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Hot time in the old town

Published Oct. 9, 2005

Ninety-five years ago today, Tampa began returning to normal as Maj. Gen. William R. Shafter's 17,000-man V Corps (including the horseless Rough Riders) set sail from Port Tampa to do battle in Cuba. Six days later, troops would row ashore on Daiquiri Beach near Santiago and the ground fighting of the Spanish-American War would begin. So ended what Army chief Gen. Nelson Miles called "the chaos of Tampa," and what war correspondent Richard Harding Davis labeled "the rocking chair period of the war." Tampa's role in the war was short, but it put the area in the world's spotlight for the first time. It had been, in the words of the keynote song of the period, "a hot time in the old town tonight."

View of downtown

The first glimpse, and definitely the first moving glimpse, many people got of the Tampa Bay area came from the motion picture footage shot during the army's "hurry up and wait" two months of 1898 while supplies, troops and shipping were assembled here. A recently made video, The Splendid Little War, includes scenes from the verandah of the Tampa Bay Hotel (the University of Tampa's Plant Hall), ships being loaded at Port Tampa, cavalrymen learning to handle horses amid the Florida scrub, troops amusing themselves by tossing an unfortunate colleague in a blanket with Tampa pine trees in the background. The hotel's saloon even gets a mention. This entertaining 55-minute look at one of America's most popular wars is available from Belle Grove Publishing Co., P.O. Box 483, Kearny, N.J. 07032 ($29.95 plus $3.50 shipping).

Q What did the Army learn from its stay in Tampa during what was then called the War with Spain?

The week that was

It's 1955 (and the Cold War is quite chilly): More than 8,000 women and children, the families from MacDill Air Force Base, leave the base by car and caravan to Sunshine Park in Oldsmar as part of a Civil Defense test. Each family is told to take an evacuation kit of canned goods, first aid unit, water and a picnic lunch on the 15-mile trek. Only hours before, two mysterious blasts destroy an elevator and money room at the horse race track. There are no injuries. In St. Petersburg, Cuyahoga Wrecking Co. gets ready to demolish the La Plaza Theater, built in 1912-13 by George S. Gandy Sr. Down the street at the Pheil Theater, however, Walt Disney's Davy Crockett opens. Maas Brothers advertises "official" Davy Crockett moccasin for $3.95 (sizes 3 to 12) and at Carson's you get a free ticket to see the movie when you buy a pair of Davy Crockett boots (with elk vamp, cuffs and backstrap; reindeer leather fringe).

The week that is

Today: Flag Day. Tuesday: If you're one of those folks who make quarterly estimated federal income tax payments, one of the payments is due today. Wednesday: On this day in 1987, the last dusky seaside sparrow (named Orange Band, age 12) died at Walt Disney World. Orange Band was the last survivor of a species that called a 10-mile stretch of marshland near Titusville home. Thursday: Three-day Suwannee River Gospel Jubilee gets under way near Live Oak. Friday: Ten years ago, Dr. Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. Saturday: Garfield the cat turns 15. Sunday: Space shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to begin an eight-day mission. And it's Father's Day.

Compiled by Robin Mitchell.

Credits: Chase's Annual Events and Times library assistant Mary Mellstrom.


The Sinews of War, the army's own history of logistics (the art and science of moving and supplying soldiers) blasted the choice of Tampa as an assembly and embarkation point. Though it was the closest port to Cuba and Ybor City had been at the heart of the Cuban liberation movement, Tampa was simply not set up for such a vast operation. Competing railroads blamed each other and the army for inadequate lines, poor wharf facilities meant stevedores manually carrying vast quantities of supplies from rail to ship, artillery pieces getting mired in the sand and troops languishing in the holds of ships in Tampa Bay for as long as a week while waiting for the rest of the fleet to get ready. It was a mess. Says Sinews: "Soon all semblance of orderly assignment to vessels and punctual marching of units to their assigned places disappeared, and it seemed to be a case of every unit for itself."