Sunday, December 27, 2020

1920 little better than 2020

Screengrab of front page of Lakeland  Evening Telegram newspaper of  Dec. 31, 1920
Front page of the Dec. 31, 1920 edition. Source:
I thought it'd be fun to check contemporary concerns at the end of 1920. It'd be a way to compare 1920 current events with our mess of 2020. 

The best way to find those earlier details is in vintage newspapers. They were the main communication tools in that era. Wikipedia tells me 1920 was the year radio only started becoming popular.

So much for my great idea. A look at the Lakeland Evening Telegram of Dec. 31, 1920, quickly depressed me. Maybe 1920 was little better than 2020. 

The front page reported dismal national and global news. A polio epidemic was raging in Chicago. Some 60,000 Russian refugees from Crimea were headed for new lives in Mexico. The White Sox baseball players accused of throwing the 1919 World Series were to be extradited on charges of consipracy.

On a Florida level, the Florida legislative delegation was being dragged in front of a Congressional committee in Washington to answer charges of voter discrimination.

The Floridians strongly denied charges of discrimination against what the newspaper termed "Negro voters." The charges were brought by the NAACP, which said mobs of lawless whites in many Florida communities interfered in elections. Specifically mentioned was rioting that took place in Ocoee on Election Day, where a white mob burned buildings and killed between 30 and 35 blacks. 

One of the saddest headlines on the front page was about lynchings, described in print as "illegal executions." The news was that lynchings were less numerous nationally in 1920, according to data compiled by The Tuskegee Institute.

"Only" - to me this is a horrific "only" number - 61 lynchings took place in 1920, compared with 83 in 1919. Seven occurred in Florida. Of the national number, eight victims were white men and one was a black woman. You do the math. That means 52 black men and one black woman were lynched in the United States in 1920. And those were the ones that were known.

There were a couple of bright spots in the news. Authorities prevented an additional 56 lynchings from taking place in 1920. Armed forces were used to repel the mobs in 14 of those cases. To me, that says at least some people in the country were attempting to combat the problem.

And, considering that anti-Catholicism pervaded Florida in that era, I was surprised to see a front-page article about Catholic celebrations. The news mentioned by name the many priests, bishops, and cardinals celebrating jubilee years throughout the country in 1921. 

All in all, the final day of 1920 as described by the Lakeland, Florida, media wasn't any too cheery from my perspective. Perhaps the newspaper's  editorial writer said it best on page 2: "The year 1920 has been a year of unsolved problems." Same can be said for 2020. Here's to a better year ahead.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Little House on the Florida frontier, revisited

partial cover of booklet about Laura Ingalls Wilder's brief stay in Florida
This 30-page booklet sheds light on the
Wilder family's brief stay in frontier Florida
A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about how Laura Ingalls Wilder lived on the Florida frontier for about a year in the early 1890s. 

I'd been surprised to learn that she, Almanzo, and their daughter, Rose, had settled briefly in the backwoods of rural Florida. And unsurprised to learn they'd left rather quickly.

Yankees and Old South residents didn't mix well in that time and place. The Wilders' short residency in Westville, FL, wasn't a happy one.

I wanted to learn more than I could glean from the Internet. Thanks to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association, I have. 

The association has long overseen production and distribution of a 30-page booklet about the Westville years. First published in 1979, Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Westville Florida Years is in its 7th printing. I purchased it via the association's online store (along with a couple of quilt patterns Laura was known to have followed).

An even bigger thanks goes to author Alene M. Warnock and her husband, James M. Warnock. Her curiosity and perserverence uncovered gems of information about descendents and the Ingalls-Wilder legacy in Florida. His photographs provide additional context and his essay about Westville "today"  - meaning the late 1970s - depicts a time as distant to us in 2020 as the 1890s are. 

Westville in the 1970s was smaller than it had been in the 1890s. I've never been to the community, but I expect it's smaller now than even in the 1970s. It hugs the Florida-Alabama border in the middle of nowhere. I did visit the region, though, a number of years ago. The countryside is beautiful.

I don't know if either of the Warnocks is still alive. If they are, I hope they know of my and many Wilder fans' appreciation of their efforts. But I suspect they have passed. I found a obituary for an Alene M. Warnock who died in 2011 and whose husband, James, had predeceased her. 

I won't provide a lot of details about what's in their booklet. It only costs $3.50 and your purchase would help support a nonprofit. In fact, the little book would make a great stocking stuffer for your favorite Wilder fan or for yourself! 

