06/05/13 Human Interest
The bride wore a long white dress and muddy boots. She yelled "HOOTEEHOO!''
Waiting for her in the distance, the groom hollered "HOOTEEHOO!'' back. She homed in on his shout and sloshed toward him through the cathedral of cypress trees and cypress knees, ferns and royal palms that grew in the black water.
Michael Scott Owen and Donna Ann Glann-Smyth were going to exchange vows in the holiest place they know, a primeval Florida swamp where alligators and cottonmouths go with the territory....
05/29/13 Human Interest
Roger Hammer leads the way into the claustrophobic thickets of Everglades National Park, bobbing and weaving, watching for beauty and danger. "Don't let the leaves slap you in the eye,'' he hisses. "That's a manchineel tree. Poisonous. You could go blind, at least for a while.''
Tabloid Florida, as we know, has no shortage of dangers. They include gun-toting motorists, trailer park pornographers and hungry souls who believe they just may be zombies. Real Florida, meanwhile, has its own set of perils to keep us awake nights, among them Cat 5 hurricanes and house-eating sinkholes....
05/22/13 Human Interest
We were a Liberace family when I was growing up in Miami.
He was from the Midwest like my parents. Like my dad, he was a piano player, only successful. In the 1950s, he had his own television show, which we watched religiously, dad grinning at his flamboyance while admiring the musical chops. My mom, her hair up in bobby pins, took notice of Liberace's mother beaming from the front row. You had to like a boy who was so kind to his mother. ...
In South Florida, where burglar bars are as common as alligators, nervous clerks store their trusty 12-gauges behind the counter. Terrible things have happened to Robert Moehling, no doubt about it, but that's not a Glock loaded and ready under the cash register.
It's a power drill.
"Here, let me help you,'' says Robert, attacking a coconut. Seconds later a tourist ambles through the store, sipping the milk through a straw....
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....
04/03/13 Human Interest
Let's talk about the voice, which hurts the ears like a tenor sax with a bad reed — loud, squawky, piercing. Even when B.J. Hart is standing on the deck of the last public ferry in Florida, the voice cuts through the great throb of the diesel that propels the Jean Ribault across the St. Johns River.
"YESSS! OH, BABY. WELCOME ABOARD!''
East of Jacksonville, a Navy helicopter whup-whups overhead. On Ocean Street, an ambulance rockets past with siren screaming. Over on A1A, radios blare hip-hop boompity boomp. Doesn't matter. You can hear B.J. Hart's caw from hundreds of feet....
03/02/13 Human Interest
Did Ponce de Leon come to Florida in 1513 to look for the Fountain of Youth? Unlikely. Yet our country's founding myth has hung on for five centuries.
These postcards are courtesy of Rick Kilby, from his upcoming book Finding the Fountain of Youth: Ponce de Leon and Florida's Magical Waters.
02/28/13 Human Interest
Nobody has ever needed to find the Fountain of Youth more than J. Michael Francis. Okay, Ponce de León's famous fountain is probably nothing but bushwa. That said, he needs to fill his wineskin from those make-believe waters just in case.
Francis, 45, is a blond-haired, blue-eyed, baby-faced historian at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. His specialty is what happened when the Spanish arrived in the New World. He knows a whole lot. He also wonders if he has only scratched the surface, and whether he needs to live forever to learn what he needs to know....
02/01/13 Human Interest
HOMESTEAD — Unlucky in love, Ed Leedskalnin went about his life quietly and sadly while building the most peculiar home on the edge of the Everglades. It was going to be a valentine to the woman who had jilted him. And who knows? Maybe she would hear about his grand monument to her and come back to him. She would say "I am sorry for hurting you" and they'd marry and have many children.
Ed died alone. But Florida's most amazing tourist attraction remains at 28655 S Dixie Highway. It's called the Coral Castle. It's our Great Pyramid, our Stonehenge....
01/05/13 Human Interest
“Stop the car, Ernie," my mother ordered my dad. "I'm going to pick some oranges."
"You'll get arrested," my dad said. "Or you'll be shot."
We were driving toward Winter Haven along the spine of the state. On a winter's afternoon, Temple oranges hung like ornaments. From a hilltop we saw orange-laden trees reaching to the horizon.
"Come on, Ernie," she begged. "Look at all those oranges. Nobody will miss one or two."...
ST. AUGUSTINE — Where did that most ambitious conquistador, Juan Ponce de Leon, wade ashore five centuries ago and name his prize "La Florida?" Inquiring minds all over our state would like to know, the sooner the better, for planning purposes.
With the big day approaching — the anniversary arrives on April 3, 2013 — what east-coast beach city gets to shoot off the fireworks? If King Juan Carlos I of Spain graces us with a visit, where will he and Gov. Rick Scott shake hands? This being Florida, where communities joust like 16th-century knights for tourist dollars, it's important....
11/30/12 Human Interest
LACOOCHEE — When the old cowboys woke, he could smell the horses through his open window. Their manure smelled to him like the most fragrant perfume. His daughter helped him dress before breakfast. As a girl she didn't know her daddy had feet because they always were tucked in cowboy boots. Now his legs and feet looked tiny and weak.
Tom Everett, her daddy, is 80. For nearly 70 years his home was on the Florida range. Since an accident two years ago, home has pretty much been the wheelchair. ...
George K. End, who was born in Wisconsin and educated in New York in the craft of journalism, became instead Florida's king of the rattlesnakes.
He loved everything about those Eastern diamondbacks, from their beauty to their danger. But more than anything, he was fond of their potential to grab headlines and add money to his bank account.
Catching them by the thousands, he sold their venom, hides, rattles and even their meat in a neighborhood he founded on the Tampa side of the Gandy Bridge in 1937. He called it Rattlesnake, Fla. ...
10/05/12 Human Interest
Gary Mormino, who retired from his University of South Florida history department in St. Petersburg on Monday, will have time to work in his garden now. I would like to think the professor emeritus will discover a way to grow olives in his back yard. Perhaps he will have time to work harder on his tennis game. Finally, I hope he will develop a new recipe for his already outstanding meat sauce, using sausage from Mazzaro Italian Market. ...
09/08/12 Human Interest
In my Florida travels I've seen panthers, bears, crocodiles and even the now extinct dusky seaside sparrow. I've waded in a swamp to look for ghost orchids. I knew Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who wrote the book on the Everglades, and I'm such a Florida boy I was just as tickled to meet Ricou Browning, who played The Creature From the Black Lagoon in a favorite childhood movie. ...