, soil, and crops of his Florida home near the Manatee River. His wit in his Q&A section still sparkles, so I Googled him to learn more about him.

Surprise! Upham was, among other things, a counterfeiter of Confederate currency during the Civil War. Conspiracy theorists debate whether he was simply an opportunist, or a Union agent trying to make Confederate currency unstable by flooding the market.

To learn more about his wartime endeavors, check his Wikipedia profile and this 2012 New York Times blog post. An engraving of his face can be seen there.

In Florida, Upham used his promotional skills to publicize the Manatee River region. His booklet comprised several pages of text, a section of meteorological tables, and another section of ads.

He noted that, at first, he cheerfully replied to questions he received via letters. But he got tired of people making the same inquiries: "... the novelty has worn off, and the task has become slightly monotonous." So he included a Q&A section to address common concerns.

That didn't stop him from playing with correspondents, particularly those he many not have deemed worthy. One man wrote and said the 1880 U.S. Census recorded no deaths in the Manatee area. Do people ever die there, the correspondent from Utah asked. Upham's reply: "I wrote immediately, 'Hardly ever. We want to start a grave-yard, we kill a man.' " That might be humorous in its ridiculousness. But Upham had an unethical agenda. He wrote that he believed, after reading the answer,  the Mormon correspondent wouldn't consider settling in Florida.

He provides serious answers to most of the questions, which address things such as the number of lightning strikes, prevalence of venomous reptiles, cost of land, cost of labor, health benefits of the climate, etc. On some, he can't help himself:

  • Nearest town of importance: "Have no towns of 'importance' "
  • On whether the summer heat is enervating: "That depends on a man's constitution. If born tired, yes."
  • On whether insects are more troublesome than in the North: "Fleas sometimes make it lively with us."
Like every other Florida promoter, Upham vigorously extolled the region's virtues and, in my opinion, stretched the truth at times. In his Q&A, he claimed he'd never seen a day too hot to work outdoors. We're already deep into Florida summer weather as a I write this, so I cheerfully disagree. 

Pioneer Florida was a land of extremes, in people as well as in climate. Upham was spot on in his answer to a question about the character of people in the area. It was mixed, he replied. He could have been speaking about himself.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Fr. Bresnahan, Part II

screen grab of vintage newspaper page
Detail of the Feb. 20, 1908 edition that included an article
about a card received from Fr. Bresnahan
Back in March, I wrote about Father Patrick J. Bresnahan's memoir, which recounts his travels through Catholic mission territory in early 1900s Florida. Just yesterday, I stumbled across two other mentions of Fr. Bresnahan's efforts. They were articles in two newspapers in Madison, a North Florida town cited in the priest's memoir as having more than its share of bigotry and prejudice against Catholics.

The first was in the Feb. 20, 1908 New Enterprise and concerned a card the newspaper received from Fr. Bresnahan. Being a former print journalist, I know that story placement in a newspaper isn't random. So I noticed the editors put the article about Fr. Bresnahan directly below a story that described how "an unknown negro was shot to death by a posse who were chasing him" because he was a habitual thief.

Fr. Bresnahan's article seems to chastise unknown harassers for disliking how people of color were allowed to worship in the Catholic church along with whites. This was during segregation, and I assume the two races sat in separate parts of the church. In keeping with the times, the priest used the word negro in his card.

To the newspaper's credit, it allowed Fr. Bresnahan's voice to be heard. The story appears to recount the priest's card verbatim. He wrote "for the benefit of the individual who penned the anonymous threat found at the door of the Catholic church last week ..."

The unnamed threat wasn't explained, and wasn't carried out. However, Fr. Bresnahan wanted the individual responsible to know that a Catholic priest "is not the hired minion of any social aggregation."  Likewise, a Catholic church was "not a social club meeting house but a temple of God." Everyone was welcome to hear the word of God and have the mysteries of God dispensed to them. "Every human soul has a right to these blessings, no matter what color its habitation may be." You rock, Fr. Bresnahan.

He goes on to write that he wasn't a politician, that all money he received in Madison went toward the local Catholic presence, and that he wasn't trying to make a white man colored or a colored man white. He bore his anonymous "friend" no malice "as life is too short for such nonsense." But he also noted that his mission was to appeal to man's higher nature, and that if the unnamed individual ever visited the Catholic church, he shouldn't be surprised "to see a place reserved for the colored people."

