Florida Superlative

The Most-est of the Sunshine State


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Lightning Epicenter

Lightning Center of the US

Summer Storm

Summer Storm – Jonathan Dickinson State Park – Jupiter, Fl

 

Despite Florida’s claim to the sunshiniest location, it is also the nation’s hot spot of lightning strikes. According to NASA Florida’s geography, hydrology, and weather patterns combine to create the perfect conditions for more than 90 thunderstorm days a year. 90 thunderstorm days might not seem like a lot, but according to stats there are more lightning related deaths than ALL other weather related deaths combined.

Lightning, huh? More than tornados, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes (yes, there are earth quakes in Florida), freezes and hail – combined? When you break it down, the statistic makes sense. Despite Florida dangling precipitously into the Caribbean, the state does not experience high hurricane activity every year. We haven’t had a whopper in a while.  Tornados are more frequent than hurricanes, but the state has made great strides in early warnings systems and building codes that prevent fatalities. Floods are usually slow to build in the very flat terrain of Florida. While flash floods are possible, typically Floridian know the flood is coming days ahead of time. Earthquakes – well, yes we have them, but they minor and very infrequent. Freezes do happen at least once a year. They can be dangerous to people without proper housing and heating, especially the elderly and homeless. But, once again, the state does a good job in making shelter and resources available to mitigate danger. Hail – well, not usually killer to anything except your windshield and wildflowers.

When about 1/3 of the year is spent in the midst of a thunderstorm there is going to be a lot of lightning. In Florida lightning is not a few strikes here and there. Florida lightning in intense, frequent, and wide spread. A single thunderhead can prove hundreds of strikes. Thousands of strikes in 15 or 20 minutes. Between late May and September you can almost set your watch by the afternoon thunderstorms. As the gulf sea breeze clashes with the interior heating of the state thunderheads boil up and erupt into a red and purple Doppler radar mess.

Every day, in the afternoon between May and September Florida’s beaches, gulf courses, sports fields, sidewalks, pools, and parks are filled with people enjoying the best that Florida has to offer: her geography. Every year meteorologist plead with Floridians to be weather aware. Be cautious. Get out of the water if you hear thunder. Go inside. Seek shelter. Get off the golf course. Get off the roof!

Yet, Florida remains the lightning death epicenter. Are we uninformed? Inured? In denial? Obsessed with golf and the beach? Probably yes to all of the above. Electricity indiscriminately snaking out of the sky and using a human as the shortest path to its intended destination should serve as a tidy reminder. We are not true maters of our domain. Florida is inherently a dangerous place. Oh, sure we’ve mastered the heat and humidity with air conditioning. We mastered the mosquito with pesticides. We mastered the swamp with drainage and pavement. Lightning – not much we can do about that.   Florida is scary. There are prehistoric forces at work here. Alligators are a throw back to times in which people could be snacks more easily than they could be a foe. And lightning – that’s just a down right elemental force of nature that is to be respected and revered. Lightning keeps up us humble. Lightning keeps us honest. We might build air-conditioned condo palaces perched between a sandy paradise and watery destruction – but go ahead – take a stroll out to your Buick in the Villa Boca Vista wide, flat, parking lot with tower metal light posts during a rain storm. Sure, wear your golf cleats. Yes, by all means use the umbrella. Do it – let’s see who’s in charge.


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Oldest City

The Oldest City

St. Augustine is the nation’s oldest city, right? The Spanish explorer and Florida’s First Governor Pedro Menendez de Aviles disembarked from his ship in St. Augustine in 1565, set up camp, and the rest is history, as they say. But what about Jean Ribault, Rene Goulaine de Laudonnaie and Fort Caroline in 1562? Or maybe Mayport, which Ribault sailed passed on his way to the high bluff on which Fort Caroline sits? And what about Don Tristan de Luna y Arellano trotting around Pensacola in 1559? Of course all of these “earliest” settlements are European settlements. It seems as though in the race for the oldest Florida’s more 50 indigenous cultures encountered by Europeans simply don’t “count.”

