Tuesday, February 08, 2011

From Tampa to the Moon with Jules Verne

Today, Google’s homepage features an interactive doodle celebrating author Jules Verne’s 183rd birthday. Although the doodle features his well-known Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, his novel From the Earth to the Moon hits closer to home.

Writing in French for a young audience, Verne spun the story of man’s first moon shot. Published in 1865, the premise of From the Earth to the Moon is that industrialist members of the Baltimore Gun Club found themselves without purpose or relevance at the end of the Civil War. Club president Impey Barbicane proposes building the biggest, most powerful gun yet, one so immense that it could shoot a projectile to the moon. Over the course of the novel, the project turns into a manned space mission, with men traveling to the moon in a metal capsule, intending to return home safely.

While choosing a spot to build their tremendous gun, the Gun Club members narrow their search to either Texas or Florida. And within Florida, one place prevails: “Florida in its southern part reckons no cities of importance; it is simply studded with forts raised against the roving Indians. One solitary town, Tampa Town, was able to put in a claim in favour of its situation.” Barbicane visits Tampa to select a building site. Leaving Baltimore, he and his companions travel to New Orleans where they board a steamship to cross the Gulf of Mexico. Two days and 480 miles later, the Florida coast comes into view: “On a nearer approach Barbicane found himself in view of a low, flat country of somewhat barren aspect.”

Jules Verne sprinkled his text with authentic place names and scenic descriptions. As a Frenchman who visited the United States only once in his life, a brief trip to New York State after From the Earth to the Moon was published, how was Verne able to provide these details? The answer is in the story itself:

When the decision was arrived at by the Gun Club, to the disparagement of Texas, every one in America, where reading is an universal acquirement, set to work to study the geography of Florida. Never before had there been such a sale for works like Bartram’s Travels in Florida, Roman’s Natural History of East and West Florida, William’s Territory of Florida, and Cleland on the Cultivation of the Sugar-Cane in Florida.

These were popular natural histories of Florida published in the late 1700s and early 1800s, and provide descriptions of Florida that continue to be quoted and studied by scholars and historians today. Parts of From the Earth to the Moon echo the phrasing of these texts, with their mixture of florid descriptions of plants, flowers, and creatures alternating with prosaic scientific descriptions or measurements.

Although Verne went to some trouble to include accurate details, the truth suffers at times to advance the story. As a case in point, the site selected as a launch site is described as being less than a day’s ride from Tampa yet at an elevation of 1,800 feet above sea level. The highest point in the entire state of Florida is Britton Hill at 345 feet above sea level, and which is so far north it’s practically in Alabama. Furthermore, Barbicane is greeted in Tampa by 3,000 people, easily three times the actual population in 1865.

Verne’s descriptions of the Seminoles are reminiscent of a cowboys and Indians western. Here, Florida is the wild frontier. Once in Tampa, Barbicane decides to explore the country, looking for the best spot for the moon gun.

On the morrow some of those small horses of the Spanish breed, full of vigour and of fire, stood snorting under his windows, but instead of four steeds, here were fifty, together with their riders. Barbicane descended with his three fellow-travelers; and much astonished were they all to find themselves in the midst of such a cavalcade. He remarked that every horseman carried a carbine slung across his shoulders and pistols in his holsters.
On expressing his surprise at these preparations, he was speedily enlightened by a young Floridan who quietly said,--
“Sir, there are Seminole there.”
“What do you mean by Seminoles?”
“Savages who scour the prairies. We thought it best, therefore to escort you on your road.”
“Pooh!” cried J.T. Maston, mounting his steed.
“All right,” said the Floridan; “but it is true enough nevertheless.”
“Gentlemen,” answered Barbicane, “I thank you for your kind attention; but it is time to be off.”

Riding along, they came to an open area.