Why should you read it? Because you'll find - among other treats -  that the Warnocks met and interviewed Laura's - niece? cousin once-removed? The woman, named Emma, was elderly in the 1970s and an important link to the past and to Laura's life story.

I'm not exactly sure how to term the relationship between Laura and "Miss Emma." The woman was the daughter of Laura's cousin Peter Ingalls, the person on whose homestead the Wilders probably settled for their year in Florida. The Warnocks found no evidence that Laura and Almanzo filed a homestead claim of their own. That the Warnocks found such a close relative of Laura's in the 1970s is a wonderful thing. 

The Warnocks did a lot of diligent searching and interviewing and traveling on their own time and dime. They shed needed light on the Wilder family's Westville detour. For that, this Wilder fan salutes them. As I hope many other Wilder fans have done and will do.

Here's a link to the 2017 post I wrote about the family's sojourn in Florida. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Cassadaga, Spiritualism, and Purgatory

1920s image of Cassadaga
This early image of Cassadaga was taken 
 before the pictured hotel burned down in 1926.
(Credit: West Volusia Historical Society)
This is a perfect time to write about the early days of the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp. The trio of Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day - Oct. 31, Nov. 1, and Nov. 2 - brings the world beyond closer. 

Halloween reminds us of hauntings and otherworldly beings. All Saints and All Souls days are when Catholics formally remember, honor, and pray for those who've left this world. Many non-Catholics are familiar with those two days because they know about Dias de los Muertos (Day of the Dead, Nov. 1-2) observances. 

As a Catholic, I believe in an afterlife. Spiritualists do, too, but their faith's tenets include belief in the ability to communicate with the dead. 

This belief has opened the faith to ridicule and charlatans. But it also has attracted true believers and casual interactors who find comfort in contacts channeled by mediums. The Cassadaga website defines a medium as a person "who is capable of receiving communication from people who were once living on the earth and have passed into the spirit world."

The now-famous Spiritualist camp in Cassadaga has its roots in both otherwordly guidance and regular old American ingenuity. First, the otherwordly. A Wisconsin-based medium named George Colby is said to have been led by a spirit guide to a spot in the wilderness of frontier Florida in the early 1870s.

There was nothing there - not even adjacent Lake Helen had been founded yet. The entire county in 1870 was home to only about 3,000 people. (It's 500,000 today.) We're talking total isolation. But Colby filed a homestead claim for 75 acres in 1880 and proved up on his land. 

Colby was prescient about his choice. He had discerned an aura hovering over the land. In 1895, he donated or sold (sources disagree) 34 of his acres to the nonprofit Southern Cassadaga Camp Spiritualist Association. That's the legal name of the spiritualist camp.

The transaction was the birth of what would become "a mecca for Spiritualists," writes John J. Guthrie Jr. in Cassadaga: The South's Oldest Spiritualist Community (University Press of Florida, 2000). 

The ingenuity part is explained in Guthrie's essay. In the early 1890s, Spiritualists from upstate New York organized winter camp meetings in the Florida community of DeLeon Springs. These proved popular. And - somewhat surprisingly to me - the locals embraced the Spiritualists. 

Locals flocked to events and lectures presented by speakers who included Colby. Guthrie writes that one Sunday, 300 DeLand residents hopped an excursion train to travel the 8 miles to DeLeon Springs and attend a meeting.

DeLeon Springs leaders offered economic incentives to entice the Spiritualist association to establish a permanent Southern branch. Spiritualist leaders didn't choose their permanent winter site rashly. They checked out many Florida locations including Daytona Beach, New Smyrna, Tampa, and St. Petersburg. An offer of 25 acres and municipal bonds helped them select DeLeon Springs. Until. 

For some reason, Colby - an active member of the Spiritualist community - waited until association board members had considered all other location options. Then he invited them to visit his land, about 15 miles south of DeLeon Springs. 

Two important Spiritualist women leaders, Emma J. Huff and Marion Skidmore, toured his property. Guthrie writes that both believed the site "radiated spiritual harmony." 

Colby's location had all the right ingredients for the association, which in 1895 either bought or accepted as a donation 34 acres of his land. The settlement grew from that seed, as its online history explains. Today, the 57-acre camp is a major tourist destination and also a quiet year-round community where believers live and practice their faith.

