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Finding flaws in 'Finding Florida' by T.D. Allman

Nine months after Hurricane Ivan made landfall in Pensacola, signs of the storm’s destruction remain everywhere, with boarded-up windows, buildings with gutted interiors, piles of debris and miles of new construction. Ivan, a category 4 hurricane, rendered about 45,000 homes unlivable in Pensacola. In 2004, four hurricanes hit Florida within six weeks — Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne — causing more than $42 billion in property damage and 123 deaths. No one was killed by a collapsing condo, however, despite T.D. Allman’s statement: “When the killer hurricanes of the early 2000s struck, many of these monstrosities became high-rise death traps” (Finding Florida, p. 390).

Getty Images (2005)

Nine months after Hurricane Ivan made landfall in Pensacola, signs of the storm’s destruction remain everywhere, with boarded-up windows, buildings with gutted interiors, piles of debris and miles of new construction. Ivan, a category 4 hurricane, rendered about 45,000 homes unlivable in Pensacola. In 2004, four hurricanes hit Florida within six weeks — Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne — causing more than $42 billion in property damage and 123 deaths. No one was killed by a collapsing condo, however, despite T.D. Allman’s statement: “When the killer hurricanes of the early 2000s struck, many of these monstrosities became high-rise death traps” (Finding Florida, p. 390).

T.D. Allman's new book Finding Florida is subtitled "The True Story of the Sunshine State" because it's supposed to correct all the myths and mistakes in the other Florida history books. But while reading it we kept finding forehead-slapping errors. You'd forgive a couple of goofs in a 500-page book, but after a while you wonder if your tour guide is Cliff Clavin.

We emailed Allman to ask how he committed so many errors. First he announced he was going to ignore us. Then he sent us a two-page letter, denying any significant errors of fact but simultaneously inviting readers to submit corrections for future editions. Here's our short list, as well as the complete text of Allman's letter.

Reach Jeff Klinkenberg at klink@tampabay.com and Craig Pittman at craig@tampabay.com.

 

Setting the record straight

"The Ku Klux Klan made common cause with the mafiosi" to break Ybor City unions (p. 421). Not just wrong but unlikely, given the Klan's hatred for Catholics, says Gary Mormino, co-author of The Immigrant World of Ybor City. "I never came across any mention of a connection between the KKK and the Trafficantes," says Scott Deitche, author of Cigar City Mafia, one book Allman cites as his source. "Sounds like a real stretch."

 

"Florida lacks alluvial soil ..." (p. xiii) ... except in North Florida, where American Indians used alluvial clay deposits to make pots and utensils.

 

About the naming of the state: "It was not because of any profusion of flowers. Look into any Florida backyard; even today you'll see a somber palette of greens" (p. 7). The guidebook Florida Wild Flowers features 500 colorful entries such as scarlet morning glories, meadow beauty and purple passionflowers.

 

"Palms ... are not native to Florida" (p. 119). The Florida silver palm, the Keys thatch palm and the sabal palm — the state tree — are natives.

 

"Rita Mae Brown had become the most successful Florida-born author since Zora Neale Hurston ..." ( p. 443). A two-fer: Zora Neale Hurston was born in Notasulga, Ala., and Rita Mae Brown in Pennsylvania.

 

Regarding Panhandle beach condominiums: "When the killer hurricanes of the early 2000s struck, many of these monstrosities became high-rise death traps" (p. 390). Hurricanes Dennis, Jeanne, Frances and Ivan killed people with falling trees, crashing cars and drowning. No one was killed by a collapsing condo.

 

"Up North (Gov. Rick Scott) made his fortune turning hospitals into profit centers." (p. 445). While Scott was born in Illinois, he made his fortune in Texas as a lawyer and hospital company executive.

 

"No serious science took place in Florida" (p. 398) This will come as a shock to all the biologists, geologists, archaeologists, oceanographers and other scientists here.

 

"Sludgy black oil" from Deepwater Horizon "surrounded ... islands" (p. 416). Oil washed up on the beaches of eight counties, but the Department of Environmental Protection says no barrier island was ever "surrounded."

 

"By 1960, Pinellas County (county seat: St. Petersburg)..." (p. 362). The county seat has been Clearwater ever since Pinellas was created in 1912.

 

The author's response

Here's Allman's two-page letter, which he demanded we print in its entirety.

 

Tallahassee

23 March 2013

 

Mr. Craig Pittman

The Tampa Bay Times

St. Petersburg, Florida

 

Dear Mr Pittman:

 

Please confirm receipt of this letter. The text of your letter to me is below.

Wherever and whenever I talk about my new book, Finding Florida: The True History of the Sunshine State, I urge members of the audience to search the book for any and all errors. So far no significant error of fact has been found in my book, but since I understand The Tampa Bay Times is going to publish an article devoted exclusively to possible errors in Finding Florida, in that article please urge your readers also to search for errors, and report any they find to me at the following address:

 

TD Allman

c/o Ms. Deb Seager

V.P. Director of Publicity

Grove/Atlantic Publishers

841 Broadway, 4th Floor

New York, NY 10012

 

The also digitally can send any suggested corrections to me via the following web site:

 

http://www.groveatlantic.com/?title=Finding+Florida#page=isbn9780802120762-all

 

Whether my subject is Cambodia or Laos, whether I am reporting from Tienanmen Square or Bosnia, my passion is for the truth. As a native son of the Tampa Bay area, who can remember drinking out of colored fountains at Publix, I am especially determined to exorcise all errors when it comes to what I write about Florida.

Though Finding Florida was published only two weeks ago, it is in its second printing. The publishers already are planning a new edition. Your comments have been placed on a list, so far very short, of possible corrections. For instance here in Tallahassee I have learned that a Confederate governor whom I state had been involved in a duel actually committed a murder before migrating to Florida. Should valid academic research verify this, my text will be amended accordingly. I will not permit a new edition to be published until any errors we verify have been expunged.

Finding Florida, those who have read it know, covers 12,000 years of human experience. It is more than 500 pages long. Some of America's – and Florida's – most respected historians have commended the book for the new information and light it sheds on the Spanish and American conquests of Florida, on the Seminole and Civil wars, as well as on more recent events. One of Florida's most eminent geologists vetted Finding Florida and praised it for its thoroughness and accuracy. Since you are an environmental specialist I would have hoped you might have taken notice of the importance I place on understanding the physical reality of Florida.

Though my book has just been published, newspapers ranging from the Wall Street Journal to the Sarasota Tribune had published reports which accurately describe my book. Since your publication so far has not once done that, I ask you in the interests of journalist balance to publish this letter in its entirety.

I wish immediately to make one correction. One of my earliest memories is of the beach at Clearwater and Father carrying me on his shoulders through the surf out on to the sandbar. On the drive back to our house on the Hillsborough River in Tampa, where Mother once shot an alligator, I remember my father telling me Clearwater was the Pinellas county seat, then explaining what a county seat was. Only the other day in Jacksonville I emphasized to some people that Clearwater was the county seat. In all future editions of Finding Florida Clearwater will get its fair due.

Literarily, it has been a long journey out around the world then back to Florida. One of the joys of having my history of Florida finally published, after nearly ten years' labor, has been the enormous enthusiasm with which so many people in Florida have welcomed me as well as my book. Let me thank them now through your columns.

Please confirm receipt of this letter. The text of your letter to me is below.

 

Sincerely,

 

TD Allman

Mixed review

The Tampa Bay Times published a review of Finding Florida on March 9. Gary Mormino, professor emeritus of history at USF St. Petersburg and the scholar in residence at the Florida Humanities Council, begins his review this way: "Engaging, passionate and ambitious, T.D. Allman's Finding Florida is also unbalanced, mean-spirited and arrogant. Finding Florida takes no prisoners."

Finding flaws in 'Finding Florida' by T.D. Allman 04/03/13 [Last modified: Thursday, April 4, 2013 3:53pm]

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