Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Open Sesame!

Boy was it hot! We had the tunes a jammin' and the windows down - lettin' in that sweet Florida air. Finally I would get the chance to visit the town I had only read about in books. A town that sounds like it could only have existed in the movies, but it was REAL...

That town was Opa-Locka.

First I should tell you how this place came to be, so that means I gotta tell you about Glen Curtiss. See, Glen was a pretty big deal in the aviation industry - in fact he was a pioneer of it! He was also big into building and racing motorcycles. And just look at that movie star face!

Glen Curtiss

Glen also had an interest in city development. And in the early 1920s, we got Opatishawockalocka, which would quickly be shortened to Opa-Locka. Curtiss wanted to take the world described in The Thousand and One Nights and make it a Sunshine State reality. He hired architect Bernhardt Muller to help him bring his Arabian dream to life. 105 Moorish style buildings later the small community of Opa-Locka was in full force. 

  Opa-Locka City Hall
ca. 1930  
photograph by G.W. Romer   
Among all the domes and minarets there was one crown jewel... the City Hall. In 1926 a hurricane destroyed many of the buildings but City Hall still stands strong(ish) to this day and twenty buildings in the city are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

But I have to be honest with you because I have been here and I have seen these things. Opa-Locka is a sad town now. I know, it's hard to hear that. It was just as hard for myself to discover on one hot breezy day last June. 

As we drove down Ali-Baba Ave., burned rubber down Sesame St., and smoothly sailed past Sharazad Blvd. all I saw were the run down buildings with barely a hint of the Baghdad bliss that Curtiss had hoped to leave behind. Opa-Locka has the highest rate of violent crime in the United states.

Still I'll always believe in the dream that Glen Curtiss had for this town, and I'd like to think how magical and beautiful it must have been to live in this city when it was in its heyday. 

We'll always have City Hall...

Opa-Locka City Hall
ca. 2012

Opa-Locka City Hall
ca. 2012
Opa-Locka City Hall
ca. 2012
Opa-Locka City Hall
ca. 201

Opa-Locka City Hall
ca. 2012
Opa-Locka City Hall
ca. 2012
Opa-Locka City Hall
ca. 2012

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Man Everybody Knows

This is a great piece of paper paraphernalia from 1952 that I picked up in Daytona Beach. It's an information pamphlet that belonged to a Life Insurance representative, Mr. John N. Walker of Deland, Florida.

There is also a little calender/ruler insert the size of a playing card.

Heck I'd buy life insurance from someone who handed me a pamphlet that looked like this! I think the design of it is really great!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

We Live Inside!

Welcome back, after a brief hiatus I am ready to explore more mysteries of the Sunshine State with you! This is going to be a long entry but worthwhile and with lots of pictures!! I'd like to share with you the story of a very interesting group of people and their beliefs, this is the story of the Koreshans...

Koreshan School Children
Koreshan Site, Estero, FL
    Koreshan State Historic Site Photograph Collection

In 1869 Cyrus Reed Teed (what a name!), a physician and alchemist, was working on a dangerous experiment that invloved high levels of electricity. During this experiment he was badly shocked and passed out. While unconscious Teed had a "divine illumination". A beautiful woman appeared telling Dr. Teed the secrets of the universe and that he was a messiah. Upon waking Cyrus vowed to change his scientific and religious beliefs. From then on he would go by the name of Koresh, the Hebrew name for Cyrus.

   Cyrus Reed Teed
  ca. 1894

Teed founded Koreshanity on something similar to the Hollow Earth Theory, or as Teed called his version - The Celluar Cosmogany. This was the idea that humans live on the inside of the planet and not the outside, gravity does not exist therefore we are held in place by centrifugal force. The sun is a electromagnetic battery revolving in the universe's center on a 24-year cycle. When we see the sun, moon or stars, they are actually reflections.

Model of Celluar Cosmogany
Koreshan Site, Estero, FL

One of many drawings showing Celluar Cosmogany

At the time of his vision Teed was in New York, he gained a group of followers and they eventually moved to Chicago. There Teed had an epiphany, he would move to Florida and create a utopia for him and his people. So in 1894 the Koreshan Unity moved to 320 acres in the small town of Estero and began building up Teed's vision of a "New Jerusalem".

