Tag Archives: Florida history

Florida Man

Is Tim Dorsey the literary incarnation of Florida Man?

Tim Dorsey’s latest addition to the Serge Storms saga, Naked Came the Florida Man, takes on the challenge of uncovering a Florida that few readers – or writers – know well. He offers a loony look at a momentous hurricane, a tour of unusual cemeteries, as well as some sobering moments at a mass grave in Palm Beach County where the remains of African Americans killed by an earlier hurricane are buried. He pays homage to the that great icon of Florida culture – Flipper the dolphin. He makes us feel the threat and horror of the sugar cane fields and of those buried beneath – victims, perhaps, of the boogeyman who haunted those fields. Was he just a figment of local children’s imagination, or is he with us even today, the fabled Florida Man just waiting to strike?

Tim Dorsey


If you like zany mysteries, you’d better latch onto this one and see how Serge investigates a particularly weird case. Seeming like a nutcase is part of Serge’s skill set, and he employs it with unexpected results.

Readers will appreciate the 1960s nostalgia that winds through the book, and they will be imaginatively following that gold ’69 Plymouth Satellite that caries Serge and his buddy Coleman forward and backward in time and space. Along the way he pays homage to Florida writer Zora Neale Hurston and her influence on Georgia writer Alice Walker.

The author, a Tampa resident, starts Serge’s magical mystery tour in Key West and gets his heroes and their imaginary followers up to Pahokee and beyond. He’ll keep you smiling and also scratching your head.

Join the fun. Look out for those sections labeled “Four Years Earlier” and don’t trip over the changes of direction.

The entire article, as it appears in the March – April 2020 Fort Myers Magazine, includes an extended Q & A section and some Dorsey biography.

You can get there by clicking on Florida Man


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A clever, clear-eyed look at a community driven by wealth and all it can buy

 Palm Beach, Mar-a-Lago, and the Rise of America’s Xanado, by Les Standiford. Atlantic Monthly Press. 288 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

In the history of the United States, many communities have vied for the top rung on the ladder of exclusivity and attraction. Most cultural historians have declared Palm Beach the winner. Les Standiford’s delightful book tells us why, exploring the lives and contributions of the town’s creators and major residents.

Les Standiford

They are story-book names, people with a kind of royalty (and sometimes married to royalty). The island, sitting as it does been Lake Worth and the Atlantic Ocean, was not an easy place to reach until a major entrepreneur determined to make it so.

That man, Henry Flagler, saw the promise of what wasn’t much more than a swamp. Mr. Standiford gives Flagler the lion’s share of credit for being a visionary a man who put his money and mouth together to promote one notion of an ideal community for the super-rich.

The initial problem was getting there, and as a railroad entrepreneur, Flagler got it done.

It wasn’t easy getting far south from Jacksonville and St. Augustine, but his railway made it happen, later extending access to the bottom of the peninsular – Key West and its sibling keys. Of course, the big picture of how Flagler opened the state’s east coast includes Miami as well.

In leading up to and through Flagler’s genius, the author takes note of the displaced indigenous tribes and reminds us that Flagler was a former partner of John D. Rockefeller. He sketches the rivalry and intermingling of the Gilded Age front runners, knitting together those already mentioned with the Vanderbilts, the Astors, the Carnegies, and the rest of the wealth constellation. 

These people, sometimes rivals and sometimes partners, needed southern climes to call their own. Flagler knew where and how to lead them.

As if practicing for his virtual founding of Palm Beach, Flagler built in St. Augustine the 450-room Hotel Ponce de Leon and a nearby home named Kirkside.

As the 1890s turned into the 20th century, Flagler more and more focused on being a developer, eventually acquiring two million acres of Florida land via a land grant act and other means. And he kept pushing south, building several estates and hotels. Standiford names and describes them all, and then the torrent of Flagler wannabes takes hold. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the December 11, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Venice editions. and the December 19 PalmBeach edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Palm Beach

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Florida, families, and fruit trees anchor a dazzling fiction set in the early 1960s

Goldens Are Here, by Andrew Furman. Green Writers Press. 364 pages. Trade paperback $21.95.

