Friday, October 8, 2010

Caution: Florida's still a wild place

Trisha Shears
Venomous Florida water moccasins can be found near waterways, swamps and wetlands. 
The news that a tourist from Rhode Island was bitten by a venomous water moccasin in the resort area near Orlando is a stark reminder that Florida is still a wild and dangerous place, despite decades of effort pave every square inch of it, thus eliminating anything native and natural.

Apparently the man was bitten as he walked near the swimming pool at the J.W. Marriott Grande Lakes resort. The posh resort is surrounded by water – a golf course with lakes and a swamp. Evidently he stepped on the snake and was bitten on the left ankle.

At last report, the man was in intensive care at a nearby hospital, his leg swollen and in extreme pain. He was treated with anti-venom, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Water moccasins, also called cottonmouth moccasin's for the white lining in their mouths, are found throughout the southeastern United States, according to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park.

They are primarily active at night but like to lie in the sun during the day because it helps their digestive metabolism.

Long-time Floridians know that snakes are present and that it is unwise to stalk around in the wilderness without using caution. Cottonmouth moccasins are not aggressive and won't attack unless agitated, according to the Smithsonian. The caution "they won't bother you if you don't bother them" comes to mind.

If they feel threatened they will stand their ground, however. An angry moccasin will coil his body and threaten an intruder with bared fangs.

Information from the Florida Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Institution and the Orlando Sentinel was used in this report. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Florida's Confederate governor

John Milton
Today’s the day in 1861 when Gov. John Milton took over the state government from Gov. Madison Starke Perry. Milton has been elected the fifth governor of Florida in March but didn’t take office for seven months.

Milton was born in Georgia, a descendant of the English poet, John Milton. His grandfather was a Revolutionary War hero and had been secretary of state in Georgia. Milton practiced law in Georgia, Alabama and New Orleans. Eventually, he settled in Marianna and became involved in state politics.

Milton was a staunch states’ rights advocate and vocally urged the secession of Florida from union. He got his wish on Jan. 10, 1861, when the state the third in the south to secede. The next day, during a ceremony to sign the Ordinance of Secession, the governor-elect unfurled a white silk secession flag on the east porch of the state capitol. The three stars represented the first three states to leave the union: South Carolina, Mississippi and Florida.

Museum of Florida History
As governor, Milton saw to it that Florida became an important source of goods rather than men for the Confederacy’s war effort. Florida provided large supplies of cattle and salt. He may be the only southern governor who cooperated fully with the Confederacy. Squabbles among others have been blamed for contributing to the South's defeat.

On April 1, 1865, as the Confederacy was collapsing, Milton left Tallahassee for the 65-mile trip to Sylvania, his plantation near Marianna. There he died of a gunshot wound through his head. Many believe it was suicide, a theory bolstered by his last statement to the Florida Legislature, in which he said that  “... death would be preferable to reunion.” However, historian Dale Cox says there is a local tradition that it might have been an accident.

Information from the Museum of Florida History,  National Governor’s Association, The Florida Historical Society and the blog, Two Egg, Florida, was used in this report.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Florida's New Deal governor

Florida State Archives
Gov. David Sholtz, center, accompanied President Roosevelt on a visit to Jacksonville in the 1930s. Sholtz's support of FDR brought needed jobs to the state.

Today is the birthday of David Sholtz, Florida’s New Deal governor.

He is best remembered for establishing the Florida Park Service and the Florida Citrus Commission, getting a workers’ compensation law passed and mandating free textbooks in public schools. He also presided over the creation of Everglades National Park.

Florida State Archives
Sholtz was inaugurated on January 4, 1933.
Elected as Florida’s 26th chief executive in 1932, he took office at a time when many Floridians were out of work and hungry, and many of the state’s cities were broke. His support of Franklin Delano Roosevelt brought many sorely needed federal job programs to Florida. He made jobs a priority. He also cut welfare rolls by 75 percent in three years. He inherited a state debt of $2.14 million and had a surplus by 1934. He pushed for a $5 auto tag fee and used some of the money to pay teachers in cash instead of script.

He was born to Jewish immigrant parents in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1891. His father became a wealthy in investments and real estate and moved the family to Daytona Beach in the early 1900s, and entered civic activities there.

Sholtz graduated with honors from Yale University in 1914. He earned a law degree the following year at Stetson University, and started practicing law in Daytona. He entered the U.S. Navy as an ensign during World War I and served four years.

He was elected to the Florida House in 1917, and held several other public offices after returning from military duty.

In the 1932 election, he was a dark horse candidate who emerged from a crowded field in the Democratic primary to face powerful former governor John W. Martin in a runoff.

Sholtz was an affable man who easily established rapport with Florida’s rural Cracker population, despite his ethnic and regional roots. He campaigned using a flat-bed truck with two loudspeakers. As a public speaker, he rarely used notes and was perceived as being genuinely interested in helping people. His opponent at first inserted a subtle anti-Semitic tone into the campaign and finally more blatantly attempted to smear Sholtz.

For his part, Sholtz ignored the attacks, refused to get angry, smiled and listened to the people. He spoke of creating jobs for the hungry, keeping closed school open nine months, providing free textbooks in all grades, lower taxes for small homeowners. He was serious and sincere.

Martin’s smear campaign backfired and Florida’s Cracker voters handed David Sholtz the largest majority ever given a candidate in Florida history. He easily defeated his Republican opponent in the general election. In those days, Florida elections were decided in the Democratic primary.

After serving as governor, Sholtz ran against Claude Pepper for the U.S. Senate in 1938 but lost. Sholtz died in 1953 while visiting Key West.

Information from Florida Trend magazine, Time magazine, Wikipedia, the National Governors Association and the Florida State Library was used in this report.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Correspondent in the manatee wars

When Henry Flagler was building his railroad down the east coast of Florida there was a place in Florida Bay called Cow Pens, where young sea cows were herded like cattle to be kept to feed the construction crews.

Craig Pittman, the award-winning environment writer for the St. Petersburg Times, writes about the Cow Pens and about manatees as dinner in his book Manatee Insanity, that was published earlier this year by University Presses of Florida.

How does manatee taste? Pittman says he has never tasted it himself but notes that a Civil War soldier thought it rivaled the finest Tennessee beef. A scientist who tried some more recently told Pittman it had the texture of pork and the taste of beef.

If the idea of dining on this beleaguered gentle and slow moving creature is repugnant to you, you’re not alone. Thousands of Floridians and others have rallied too the defense of the manatee since 1981 when Jimmy Buffett and Bob Graham started the Save the Manatee Club.

Thousands more have railed against the subsequent rules and regulations enacted to protect the chubby veggie chomping mammal, often treating it, as Pittman puts it, as a “living speed bump.”

Pittman was drawn to the subject by the wackiness of the animal’s admirers and the sheer vociferousness of the opposition. In his 12 years of covering environmental issues for the Times, manatees are the one topic that is most divisive, he said. There is no sign of compromise.

He also wanted to tell a history of Florida that is not well known to most Floridians. He wanted to tell how Florida has changed over the decades and how it has changed those who live here. In the process, Pittman has produced what is arguably the more comprehensive study of the political and social fallout over "Florida's most famous endangered species."

On the whole, how’s the manatee doing in Florida? It’s a mixed bag, he says. The future of the manatee is by no means assured.