Townsfolk overall seem to have been receptive. Nine months later, Fr Bresnahan's missionary services were drawing crowds, as the Enterprise-Recorder reported Nov. 5, 1908. The beautiful music was cited as one reason. But, overall, the "people of Madison are beginning to know for themselves what the Catholic church really is, and the prejudice is therefore disappearing." It was predicted that by the end of services, everyone would understand that there was "one Truth, one Faith, one Baptism...," that Christ wasn't divided.

It's hard to say how deeply inroads were made. Fr. Bresnahan was preaching in the heart of Bible Belt Protestantism. I admire the priest's initiatives, and think we might consider emulating some of the talks he lined up for the week:

  • Thursday, church rules and Confession; 
  • Friday, the rosary and praying for the dead; 
  • Saturday, devotion to the Blessed Virgin; 
  • Sunday morning, necessity of charity; 
  • Sunday afternoon, the threatening evil of socialism;  
  • Sunday night, the secret of Catholic success. 
Sounds almost modern. It's also a refreshing reminder of the ever-present continuity of our ancient faith.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Persimmon Hollow: What's in a name?

Historic photo of downtown DeLand in the early 1880s
The Wild West? No, early DeLand. This view from 1882 shows the corner
 of Indiana Avenue and Woodland Boulevard. (Credit: Volusia: The West Side)
Before saleratus manufacturer Henry A. DeLand came down from New York in 1876 to create an "Athens of Florida," and before his settlement was incorporated as the City of DeLand in 1882, the area was known as Persimmon Hollow. The name has a quaint quality that appeals. My entire historical Catholic romance series, Persimmon Hollow Legacy, is built around a town of that name (yes, that is a shameless plug). A DeLand-based craft brewer, Persimmon Hollow Brewing Co., adopted the moniker (not a shameless plug; I'm more of a wine drinker, but I do like to support local businesses). Otherwise, vestiges of the early name are slim to none, locally.

Several years ago, when I purchased domain names for future use for my novels, was already taken. I was lucky to get and That first URL belongs to a boutique in, of all places, Oklahoma. There's also a Persimmon Hollow Village, again in Oklahoma. It's described, on its website, as a collection of stores grouped together to resemble an "1880s Western Village."

DeLand once looked like an 1880s Western village, a real one. You need only view the West Volusia Historical Society photo that accompanies this post to get the idea. The 1882 view of DeLand shows the corner of Indiana Avenue and Woodland Boulevard, looking west. The image appears on page 243 of the historical society's 1986 book about local history, Volusia: The West Side, edited by William J. Dreggors, John Stephen Hess, and S. Dick Johnston.

One of the book's chapters is titled Persimmon Hollow. However, a clue to the origin of the region's early name is found in the previous chapter. It's the best explanation I've yet come across, and the book's authors attribute it to a man named "Hugh Vernon Bracey, who came to Beresford with his father in 1870" (page 237).  He reportedly explained Persimmon Hollow as:
...a place where the spring water caused wild persimmons to grow in abundance. When the fruit ripened, deer, quail and other wild animals would gather there to feed ... It was one of the prime hunting spots of the few adventurous souls who had settled here at that time ... (237)
What an idyllic verbal portrait, marred for my 21st century sensitivities by the mention of hunters. I do understand that homesteaders in early 1870s Florida hunted as a means of survival, not for sport. That would come closer to the turn of the 20th century, when tourists delighted in slaughtering our wildlife just because they could, and locals decimated bird rookeries so society matrons could decorate their hats with feathers.

I digress. DeLand today doesn't have a spring, and wild persimmons aren't common - at least not in my part of town. Springs bubble to the north -  DeLeon Springs in the eponymous town - and to the south - Blue Spring in Orange City, Green Springs in Enterprise, and Gemini Springs in DeBary. That doesn't mean an equally jewel-like pool of water never existed in the immediate vicinity of DeLand. Perhaps one did 150 years ago. The allure of the term Persimmon Hollow lingers, despite the coldness of the trail. As with some mythical Shangri-La, we cling to what we can of a place none of us has ever seen.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Dressed for success

photo of group of women taken in  late 19th century
These professional ladies were called "women's editors."
This Orange City Library Association photo appears on
page 57 of Our Story of Orange City, Florida 
The heroine of my work-in-progress (Stitching a Life in Persimmon Hollow) is a skilled seamstress and 19th century fashionista. Or as much a fashionista as one could be in a pioneer town a few hours from urban civilization. So, lately, I've been thinking a lot about how women dressed in frontier Florida.

