Whip Cracking Demonstration—L.K. Edwards, Junior

Fredric Remington introduced Americans to the “Florida Cracker” cowboy in the August 1895 issue of Harper’s Magazine. Remington sketched and wrote about the fiercely independent breed of Florida cattlemen, who herded cattle and battled rustlers along the frontier. For Remington and many of his contemporaries, the Florida they knew resembled a frontier as much as any region of the United States in the late 19th century. The term “cracker” derives from the sound created by the popping of a bull whip. Florida crackers carried whips and used them, along with dogs, to herd cattle on Florida’s wet prairies and scrublands. In this recording, L.K. Edwards, Junior, a third-generation cattleman from Marion County, Florida, demonstrates whip cracking at the 1956 Florida Folk Festival in White Springs. According to Edwards, buckskin “tanned by the Indians” and maintained with oil rendered from cows’ feet made for the best bull whip. He discusses the different sizes, materials and construction styles used to make bull whips, which constitute a long-standing folk art and tradition among Florida cattlemen.

Coffins Stacked Along the Bank of a Canal After the Hurricane of 1928, Belle Glade, Florida

Just two days before the second anniversary of the Great Miami Hurricane that wreaked havoc in South Florida, another powerful storm made landfall in the state. The Category 4 hurricane caused at least 1,500 deaths in the Caribbean before making landfall in Palm Beach County on September 16, 1928. The storm resulted in an estimated $25 million in damage along Florida’s Atlantic Coast, from Fort Pierce to Boca Raton. The greatest damage occurred inland, however, especially along the southern shore of Lake Okeechobee. As the hurricane passed over the large, shallow lake, intense winds pushed a wave of water over hastily-built farming communities. So devastating was the impact of the storm in this region that it became known as the Lake Okeechobee Hurricane. The destruction can largely be attributed to the drainage of the Everglades and its effects. In the decades before the storm, the state of Florida drained thousands of acres of wetlands in the northern Everglades. Commercial farming operations were established on the reclaimed land, and truckloads of migrant laborers were brought in to work the farms. Shoddily constructed homes and buildings accompanied the agricultural boom. These shortcomings were exposed during the hurricane of 1928. Estimates of the loss of life in the Lake Okeechobee region range from 1,800 to 3,500 people; at least 1,600 are buried in the Port Mayaca Cemetery alone. Because of the remoteness of the devastated area and the scope of the destruction, the true number of casualties will never be known. After touring the region after the hurricane, President Herbert Hoover initiated a project to build a massive levee to surround the lower half of Lake Okeechobee. The result was the Herbert Hoover Dike, measuring 85 miles (136.79 kilometers) long and 36 feet (10.97 meters) high. The dike held up during subsequent hurricanes in the 1940s.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas World War I Service Card

Marjory Stoneman Douglas, best known as an environmentalist and author of The River of Grass (1947), served in the United States Navy during World War I, from April 1917 to May 1918. Frank Bryant Stoneman, Marjory’s father and editor-in-chief of the Miami Herald, sent his daughter to cover the story of the first woman in the Miami area to enlist in the armed forces during World War I. Douglas was the first to arrive at the recruiting office, and became the very woman she was sent to report on. She later joined the Red Cross and traveled to Europe after the Great War. Upon returning to the United States, she became an accomplished author and a tireless proponent of environmental protection. Marjory Stoneman Douglas died in 1998 at the age of 108. Presented here is Douglas’s World War I service card. It indicates that she served for 319 days at the rank of Yeoman 1st Class, after which she was promoted to Chief Yeoman, the rank at which she was discharged.

Wakulla Springs Glass-Bottom Boat Tour Chant by Luke Smith

The sound recording presented here features a chant recited by Luke Smith at the 1981 Florida Folk Festival in White Springs, Florida. Smith, a longtime guide on the Wakulla River, sings about the underwater environment and summons fish to the boat. His chant is reminiscent of African-American spirituals and field hollers common throughout the Deep South of the United States. Alligators, snakes, rare birds, and native exoticism are part of Florida’s tourism industry. Narrated boat tours at sites such as Wakulla Springs State Park, located at the spring south of Tallahassee that gives rise to the Wakulla River, offer visitors the chance to experience all of these things and more under the guidance of knowledgeable guides. Such boat tours have been a long-standing part of Florida attractions, at Wakulla Springs, Silver Springs, Homosassa Springs, and Rainbow Springs, among others. Since the late 1800s, guides at Wakulla Spring have related folktales and described the flora and fauna as they rowed visitors up and down the river. Businessman Edward Ball built a lodge at Wakulla Springs in the 1930s, and as Wakulla Springs established itself as an attractive location for tourists and filmmakers, the guides were provided larger watercraft and regular employment. Right up through recent history, descendants of the first boatmen at Wakulla Springs have followed in the footsteps of their forefathers, and their chants, jokes, and stories have been passed down through the generations.