There are so many strands and points of interest in this fine, highly original novel that it’s hard to know where to begin. In the background is the Cuban Missile Crisis, the blooming (technically and economically) of Florida’s Space Coast, and the Civil Rights struggle. In the foreground is the Florida citrus industry in the early 1960s as represented by a body of small grove owners along or near the Indian River.  

In these communities, the white folks own the groves and the black folks perform much of the labor. Race relations are in an uneasy truce, a tangle of old habits and shaky dependencies. A great freeze threatens to destroy the groves, even if insects don’t.

The central character, Isaac Golden, has abandoned his career as a physician and set out on a grand adventure with his wife Melody and their two young children – Sarah and Eli. Moving away from the Philadelphia area, where their Jewish identity was readily reinforced, they have settled in a small town with only one other Jewish family and a considerable ride to Jewish institutions. The Goldens are clearly outsiders, and the way they are addressed by many of the townspeople carries a brand of politeness that barely veils a cultural tradition of anti-Semitism.

Professor Andrew Furman
Credit Benjamin Rusnak

Prof. Furman portrays how Isaac and Melody deal with their displacement and discomfort with skill and sensitivity.

The story of Isaac’s attempt to develop improved breeds of oranges becomes a continuing lesson in citrus science. Prof. Furman provides a large specialized vocabulary that is the basis for reader understanding of Isaac’s mission and of the industry he has entered. This material and the extensive exposition should fall flat, but somehow the author makes it sing. He does this by capturing Isaac’s poetic passion, especially his interest in avoiding chemical pesticides and employing means of protecting his groves using natural, nontoxic agents.

Well, he is spending more money than he is likely to make. Melody develops a roadside business selling from her vegetable garden, from the groves, and from the kitchen – her wonderful pies add much-needed income to the Goldens’ enterprise. . . .

To see the entire review, as it appears in the August 22, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 23 Naples, Bonita Spring, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Goldens Are Here


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Portraits of shakers and makers whose efforts shaped today’s Florida

Florida Made, by George S. LeMieux and Laura E. Mize. The History Press. 284 pages. Trade paperback $21.99.

Made elegant being printed on glossy paper, which makes the illustrations stand out, this is a must-have book for Floridians who love their state and want to brag about it. It will also bring pleasure to readers who love history and enjoy seeing how the present attributes of an area grow out of the creative genius and hard work of far-sighted individuals. Written in an attractive, engaging prose style, it will make a fine addition to any Florida library. It’s also a good choice for gift-giving.  

The essays touch some common themes, but they are essentially independent. Readers can choose their own pace regarding whether to read a chapter at a time or move along through four or five before taking a break.

Many of the names will be familiar and thus expected. Yet even when reviewing the profiles of Walt Disney and Margery Stoneman Douglass, most readers will encounter information they didn’t have before. Florida Made is a user-friendly way of absorbing Florida history and learning how especially talented and dedicated individuals make game-changing contributions.

Mize and LeMieux

Some of the individuals are important because they launched something that gave the state an important new dimension. Ted Arison’s contributions to building the cruise ship industry allowed Florida’s ports to blossom and to make Florida not only a destination but also a gateway to countless other destinations. Now, it’s hard to think about Florida without thinking about the opportunities for pleasurable travel abroad.

Wayne Huizenga succeeded in many businesses (Waste Management, for example), before becoming involved with sports franchises, boosting Florida’s number of professional sporting teams and sporting events and helping brand Florida as a major sports capital. . . .

To enjoy the entire review, as it appears in the June 13, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 14 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Florida Made

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Compendium of Florida facts and follies links the loony, lousy and laughable

Oh, Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country, by Craig Pittman. St. Martin’s Press. 336 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

Already a New York Times best-seller, this book belongs in every Florida home. No, it’s not a hurricane survival guide, rather it’s a rambling encyclopedia of Florida freakiness. It reminds us of what we have been surviving while warning others to enter at their own risk. Craig Pittman is the literary entrepreneur of what’s odd – and yet often trendsetting – about our populous state with the seemingly endless coastline. It’s local color with a laugh and a blush.  ohflorida

Mr. Pittman presents his learning, lore, and laughs in eighteen friendly chapters, perhaps to make us think we are strolling along on a Florida golf course. Having established a central focus for each chapter, he generally stays in bounds even while addressing Florida hazards. Every now and then, Craig Pittman does need to take an extra stroke penalty.

There’s something called “school of beauties” criticism, not very well respected, in which the critic simply oohs and aahs and quotes passages. I’m tempted to go there, but then I wouldn’t know how or when to stop. Readers will find their own favorite passages in this delightful romp. So, here are some of the themes and categories:

Florida is, and has been forever, a land of hucksters. Think swampland, think Cape Coral, think rum-running, think of a rainy, often overcast state that named itself the Sunshine State.

Craig Pittman - Photo byCherie Diez

Craig Pittman – Photo by Cherie Diez

Florida is a land of “surface flash” that leads people to overlook truly interesting architecture. Why stand gaga in front of Cinderella’s Castle when you can find ten Frank Lloyd Wright buildings on the Lakeland campus of Florida Southern College?

Florida is the land of mermaids and manatees, alligators and armadillos. That’s enough freakiness for one state. But we have more. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the October 5, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 6 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Pittman

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Going fishing: it’s far more work than play

A Pioneer Son at Sea: Fishing Tales of Old Florida, by Gilbert L. Voss, edited by Robert S. Voss. University Press of Florida. 200 pages. Hardcover $19.95.

This unexpected gem, a project which had been abandoned for over two decades, sheds a bright, multi-colored light on the southeastern Florida fishing industry during the 1930s and 1940s. The author, Professor of Biological Oceanography at the University of Miami and mainstay of its Marine Laboratory, had prepared it for publication shortly before his death in 1989. However, the time wasn’t right and it ended up in a drawer where it sat until quite recently.  Pioneer_Son_at_Sea_RGB

Fortunately, the author’s son decided to breathe new life into the project and quickly found success. We are all the beneficiaries of the publisher’s wisdom and of Robert S. Voss’s industry, determination, and final preparation of the book. Rob Voss’s chapter introductions, foreword, and afterword create an extremely useful historical and scientific context for his father’s reminiscences, which are in themselves finely crafted narratives of his early adult years – years working the region’s fisheries in the hopes of making a living in that trade.

Gil Voss’s good-natured tales capture a world already long vanished. He presents a Florida that he knew long before its paving over, population boom, and excessive exploitation of natural resources. If you want to learn about the various fisheries, this is the book. If you want the inside story of a fisherman’s life, this is the place. If you want to understand the passions that drive someone willing to toil for bare subsistence in the chaotic fishing economy, open this book.

It’s not as simple as casting nets and drawing them in. It’s knowing the right net for the fish and the fishery, how to make and repair the nets, and how to use them efficiently. These are not simple matters, as the authoritative and colorful details make clear.

Gil Voss with squid

Gil Voss with squid

The sponge business receives the same kind of vivid discussion

Gil Voss grew up here, in Lantana. The first thirty years of his life were informed by his direct experience with the Old Florida life that his parents lived, that Gil came to understand and cherish, and that he watched change and fade – if not totally fade away.

His memories of working friendships with colorful characters, told through vivid conversations set on boats and in bars, capture the humor necessary to survive a rough, demanding livelihood. He details the international flavor of the fishing communities. Bahamians, Greeks, and even transplanted New Jersey folks (!) all with their special ways of doing business and relating to those around them. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the August 3, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 4 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Voss

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Exciting new book brings Marco Island to your coffee table

Marco Island: Florida’s Gulf Playground, by Michael Coleman. Marco Island Ink. 110 pages. $25.00.

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the “new” Marco Island, Michael Coleman has assembled an attractive volume that blends history, colorful personalities, the island’s many attractions, and a generous assortment of color photographs illustrating the natural and manmade beauties of the place named by TripAdvisor as the number one U. S. island travel destination.  FrontCoverImage-1

A foreword by Herbert Rosser Savage, the distinguished architect of many of Marco’s private homes and public buildings as well as the Marco Beach Hotel (refashioned as today’s Marriot), sets the book’s buoyant tone  and previews some of its key stories. Mr. Colman’s own prefatory note provides brief biographical notes on his contributors and offers thanks to many others, include the Marco Island Historical Society, for making the book possible. His overview whets the appetite for the essays to come.

Readers will enjoy learning about the native Calusa Indians, the Spanish settlers vanquished by diseases, and Marco’s early development in the last half of the eighteenth century. William Thomas (W. T.) Collier, known as the founder of Marco Island, settled there in 1870 with his wife and young children. This Collier (no relation to the Barron Gift Colliers) was a successful entrepreneur. He farmed, opened a hotel, helped start the first school, and invented a clam-dredging machine that launched a successful industry. For a short while, the island was named Collier City in his honor.

Just as interesting are the vignettes about Tommie Barfield, who successfully lobbied for better roads and schools in the area and worked with Barron Gift Collier, the major landholder, to split off huge Collier County from Lee County. She was a dynamic, forceful woman who received the governor’s appointment to be the new county’s first Superintendent of Public Instruction.

MIchael Coleman

MIchael Coleman

Remember that we are talking about a mosquito-infested frontier whose pioneers needed great resolve. The doctors Louis and Mary Olds were among those pioneers. A delicious chapter of the book is Betsy Perdichizzi’s incorporation of sections from Mary’s diary and letters into a fascinating narrative of early twentieth century Marco life. Mary’s poetic wonder at the area’s natural beauty leaves us wanting more.

The big story, of course, is the Mackle Brothers’ dream of a tropical residential wonderland. This experienced team of developers was smitten with the possibilities of a spectacular island community with affordable residential sections, mostly on canals; hotels and other resort amenities; and spectacular beaches. They aimed not at vacationers, but rather at retirees.

The scale of the proposed enterprise demanded extensive infrastructure work.

The brothers advertised widely and well, and they received a lot of interest across the nation. Magazines and newspapers ran feature stories about the mecca-in-the-making. Models were build and a five-phase plan developed. People were ready to purchase. And they did. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 1, 2015 Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Marco

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Penniman’s history rides out the storms over natural resource management

Nature’s Steward: A History of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, by Nick Penniman. Pineapple Press. 368 pages. Hardcover $24.95.

This is a book that should be in the library of every citizen and devotee of Southwest Florida. Each public and institutional library in the state should have several copies. Anyone interested in the interplay of environmental science, conservation advocacy, environmental education, and the politics surrounding natural resource protection and managed growth must read it.  PennimanCover

Is it easy reading? No. The issues at hand cannot be reduced to light fare. Yet “Nature’s Steward” is immensely engaging, charged by the author’s expertise, patient exposition, and passion for his subject. What makes reading it even more difficult is discovering how limited success has been over several generations. What makes it heartwarming is that matters could have turned out much worse, and that we are on the edge of accepting and acting sensibly on the hard truths that Mr. Penniman presents.

As Nick Penniman points out in various ways, effective policy making (let’s not yet thing about implementation) involves the constructive interaction of various levels of government, the activities of nonprofit groups like The Conservancy, the interests of community associations, the goals of residential and retail/commercial developers and investors, and the lifestyle/hobbyist voices (boaters, for example). You probably get the point already.

To make matters more complicated, the borders of cities, counties, and even specially defined regional planning districts hardly ever coincide with those of a natural system (a slough, watershed, you-name- it) that is threatened by development. Who makes the policy for what? In a way, everything in the natural environment is connected, but governmental jurisdictions only look inward – as do most special interest groups.



Private property rights are yet another interrelated factor.

In organizing his issues and sources (documentation), Nick Penniman found an effective tripartite plan: “Acquiring Land,” “Managing Growth,” and “Water.” Within these stages he orchestrates discussions of such topics – case studies, really – as “Big Cypress Swamp and the Fakahatachee Strand,” “Pelican Bay and Barefoot Beach” (contrasting studies in how to and how not to balance conflicting interests), and “Villages of Sabal Bay and Hamilton Harbor.” The discussions reveal how shifts in public and leadership opinion bring about cycles of advocacy, legislation, and enforcement at various policy-making and administrative/enforcement levels.

Throughout, Mr. Penniman keeps readers aware of the enormous responsibilities vested in the Army Corps of Engineers, an organization that often seems ill-equipped to meet those responsibilities. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 30, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 1 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here Florida Weekly – Penniman 1 and here Florida Weekly – Penniman 2.