I've been to Cassadaga more than a few times. Early during my newspaper reporting years, I went there to write articles about the camp, the religion, and its enduring appeal to tourists. I also covered a dispute among community members over the settlement's water system. From reading Cassadaga, I've learned that internal warfare is nothing new to the Spiritualists. Infighting is as alive and well in that religion as in every other one.

Another time, I went on a historic walking tour of the settlement, which is a rural hamlet with a quaint atmosphere. The walking tour was at dusk and the quiet of evening was settling on the houses and community buildings. (Residents own their houses but the association owns all the land.) 

A sense of calm serenity surrounded the group. The tour guide pointed out architectural details and he shared historical details. He said members of the spirit world are always near at hand in the community.

We climbed a slight incline and stopped in front of one of the historic houses. A wave of sadness came over me. I had a distinct sense that someone - something? - was associated with this particular house. Perhaps a person who once lived there? Or who had been contacted by a medium who lived there? I wondered if it was more than one person, or spirit. I felt sad for whatever or whomever was causing me to feel sorrow.

I didn't dwell on the incident afterward. I shelved it and went on with my life. Then, recently, I read the short novel Tortured Soul, by Theresa Linden. It's about souls in Purgatory, in particular one lost soul and his interaction with the living. I immediately thought of my encounter with sadness at the house on the Cassadaga walking tour. 

Without getting into theology, Catholics believe Purgatory is a purification of souls who need to atone for earthly sins before reaching Heaven. I imagine it's like an abyss of sadness because of the absence of God. Prayer is how those of us on earth help souls in Purgatory move closer to the eternal light. 

You don't hear much about Purgatory today. It was an important part of my religious education in my youth. Over the years, I let it slide to the corners of my faith. But now I make it a regular habit to keep the souls in Purgatory in my prayers.

Was that sadness I noted in Cassadaga a brief link with a soul or souls in need? I'll never know. But I pray that their sadness soon turns to joy. 

Screengrab from Google Streetview of Cassadaga main entrance
This Google StreetView image shows how much
Cassadaga retains a historical quaintness.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Bone garden represented dignity

This photo of Aggie Jones in her bone yard is
from about 1908. (Credit: Florida Memory)

If I were one of those celebrity or political billionaires who toss around their money, I'd buy people DNA tests so they could trace their ancestry.

DNA results allow testers to understand some of their own behaviors and preferences and to feel pride in being part of a tribe. At least that's how DNA results make me feel.

DNA tests didn't exist at the turn of the 20th century, when a woman named Aggie Jones presided over one of the most popular locations in Lake City in north Florida. There, she was known as Aunt Aggie. Elderly African-Americans were often called aunt and uncle in the Old South. Not sure why. 

Aggie was a former slave who was part Seminole and part African-American. She created a bone-garden landscape that made her famous. She collected and arranged animal bones in artistic, structured patterns that caused people to marvel. Shrubs, vines, and flowers grew in an among the bones. Aggie also grew vegetables and sold the produce. She gave away bouquets in hopes of receiving tips from visitors.

Tourists and locals apparently wandered the garden at will, relaxed in chairs Aggie had set up, and took photos of one another as one does at tourist attractions. Local youth borrowed or rented bones to use on Halloween. Aggie's bone yard was a topic of talk near and far. 

Aggie was a fortune-teller and she also had a museum of sorts within her house. I had the impression people dropped by as they saw fit, not even trying to set up an appointment. It was like Aggie's house and garden existed for others to enjoy at will. She was always a gracious hostess. But did she have a choice?

I learned about Aggie and her garden in May Vinzant Perkins' 15-page book, Aunt Aggie's Bone Yard: A Historic Old Garden in Lake City, Florida. Perkins was a poet and gardener in Lake City. She appears to have written her book in 1952 but the material refers to the early 1900s. Aggie was in her 90s when she died in 1918. 

You can read the entire book online via the link attached to the title. More information is available in a 2003 Orlando Sentinel newspaper interview with one of Aggie's descendants. The article is also available online: "Search for Family Roots Leads to Special Garden."

What made me start this post with a DNA comment was an article I read recently in a history/archaeology magazine that I have now misplaced, to my great annoyance. The article discussed archaeological finds in an ancient settlement in - to the best of my recollection - Nubia, which is the modern-day Sudan region. 

Unearthed among other findings were animal bones aggregated in a way that reminded me of Aggie's collection of bones. They seemed to have been arranged in what might have been a structured pattern, as Aggie's were.

