Saturday, July 30, 2016

Not a theme park in sight

Florida's popular image is wrapped around palm trees, beaches, ocean waves, sunshine, and theme park fantasy lands. The real portrait is truly all that, but also includes congested highways, housing development, and millions of people.

Such images make it difficult to imagine how different Florida was in recent history. Our beautiful state parks, national parks, state forests, and museums help preserve a slice of that past. So do things like this video slideshow by a YouTube user named tj3usa. I don't know who this person is, but I thank him or her for uploading this portrait of an earlier era. Enjoy.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Summer: salubrious or just plain hot?

Florida summers must have been brutal for pioneers. I think about that when the temperature zooms into the high 90s as it did last week. Did newcomers know ahead of time what they'd face in a Florida July and August? Probably not. Advertising of the era used words like salubrious to extoll the climate.

Yet, I can't assess the matter as though my 21st century self were plopped back into the 1880s. More than one resource relates how 19th century folks were a bit hardier than their modern counterparts when it came to weather. In the North, chilly interior rooms were the norm in winter. Conversely, extreme warmth was just a part of life in the South. People adjusted their lifestyles the way I adjust a thermostat.

Floridians and others today pay homage to Apalachicola's Dr. John Gorrie, the father of air-conditioning. But more than a century would pass before his invention evolved into the familiar air-cooling systems standard in Florida houses. In the late 19th and early 20th century, even an electric fan was a status symbol in Florida. Partly, I think, because having electricity was itself a sign of wealth and stature.
Pioneers who populate my fiction didn't have electricity in the early years of settlement-building. That's because real-life settlers didn't. So what did they do when the thermostat read 97 degrees F. or higher? They:

  • Sat on the porch. That line has become cliché, but it's true. I briefly experienced Florida without air-conditioning, when I lived in a 19th century house that had been subdivided into apartments. Trust me, one goes outside.
  • Built houses to catch breezes and provide shelter from sun. That meant large - very tall - windows, shutters, overhangs, and sleeping porches. Some settlers built homes with breezeways, also called dogtrot houses. The Seminoles built open-sided structures called chickees
  • Slowed down. Today's frenetic pace of life would likely surprise even the most work-oriented pioneer. Settlers had to work hard to survive. But they knew when to bow to the weather.
I'd have a hard time giving up air conditioning. But slowing down is something I can appreciate. And sometimes try to do.