Sunday, January 20, 2013

Fort Myers Area in Florida

Fri, Jan. 4th - Fri, Jan. 11th

This memorial in downtown Fort Myers honors their most famous resident, Thomas Edison, and his buddies, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, also winter residents of Fort Myers.  They loved the outdoors and went on many camping trips together.  They started out as fairly simple trips, with just a couple servants to set up tents and cook meals for them.  But by the end of ten years or so, when they finally quit going, the trips had morphed into expeditions with their families, the press, seven vehicles hauling such things as refrigerators and a piano and quite a few servants.  President Harding was a guest on one of their last trips.  Not exactly what you call roughing it anymore.  It rained a lot on their very first trip and Edison's son wrote this poem "Consumption, pneumonia and grippe, Will be the result of this trip.  We'll all die together, From the inclement weather. On the doormat of heaven we'll drip."  Ohhh!   Don't you feel sorry for them now?
This memorial downtown was to honor all paratroopers and glidermen, but was put up especially to honor a 79 year old man who went to Russia in 1995, to make a parachute jump commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Normandy Landing.  He was one of the original guys and died making the anniversary jump.   What a way to go!

This is a view back at Fort Myers downtown and waterfront, as we were leaving.  Fort Harvie was built here in 1850 as the southernmost outpost of the government effort to remove all the Seminoles to the Indian Territory in Oklahoma.  It was deactivated in 1858 and reoccupied during the Civil War by the Union to raid cattle ranches.  It was attacked by the Confederates one afternoon. They retreated a few hours later, the only battle of the Civil War fought in the Florida peninsula.  General Twiggs renamed it for his daughter's fiance, Col. Myers, who had also been his quartermaster in Texas, a graduate of West Point and fought in the Mexican War.  It was torn down after the war.

We drove to Pine Island to do a little sightseeing.  This Pelican on the pier at Bokeelia Bay had just caught a fish.  You can see the bulge in it's bill near his neck, where the fish is caught.

There were quite a few of these brown pelicans here.  You know what they say about a pelican---his bill can hold as much as his belly can!  I think that's something I read in one of my grandkids' books.

We had lunch at Capt. Con's Fish House and this was our view of Bokeelia Bay on the north end of Pine Island.  Ponce de Leon was with Columbus on his second expedition in 1493 and led his own expedition back here in 1513.  He had three meetings with the Calusas and the first white man killed by Indians in America was on Pine Island.  He returned with settlers in 1521 and was mortally wounded by the Calusas, but it was the first colony and the beginning of colonization in America.

There are lots of ways to make a living, but this is one I'd never thought of.  A lady was sitting outside the restaurant, enjoying the beautiful view and painting Coconut Fish.  Talk about a stress-free job.  They were quite pretty and would probably have looked nice hanging from our RV awning, but we passed.

Aahh.... Home Sweet Home away from home.  At least, I assume this was for rent, as it had a great big banner with a phone number hanging on it. 

Just two miles down the bike path from our campground was beautiful San Carlos Beach and Bunche Beach Preserve.  Beautiful, clear, warm water and very shallow with lots of sandbars.  Great for wading and bird watching, or just parking your beach chair out on a sandbar for a little sun.  There were people way out, maybe a half mile or so, fishing in hip waders.

It was really beautiful here.  I would come back here anytime.  And there weren't very many peope here, maybe thirty on the whole beach, which was probably over a mile long.

Monday we went on a tour of the Koreshan State Historic Site.  The Koreshan Unity Settlement in Estero, Florida was a continuation of a movement started in Moravia, NY. in 1880 by Dr. Cyrus R. Teed.  He and his 200 followers moved to the Florida frontier in 1894 and took the name "Koresh", the Hebrew translation for Cyrus, meaning shepherd.   A major tenet of the Koreshan beliefs was the theory of "cellular cosmogony", that the entire universe existed within a giant, hollow sphere.  He claimed to have had an epiphany and discovered this in 1870.  He claimed that God would not have created an infinite universe, because the idea of infinity is beyond the reach of human understanding.  The earth's shell was supposedly 100 miles thick and made up of 17 layers.

They even conducted experiments with this rectilineator that seemed to confirm their beliefs.  Many sections like this were lined up along Naples Beach over a period of months.  They leapfrogged the sections down the beach leveling, measuring and calculating, supposedly proving the land rose up to meet the horizon and that we are living on the inside of a sphere, rather than the outside.  Everyone who joined had to donate their worldly goods to the commune and everyone was required to live a celibate life.  This was especially interesting, since he had grand visions of creating a Utopian community of ten million.  They generated electricity for themselves and the community of Estero from 1916 to 1946, when Florida Power and Light took over Estero.  Now DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center in Arcadia owned by Florida Power and Light has over 90,000 solar panels and is the country's largest photovoltaic solar plant and FPL has one of the lowest emissions profiles of U.S. uitilities companies.