“At last,” cried Barbicane, rising in his stirrups, “here we are at the region of pines!”
“Yes! And of savages too” replied the major.
In fact, some Seminoles had just come in sight on the horizon; they rode violently backwards and forwards on their fleet horses, brandishing their spears or discharging their guns with a dull report. These hostile demonstrations, however, had no effect upon Barbicane and his companions.
Ultimately, the very act of building their projectile protects the men from Baltimore, as it “created a circle of terror which the herds of buffaloes and the war parties of the Seminoles never ventured to pass.” Technology conquers the wilderness.

The full text of Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon is available on Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=nskpAAAAYAAJ&dq=from%20the%20earth%20to%20the%20moon&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false. Compare the drawings on the plates following pages 66 and 82, “Tampa Town before the undertaking,” and “Tampa Town after the undertaking.”

Ballast Point Park in Tampa was originally named Jules Verne Park in recognition of the author’s selection of the town as a likely launch site.

Also available through Google Books:

William Bartram, Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida (1792)

Bernard Romans, A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida (1776)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Shuffling Away

Shuffleboard courts in downtown Avon Park, Florida

Shuffleboard and golden days of retirement are entwined in Florida mythology. In the mid to late twentieth century, there wasn't a trailer court in the state worth a lick if it didn't have a shuffleboard court or two. This association with the elderly has been a bit of a public relations challenge in attracting new fans to the sport, although the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club has a very popular Friday night session with live music.

Playing shuffleboard in St. Petersburg, back in the day (Florida State Archives)

The Kissimmee All States Tourist Club's shuffleboard courts will be torn down soon as part of the city's Lakefront Park redevelopment. Grass-roots efforts to save or at least commemorate the courts include the Facebook group Save Our Shuffleboard. KAST is the subject of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Story of the Day today: Florida To Lose 1941 Shuffleboard Courts.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Happy Presidents Day, Florida!

Brass band awaiting Grover Cleveland's arrival in Lakeland, Florida, 1894 (Florida State Archives)

Today, a U.S. president overlooks Florida at his own peril, but even before this state was a political battleground , our nation's leaders found their way here on a regular basis.

First was Andrew Jackson, who was Territorial governor of Florida before Florida was a state and before Jackson was president. Neither Jackson nor his wife Rachel were particularly fond of Florida, in fact, The Hermitage's website says that they "despised the climate."

Several places in Florida are named after presidents, including Polk County, which honors our 11th president, James K. Polk. Fort Pierce began as an actual fort, named after Lt. Col. Benjamin Pierce, the brother of President Franklin Pierce. The Herbert Hoover Dike holds the waters of Lake Okeechobee, and is named after the president who authorized the money to build the earthen dam after devastating hurricanes swepth through the Everglades in the 1920s. Manned space flights launch from the Kennedy Space Center, named after the president who challenged us to travel to the moon, not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

Dr. Mudd, who treated John Wilkes Booth's leg and was himelf accused of plotting against Abraham Lincoln, was held prisoner at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. Fort Jefferson was named after our 3rd president, Thomas Jefferson.

Many presidents enjoyed fishing or hunting trips to Florida as breaks from the rigors of office. Several went as far as having second homes or "little White Houses" here - the Kennedy's had a family compound in Palm Beach, Nixon had a waterfront home on Key Biscayne, and Truman favored Key West.

So for all these presidents and more who have traveled to our sunny state, we wish you an Happy Presidents Day!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Miscellany, for Surfing on a Rainy Day

10 Most Endangered Roadside Places, from Visual Ephemera

"Hav-A-Tampa Closes Its Factory" St. Petersburg Times, June 24, 2009

"Brunetti Jr., Soth, Testa to Hialeah Posts" Blood-Horse Magazine July 1, 2009 - Hialeah Race Track to open?

Busch Gardens' Hospitality House - 1963, from Electro's Spark

Vintage Busch Gardens, from Visual Ephemera, 1960s brochure for the amusement park

"These old houses keep turning heads" Tampa Tribune June 23, 2009 - Seminole Heights neighborhood in This Old House magazine

"Hit the bricks: a historical street-paving opportunity in Ybor City" Creative Loafing, June 14, 2009

"Tampa Bay World Records," from Sticks of Fire - World's Longest Golf Cart Parade

"The Tampa That Might Have Been," Creative Loafing, May 23, 2009

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Hindu Temple of Tampa

In the future, will the Hindu Temple of Tampa be a historic landmark?

