Thursday, August 31, 2017

A game of el riquito, anyone?

Youth stand in the street and on sidewalks in Ybor City at the turn of the 20th century
Immigrant youth in Ybor City added an ethnic flavor to their
 games and pastimes in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Photo credit: State Archives of Florida
Back in 2002-2003, the Ybor City Museum Society hosted an exhibit about childhood pastimes during Ybor City's early years. I didn't see "Growing Up Ybor," but do have a copy of the 10-page booklet that accompanied the four-month exhibit.

So, what exactly did youngsters do in their spare time in the Tampa neighborhood at the turn of the last century? Some of them had no spare time. The exhibit booklet's section on "Childhood's End" quickly drew me, in part because it references Italians. I'm always on the lookout for domestic history about people who share my heritage. I learned the U.S. Census in 1900 reported that almost a third - more than 30% - of Italian cigar workers in Ybor City were ages 5 to 19. So much for playtime. They and other immigrant youth also had to help out at home and in family businesses, and attend school.

All wasn't dour, though. Although I think of Ybor City in that era as populated primarily by Cubans and Italians, it also housed immigrants from Spain, Germany, Romania and elsewhere. Children of each ethnicity introduced traditional games and pastimes, such as a Mediterranean singing game or re-enactments of Spanish or Italian folk tales.

The children also adopted American games and pastimes - even though they often used their native languages to describe them. The booklet states that "... stick-ball was el riquiti, jump rope was bailando la Suiza and jacks became las Yaquis."

Often, toys were handmade. They included dolls, dollhouses, button yo-yos, and scooters made of a skate and scrap wood. Store-bought items might include pick-up sticks, paper dolls, toy trucks and soldiers, and marbles. Pretty much what you'd expect in an early American childhood anywhere in the United States at that time. When movies arrived, neighborhood youth flocked to local theaters on Saturdays in Ybor City just as they did elsewhere. Truly, we're all much more alike than different, in so many ways.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Guava pies and two-board bridges

Stereographic image of an 1800s home in Pine Castle, Florida
The community of Pine Castle takes its name from this
 private residence built of pine by early settler Will Harney.
He called his house his pine castle.
Photo credit: Pine Castle Pioneer Festival website
Pine Castle is a community within the sprawl of Orlando, and is swallowed by the metropolis of some 2.4 million people. A century ago, Pine Castle was still a pioneer settlement. As recently as 30 years ago, longtime residents remembered what life was like in the early days. Some people shared their memories in a magazine issued as part of a local heritage festival in 1986. Among them was a woman named Rose McCoy.

Rose's parents bought 40 acres on Lake Gloria in 1910. I can't find a Lake Gloria on Google Maps in the neighborhood labeled Pine Castle. Perhaps it went by another name 100 years ago, when the area was surrounded by wilderness and Orlando was a place some distance away.

My favorite thing about Rose's reminiscences is her emphasis on daily life. She recollects interesting elements of frontier living in the early 20th century. Among them are the following tidbits. They are transcribed from Pioneer Days: Focus on Farm Life, published by Pine Castle Center for the Arts, 1986:
  • a two-board "bridge" (Rose's quotes) about 30 to 40 feet long, used to cross a narrow waterway on the family's property
  • students eating lunch every day under the trees outside the schoolhouse
  • chapel services daily at school
  • a home garden of corn, peas, lettuce, strawberries, beans, grapes and pineapples
  • fresh milk stored in large china bowls in a pantry
  • screens all the way around food cabinets
  • legs of the food cabinets placed in cans of kerosene to prevent ants from climbing up
  • abundant guava trees, and plenty of guava pie 
  • household gas lights, gas stove and gas iron; the carbide gas and other components were stored in a shed and brass pipes were installed in the house
  • a visit by a priest from Orlando who provided Catholic instruction and taught the family's children the Hail Mary and other prayers
  • attendance at the Pine Castle Methodist Church services and Sunday school
I'm guessing the family was Catholic, else Rose's mother wouldn't have invited the priest to visit. There must not have been a Catholic church close enough for the family to reach by foot, horse or early automobile on a regular basis. Once again, I find that pioneer Christians reached across denominational lines without rancor in order to worship the Lord. It's a pattern that pops up in my research. A welcome one.

Pine Castle presents a Pioneer Days Festival each year. Learn about the event and more at the festival's website, and watch this video to learn more about Pine Castle history:

PINE CASTLE from Rob Matheson on Vimeo.