It sounded like a little Koreshanity to me.  In 1961 the remaining five survivors donated the 200 acres and buildings to the state for a park.  One of the last members was asked if she still believed in his theory.  She said she believed until the moon landing.  I thought that was interesting, because I just talked to an elderly gentleman in the hot tub the other night, who still doesn't believe the moon landing actually happened.

"Where's the alligators?  I don't see any darn alligators!"  There is also a state park campground here and we hiked the nature trail through the giant green bamboo along the Estero River, one of several small tidal rivers that drain into the Gulf. .

Down the road a ways, we made a quick stop at Naples Beach, to get a look at where they conducted the rectilineator experiment.  It seems like people are making better use of the beach these days. Did you know that it was not until the 1930s that a man could go topless on a public beach.  In 1900 they began wearing more revealing swimsuits to show off their muscular bodies, sleeveless, that is.

Further down the road, we cruised around Marco Island looking at the beautiful homes and landscaping.  We stopped at the pier and watched this guy launch his boat.  The boat's name was "Miss Goody Two Screws".  It had two 250 HP motors!  

On Tuesday we hopped on our bikes and took the bike path past Punta Rassa and over the Sanibel Causeway to Sanibel Island and Captiva Island, with San Carlos Bay to our right and the Gulf of Mexico to our left.  The American Sandsculpting Championship Festival is held somewhere in the Fort Myers/Sanibel area.  Sanibel Beach is supposed to be the best in Florida for shells.  Boaters can cross Florida from Fort Myers to Stuart via the Caloosahatchee River, Okeechobee waterway and St. Lucie Canal.  The path is 135 miles long and includes locks and dams.


There are several lovely little roadside parks along the causeway, so we stopped here for a bit to relax.  Our plan was to make it all the way to the far end of Captiva Island for lunch at the Mucky Duck, but it turned out to be a little further than we had anticipated.  We decided we better  turn around, if we wanted to make it home before dark.

We biked through the J.N. "Ding" Darling Wildlife Refuge. Darling was a renowned editorial cartoonist, headed FDR's Biological Survey and instituted the Federal Duck Stamp Program.  We stopped at the Island Cow on Sanibel Island for a late afternoon lunch and headed back down the bike path toward home.

One last stop at one of the roadside parks on the causeway.  It's like a postcard.  All I can say is, "Wish you were here.... but glad I'm not there!".   After over 40 miles on our bikes, we finally made it back to our campground before dark.  Aside from tired bums, a really great day!

On Wednesday we went back to downtown Fort Myers to tour the Edison Ford Winter Estates.  The 20 acres of tropical gardens is one of the most popular tourist attractions in this area.  John's having a rest under a Mysore Fig Tree, while he patiently waits for his wife's camera to run out of film.  Unfortunately for him, that just never happens anymore.  Wouldn't Edison be amazed at the advances in technology?  In the background is Henry Ford's 1910 winter home, that he bought (in 1916 for $20,000)  because it was right next door to his good friend and mentor, Thomas Edison, and he would be able to spend more time with him.  Ford went to Detroit when he was 16 to become a machinist's apprentice.  He was an engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company when he first met Edison.  He told him about the gasoline automobile he was working on and Edison encouraged him.  They later became good friends and Ford was invited to visit Edison's winter home in Fort Myers.  When he bought the home next door in 1916, he gave Edison a 4 cylinder 20 HP Model T ($482.75) that is now in the museum, kept in running condition.  It's nickname was the "family horse" and they took it on many of their camping and exploring trips.  In 1993 Time magazine cited the "mass-produced Model T as one of the centuries greatest technological breakthroughs."  In 1940 Ford designed a V-8 engine surpassing Chevy's 6 cylinder.  He camouflaged it in the body of a Model A for road testing in Fort Myers.