St. Augustine is the nation’s oldest continuous settlement by Europeans. Fort Caroline, you lose out. De Laudonnaie and Ribault established their fort and hung around for a bit, but ultimately they pulled up stakes and headed elsewhere. The bluff remains but little else of the wooden fort. Pensacola, you too, are out of the running. Yes, indeed, La Ciudad de Cinco Banderas is indeed the nation’s oldest settlement, but fate did not favor longevity. Tristan de Luna’s settlement was decimated by a late summer hurricane, attacked by Panzacola Indians who did not welcome the Spanish incursion, suffered from a lack of supplies and sunken ships, and finally the settlement of over 1000 peoples gave up and relocated by 1561. In subsequent centuries Pensacola was ruled by Spanish, French, British, United States, and Confederate governments – hence the five flags. Though Pensacola cannot even claim the distinction of the most ‘banderas’ – Fernandina Beach boasts seven.

St. Augustine, settled in 1565, and continuously occupied by various governments and peoples henceforth, qualifies as the nation’s oldest European settlement. At times the population came perilously close to extinction. In 1702 the entire town population of about 1500 sought refuge in the Castillo San Marcos as the English bombarded its walls. The think coquina walls simply absorbed the cannon shot and little damage was done. The town’s people were under siege for two months in the Castillo, but the settlement remained intact thanks to a Spanish armada from Cuba. In 1740 James Oglethorpe, who settled Savannah Georgia, attacked St. Augustine. Once again the citizens took refuge in the Castillo, and once again the settlement was spared due to the think Coquina walls.

Today St. Augustine’s longevity is brisk business. It is perhaps the understatement of understatements to say that a lot has happened in St. Augustine. Much of what happened was day to day living. Some of what happened was note worthy – such as Henry Flagler’s establishment of resorts, railroads, and agriculture. Other of what happened had national impact – such as Civil Rights marches, wade-ins, sit-ins, swim-ins, and pray-ins that eventually pressured President Johnson into signing the Civil Rights Act. Most of what else that happened in St. Augustine in the last 100 years has been manufactured for entertainment and profit. The perpetuation of St. Augustine’s legacy as the Nation’s Oldest City has turned into a self-propelling machine.

Amid the clatter of celebration over Spanish settlement, confederate secession, Gilded Age excess, and modern tourism, the significance of St. Augustine as the oldest settlement is obscured. Spanish was spoken here before English. Greeks, Minorcans, French, British, Africans, Cubans, Spanish, Native Americans, Jesuits, and many more were citizens of St. Augustine at various points. Some claim the true first Thanksgiving happened here. St. Augustine used to be a very curious international settlement.

If you manage to escape the din of St. George street, stroll south of trolley lined King street, make your way beyond the Bed and Breakfasts and the National Guard Armory – and if you keep walking down into the low marshy neighborhood of Lincolnville you find a St. Augustine ‘older’ than todays’ iteration. The clatter of horse drawn carriages and mumbling trolley tours are replaced by neighbors cackling across porches, a lawn mower scuttling over twigs from a camphor tree, and you can even hear fiddler crabs snapping in the mud flats. The Lincolnville School lingers and languishes nearby. Churches seep parishioners into a humid afternoon.  Wedged into a side yard of an anonymous house is the supposed last remaining slave cabin in St. Augustine. The bright yellow house of Freedom Rider Henry “Hank” Thomas sits quietly behind a plaque announcing it as a location on St. Augustine’s Accord Freedom Trail http://www.accordfreedomtrail.org/ More than thirty sites dotted throughout the neighborhood comprise the trail which recognizes and honors St. Augustine’s role in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This is the nation’s oldest city. The city has been fraught with murder, revenge, racial strife, misogyny, and paternalism. But almost every city in the America deals with a similar history. Yet, in St. Augustine, and by proxy the nation’s longest of long civil rights movements, can be said to be located here. To marvel at the longevity of St. Augustine on the surface is quaint and entertaining (though many of those ‘old’ buildings are “modern” recreations). If we move beyond 500 year celebrations and accolades is a nations longest standing locus for European and international exchange. What we do with that history will speak far more to our future than carriage tours and cemetery ghosts.