Then, as now, the range is vast. Our perspective is distorted because people donned their best for photo-making sessions in the early days. Even so, we can note interesting distinctions by looking at a few photos, shared here.

Full-length photo of Florida pioneer Mary Ann Thursby
West Volusia Historical
Society photo of pioneer
Mary Ann Thursby is on
page 8 of Our Story of
Orange  City, Florida
A trailblazer like Mary Ann Thursby dressed to get the job done. She settled at Blue Spring  with her husband and children in the mid 1800s. Their nearest neighbor was eight miles away. We're talking wilderness. Her story in the fourth edition of Our Story of Orange City, Florida (Village Improvement Association, 2000) includes a picture of her in a no-frills garment, matched by a no-nonsense attitude. But even she put on a clean white apron to pose for the camera.

The hotelkeepers in another of the book's photos are ready for a different kind of business. The ruffles, tucks, bows, and pleats of the women's outfits speak of starched fabric and hours at the ironing board. Cinched waists tell of the corsets underneath. Every hair is in place - no easy task in our frizz-inducing humidity. The Freeman women are polished and professional, and waiting to welcome guests.

Family business activity was acceptable for 19th century women, particularly when based at home. Ladies who went out to work often faced discrimination, low pay, and social disapproval. You wouldn't guess it from the photo of the "women's editors" of the Orange City Times, an early newspaper. The editors smirk for the camera. Their attire resembles that of the hotelkeepers in style. But the dresses aren't as starched. Wrinkles can be detected. And the hats are positively frightful. Perhaps they were the height of fashion. Or maybe they hid the frizzy tresses of a crew too busy breaking barriers to style their hair.

End note: You can visit the historic Thursby House at Blue Spring State Park.

19th century photo of family on porch
The Freeman family is poised and professional as they wait to greet guests
at their hotel. West Volusia Historical Society photo is on page 22 of
Our Story of Orange City, Florida.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Florida as mission territory

Head-and-shoulders image of Fr. Patrick Bresnahan from his 1937 memoir
This image of Fr. Patrick Bresnahan
is from his memoir of mission work,
Seeing Florida With a Priest
While researching an early 1880s Catholic colony near Sanford, I found a fascinating book by Father Patrick J. Bresnahan on the excellent Central Florida Memory website. The 1937 Seeing Florida With a Priest recounts his journeys through Florida mission territory in the first decade of the 1900s. What's doubly interesting is that Fr. Bresnahan afterward became the first resident priest at All Souls Catholic Church in Sanford. That church's roots are in the early colony, whose history I'm exploring. Nice circle.

The dichotomy between ecumenism and religious prejudice in frontier Florida continues to intrigue me, and is found aplenty in the 97-page book. The All Souls history webpage notes how "Protestants and Jews had been benefactors" of the first church building, erected in 1887. Meanwhile, Fr. Bresnahan writes of his first mission in Madison, Fla., in 1904, that "bigotry and prejudice were then rampant in that pretty town" (page 14).  One man who secretly attended mission services was regularly accused of being Catholic by his neighbors, because he tried to dispel misconceptions.

But, by the time a church building was under construction in Madison in 1907, "all the Catholics contributed generously, and some non-Catholics" (page 15). All was not completely well. On the same page, Fr. Bresnahan tells how the sheriff threatened to arrest the Catholic church ladies for selling tickets for a giveaway of a patchwork quilt. The raffle was part of a fundraising bazaar and supper. The town marshal came to the rescue, the publicity generated attention, and the gala raised $400. My go-to inflation calculator website doesn't go back to 1907, but were that $400 raised in 1913, it would be the equivalent of $9,483 in today's dollars.

Once the church was built, non-Catholics converged to help form a robust choir for a two-week mission. "I left Madison with a feeling that I had done something to remove prejudice" (page 16), writes Fr. Bresnahan humbly. Soon after, he was in Tallahassee, where he found little bigotry despite the occasional "vomitings  of 'cheap' politicians" (page 18).

The above is just a sampling of what can be found in this valuable memoir, which was published by Economy Print Shop in Zephyrhills. I've not yet finished reading the book, but can't end this blog post without mentioning Fr. Bresnahan's encounters with Florida Crackers in Sopchoppy, "which is real country and 'cracker' village" (page 23). His experience bears quoting, because it corrects cultural history that, at times, still depicts pioneer Florida Crackers as backwoods bigots.