This allee' of Royal Palms leads from the house down to the beach.  You can see the same fig tree in the distance.   Edison had Royal Palms brought from Cuba in 1897 and planted a mile and a half of them along both sides of the the road that went by his home.  It wasn't much more than a sandy trail then with about 350 people in town, but now there are over seven miles of the Royal Palms lining the main road into Fort Myers (and lots of beautiful mansions) earning it the name City of Palms.  It was paved with crushed sea shells in 1900.  
This is a view of the dining room and living room.  A unique feature on the far wall in the living room is the double mantle over the fireplace.  A favorite pastime of Henry Ford's was square dancing in this living room, with the furniture pushed out of the way.  Ford came for the last time in 1934, a few years after Edison died, and sold his estate to the Biggars for $20,000 in 1945.   He said he wasn't interested in making money on the deal.  I assume they were probably friends.  They sold it to the city in 1988 for $1.2 million.  The Grandmother clock from the house is in the museum, stopped at the time of Ford's death, an Irish tradition.  
Heading across the yard to the Edison winter estate, "Seminole Lodge", there are two identical homes.  Edison designed them for himself and his best friend and business partner, Ezra Gilliland.  Unfortunately, after a time, Edison discovered that Ezra had been skimming a little off the top for himself.  He never confronted him, but shut off his electricity.  That was no problem.  Most folks at that time had no electricity.  Then he shut off his access to the water supply.  He found a way to deal with that, too.  But the last straw was when he closed his access to the pier which was on Edison's property.  There were no roads to speak of at the time and no railroads.  Transportation by river was pretty much the only option.  So Ezra was forced to sell his place and move.
In 1906 Edison bought the place back and made it into a guest house, where Ford was a frequent guest until he bought his place next door.  He eventually converted his dining room into a library and the kitchen into a bedroom suite for his wife and himself.  They just dined in the guest house.   The porches faced each other and he built a pergola (walkway) between them to connect them.  They are beautiful, huge, three-sided 
porches, with views of the Caloosahatchee River, the palm-lined street and the beautifully landscaped grounds.  There are two rows of mango trees next to the street the entire length of Edison's and Ford's properties with orchids from all around the world growing on them.  Orchids are an air plant and do not require soil.  It is called "orchid lane".   The Ford place was called "The Mangoes" because of this lane of trees.  There were also grapefruit, oranges, paw paws, lemons, limes, bananas, coconut, guava and hundreds of other exotic plants and flowers.  It was a challenging trip to get here in the early days and guests stayed for many weeks or even months, which is probably what prompted daughter, Madeleine, to write these "Rules for Guests at Seminole Lodge".  Don't cabbage unto yourself all the fishpoles.  This has been done by guests, thereby incurring the grave disapproval of the entire family.  Don't kill the black snakes under the porch. They are there for a purpose.  If you don't think Seminole Lodge is the loveliest spot you ever wore rubbers in --- don't let on to Father.  Don't fail to retire to your room during part of each day --- so that the family may squabble without embarrassment.  Don't stop Madeleine if you see her start off violently alone.  She's only trying to work out her disposition.  Don't capsize in the sailboat if you can help it.  Remember there isn't any man to rescue you in 750 miles.  And besides there are sharks. Don't ask us anything about Palm Beach.  We don't want to know.

Edison first came to Fort Myers in 1885 and was so excited by the source of giant green bamboo growing here, because it's fibers made great filaments for his new invention, the incandescent lamp. He bought 14 acres for $2,750 from Jacob Summerlin, one of the richest Cattle Kings.  Everyone thought he was crazy to pay such a price for that worthless scrub land.  Summerlin had taken over Fort Dulaney at Punta Rassa at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee after the Civil War and was shipping his cattle from there.  The government soon took it back as headquarters for an underwater telegraph cable to Cuba and it remained the southern most terminus of the U.S. telegraph line until 1906 when it burned down.  Summerlin built a new harbor and home nearby to ship his cattle and charged others for shipping their cattle and for room and board in his home.  Over 18,000 cattle were shipped from here in 1871.  Cattle were a common sight on the streets of Fort Myers until the fence law was passed in 1950.  Telegraph messages from Cuba to Washington, D.C. went through Punta Rassa.  The 1898 message of the sinking of the USS Maine that started the Spanish American War went through here.

Edison's wife, Mina, deeded the estate to the city in 1947.  All the original furnishings were left in the houses.  This is the dining room in the guest house.  Notice the dinner chimes at the lower left corner of the table.  In the parlor is a George Steck grand piano and just to the left of the doorway, you can see a little bit of a gramophone, Edison's personal favorite of all his inventions.   There are 15 electroliers throughout the two houses, lighting fixtures he designed and manufactured in the 1880s to accommodate his newest invention.

This was originally the dining room in their home that was remodeled to be a library.  You can see another gramophone here. Edison read many thousands of books on widely varied topics.  He had a job on a train as a kid and would go to the city library while the train was in the station and check out books and supposedly read every book in the library.  He started school at age 8 and had trouble paying attention.  He only went three months.  His mother took him out and schooled him at home in the three Rs and he took it from there.  He started a lab in their basement when he was 9 taking apart things and mixing chemicals and such, just to see how they worked and why.