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The Sunshiniest State

The Sunshiniest State

The Peach State, The Palmetto State, The Lone Star State, The Empire State. Each state has a nickname signifying identity and accomplishments. Florida’s moniker, The Sunshine State is arguably the most appropriate. By luck of geography, hydrology, and a refreshing sea breeze Florida is the sunniest state, according to the Guinness Book of World records. The City of St. Petersburg website still boast that in1967 Guinness declared the city as the sunniest after 768 consecutive days of sun.

In 1910 Lew Buford Brown, publisher of the St. Petersburg’s Evening Independent was so confident in Florida’s sunshiny-ness he offered his newspaper for free the day after the sun did not shine in downtown St. Pete. By 1986 when the Evening Independent ceased publication the newspaper had been given away for free on average only four times a year, and only twice for two consecutive days!

Florida’s claim to sunshine extends further than a marketing ploy for newspapers or world record publicity. After the Civil War the nation was set on expanding westward.   The manifest destiny of nation building spilled across a seemingly infinite landscape in which democracy and American perseverance could prevail.   But the landscape had its limits, mainly, the Pacific Ocean. Attention turned back east and to the South – to the other frontier: Florida, the land of flora and fauna – and sunshine. By 1870 northern settlers were relocating to Florida in search of fortune and good health. Warm salt air and abundant sunshine was believed to relieve a litany of ailments from arthritis and consumption to epilepsy and rheumatism.   The temperate climate and year round sun lured men to gamble their fortunes on exotic crops such as mangos, papayas, pineapples, citrus, and coconuts. Tiny settlements with striking names like Eden, Venus, Jupiter, and Juno sprang up along the Southeast coast. Life was rugged and solitary, but full of sunshine.

In the late 1890s Florida’s abundant sunshine changed the identity of the state forever. A hard-winter freeze struck nearly all of the peninsula and ruined crops as far south as modern Palm Beach County.   Miami’s tender orange blossoms were spared and that was all it took for land baron Henry Flagler to endeavor to extend his railroad and hotel empire as far south as possible. Lemon City, Miami, Key Largo, Marathon, and then finally Key West. Along his railroad Flagler built resort hotels that catered to wealthy northern tourists wanting an escape into Florida’s mysterious tropical clime.

Ponce De Leon

Hotel Ponce De Leon, St. Augustine – circa 1890s

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/24086

bellview Hotel

Belleview Biltmore Hotel, circa 1900

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/158033

Along Florida’s west coast Henry Plant built his railroad that serviced his hotels, including the white queen of the Gulf; the Belleview Biltmore, and the other worldly Moorish palace The Tampabay Hotel.

 

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 Tampa Bay Hotel, Tampa, circa 1900

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/41882

 

At last, Florida’s identity as a sun centered tourist enclave was built on the certainty that the sun would continue to shine, the waves would continue to break upon the shore, and would continue to escape from the baron reality of their lives.


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Longest Coastline in the 48 Contiguous United States

Florida – a factory of warmth, water, and sand.   To the upper 47 the beach is synonymous with Florida, which has nearly 2000 miles of oceanic and gulf coastline. Alaska has the most coastlines of all US states, but Florida outmuscles all others in the contiguous US. Florida has built its vacation destination reputation literally on the beach, yet less than a third of Florida’s coastline are beaches.

Tourists instinctually succumb to the lure of carpets of white sugar sand, dotted with bodies of infinite shape covered in clothing of equally varied appropriateness.   Tidal marshes and mangrove swamps offer little appeal to pasty out of towners who imagine they will return home looking like a bronzed Adonis in flip flop Crocs.

With names like The Emerald Coast, The Treasure Coast, and the Gold Coast who can deny locales like Mexico Beach, New Smyrna, and Venice their exotic charm? In addition to miles of sugar sand and shells, The Sunshine State boasts mangrove swamps, coquina formations, generous bluffs, pine flat estuaries, and tidal lagoons. Florida is a land on the edge.

Florida’s peninsular shape, dangling into the Caribbean, simultaneously offers opportunity and limitation. Florida is alpha and omega, beginning and end, finite infinity. Tampa, Miami, Key West and points between are the furthest you can be driven from past mistakes. But Florida is not the end of the line. Residents and visitors are surrounded by thousand of shoreline miles of infinite possibility. Over the undulating blue horizon there is the chance for fortune, passion, fame, or anonymity.