I wondered if Aggie were descended from the Nubians. And if so, if she retained a cultural consciousness about her heritage. I wondered if the voices of her ancestors stayed with her in some way. Or if homeland traditions were handed down orally, from elder to child. And I wondered if she also learned traditions associated with her Seminole heritage.

I have no answers, just a vivid imagination. But I'd like to think the answers are yes. Such self-knowledge would have given Aggie agency, dignity, and identity. Those strengths were normally hard to come by for a former slave at that time and place.

Today, a DNA test could trace the threads between Aggie and her heritage. She didn't have that option. But even long before such validation was possible, Aggie was strong enough to carve out a distinct identity. And it was very much at variance with the cultural norms that surrounded her. She and her story deserve to be remembered.

POSTSCRIPT: On a side note, I'd like to share this photo of a beautiful quilt of Aggie, created by artist Teddy Pruitt. Click on the photo to be taken to the artist's website, which shows a larger image.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

First diocese in Florida marks 150 years

1886 image of outside of St. Augustine Catholic Church
View of the exterior of the Cathedral of St. Augustine
is from 1886. (Photo credit: Library of Congress)
The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the creation of the Diocese of St. Augustine. It was Florida's first Catholic diocese when established in 1870.

For nearly 100 years, it was Florida's only diocese, too. The state was mission territory for a long time, despite the fact that the first Europeans to settle here were Catholics who arrived 450 years ago.

The diocese's sesquicentennial was observed Aug. 28, 2020 on the feast day of St. Augustine of Hippo. The Algerian priest is one of the church's most important early fathers and the diocese's namesake. A Vespers observance at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine was followed by a talk by Dr. Susan Parker. The whole thing was live-streamed and I've embedded the link at the bottom of this post. Stick with or skip the audio problems of the introduction. The audio of her actual talk is clear. 

Dr. Parker is executive director of the St. Augustine Historical Society. She spoke about what St. Augustine was like in 1870. What a different time it was, in ways beyond the obvious. 

Her research material for the talk included vintage guidebooks, the excellent book, Beyond the Call: The Legacy of the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine, and period newspapers. However, local newspapers from 1870 were inaccessible, so she used earlier issues from about 1865 to 1867. What emerged were details of a city in the defeated Confederacy scrambling to find itself after the Civil War ended. 

The City of St. Augustine's Civil Rights record from the mid-20th century is, overall, dismal. Some of the city's earlier history is also unacceptable. It pains me that Fr. Augustin Verot, who became the Diocese of St. Augustine's first bishop, spent much of the Civil War supporting slavery. 

Yet - and here's where we realize how much redemption is possible for everyone - that same bishop jumped to provide education for the newly freed slaves. He raced to his home country, France, and persuaded the Sisters of St. Joseph to come to St. Augustine specificially to start schools for newly emancipated African-Americans. He pivoted quickly from his wartime views. 

Parker said that the St. Augustine diocese was "created at an unsettled time in St. Augustine, the state and nation's history. Bishop Verot was a great help to all St. Augustine residents as they tried to work their way through problems of the time." The bishop was a complicated figure. After I read his biography, I may delve into him in future posts. 

The Sisters of St. Joseph arrived in town in 1866, the same year St. Mary's Academy reopened presumably for white children. Also in 1866, the church's newly free black parishioners "worked to demonstrate religious fervor and claim their new status," Parker said. She also noted that blacks had been part of the parish since its founding in 1565. 

A "Freedman's Fair" took place at St. Mary's Convent the day after Christmas 1866. Its goal was to raise money for improvements to the section of the church where the black parishioners sat. The fair raised $336, Parker said. The internet tells me that's the equivalent of almost $5,500 today. And that tells me local people in St. Augustine took this fundraiser seriously. At that particular place and time, cash was hard to come by for many people.

What else marked daily life in St. Augustine in the latter half of the 1860s? Some tidbits from Parker's talk:

  • A ferry pulled by ropes provided transporation over the San Sebastian River.
  • Maria Sanchez Creek wasn't yet filled in.
  • The town's population was about 2,000 - half black, half white
  • Tourists started returning almost immediately after the war, using guidebooks that sometimes embellished or falsified facts. Some guidebooks were derogatory about the city's Spanish and Catholic roots. 
  • The city spent almost two years under federal martial law.
  • Refugees from Cuba arrived. They were fleeing years of warfare in their home country.
  • In 1867, mail started being delivered a full five times a week.
  • Leisure activities for tourists including sailing in the bay and horseback riding in the countryside.
  • The Sisters of St. Joseph reached out to blacks of all ages for educational purposes.
The Sisters who arrived in 1866 opened their first school for African Americans in 1867 on St. George Street. By the early 20th century, they and other Catholic religious orders and non-Catholics teaching blacks throughout Florida faced resistance and legal maneuvers designed to stop their endeavors. 