This is just a little bougainvillea bush near the entrance to the estate and a walkway down to a big fountain plaza.

Looking from the estate entrance across the street to Edison's laboratory.  Another row of beautiful bougainvillea over there. Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone helped finance the Edison Botanic Research Corporation in 1927, so Edison could run experiments searching for an economical source of natural rubber. They had all become concerned about our country's dependence on foreign countries for something that was so important to the military and their own particular industries.  Most of the rubber plantations were in the Far East, places like Singapore, Sumatra, Java and Malaya.  Edison was 80 years old at the time and would spend the last four years of his life on this project.  His lab had a plant grinding room, chemical processing area, distillation apparatus, machine shop and dark room for photographing the plants.  He employed a research superintendent, linguist, machinist, chemist, secretary, glass blower, patent person and plant collectors.  He kept meticulous records and they are currently going through the over 5 million documents that he left.  He contributed to the Plant Patent Act of 1930, which allows scientists to patent hybrids they create.  When the project was dissolved in 1936, Ford moved 10,000 hybrid goldenrod plants from Fort Myers to Savannah, Georgia to begin new test beds at the Department of Agriculture there.  In 1913 Edison was quoted in Scientific American saying, "The question of the possible exhaustion of the world's oil supply deserves the gravest consideration. There is every indication that we are face to face with this possibility."  In 1931 not long before he died, he told his friends Ford and Firestone, "I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy.  What a source of power!  I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that."  An interesting factoid I saw somewhere in the museum, "The sun gives off more energy in one second than people have used since the beginning of time."  Makes one wonder why we use any other source for any of our power needs.

Swimming pool, bath house and teahouse, a shady room near the pool that was popular in California.  Some famous names in their guest book were Charles Lindbergh, Herbert Hoover, Forbes, Colgate and Kellogg.

A view of where the original 1,500 foot pier was.  It had a summer house, boathouse and benches at the end for family and guests to enjoy some of the finest tarpon fishing in the world.  Edison's son once caught a 130 pounder.  He had an electric launchboat named Reliance.

As usual, John is relaxing and enjoying the view, while I'm turning every which way, trying to decide which view to photograph next.

This is a Lofty Fig tree, one of thirteen different varieties of the ficus family on the estate.  They are all good sources of latex for rubber, but take too long to grow and are not that convenient to process.  Edison had lots of employees in his lab from many fields of expertise.  They had many acres of gardens growing all kinds of plants.  They tested over 17,000 different plants for latex content, a sticky white substance, that was used in making rubber.  Goldenrod was found to be the best, fast-growing, economical source of latex.  A hybrid grew 12 to 14 feet tall and 100 pounds of leaves produced 12 pounds of rubber.

This is a statue of Edison in front of an India Banyan Tree (one of over 800 species in the genus ficus) next to his lab.  The tree was a gift from Harvey Firestone in 1925 and was 4 feet tall and 2 inches in diameter.  It now is an acre in diameter with some 390 roots and only 84 feet tall.  It  is the largest of it's type in the continental U.S. and is also known as the "walking tree".

This is a view of the same tree from the other side.  The branches send out little hair-like roots.  When they reach the ground they take root and in just a couple years they are big trunks that support the ever-expanding branches.  Many huge limbs have been trimmed off this tree, to keep it from taking over the parking lot, lab, museum and gift shop.  Firestone established a rubber plantation in Liberia that by 1964 had a quarter million acres of rubber trees.  Ford established one in Brazil and sold it to the Brazilian government after it reached a successful yield.  Hevea, a native plant of South America (a Brazilian rubber tree) is now grown in Africa and the Far East and has replaced all other sources of cultivated rubber.  The latex is harvested very much like maple syrup is tapped from the maple tree.

There are little salamanders of all kinds running around down here. The Edison children had a menagerie of pets that included peacocks, parrots, alligators, monkeys, raccoons, chickens, black snakes, bee hives, a cow and calf, dog, pelican, pigeon and gopher. Their six year old son once brought five baby alligators back to New Jersey and lost control of them while showing them off to the ladies at one of his mother's tea parties.  Reminded me of a favorite movie we used to love to watch with our kids, "The Happiest Millionaire" starring Fred McMurray.

I thought this little hydroponic garden they made out of PVC pipe was kind of cool.  They were just growing a bunch of different variety lettuces.  It would be kind of cool to step out to your back patio and pick a fresh salad whenever you were in the mood.  They just recirculated the water through it with a worm tea, made from worm castings.