Historic Planetary Court Building
  Koreshan Site, Estero, FL
ca. 195- 

Between 1904 - 1908 the settlement had over 250 members and was at its height. They established a bakery,  printing works, sawmill, boat works, cement works, hostelry, steam laundry, post office and general store.

Historic Planetary Court Building
 Koreshan Site, Estero, FL
ca. 2009
Can you see me? 

In 1987 Teed tried to prove his Hollow Earth Theory using a device called a Rectilineator, a straight line beam running along the Earth's surface. If the experiment worked, it would show the Earth's surface curved upward. The Rectilineator was only 12 feet long so it had to be moved and calibrated section by section in order to repeat the experiment over a four mile radius. The experiment took five months but at the end, the instrument had touched the Gulf Of Mexico exactly where Teed had predicted, proving to himself and his followers that his theory was correct.

Koreshan girls adorned with flowers (costume for a play)
 Koreshan Site, Estero, FL
Koreshan State Historic Site

Teed had many great expectations for his settlement, he envisioned 10 million people joining The Unity. They put on plays and concerts, they even formed a Progressive Liberty Party to run against the surrounding area's established Democrats in the election of 1906. This ordeal eventually lead to an altercation between Teed and some men from Fort Myers. During the brawl he sustained injuries that he never fully recovered from, and on December 22, 1908 he died.

Koreshan Members standing at the tomb of Koresh
  ca. 19--

Teed had told his followers that he was immortal and that upon his death he would be resurrected. Members awaited his return but by Christmas day their illusions of immortality were shattered and the county health officer demanded the body be buried.

Teed's failure to rise from the dead took a great toll on the Koreshan community. They began to lose faith and many of the younger members left. There were struggles to decide who would suceed Teed as their leader and members fractured into groups. Around three dozen members stayed at the settlement for the next 30 years. In 1940 thirty five members remained and a woman named Michel Hedwig who had fled Nazi Germany began to reorganize the community and the settlement had a brief revival. With only 4 members left in 1960, Hedwig turned over the 320 acres to the State Of Florida.

Sign For Koreshan Unity Settlement
Koreshan Site, Estero, FL
  ca. 195-

Michel Hedwig
Koreshan Site, Estero, FL
  ca. 195-

Today the Koreshan site is on the National Register of Historic Places as the "Koreshan Unity Settlement Historic District". Many of the buildings have been restored and the land is kept very well. There are even camping grounds only a few hundred feet away from the site. According to the park's website this upcoming February 3 & 4th for only $10 you can take a candlelight Ghost Walk and experience some moments from the lives of Koreshan pioneers. On February 25th you can have lunch made from authentic Koreshan recipes served to you by the 7 ladies of the Planetary Chamber, entertainment provided!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Poolside Postcard

Lido Beach Casino Swimming Pool, Sarasota, Florida 

Sent from Sarasota, Florida in 1954.

Here's another favorite postcard from my collection! I love postcards that have been sent before because it's always interesting reading other peoples letters from years and years ago. This is a Florida Postcard, Sent from Florida to New York, yet I bought it in Sand Diego...I wonder how it got there?? One thing is for sure - many times it's hard to read the handwriting!!

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Mystery of the Moon Trees

When Apollo 14 launched on January 31, 1971 astronauts were not the only ones making a big leap on the moon. With them they carried hundreds of tree seeds!

The goal was to see if seeds taken to the moon and brought back to Earth would grow properly. Stuart Roosa, the astronaut who had taken them to the moon in small tin canisters, had selected a variety of Redwood, Loblolly Pine, Sycamore, Douglas Fir and Sweetgum seeds. Upon their return to Earth the seeds were germinated and in 1976 the seedlings were transported and planted all over the world. They became known as "Moon Trees"!! The trees had no trouble adapting and grew normally. Many are still alive and flourishing today.

Official Moon Tree emblem

BUT the weird thing about this whole experiment is that NASA failed to keep any official records of where they planted the trees!?!??! I mean they kept track of a few, one was sent to The White House, another to the emperor of Japan, and one you can find right in front of the Kennedy Space Center. But what about the hundreds and hundreds of others?? For all we know, we could be surrounded by Moon Trees!!

