October 17, 2014

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.

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.