"The great interest exhibited during the mission was remarkable; it was conducted in the public school building. The natives, all 'crackers', vied with one another, unlike any other place, in giving me hospitality; and, they went so far as to get up parties for my entertainment, even though many had never seen a priest before. Moreover, they all seemed glad to find out what they had heard concerning priests hitherto were 'lies'." (page 23)

Ignorant backwoods folk? Hardly. The Crackers exhibited a genuine human dignity that contrasts starkly to the antics of some of the era's movers and shakers. There's a lesson in that.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Food, music a winning combo

copy of vintage newspaper photo of St. Peter Church from 1906
This view of St. Peter Church in DeLand is from a 1906 issue
of the Florida Agriculturist newspaper. Credit: Chronicling America
Let me start by noting my delight at the discovery of the accompanying photo of St. Peter Catholic Church in DeLand in the Jan. 17, 1906 issue of the Florida Agriculturist newspaper. The newspaper was based in DeLand, and the photo was in an edition that included a feature on local churches.

My enthusiasm stems from the fact that I've had a tough time finding vintage photos of the original house of worship on the site, even in the church archives. A much larger Spanish-Mission-style structure now stands on the spot. So I am glad to show this image here, courtesy of the Library of Congress' wonderful website named Chronicling America.

I had been digging through early newspapers of DeLand to see how local Catholic news was covered by the media in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Not much turned up in  my admittedly small sampling. But I did find two gems, one of which even included a follow-up notice. Both items convey, across decades, a sense of the camaraderie and fellowship that must have existed among parishioners. And both illustrate how back in the day, as now, food and music proved a winning combination.

The first article was from the March 19, 1909 issue of the DeLand News. March is one of the most beautifull months in Central Florida, weatherwise, and the church choir took advantage by gathering for what was labeled "a most delightful outing." The report of the excursion merited Page 1 placement. Sixteen choir members chartered a Clarence Van Horne's boat named Duro, and went from Lake Beresford to Sanford and back again. "Brownies and kodaks were much in evidence." I wish some of those photos from the day still existed. The group stopped for a picnic lunch and, as might be expected, sang: "Being a choir picnic, it goes without saying there was music galore."

Several months later, the ladies of the church's Altar Society organized a supper and musical as a fundraiser The brief article in the Dec. 3, 1909 edition of the DeLand News was also featured on Page 1, and declared that the upcoming event was to be "high class in every respect." The night out was to take place in the new store building of G.A. Dreka, who was one of the parish's founding members and a leading businessman. The event was under the leadership of the Altar Society's "energetic president," Mrs. Will Allen. Would that we also knew her given and maiden names.

The supper and musical was a "decided success" that raised about $125. That's about $3,300 in today's dollars. Not bad at all for a small parish in a small town.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Passing the time

Cookouts in pioneer days often included the catching of the
entree, as at this 1906 fish fry. Credit:
I'm watching the Oscars pre-show, at least until Downton Abbey comes on, and I wonder what early settlers did for entertainment. Turns out, they did a lot, with less than we have at our disposal today. There are many similarities. The pastimes just weren't as embellished or as high-tech as ours.

Music resonated with all social classes. So did various excursions and get-togethers that included meals. Differences could be vast, though, particularly between wealthy winter visitors and backwoods settlers.

Emma Gilpin and her husband and teenage son spent three months annually in the Palm Beach area in the 1890s. Excerpts from her letters and journals in Karen Davis's 1990  Public Faces - Private Lives (Pickering Press) highlight details of the social life they enjoyed. Emma once compared contents of her "plebian" picnic lunch with that of the neighbors, whose basket contained  deviled crab on the shell, whole rolls, and white grapes, among other delicacies (55). On another day, young women had an outdoor"afternoon chocolate" (56) in a piazza. Sailing parties, musicales with violin and piano, and card parties featuring such games as whist and euchre were enjoyed. Moonlight sails on Lake Worth were popular, as were daytime dips in the ocean.