Where the land meets the sea, memory is fleeting. The lapping and crashing of every wave exchanges flotsam and jetsam.   Sands shift, impressions wash away. Northern transplants are often escaping from bad choices. Retirees chase perpetual warmth and leisure as far as their Buicks will take them.   The misunderstood can find redemption and reinvention of self.   Living on the edge of uncertainty enables Floridians to re-characterize themselves like a sand bar in a storm.   Florida is lassoed by undulating tidal uncertainty. Her coastal boundary cannot be conclusively mapped and recorded. Come to Florida, shift your assets, deemphasize your shortcomings, and become who you meant to be all those years ago. That salty seadog sipping a Cuba Libre next to you at the Leaky Tiki Shack will play along. The quirky couple living aboard the Why Knot at the city marina has as many secrets as you. The former Boston mergers and acquisitions attorney that now runs the Cupcake Corner understands the need to divest and diversify. In Florida, all things successful and ruinous are possible, probable, and temporary.  And there in lies the value of the longest coastline.

 

 


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University of Miami sells imperiled land for a Wal-mart

This is not a superlative, per se.  Unless one considers the University of Miami’s recent sale of 88 acres of imperiled rockland habitat to be the most nauseatingly irresponsible land sale since the 1920’s robber barons sold under water lots.  However, I am posting in hopes that others will join me in voicing their objections and concerns to the University of Miami. Here is a link to the Miami Herald story: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/07/12/4232296/walmart-planned-for-endangered.html Here is a gallery of critters, fauna, and vistas from the rockland http://www.paulmarcellini.com/search/?q=pine%20rocklands And here is my recent letter to the President of the University. University of Miami Attn: President Donna Shalala “THE UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI is deeply committed to reducing its impact on the environment.  Green U is the culmination of all efforts to increase sustainability throughout the University while educating the community to be stewards of the environment…Green U is helping the University of Miami grow greener every day.”   http://www.miami.edu/finance/index.php/green_u/who_we_are-1/ These words, from the University of Miami website are a hollow promise of stewardship in light of the University’s recent sale of 88 acres of rare rockland.  As reported in the Miami Herald, the “globally imperiled habitat…contain(s) a menagerie of plants, animals, and insects found no place else…”  As you are well aware, the plan for the imperiled land is a Walmart, Chick-Fil-A, LA Fitness Center, and about 900 Apartments. Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, Marjory Carr, Rachel Carson, May Mann Jennings, Abbie Brooks, Patrick Smith, Carlton Ward Jr., William Bartram, and Guy Bradley – this is a very short list of some of Florida’s greatest environmental stewards.  That the University of Miami deigns to consider itself environmentally qualified to stand shoulder to shoulder with these environmental crusaders is unforgiveable.  The sale of endangered rockland habitat in order to facilitate a big box/strip mall land grab permanently disqualifies the University of Miami from accurately and truthfully self-identifying as stewards of the environment. I urge the University to be honest with Floridians, its students, its stakeholders, and its self.  Cease and desist from your claims of environmental stewardship and your commitment to reducing impact on the environment.  Remove these claims from your web site and marketing.  Selling Miami’s disappearing rockland to be developed into Wal-mart, fast food, and housing does not sustain anything other than the University’s financial coffers.


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World’s Longest Sidewalk

Tampa is a curious place in a curious state.  Tampa like to let its hair down in creating ways.  Annually Tampa plays host to the Gasparilla Pirate Invasion in which the Mayor surrenders the city keys to bands of marauding lawyers, physicians, and bankers.  Despite the emphasis on pirates and being Florida’s left-coast’s biggest city and a popular the city has no gulf beach.  The city finds other ways to attract visitors and diversity is a big factor. In August of 2012 Tampa hosted both Republican National Convention and the Annual Fetish Convention.