Waters of Destiny

The systematic drainage of the Florida Everglades began in earnest in 1905. Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, then Florida’s governor, committed significant state funds and solicited federal assistance in order to reclaim from underutilization the vast swamplands south of Lake Okeechobee. The ultimate goal of the Everglades reclamation was to access rich “muck” soil, covered in many areas by a thin layer of freshwater. Muck soil consisted of thousands of years of organic material accumulated on top of limestone bedrock. The muck made for ready and productive topsoil, but was quickly depleted once subjected to intensive farming. Also, when dried out by the hot Florida sun, the muck could catch fire. Over-farming and fire combined to greatly reduce the extent of muck soil in the decades after drainage began. Once the muck was gone, large-scale commercial farming operations relied heavily on fertilizers that polluted the environment. In addition, the drainage required to expose the muck significantly altered the landscape and ecology of southern Florida. Canals lowered the water table and inhibited the natural flow of the Everglades itself. Wildlife populations faced habitat loss and declined across the region as a result of drainage infrastructure projects. This film, Waters of Destiny, exhibits the typical portrayal of water-management projects before their full environmental impacts became known. The narrator refers to the efforts of the Central and South Florida Flood Control District and the Army Corps of Engineers as exhibiting “mastery [over water] by the determined hand of man.” The film, produced in the 1950s, contains excellent footage of all aspects of the drainage-infrastructure construction process and provides insight into changes in thinking about the science of water management since the mid-20th century.

Ringling Circus Clown Emmett Kelly in Sarasota, Florida

Emmett Kelly (1898−1979), pictured here, portrayed the melancholy hobo-clown Weary Willie for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for more than a decade. His act differed from that of the typical jovial clown and made Weary Willie one of the most memorable components of the Ringling Brothers show. The Ringling Brothers built the show from humble beginnings in Baraboo, Wisconsin, into the largest and best-known American circus. They began their ascent in show business in 1884 when they combined with the Yankee Robinson circus. The following year the Ringlings bought out Yankee Robinson and became sole proprietors of the traveling show. The Ringling Brothers quickly acquired smaller circus shows and sought out the top performers from around the world. In 1919, the Ringlings merged their two largest ventures—Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey—into a single, combined circus, the “Greatest Show on Earth.” In 1927, the circus moved its winter quarters from Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Sarasota, Florida. Members of the Ringling family had wintered in Sarasota since 1911. This photograph, taken in 1947, is by Joseph Janney Steinmetz, a world-renowned commercial photographer whose images appeared in such publications as the Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look, Time, Holiday, Collier's, and Town & Country. His work has been referred to as "an American social history," which documented diverse scenes of American life. Steinmetz moved from Philadelphia to Sarasota in 1941.

Killing Time

Highways to the southern states of the United States opened up during the second decade of the 20th century, allowing men and women from around the country to see the unique sites of Florida's interior, away from the cities on the east and west coasts. After the completion of the highway from Montreal to Miami in 1915, the number of automobile tourists increased dramatically. The original “tin can tourists” of the 1920s pioneered camper travel, and the practice became ever more popular after World War II, as young families as well as with increasingly mobile retirees journeyed south. Trailer parks developed to cater to these new visitors who brought their accommodations with them. Likewise, roadside attractions and amusement parks developed facilities to meet the needs of campers and trailers. The Tin Can Tourists of the World, an organization of camping and trailering enthusiasts, was founded at a Tampa, Florida, campground in 1919. Its goals were to provide its members with safe and clean camping areas, wholesome entertainment, and high moral values. This image of John and Lizzie Wilson and their trailer in Bradenton, Florida, in 1951 shows an example of post-World War II tin can tourists. The sign at the back of the trailer identifies the Wilsons as from Boston, Massachusetts. The photograph is by Joseph Janney Steinmetz, a world-renowned commercial photographer whose images appeared in such publications as the Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look, Time, Holiday, Collier's, and Town & Country. His work has been referred to as "an American social history," which documented diverse scenes of American life. Steinmetz moved from Philadelphia to Sarasota, Florida, in 1941.

Rescue Train Swept off the Tracks by the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane

On September 2, 1935, a powerful hurricane slammed into the middle Florida Keys. Known as the Labor Day Hurricane, it was the first Category 5 storm to strike the United States in recorded history. The hurricane claimed at least 485 lives, including about 260 World War I veterans working on a section of the Overseas Highway in a federal relief project. The veterans came from the ranks of the Bonus Army, a group of soldiers who camped at the steps of the U.S. Capitol in the early 1930s to demand compensation promised by the federal government, and who on July 28, 1932 were dispersed by U.S. Army troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. Some of the veterans later were given relief jobs by the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt through the Works Progress Administration. On the day of the storm, officials sent a train to evacuate the men, but it failed to reach the camps located on Lower Matecumbe Key. This image is an aerial view of the ill-fated rescue train taken three days after the storm. High winds and an estimated 18 feet (5.49 meters) of storm surge swept the train off the tracks. Author Ernest Hemingway, then a resident of Key West, captured public outrage about the episode in an essay entitled “Who Murdered the Vets?” published just days after the hurricane. A government inquiry investigated both the mishandling of the evacuation and the shortcomings of forecasting work done by the Weather Bureau in the days leading up to the storm’s landfall. The official judgment ultimately assigned blame in both instances to nature, rather than to human error. Following the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, the Weather Bureau established additional monitoring stations in southern Florida and took steps to improve disaster preparedness in vulnerable coastal areas. The Labor Day Hurricane still ranks as one of the most powerful storms ever to make landfall in the United States, but it likely will be remembered mainly as the tragic conclusion to the story of the Bonus Army.

Devastation in Miami from the 1926 Hurricane

Florida, especially the southeastern portion of the state, experienced rapid growth in the early 20th century. The land boom of the 1920s brought thousands of new residents and ushered in a period of unprecedented construction. The prosperity initiated by the arrival of the Plant and Flagler railroads and prolonged by endless boosterism came to a screeching halt in mid-September 1926. A catastrophic hurricane made landfall near Miami Beach in the early morning hours of September 18, 1926. Known as the Great Miami Hurricane, the storm cut a path of destruction across southern Florida. With winds in excess of 150 miles (241 kilometers) per hour and storm surge heights topping 11 feet (3.35 meters) above mean high tide, the hurricane left its mark from South Beach to Moore Haven on Lake Okeechobee, and on to the Tampa Bay area. The northern Gulf coast also experienced the wrath of the storm, which made a second landfall near Gulf Shores, Alabama, and dumped more than eight inches (20 centimeters) of rain on an area extending from Pensacola, Florida, to southern Louisiana. Weather Bureau officials were unprepared for the swift-moving hurricane, which betrayed few telltale signs of a major storm before slamming into South Florida. The citizens of Miami and the surrounding communities were equally surprised by the rapid advance of the storm. The devastation left in the wake of the hurricane prompted one Weather Bureau official to call the storm the “most destructive in the history of the United States.” Officials estimated the storm destroyed 4,700 homes in South Florida and left 25,000 people without shelter. The Red Cross reported that 372 people lost their lives and more than 6,000 people were injured in the storm. The long-term impact of the Great Miami Hurricane became apparent in the months and years to come as the real estate bubble burst and Florida plunged into an economic depression some three years in advance of the rest of the nation.

A Grant of Indian Territory from the Upper Creek Indians as also the Lower Creeks and Seminoles to Colonel Thomas Brown Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern District of North America

This document is an enclosure originally submitted by Henry Lee IV to Florida territorial judge Augustus Brevoort Woodward in September 1824. Lee sought Woodward’s assistance in securing claim to property purchased by his father, General Henry Lee, from Thomas Brown in 1817. On March 1, 1783, several “Kings and Warriors” representing Upper Creek, Lower Creek, and Seminole towns affixed their names and family marks to a document granting Thomas Brown, a British superintendent of Indian affairs, substantial territory west of Saint Augustine in what was then British East Florida. Brown had come to North America from England in 1774 to establish a plantation in the Georgia backcountry. He remained loyal to the British government during the Revolutionary War and led a mounted patrol, known as the King’s Rangers, in raids against the Americans along the southern frontier. Brown gained the support and assistance of several Creek and Seminole Indian leaders, who provided warriors to fight their mutual enemy, the Americans. In return, Brown kept their towns well-armed and provisioned. As the war neared its end in 1783, Brown and his men retreated to Florida. Sometime prior to March 1, a delegation representing Creek and Seminole towns visited Saint Augustine and met with Brown and other British officials. The land grant included here resulted from this meeting. The Indian delegation honored their “father and friend” for leading them into battle against the Americans, with a grant of land extending from the Amajura River, now known as the Withlacoochee, to the Saint Johns River. This document is a copy of the original, made on June 20, 1820, while Brown was living on Saint Vincent in the Caribbean. This document contains rare illustrations of southeastern Indian clan symbols. Many southeastern Native Americans practiced a form of social organization based on matrilineal clans, wherein they traced their lineages through their mothers’ families and were born into the same clan as their mothers. The symbols in this document represent several different clans. Some can be identified from their resemblance to known animals—such as alligator and bird—while others cannot. Clan names referred to mythical ancestors and often took the form of animals, plants, or forces of nature. Dozens of clans existed among the Creeks and Seminoles at the time this document was created. Also included on the document are titles belonging to leading men from Creek and Seminole towns. High-ranking men carried a war or diplomatic title and identified themselves with a town. For example Tallassee Mico was a Mico, or leading man, from the town of Tallassee.