Cracker settlers, on the other hand, would be more likely to gather at what archaeologist Dana Ste. Claire describes as a perleu, "an extended cookout of sorts" (Cracker, the Cracker Culture in Florida History94). The women brought chicken, rice, biscuits, and the pot to cook it in. The food stewed over an open fire, and was served with coffee brewed over the same fires. Other times, the men and boys would hunt game that was then cooked for the crowd. Grits and palmetto cabbage might be served as side dishes. In between the cooking and eating, "sings" took place. In his book, published in 1998 by the Museum of Arts and Sciences, Ste. Claire elaborates on another Cracker leisure-time activity, the evening dance. These get-togethers occasionally lasted for days (100). Fiddle music ruled, and the steps ranged from square dancing to clogging.

Both these popular Cracker activities were powerful draws among settlers. No one wanted to miss a gathering. People lived far apart, and spent most of their waking hours working at the business of living. Social breaks were treasured, and neighborliness appreciated. We may partake in many of the same types of pastimes as our pioneer counterparts, but we have a lot more leisure time in which to enjoy them. And perhaps, not quite as much appreciation for them.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Looking for hidden histories

Photo of the cook from page 30 of the book 'Saga of Baron Frederick de Bary & de Bary Hall, Florida'
"Aunt Lizzie" - no other name given- was a cook at
DeBary Hall. This photo is on page 104 of the book
 Saga of Baron Frederick de Bary & de Bary Hall

There is a hashtag going around in Twitter that says #BlackHistoryYouDidntLearnInSchool. I think there ought to be another one that says "black history you didn't learn enough about." To me, that includes recollections about daily and community life in pioneer black communities as told via personal journals, histories, letters, books, and interviews. I'm not talking about famous African-Americans and highly documented communities such as Zora Neale Hurston's Eatonville. I mean the everyday people who come and go through life, contributing much to the wider cultural fabric and then fading from history.

Much of what I've turned up about everyday 19th century African-Americans is filtered through the histories of the dominant culture. We may learn that such-and-such a person worked for so-and-so, but we don't know what that person did when they went home. 

For example, the 1968 Saga of Baron Frederick de Bary & de Bary Hall, Florida (Convention Press) includes photos of " 'Aunt Lizzie,' who cooked the 4:30 a.m. breakfasts" (104), Bryson - Baron DeBary's valet, and Anthony, "who used to walk four miles to and from de Bary Hall each day" (105). Couldn't someone at DeBary Hall have provided him with a mule and cart? What was Lizzie's last name? Did she also walk to work, likely in the middle of the night? Who cooked for her family? Were any of these employees residents of the nearby community of Garfield, settled by former slaves? How much did they earn? Silence echoes where there should be answers. These pioneers are deprived of even their full names.

I give author Edith G. Brooks credit for including photos of these early Florida residents and for at least sharing a glimpse of what life was like for them as employees. In a word: hard. During hunting season, Lizzie was always at her post when most people were asleep. She turned out breakfasts of grits, broiled game or birds such as quail, and griddle cakes, and had them ready by 4:30 in the morning for the hunters. In a side note, Edith writes that the children loved Lizzie, who would tell them "endless and fascinating stories" (30) while smoking her pipe. How I wish we knew some of those stories.
Historic photo of Joseph Branham from page 113 of ' Saga of Baron Frederick de Bary & de Bary Hall, Florida'
Joseph Branham, born in the 1870s, was interviewed when
 he was 92.  This photo is on page 113 of 'Saga.'
Anthony cleaned guns, polished boots, skinned game, and always arrived at work with a lantern. That's because he wouldn't go home "until all the family were in bed" (31). Yet he'd be back on the job in time to light the fires for those early-morning breakfasts. If he walked four miles daily, that means he lived about two miles from DeBary Hall. He must have been home just long enough to grab a few hours of sleep. 

We learn a tiny bit more about a worker named Joseph Branham, because Edith interviewed him in 1967 when he was 92. That means he was born about 1875. He talked of how much he enjoyed "tending the high-stepping horses owned by both Frederick and Adolphe" (65). Frederick was the "Baron" who built DeBary Hall, and Adolphe was his son. Joseph primarily drove Adolphe's mule cart. More interesting to me is that we find out what Joseph did after decades of work at DeBary Hall: He retired to a small farm, where he "grew fruits and vegetables and sold them at his roadside stand" (65).

Florida was segregated during all of Joseph's working years. His older predecessors worked at DeBary Hall during Reconstruction and the subsequent era of increasingly discriminatory regulations. Life wasn't easy for any Florida pioneer. For some, the burdens were even heavier.

DeBary Hall is a Historic Site that is open to visitors.