One of the most interesting parts of Tampa is Ybor City.  Perhaps Tampa’s oldest and most diverse neighborhood, Ybor is an anomalous mix of Italians, Cubans, African Americans, Bahamians, and Southern whites.   Named for cigar magnate Vicente Ybor, in this tight knit neighborhood an international cadre of workers rolled cigars shoulder to shoulder long before the trouncing of Jim Crow.  Cigar factories, shotgun houses, and bakeries dotted the neighborhood.   Guava pastry, platanos maduros, gnocchi, collard greens, and rocket-powered shots of coffee were as common as socials at the Italian-American club.  Today the ethnic mix is preserved.  During the day the best moros y christianos can be found at Carmines.  Retired  men and a few women still solves the world’s problems over La Tropicana’s heavenly cafe Americanos.  At night Ybor is a hustle-bustle club scene, tinted with skantie women in teetering heels and precision shaved men jostling for time and space.  Artists, poets, dealers, hoodrats, NFL and MLB players, and even a lonely business moguls stroll 7th Avenues hex0block sidewalks, sidestepping whoever or whatever are in the doors and alleyways.  Not quite Miami, Atlanta, New Orleans, Havanna or the Moulan Rouge, Ybor AKA GaYbor is a world unto itself.

Yet, a mere boliche ball toss away from Ybor City is Hyde Park, a tony enclave of white gentrification and mass-market pseudo-sophistication.   Tightly stretched women and seer-suckered men parade dogs, cars, and children along the oak shaded avenues.  Quaintly eclectic restaurants serve mojitos muddled by subtly accented and sufficiently handsome waiters, while energetic valets ease six figure automobiles into gated parking spaces.  The residences of Hyde Park are some of Tampa’s oldest and finest examples of urban design.  A mixture of Southern bungalow, plantation mansion, and Mediterranean villa, the neighborhood offers some of the best driving and peeping on the other 1%.  Hyde Park’s urban chic seeps out into the public along Bayshore Boulevard, an almost 5 mile stretch of the best architecture money can’t buy.

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Bayshore Boulevard from the Air and City Skyline – Tampa, Florida State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/163570

Despite imposing houses and obsessively manicured lawns the real fame of Bayshore Boulevard is not in it occupants, but in its infrastructure.  It’s sidewalk and balustrade to be exact.  Tampa touts Bayshore Boulevard’s four and a half mile sidewalk as the longest continuous sidewalk in the world.   Paved on the bayside of the boulevard and framed by Moorish column railings the Bayshore Boulevard sidewalk is a haven for joggers, walkers, cyclists, and curiosity seekers. That’s right.  The sidewalk-a paved conveyance-is an actual tourist destination.  Ah, only in Florida, right?

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State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/131821

Casual dismissal ignores Florida’s long history of creating tourism opportunities out of the mere luck of waking up in a tropical latitude. Florida took full advantage of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s depression era alphabet soup of recovery programs. Florida’s famed Key West was brought back from the brink of certain extinction by a concerted effort by FERA, CCC, and WPA workers.  Roads were rebuilt, the infrastructure was repaired, murals were painted, and guidebooks were written.  In one year Key West’s tourism trade increased by more than 400%. Today, it is commonplace to see bridges, roads, and sidewalk that were built by the FDR’s relief efforts. Parks were established, beaches were nourished, and Florida was advertised as a destination away from the terrors of the depression.

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FERA Workers laying bricks and patchwork on the Bayshore Boulevard – Tampa, Florida.

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/151724

Today, boasting of the world’s longest continuous sidewalk may seem a lackluster claim.  After all, it’s just a lot of divided concrete slabs.  Beneath those slabs is the idea that hard work and community building can flourish into unimagined and enduring value.  More than the longest sidewalk, Bayshore Boulevard was 4 ½ miles of rent, groceries and pride for depression era men.  Was it folly to build a 4 ½ mile sidewalk to essentially nowhere?  Perhaps, but is it not the foolish, the superfluous, and the ancillary that transforms merely existing into living in paradise.


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Florida Superlatives – The foundation of Sunshine State lore is built on the oldest, last, first, smallest, biggest, longest, shortest,  Southern-most, or just plain most. In a land in which a talking mouse, a grinning alligator, and square grouper are a reality and the fantastical is commonplace, an emphasis on the superlative seems inconsequential. Maybe Florida’s obsession with superior superlatives runs deeper than the Devil’s Mill Hopper and longer than the Seven Mile Bridge.  I will try my superlative best to find out and publish inconsistently periodic updates on my findings.