They perservered. An interesting comment is in researcher and former teacher Patrick Gibbons' online article on the redefinEd website about one of those maneuvers: "Their struggles reveal how new and alternative educational options have always had to fight for their survival."  So, yes, many things are different now than in 1870. But some things don't seem to change at all.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Arson or natural causes?

1924 image of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Tallahassee
This image of Blessed Sacrament Catholic
Church is from 1924. The building was used
until 1952, when a larger church was built.
An earlier, wood church burned in the late
1800s. (Photo credit: Florida Memory)
I'm writing this in July 2020. Earlier this month,seven Catholic churches were attacked in less than a week. Six in the United States and one in Canada. The incidents were varied. Fires, vandalism, and general destruction. None of the damage was of natural causes.

I learned all that from an article in Aleteia. I've linked it, although I don't know how long it'll stay active. 

Shortly before reading the article, I'd been scrolling through WPA records of Catholic churches in Florida. Fires were mentioned enough for me to notice.  

The WPA church records were compiled mainly in the late 1930s. They were done as part of the Works Project Administration federal program. Little personality shows through. The records provide basic information, usually on a form. A brief history is sometimes included. You can find these records online at Florida Memory.

Fire was a real and common problem in pioneer settlements here. The annual dry season, flammable wood structures, and lack of firefighting equipment often spelled disaster. Many people built kitchens in separate buildings. That way the rest of the house would escape damage if the cookstove went up in flames.

Yet, evil exists in all times and places. Could some of those early Catholic church fires have been set deliberately? Especially in the 1920s and early 1930s? Some Florida politicians in that era ran campaigns that included bold anti-Catholic platforms.

My second novel,Stitching A Life in Persimmon Hollow, features an antagonist who is anti-Catholic and secretly sets fire to a newly built Catholic church. But that's fiction. Or so I thought while writing the story. Perhaps such things really did occur. 

Some readers complained that the antagonist didn't receive his full due at the end of the novel. But he was a man of wealth and connections. Then, as now, such people often escape justice. 

I don't like to think such people existed in the real frontier world in Florida. But the church records make me re-think some things. The cooperation that existed among denominations here in the late 1800s seems to have vanished by the 1920s and 1930s. Suspicions and dislikes may have grown, stoked by people who like to inflame division and hatred.

We'll likely never know if the Catholic church fires mentioned in the WPA records were caused by lightning, a lit candle, or a human hand. But, considering what's going on in modern times, it's definitely something to think about.

Here are some snippets the WPA documents record about fires:
  • Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary - This Jacksonville church suffered more than one fire: "Constituted 1913. Services in old stable ... until present white, rectangular, Modified Colonial frame building erected and dedicated in 1914, damaged by fire 1923, 1924, additions1923, then services in school auditorium while repairs and remodeling done,1925. 

  • Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church (The Mother of Sorrows) - The church in Tallahassee was “Constituted 1877. Services in building. E. Park Ave., until burned, then in chapel of convent, Monroe and Virginia Sts., until present." (Present being 1936- 1937). The records say a brick structure was built in 1898 and dedicated on Dec. 18 of that year.

  • All Soul's Catholic Church - This church was established in 1885: "... first frame building, pres. site, erected 1887 and used until destroyed by fire in 1932." For the next five years, the congregation attended Mass in the parish school building. During that time, parishioners funded and physically built a new church, which was dedicated in 1937. 

  • Church of St. James - This church never rose from the ashes. The WPA records give its location as Bay County. That's in the Panhandle, in the Panama City region. The WPA says: "Constituted in 1917 ... Services in a white, rectangular, frame structure, with steeple, erected 1917, first services in July, dedicated June 9, 1918, burned May 3, 1936." It seems to have been a mission church of the Church of St. Dominic in Panama City. Records show the St. James church no longer had a pastor after 1935. The parish may have dissolved, as the records indicate it functioned from 1917 to 1935. If so, the building was an unused church when it burned in 1936. 

The Florida Memory onlines archives contain 78 WPA records about Catholic churches in the state. I haven't gone through them all. Not even close. Of the ones I did, I'd guess fire was mentioned in about 30 percent. So, not a majority. Just enough to notice.