The National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) guidelines ask for buildings to be 50 years old before being considered significant. National Register Bulletin 15: How to Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation states "Fity years is a general estimate of the time needed to develop historical perspective and to evaluate significance." OK, I can go along with waiting 50 years before nominating the Hindu Temple of Tampa to the National Register, but I think that as long as it's still standing then, it will make the list.

I say that even though religious properties have to meet additional considerations, considerations designed to avoid the appearance of an endorsement of religion by the federal government. To be considered eligible for the NRHP, a religious property may have outstanding architectural merit, or have cultural significance. The Hindu Temple of Tampa represents the growth of the Hindu community in Florida, following the track that other immigrant groups have experienced in the United States. As permanent populations of Hindu Indians grow in the Florida, and the U.S., the temple is a means by which children may be taught Hindu cultural and religious beliefs and traditions (A Place at the Multicultural Table: The Development of an American Hinduism, by Prema A. Kurien, Rutgers University Press, 2007).

Architecturally, it is unique in Tampa. The earth-toned gopuram (the monumental tower at the temple's entrance) breaks above the tree line; the temple walls are covered with carvings and statuary. A team of ten men from India spent years working on these decorations.

The story of the temple's construction is told in an article from the October 24, 2003, St. Petersburg Times, "The Deities of Lynn Road." Difficulties included finding an appropriate site, and getting zoning permission for a building height of 70 feet.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Edward Heberton

Edward Heberton is buried in the Laurel Grove Cemetery in Waldo, Florida. His marker is a rather plain marble stone: "Rev. Edward P. Heberton of Philadelphia, Pa. Born Aug 13, 1830, Died Aug. 22, 1883." Why was it so important to mention that he was from Philadelphia, and how did he end up so far away from home?

From the Necrological Reports and Annual Proceedings of the Alumni Association of Princeton Theological Seminary (Google Books is really a handy research tool), we learn that Edward Payson Heberton was the son of a minister. he attended college in New Jersey, studying the law, before a 12-year career with the U.S. Coastal Survey and U.S. Navy. Heberton was ordained as a minister after the Civil War, in 1868, serving at churches in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Duluth, Minnesota; Columbus, Ohio; and Deerfield, New Jersey. In 1882 he came to Florida as a missionary, became ill, and died in Waldo on August 20, 1883. He was 54 years old, and left behind a wife (Carrie) and five children.

What this biographical sketch doesn't tell us is what he thought of Florida, what it was like for his wife to follow him to a rural frontier. Who chose the tombstone, and why was it so important to mention that he was from Philadelphia?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Laurel Grove Cemetery: Grave Marker Symbolism

Lillies are commonly associated with funerals in the United States - they are said to represent purity, but offer the practical aspect of being strongly scented. In the case of Lillie Martin's marker, the use of lillies may have been in reference to her name, rather than a symbolic gesture. Not only is the marker topped with a large bouquet of stone lillies, but the verse etched on the tombstone refers to the flower:

Lillie M. Kennard devoted wife of B. P. Martin, Sept. 26, 1875 - Oct. 6, 1900 / The angels gather such lillies for God.

Flowers also appear on H.N. Pettit's marker, which has evening primrose etched around the base. According to Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography, by Douglas Keister (New York: MJF Books, 2004), the evening primrose represents "eternal love, memory, youth, hope, and sadness."

H.N. Pettit, born at Kaskaskia, Ill. Aug. 29, 1822 died July 13, 1893

Pettit's tombstone also features a hand pointing to the clouds and the bible verse "In my father's house are many mansions," which continues in the King James version: "if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you." Again according to Stories in Stone, "a hand pointing up is usually an indication that the soul has risen to the heavens."

Urns were popular graveyard symbols in the nineteenth century, even though cremations were out of vogue. The urn symbolizes ashes, and is a classical decorative element.