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The Sunshine Skyway story: a troubled bridge over shallow waters

“Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay’s Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought It Down,” by Bill DeYoung. University Press of Florida. 208 pages. $24.95.  Skyway_RGB

A skillful combination of local history and biography, Bill DeYoung’s book reveals the sharp eye and patient research of a seasoned Florida journalist. His study makes us think about the societal role of iconographic structures, their majesty and their destiny. Mr. DeYoung’s portrait of the interplay between natural forces and human limitation reminds me of Shelley’s great sonnet, “Ozymandias,” with its timeless concern about human vanity and human vulnerability:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

The history that Mr. DeYoung assembles is marked by four important moments. First, the opening of the original, majestic span of the bridge in 1954. Next, the delayed opening of its twin span in 1971. Then, most notably, the freighter Summit Venture’s collision with and destruction of the newer bridge on May 9, 1980. Finally, the replacement of the twin bridges in 1989 with an even more astonishing structure.

The author places the planning and execution of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in the context of the Tampa Bay region’s population and economic growth. He discusses, perhaps too briefly, the tragedy five months earlier when a coast guard vessel and a passenger ship collided near the bridge, underscoring the difficulty of navigating the deep, man-made shipping channels of otherwise shallow Tampa Bay.

Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung

In his moment by moment narration of the May 1980 disaster, Bill DeYoung creates the intensity we are used to finding in mystery thrillers. He takes us, as much as possible, into the thoughts and emotions of the principal players as the unfolding calamity is perceived too late in the fury of a sudden, blinding rainstorm.

The principal character, who receives a full-dress biography, is harbor pilot John Lerro. Lerro’s education and training, his experience, his reputation among his peers, and his domestic life are given detailed attention. It was Lerro who had the responsibility of boarding the inbound Summit Venture and guiding it under the Sunshine Skyway to its port destination. He failed, but could anyone have succeeded given the combination of circumstances that Mr. DeYoung so effectively presents?

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the November 20, 2013 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly,the November 21 issues of the Naples, Bonita Springs, and Charlotte County editions, and the November 28 Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter edition, click here  Florida Weekly – DeYoung 1  and here  Florida Weekly – DeYoung 2.

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A multi-faceted study of late 19th-century Punta Gorda

Punta Gorda: In the Beginning, 1865-1900, by Vernon Peeples, Sr. Book-broker Publishers of Florida. 263 pages. $39.99.

This attractively designed, oversized book is a perfect stylistic match for its historical content. No one has been a more committed student of the Charlotte Harbor area than Vernon Peeples, and his expertise and affection are on strong display in these pages. The book is abundantly illustrated with photos and paintings of late 19th century scenes and personalities, and the thirty page map section is a special treasure.  PeeplesCover

In taking us from the conclusion of the Civil War to the dawn of the twentieth century, Mr. Peeples, who served in the Florida legislature for fourteen years, draws upon his enormous private collection of primary material collected over seven decades. He presents much more than a collection of dry facts, but rather a colorful series of narratives about colorful people developing a frontier.

Before becoming a community for recreation and retirement, Punta Gorda was a lively, thriving center for commerce and transportation. The Peace River and Charlotte Harbor were important links in the maritime trail that moved cargo and people from northern locations down the western side of the Florida peninsula to Fort Myers, Key West, and Cuba. Of course, shipping moved from south to north as well. Moreover, Punta Gorda was the southern terminus of railway lines, making it an important transportation bridge. The Gulf of Mexico and its adjacent waterways teemed with fish.


In telling the story of the area’s development, Vernon Peeples focuses on the key players and their business activities. He provides full-length portraits of such characters as Jarvis Howard, Isaac Traubue (who founded Punta Gorda), Kelly B. Harvey, Governor Albert Waller Gilchrist, and Marian McAdow, whose gardening innovations contributed to Punta Gorda’s tropical ambience. He even makes a connection between this area and the famous gunmaker Samuel Colt. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the December 26, 2012 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 27 Naples and Port Charlotte/Punta Gorda editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Peeples 1 and here: Florida Weekly – Peeples 2

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