Located at: Florida Division of Forestry in
Tallahassee, Florida
Plaque reads: Moon Tree, Loblolly Pine, Pinus Taeda

Moon Tree at the Kennedy Space Center
 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Moon Trees had been all but forgotten until this year where there has been a surprising amount of new interest because of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 14 mission. Since 1996, NASA Scientist Dave Williams of Washington, D.C. has taken it upon himself to track down as many as he can. Right now 80 or so trees have been located and six of them are in Florida!!

   Located at: Keystone Heights Public Library 
                in Keystone Heights, Florida.     

  Plaque for Keystone Heights Moon Tree.

For some other great links - including one to buy your own Moon Tree seedling or seed kit - visit NASA's official MOON TREE page. Scroll to the bottom to see a list of all recorded Moon Trees thus far. Maybe there's a Moon Tree where you live!! And if you know of a Moon Tree that's not on that list - for gosh sakes tell
Dave Williams!! dave.williams@nasa.gov

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Daytona Beach: Part 1 "He Was A Good Dog"

That's right folks, I've spent most of my time in Florida in Daytona Beach. Instead of overloading one or two posts with info I figured why not split it up into several parts! More fun!

So I'd like to share with you one story from the Daytona Beach history books that always puts a smile to my face. The story of Brownie the town dog.

The year, 1940. The town, Daytona Beach. The dog, Brownie.

It was a hot summer day. The black asphalt burned the poor mutt's paw but he barely noticed the pain.  He owned the town. A nameless vagrant on the hunt for something - maybe food, maybe shelter, heck maybe he was just looking for someone to love. And then he found the shade. A little piece of shadow that unbeknownst to him, would change his life.

Tourist with Brownie the town dog
State Archives of Florida

Brownie rested underneath the awning of the Daytona Cab Company and before he knew it he had more than one best friend. The cabbies here weren't just looking for some cheap fare with Brownie. They pooled their tips together to build him a doghouse. A little jar was left by this house for donations and before they knew it the whole town was pitching in, paying for his food and veterinary bills. Eventually the donations got so grand they had to deposit the dough in Brownies own account at the Florida Bank & Trust.

Everyone in town, adults, children, tourists and locals, they all got to know Brownie, he really became the town dog. The cabbies would even buy him a pint of ice cream everyday. They called Brownie the number one goodwill ambassador for the town of Daytona.

Then one sad day in 1954, Brownie died of old age. There was enough money in his bank account to purchase a casket and headstone. Seventy-five people attended Brownie's funeral. The mayor read a tearful eulogy. The city of Daytona Beach had lost a best friend.


Today you can still visit Brownie who resides in the beautiful Riverfront park in Daytona's downtown district. In 2007 there was even an official Brownie Festival that included a Brownie look-a-like contest. Some people even claim to have seen his ghost or felt his presence while visiting his resting place. A little dog topiary guards Brownie's grave. If you find yourself in Daytona, go say hello!


ALSO I would like to introduce this amazing website I found Florida Memory. They've given me permission to use photos from their site, I can't wait to share more from their collection!

P.S. I wasn't able to find my own pictures of Brownie's grave so I'm using these borrowed ones temporarily.

Monday, March 21, 2011

I'll Pick Oranges For You...

Saint Petersburg postcard. Sent January 18, 1938.
This is one of my favorite postcards from my personal collection. One common theme running through these sendable pieces of art is the fact that while winter is in full bloom wherever you live, in Florida it's warm enough to wear a sundress and pick oranges! But don't worry northeners, summer is right around the corner!

This postcard has actually been used, more specifically January 18, 1938!! Can you believe that!? It's addressed to Miss. Gladys Kuhnla, it reads (to the best of my de-coding):

Hello Honey, We had friends take us out riding this afternoon and they took us over to Passa Grill and near Indian Rocks, Real hot and we enjoyed it. Mothers letter arrived today with Mrs D(cannot figure this one out) letter. Love to All, Grandpa

Pass a grille and Indian Rocks are both beaches in Florida that you can still go and visit!