Yes, Florida is the home of the wacky. And the weird thing: you can walk up a Central Florida hill.
But did you know that the state is the home of mermaids? What if you can relax on a hot day, you thank a Floridian?
The Florida Capitol was once built of logs, but the state is also home to the world’s largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture.
If you didn’t get burned on the beach last weekend, pause for a moment, breathe in the scent of cocoa butter, and remember that a son of the Sunshine State invented sunscreen.
So relax, embrace the quirky, and learn something new.
Gorrie’s Details on Refrigeration
Let’s pause for a moment and go into the details. If you like air conditioning, thanks to John Gorrie. If it weren’t for Dr. Gorrie, I might not be sitting in Florida reading this piece of history.
That’s because Dr. Gorrie, a resident of Apalachicola in the state’s Panhandle, was the originator of mechanical refrigeration, without which all of us in Florida would probably be melting somewhere up north.
Dr. Gorrie applied for a patent for his ice machine, which condensed gases, in 1848, three years after Florida became a state. That April, he had a machine manufactured at the Cincinnati Iron Works, and in October it was demonstrated in operation. It was described in Scientific American in September 1849, according to the John Gorrie Museum and the Apalachicola Area Historical Society. Dr. Gorrie hoped that the ice produced by the machine could be used to cool the rooms and fevers of yellow fever patients.
The machine produced large amounts of ice, but leaks and rough operation often affected its performance. The good doctor went to New Orleans to seek venture capital to commercialize the device, but problems with demand and performance of the product, or opposition from the ice lobby, discouraged backers, historians say. He never made any return on his invention, according to the historical society, and he died in 1855 at the age of 52.
The statue of Dr. Gorrie is part of the National Statuary Hall Collection in the US Capitol in Washington, DC
A replica of his ice machine is on display at John Gorrie State Park. Information: www.floridastateparks.org/parksandtrails/john-gorrie-museum-statepark.
The 13, first fi 1947. first mmermaids ABOVE: id Annie Pfeiff A er 1940 The postcard of the chapel in Florida shows the south of the university in Lakeland.
Three log cabins served as the first Florida Capitol
Florida was settled by the Spanish, French, and British over three centuries before becoming part of the United States in 1819.
Once it became a US territory, lawmakers moved government from St. Augustine to Pensacola for alternate sessions.
The journey was dangerous and took more than 20 days between the cities, according to the Florida Department of State website.
In 1824, legislators chose Tallahassee as the capital, in part because it was the midpoint between the territory’s two major cities.
Three log cabins in Tallahassee served as the first state capitol.
In 1826 a two-story masonry structure was built. It was to be the wing of a larger building, which was never completed.
In 1839, Congress appropriated $20,000 to build a new Capitol.
The old one was torn down and a brick structure was completed in 1845, when Florida became a state.
That building forms the core of the Old Capitol, which received a dome in 1891, two new wings and a dome in 1902, and later additions in 1923, 1936, and 1947.
The state government moved into the current 22-story Capitol building in 1977. Some people advocated demolishing the Old Capitol. But that milestone still stands alongside its replacement. It was restored and reopened to the public in 1982.
Suntan lotion was invented in Florida
If you tanned but didn’t burn during your last visit to the beach, you may have Benjamin Green to thank.
The Miami Beach pharmacist first used red vet Vaseline, or “red vet pet,” as a physical barrier against the sun to keep ultraviolet rays from hitting his skin while serving as an aviator during World War II, according to The New York Times. It was heavy and unpleasant, but effective in preventing sunburn.
After the war, Green developed a more palatable product by adding cocoa butter and coconut oil to “red vet pet.” This combination would later become Coppertone bronzer.
The original bottles and advertisements featured the profile of a Native American chief with the slogan “Don’t be a pale face.” Even then, he was considered offensive.
The company’s symbol, Coppertone Girl, appeared in the 1950s, featuring a cocker spaniel puppy pulling up her pants to reveal her bare bottom and distinctive tan line.
Visitors to the Miami area will remember the mechanized sign that stood near the Golden Glades interchange on I-95. Another Coppertone sign, displayed at 73rd Street and Biscayne Boulevard in Miami, has been given landmark status.
As for Coppertone, it’s still in business: the company was acquired from Bayer a couple of years ago by Beiersdorf AG.
Yes, that cocoa butter smell lingers.
Florida is the home of the Wright stuff
Frank Lloyd Wright was known for his Prairie style of architecture.
But the largest collection of his work is in Florida, where Florida Southern College commissioned Wright to design buildings for its Lakeland campus.
Wright sought to create a “truly American campus” and designed an 80-acre network of buildings and covered walkways radiating from a central axis.
Beginning in 1938 with the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel, the focal point of the Methodist school campus, Wright saw 12 of the 18 structures he had envisioned take shape.
In 2012, the Florida Southern College Historic District was designated a National Historic Landmark by the US Department of the Interior’s National Park Service for being the largest single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in the world, according to the university’s website, www. .flsouthern. edu/frank-lloydwright/home.aspx. It is open for visits.
The only other Wright design in Florida is the Lewis Spring House in Tallahassee. Information: www.preservespringhouse.org.
Florida is not flat (well, not at all)
Many visitors to Florida are surprised to learn that we have four seasons (of course, the differences between some of them are quite subtle).
They also mistakenly believe that the state is flat.
All you need to do is travel an hour or so north of Lake Okeechobee, and you’ll enter another, less swampy world of rolling hills that continue all the way to Georgia.
In Central Florida, we have Spook Hill, a so-called gravity hill near Lake Wales, where cars seem to roll uphill. Gravity hills can be found all over the world and continue to arouse curiosity as cars appear to roll uphill when in neutral.
But Florida’s highest point, Britton Hill in the Panhandle, is only 345 feet above sea level.
The highest point on the Sunshine State peninsula is Sugar Loaf, near Clermont. That’s a whopping 312 feet.
For comparison, the highest point in Palm Beach County is near Jupiter, at 53 feet above sea level, according to www.peakbagger.com. In Charlotte County, the land rises to 74 feet at a location east of Punta Gorda, near the county line with Glades County. In Lee County, that number drops to 32 feet above sea level, somewhere southeast of the heart of Fort Myers. That’s lower than Collier County, which has a high point of 40 to 45 feet above sea level northeast of Naples.
Mermaids roam the waters of Weeki Wachee
Now they are among the symbols of Florida.
But the first sirens did not perform in Weeki Wachee until October 13, 1947.
According to the Florida Historical Society, Newton Perry, a former US sailor who trained Navy SEALs, chose the site in 1946.
There, tens of thousands of visitors watched young women dressed as mermaids eating, drinking and frolicking under the waters of Weeki Wachee Springs.
But a siren has to breathe, so Perry installed free-flowing air hoses that he hid onstage for the sirens.
Weeki Wachee, north of the Tampa St. Petersburg area, became a state park in 2008.
The sirens still entertain the crowd, which sits in the 400-seat underground auditorium.
For information on Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, visit www.floridastateparks. org.