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Florida's Byways and Ancestral Trails


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Dog King of the Fort

“This is the story of a dog, a beautiful Irish Setter, which played a heroic part in one of the worst tragedies in the history of the Florida West Coast . . . . The dog was brought to Fort Brooke early in the winter of 1838-39 from New Orleans by an army officer. He was still a puppy when he arrived at the camp – a mischievous, frolicsome puppy which romped all through the garrison. All the officers and men liked him and saw to it that he had plenty of nourishing food. Perhaps because of that it grew with amazing rapidity and by late spring weighed more than 60 pounds. He had a friendly disposition and rarely got into fights with other dogs, but when he did he fought with vicious ferocity and soon became dog king of the fort.” (pg. 513)

The dog, named Romeo by a sutler (a civilian merchant who sells provisions to an army unit in the field) who spent the most time with him, became known as King Romeo, hero of the Caloosahatchee, after a massacre on July 22, 1839, that subsequently ended the truce with the Seminole Indians.
You can find this intriguing story, and many more, in Volume II of Pioneer Florida by D.B. McKay, a Tampa native who became the owner/publisher of the Tampa Tribune newspaper in 1900. He was elected Mayor of Tampa in 1910, serving in that position for 14 years, and was again elected Mayor in 1927. In 1949, he was appointed Hillsborough County Historian and began writing a column in the Sunday Tampa Tribune called “Pioneer Florida,” which he wrote until his death in 1960. His writings were collected into a three-volume set of books called Pioneer Florida.

This book (and its companion volumes) can be located in our online catalog at http://www.hcplc.org (or directly at http://bit.ly/1dk6E7D) or here in the Florida History and Genealogy Library (Fla 975.9).

Mckay


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There are no theme parks here…

When you think of Florida, perhaps the first things that come to mind are soft-sand beaches, sunny days, alligators, palm trees, boating on lakes, the Gulf of Mexico, and Disney World. But there is a different side to the Sunshine State that you may not know about . . . and we’re not talking about a perfidious underbelly. No, we’re talking about the WEIRD world in Florida. You probably saying what’s so weird about Florida, other than the fact that it’s the only peninsula in the U.S., much of it is just a few yards above sea level, and strange-looking sea cows plow lazily through its western coastal waters? Well, let the journey begin. . . .

It’s the Case of the Giant Penguin – true or not true? You be the judge. In 1948, numerous people reported seeing a gigantic penguin about 15 feet tall on Clearwater Beach. During this same time period, boaters witnessed a giant penguin-like bird floating in the Gulf and a private plane pilot saw a huge penguin-like bird on the banks of the Suwannee River.

A five-foot-tall, 100-pound man constructed the Coral Castle, sometimes known as Florida’s Stonehenge, in Florida City. (He later moved it to Homestead.) No kind of power source helped him move, situate, and carve more than 1,100 tons of coral. And he did it all by himself.

The smallest post office in the U.S. is situated in Ochopee, Florida. It is 10 feet 6 inches high, 8 feet 4 inches wide, and 7 feet 3 inches long. It was once a tool shed for a tomato farm.

Locals have seen a woman named Julia, who was murdered by a jealous lover, haunting Rolling Acres Road in Lady Lake. Others have observed a man dressed in black resembling the Grim Reaper who stands on the side of Rolling Acres Road late at night, awaiting his next victim. Many have heard the screams of banshees coming from deep in the woods.

These are just some of the interesting and sometimes outright bizarre stories and legends that add a fascinating layer to the more commonly-known history of Florida. You can find these tales and more in Weird Florida: Your Travel Guide to Florida’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets by Charlie Carlson, a 10th generation Floridian.

Carlson’s book can be located in our catalog at http://catalog.hcplc.org/polaris/search/title.aspx?pos=1.

Explore other interesting materials at http://www.hcplc.org or in our Florida History and Genealogy Library.

Weird


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Burgert Brothers Centennial Traveling Display

The Centennial display focuses on West Tampa, including the 1918 image of the West Tampa Free Public Library. Images of schools, churches, cigar factories, businesses, street scenes, social and recreational clubs, residential structures, and government agencies are part of the exhibition. In addition to the photographs, there are also a few documents regarding the history and the various openings of what is currently known as the West Tampa Branch Library. The display will be at the West Tampa Branch Library until October 30th.

West Tampa Free Public Library


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Tall Tales from Florida Folk

After more than 30 years gathering Florida folklore, J. Russell Reaver wrote them down and published them in a book, “Florida Folktales,” so they would not be lost. Here are a few tall tales he found along the way:

“It got so hot that year it popped all the corn in the field. Then our old mule came along and saw it. Well, the son of a gun thought it was snowing and froze to death.”

“The fastest runner in these parts is my Uncle Silas. He’s a great deer hunter, too. Never goes out without getting his buck. But he went out one time and didn’t take but one bullet with him. Well, he didn’t want to break his record; so when he saw a deer he shot it, then ran and caught the deer by the horns and held him ‘til the bullet got there.”

“Once there was man named McClellan who was so lazy that his neighbors decided to bury him alive to put him out of his misery. They put him in a wagon and started to the cemetery. On the way they stopped at Mr. Brown’s house and told him what they were going to do. Mr. Brown felt sorry for McClellan and said he would give him enough potatoes to live on. When the men told McClellan, he asked ‘Are the potatoes dug?’ When he was told no, he said, ‘Drive on, boys, drive on!’”

“I know hoop snakes’ll swallow their tails and roll like a hoop. I’ve seen ‘em do it. I saw two get mixed up one time and swallow each other’s tails. They just disappeared.”

“The country down around St. Pete is where the big mosquitoes grow. I was out on a camping trip down there one time with a buddy. I woke up that night and my buddy was gone, but I thought I heard him talking to somebody. I looked around and it was two mosquitoes. One of them said, ‘Shall we eat him here or take him back down in the swamp?’ And the other one said, ‘Let’s eat him here. If we take him down there, them big mosquitoes will take him away from us.’”
You can read more tales from Reaver’s book “Florida Folktales” in our online catalog and in the Florida History and Genealogy Library (R 398.209759 Florida).

Florida Folktales

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