I did look twice at the record for St. Alfred's in Perry. It said the church was "blown down" in 1926. Did that happen with help, I wondered. No. A hurricane indeed struck the town in 1926.  

The church seemed to struggle, though. St. Alfred's was downsized to mission status and became known as Perry Roman Catholic Church. It served Perry, Madison, Live Oak, and Lake City. That was tough territory for Catholics at that time. 

Reading about these churches, scant though the information is, makes me think about the people who perservered in their faith here. And the good non-Catholics who stood by them, for they did exist. Yes, there's evil in the world. But the good outweighs it. Always.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Helping invalids in pre-tech era

photo of historic adult cradle
This adult cradle is on display at the Ward House
at Harvard University. Photo credit:
Ward House Museum
I'm still processing the loss of my father. Still thinking about how taking care of him in my home changed my life.

I first wrote about the overall challenges of caring for an elderly loved one who had Alzheimer's. This time, I'm focusing on the physical aspects of caring for an adult whose mobility is impaired. 

My Dad had lost his balance and the strength of his legs. He needed help moving from chair to bed to bathroom to wheelchair and back. At first, he could shuffle along with the person who held him up and guided him. At the end, he couldn't even manage that. 

Even with 21st century aids, physically lifting, guiding, shifting and settling an adult is hard work. It requires use of mobility aids. What did people do before they had in-home Hospice beds adjustable at the click of a button? Or wheelchairs with easily removable and interchangable parts? I assume people in the past were ahead of us in innovations regarding chamber pot chairs. Many pioneer households lacked indoor water closets and/or plumbing.

I came across an interesting online lecture about mobility aids in the late 18th and 19th centuries. It's worth a watch if you're intrigued about these things. "The Material Culture of Living With Disability at Home, 1700-1900" focused on times slightly earlier than the late 19th-early 20th century I write about in this blog. But I figure that, for monetary and accessibility reasons, many settlers in pioneer Florida still relied on time-tested aids. There wasn't any Amazon shipping to the backwoods. And fancy mobility aids were out of reach financially for the average person. Just as they often are today. A top-of-the-line motorized wheelchair today can cost more than $20,000. 

Innovation was demanded of people settling a new location such as the Florida frontier. Based on what I learned in the lecture, settlers would have applied that imagination to help incapacitated loved ones. 

Invalids usually lived at home with immediate or extended family. Wealthy pioneers could and would hire outside help to handle the heavy lifting. But the onus of providing support usually rested on family members. They did things like add wheels to regular chairs. 

Adult cradles are one of the more intriguing adaptations mentioned in the lecture. They allowed an invalid to be part of family life instead of lying in bed all day in a back bedroom. A cradle was more easily moved to a parlor or porch than a bed was. And the cradle provided necessary comfort and support to the disabled person. 

Lecturer Nicole Belolan, Ph.D., said the popularity of the cradles declined in the mid-1800s. She also noted they were used primarily along the Eastern Seaboard, from Maine to the Carolinas. 

But, then and now, most people in Florida came from somewhere else. I can imagine an early Florida settler keeping a loved one close in an adult cradle long after the furniture's popularity declined. Settling a frontier was often a lonely business. Every human connection counted. As it still does today. Would that we'd remember that.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Time to revive and 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 revive and 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. I'm grateful for that. 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 early 20th century ancestors considered hospitals places to be avoided. My ancestors were in New York City. I don't know if Florida had hospitals outside major areas at that time. My guess is that eldercare was done primarily in the home.

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

On page 722, we're told that old age is "the only disease natural to man." Dr. Gunn believed "dosing and drugging" with non-natural remedies would bring on an early old age. People were advised to stick with roots, barks, and herbs. They were told to 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 seems on target in saying that bones of the elderly "are extremely brittle and easily broken." 

Other pages hold decidedly modern notions. One example is an emphasis on 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 at the time. "Alzheimer's" would be named a scant few years later, in 1906.

I had slightly more luck finding the word "senile" in HathiTrust digital library's 1904 - get ready for this title - The Favorite Medical Receipt Book and Home Doctor, Comprising the Favorite Remedies of Over One Hundred of the World's Best Physicians and Nurses

Those one hundred-plus medical experts didn't have a remedy for senility. In the book, the word senile is associated with something called Senile Gangrene. It was the name used to describe a limb that became useless in an old person. Heart problems were said to cause the ailment. 

Again, no mention of dementia anywhere in the book. 

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: