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Celebrate July Fourth by visiting Florida's patriotic places, attractions

Fireworks aren't the only way to spark patriotic pride. Across Florida, off-the-beaten-path patriotic attractions honor icons of American history, from trailblazing civil rights leaders to pioneers of space exploration. • Whether your idea of patriotism is ringing a life-size Liberty Bell, marveling at military might or watching a highlight reel of Ronald Reagan telling jokes, read on for a look at some of Florida's lesser-known patriotic places. Alisson Clark, special to the Times

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Icons of independence

• Don't try this in Philadelphia: At the Liberty Bell Memorial Museum in Melbourne, visitors can grab a mallet and ring an actual-size replica of the bell. The replica was made at the same London foundry as the real thing. All that's missing is the crack.

Bell-ringers are automatically inducted into the museum's Ding Dong Society.

"We have cards and everything," said Susan Anderson, who has worked at the museum since 1985.

At the free museum, housed in a round concrete structure that once served as the city's water tank (it now has carpet, but no windows), you'll also find a Sept. 11 memorial exhibit with a piece of steel from the World Trade Center, a chunk of the Pentagon and a Port Authority uniform, as well as a timeline tracing the history of the U.S. military.

Liberty Bell Memorial Museum, 1601 Oak St., Melbourne; (321) 727-1776 or honoramerica.org.

• Kitschy wax figures of U.S. presidents populate the rooms of the Presidents Hall of Fame in Clermont, with replicas of the Lincoln Memorial and Mount Rushmore outside. Inside, you'll find a jaw-dropping scale model of the White House that's accurate from the light fixtures down to the carpet pattern. (The miniature White House has been on tour for years, but has just returned to Clermont in time for Independence Day.) Presidential ephemera are another draw. The collection includes a retired presidential limo, a seat from Ford's Theatre, a plate of uneaten cookies from a 2007 White House holiday party and a replica of the Lincoln bed.

Presidents Hall of Fame, 123 N U.S. 27, Clermont; (352) 394-2836. Its website, presidentshall offame.com, is under construction.

• The tiny North Florida town of Madison is home to the Four Freedoms Monument, a sculpture that, like Norman Rockwell's series of paintings, embodies the four freedoms outlined by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941. Walter Russell's sculpture of angels representing Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear was dedicated in Madison Square Garden in 1943 — so how did it wind up in Madison? It honors the town's own Capt. Colin P. Kelly, a B-17 pilot who posthumously received the Distinguished Service Cross for a mission just days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, making him one of the country's first decorated World War II heroes.

The monument is in downtown Madison, just north of Interstate 10 about 50 miles east of Tallahassee; madisoncountyfl.com.

Air and space

• Kennedy Space Center's Visitor Complex draws tourists by the busload to its launch pad tours and Rocket Garden, but just west of the main complex — and included in the admission price — is the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. Try out a G-force simulator or a space shuttle landing simulation, browse the world's largest collection of astronaut memorabilia, climb into a space capsule and see a 3-D rendering of the solar system. If you run out of time and can't fit a visit to the hall of fame into your day at the main complex, get your ticket stamped by a staff member; you can visit the hall of fame the following day at no extra charge. Admission to the hall of fame is also available without visitor complex access.

Kennedy Space Center, State Road 405, Cape Canaveral; toll-free 1-866-737-5235 or kennedy spacecenter.com.

• Also under the radar is the U.S. Space Walk of Fame at Space View Park in Titusville, a riverside park with views of the launch pads and NASA's red, white and blue Vehicle Assembly Building. Monuments and a museum honor astronauts and behind-the-scenes support staff from the Mercury program to the present.

Space Walk of Fame, 4 Main St., Titusville; (321) 264-0434 or spacewalkoffame.com.

• Simulated space missions at Tallahassee's Challenger Learning Center are usually reserved for groups, but on the second Saturday of each month, anyone age 9 and older is welcome, with "mininaut" missions for younger kids scheduled several times a year.

Challenger Learning Center, 200 S Duval St., Tallahassee; (850) 645-7827 or challengertlh.com.

• Polk City's Fantasy of Flight is best known for its three hangars of vintage aircraft, but it also includes multimedia tributes to the Tuskegee Airmen and Women Airforce Service Pilots. A symposium series, Legends and Legacies, lets audiences meet and learn from witnesses to history, from aviation pioneers to POWs.

Fantasy of Flight, 1400 Broadway Blvd. SE, Polk City; (863) 984-3500 or fantasyofflight.com.

• Aviation buffs won't want to miss two other aircraft-oriented attractions. Wings Over Miami Air Museum at Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport features an F-14 Tomcat, a cutaway of a F4U-1 Corsair engine and a re-creation of a World War II communications tent among its collections.

Wings Over Miami, 14710 SW 128th St., Kendall; (305) 233-5197 or wingsovermiami.com.

• Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum in Titusville offers guided tours of 30 restored aircraft and rides (for an added charge) in a C-47 Skytrain that was in the Normandy invasion.

Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum, 6600 Tico Road, Titusville; (321) 268-1941 or vacwarbirds.org.

Military museums

With its Blue Angels shows and IMAX movies, the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola may be the granddaddy of military museums in Florida, but a handful of smaller museums cover everything from frogmen to the world's fastest plane.

• Just north of Fort Walton Beach at Eglin Air Force Base in the Panhandle, the Air Force Armament Museum combines dozens of aircraft, including the world's fastest, the SR-71 Blackbird, with exhibits on Air Force history, a control room, gun vault and missile displays.

Air Force Armament Museum, 100 Museum Drive, Eglin Air Force Base; (850) 651-1808 or afarmamentmuseum.com.

• Once a month, civilians are allowed behind the gates of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for a bus tour of the Air Force Space and Missile Museum, launch pads and the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse, courtesy of the 45th Space Wing Public Affairs Office. The three-hour tour on the second Wednesday of each month covers the past, present and future of Patrick Air Force Base, which handles launches for the Department of Defense.

Information/reservations: Patrick Air Force Base, west of A1A south of Cocoa Beach; (321) 494-5945 or (321) 494-5933 or www.patrick.af.mil.

• Fort Pierce's National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum, the country's only museum honoring SEALs and the underwater demolition teams that preceded them, has more than memorabilia. You'll find four-man submarines, vehicles, even a boat used to rescue a ship captain from Somali pirates.

National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum, 3300 N A1A, North Hutchinson Island, Fort Pierce; (772) 595-5845 or navysealmuseum.com.

• Florida is also home to the only museum dedicated to the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, the Military Sea Services Museum in Sebring.

Military Sea Services Museum, 1402 Roseland Ave., Sebring; (863) 385-0992 or milseasvc museum.org.

Civil rights pioneers

• In addition to her legacy as an educator and activist, Mary McLeod Bethune was the first African-American woman to advise the White House, and her Washington home was the first memorial in the nation's capital to honor an African-American woman. Closer to home is the Bethune Foundation, her former residence and grave site on the Daytona Beach campus of Bethune-Cookman University. (Before Bethune served as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's special adviser on minority affairs, she founded the Daytona Educational and Industrial School for Negro Girls in 1904, which went on to become Bethune-Cookman.) Visitors can tour the 1915 home, which features her awards, photographs and original furnishings, including the guest room where she hosted Eleanor Roosevelt. The home is open on weekdays, and on Saturdays by appointment.

Information/appointments: Bethune-Cookman University, 640 Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Blvd., Daytona Beach; (386) 481-2122 or www.cookman.edu.

• Civil rights history makes up a key part of historian Beth LaCivita's African-American heritage tours of Tallahassee. The tour visits the Rev. C. K. Steele Memorial, dedicated to the contemporary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was instrumental in the city's 1956 bus boycott protesting segregation. The tour also includes stops at museums, archives and historic buildings.

Tours in Tallahassee; (850) 212-2063 or toursintallahassee.com.

• In Brevard County, a museum in Mims honors civil rights activists Harry and Harriette Moore. Their lives ended in tragedy when their home was bombed on Christmas 1951, but the 5,000-square-foot Harry T. & Harriette V. Moore Cultural Center preserves their legacy with exhibits about civil rights struggles in Florida and beyond, as well as displays on African-American heritage and culture, including Langston Hughes' tribute, The Ballad of Harry Moore.

Harry T. & Harriette V. Moore Cultural Center, 2180 Freedom Ave., Mims; (321) 264-6595 or harryharriettemoore.org.

Patriotic arts

• Folks who wander into Epcot's American Adventure Pavilion in search of an icy blast of air conditioning often stumble onto Voices of Liberty, an eight-part a capella group that performs in the pavilion's columned rotunda. The Colonial-costumed group has performed for five presidents, and its daily shows of Americana and patriotic tunes inspire shivers that have nothing to do with the temperature of the room. You'll have to venture outdoors to take in a performance by the Spirit of America Fife & Drum Corps, but their period-perfect Revolutionary War dress and sound make the heat worth bearing.

Epcot Center, 1510 N Avenue of the Stars, Lake Buena Vista; (407) 824-4321 or disneyworld. disney.go.com/parks/epcot/entertainment.

• An actual military band, the 13th Army Band comprises a slew of performing groups, from a 40-piece Ceremonial Band to a Latin ensemble. The band, part of Florida's National Guard, takes its patriotic tunes on the road at events from community concerts to parades, including Sea World's annual Independence Day celebration.

13th Army Band; (954) 893-5070 or 13tharmy band.com.

• Peggy Fleming and the late Florence Griffith Joyner have more in common than their Olympic gold medals. The Art of the Olympians museum in Fort Myers collects paintings, sculpture, photography and digital art from world-class athletes from the United States and beyond. A temporary exhibition of landscape paintings by rowing silver medalist John Stillings of Seattle continues through July 30.

Art of the Olympians, 1300 Hendry St., Fort Myers; (239) 332-5055 or artoftheolympians.com.

Alisson Clark is a freelance writer who teaches feature writing at the University of Florida.

Celebrate July Fourth by visiting Florida's patriotic places, attractions 06/29/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 1:25pm]
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