Thomas M. Cauthen May 4, 1838 - Dec. 6, 1923

Grave markers in the shape of tree stumps are found across the United States, due largely to the Woodmen of the World. Woodmen of the World is a fraternal organization that provided burial insurance and pledged that no Woodman's grave would be left unmarked.

W.V. Paschall Jr. July 26, 1881 - Nov. 16, 1918 Gone But Not Forgotten

Monday, June 29, 2009

Main Street Daytona, More Than a Century Ago

A circa 1895 cyanotype of Main Street Daytona
(photograph courtesy Paul Jones)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Laurel Grove Cemetery - William Gadsden Green

William Gadsden Green
Co K
2 Regt
Fla Inf

This headstone is the type authorized by the federal government in 1930 to be placed on graves of Confederate soldiers, with a pointed top and the Confederate Cross of Honor inscribed above the soldier's name, rank, company, and regiment.

William Green's Confederate pension application (on file at the Florida State Archives) reveals some tidbits about his and his family members' lives. He was born April 7, 1839, in Nassau County, Florida. At the age of 23, on May 16, 1862, he listed in the Confederate Army, serving in Company K, 2nd Regiment, of the Florida Cavalry. Three years and one day later, he was discharged in Baldwin, Duval County, because the war was over. He and his wife Mary raised ten children in Bradford County, Florida. When he grew older, he applied for a pension from the State of Florida, claiming that his service had given him "piles" (hemarrhoids) and rheumatism.

After William's death on December 1, 1918, Mary applied for a Confederate widow's pension; however, she encountered difficulties in proving that she was actually married to William. The Bradford County Courthouse had burned in 1865, destroying the county's records. In her application is a letter from Mary Green, dated February 22, 1919, to the Hon. Ernest Amos, who served as State Comptroller from 1917 until 1933. Included with her letter were five affidavits from people who knew William and Mary Green to be married, along with two pages from the Green family bible recording William's birth and marriage. (Mary Green requested that the bible pages be returned to her, but as the scanned images are online with the rest of the pension application paperwork, this apparently did not happen.)

From these affidavits we also learn about Mary Johns Green, particularly from her cousin M.L. McKinney (their mothers were sisters): "...that the said mother of Mary Johns died while she was an infant and his mother raised Mary Johns, that affiant was five days old at the birth of Mary Johns, that Mary Johns was one of twins and his mother raised all three of them."

The Florida State Archives has scanned approximately 14,000 Confederate pension applications, and made them available online (http://www.floridamemory.com/Collections/PensionFiles/index.cfm). While some files have little information, others - such as that of William G. Green - reveal personal histories that might otherwise be unrecorded.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Waldo's Laurel Grove Cemetery

An impulsive right-hand turn down a narrow and flooding side street in Waldo, Florida, led us to the Laurel Grove Cemetery. This country cemetery is modest, peaceful, and eclectic. Since it was Memorial Day weekend, the graves of veterans were decorated with flags. The cemetery is surprisingly large, covering gentle hills and encompasing a pond full of quite vocal frogs. The air was cedar scented.

The Laurel Grove Cemetery dates to 1883, with an expansion in 1897, on land owned by Idella and Samuel J. Kennard. A native of England, Kennard came to the United States in 1847. By 1860, he was a grocer in Waldo, and soon thereafter he served in the Confederate States of America Army during the Civil War. Kennard later was Waldo's postmaster, and his son was mayor. (For a more complete biography of Kennard and the original plat of the cemetery, visit the Laurel Grove Cemetery's webpage).

The cemetery is still in use today, and over the past 125 years, it has accumulated a great variety of grave markers, from elaborate marble statuary and ornate iron fence work, to handmade vernacular concrete memorials.

The Champion Iron Fence Company manufactured this fence.

Hands down, no questions asked, the most curious marker at Laurel Grove Cemetery is a homemade concrete elephant, complete with nails as tusks. This marker, unfortunately, did not include a name that I could see, so I have no way of knowing why an elephant (?!).

One of the most touching markers was also handmade, found on the grave of Caroline Kathleen Larson (October 12, 1949 - December 21, 2005), which reads simply "CAROL My Love."