In the museum is a case full of all Edison's different light bulb inventions.  To the right is a 50,000 watt bulb and a 75,000 watt bulb (2.4 million lumens =  2,874 - 60 watt bulbs) made for the 50th and 75th anniversaries of his invention.  One of Edison's employees was the first to put electric lights on a Christmas tree.  In the 1890s G.E. bought out Edison's interest in light bulbs and began to promote tree lights.  In order to light a tree, a "wireman", or electrician, had to come to the home to hook up the tree lights to an existing light fixture. Everyone remembers him for the lightbulb in 1879, but he actually had 1,093 patents for things he invented. He once owned an iron ore business for which he invented a magnetic ore separator.  He bought 19,000 acres on Sparta Mountain in New Jersey and designed and built equipment from the 1880s to 1890s that would literally chew up mountainsides.  He contributed capital, ideas, motivation, was architect, engineer and draftsman for equipment such as well drills, giant cranes, steam shovels, special railway cars and giant rock crushers.  He built a village named Edison surrounding the plant with 50 houses for skilled mechanics and other personnel with running water and electricity, while neighboring villages were still burning kerosene and candles.  His first patent at age 22 was an electric vote counter, which was a big failure because the politicians didn't want their vote counting sped up.  It would prevent them from filibustering and delaying votes.  Well, duh!  Some things never change.  His second patent was the printing telegraph or stock ticker in 1871.  He was going to ask the Telegraph Company for $3,000 for his patent and they offered him $40,000.  He developed and improved the telegraph system, improved the Bell telephone, the Remington typewriter and many others, making them more commercially viable.  Bell, Gray and Edison had all been working on the telephone, but Bell got the first patent in 1876.  Western Union asked Edison to experiment with it to see if he could make it more commercially practical.  When they met to purchase his patents, he was going to ask for $5,000, but they offered him $100,000.  In 1916 he invented the telegraph vibroplex key to releive "telegrapher's paralysis" (carpal tunnel?).  His discovery of electrons as a fact of nature not explainable or classified according to existing scientific theory, while searching for a way to extend the life of the light bulb, is called the "Edison Effect".  By 1890 he organized his various businesses into Edison General Electric Company which eventually became G.E.

In 1898 he founded a cement company with leftover materials from his iron ore business.  By 1909 he had 43 patents related to cement production and uses.  He was sending 80,000 bags a day by conveyors to freight cars, 100 cars per day.  He owned the Portland Cement Company (named after an English bricklayer from the Isle of Portland from whose ideas he had developed his product) from 1901 to 1941.  He had a patent in 1917 for a method to mass-produce prefabricated, seamless concrete houses, with the goal of providing housing for the masses.  In 1917 he purchased a wood products company to produce cabinets for his new invention, the phonograph.  Later he decided to produce infant furniture and became one of the leading manufacturers of nursery and juvenile furniture in the U.S. "Edison Little Folks Furniture".  He called his most humane invention the electric cap lamp to replace the open flame oil lamps that often caused mine explosions killing many miners.  He worked on many war concerns, reporting to the Secretary of Navy.  Some of these projects included detecting submarines by sound, obstructing torpedoes with nets, underwater search lights, extinguishing fires in coal bunkers, telephone systems on ships, and preserving submarine and other guns from rust.  He invented an alkaline battery that would last four years and was used in railroad signal systems, miner's hats, Navy floating cranes and powering gun turrets.  It was the most successful product he ever marketed.  He used the ash waste, I think from his iron ore factory, to invent charcoal with his friend, Kingsford.  He once rigged a 3 million candlepower searchlight with batteries at Glenmont, his home in New Jersey.  People were terrified. Police switchboards were swamped.  They thought we were being attacked by rays from outer space. He believed in electric-based systems for their dependability and economy, however, his electric vehicles were eclipsed by gasoline engines thanks in part to his friend, Henry Ford.    

One of his early phonographs that they actually played for us.  The little blue cylinder in the center is the actual recording.  It is about the size of a toilet paper roll with a tinfoil-like coating that the recording is scratched into.  The first words ever recorded by a human voice were, "Mary had a little lamb" by Edison in 1878. There is no volume control.  If it was too loud, the front panel just lifts out, and they would roll up something like a sock and stuff it in front of the source of the sound to muffle it.  Thus the saying, "Put a sock in it."  The phonograph was his favorite invention.  He hoped to bring music and oratory to all homes to fight the solitude of long, isolated winter evenings. He felt if he accomplished that, his life's work would be well repaid.   Edison was almost totally deaf, so he would bite into the side of the phonograph when working on it to feel the vibrations of the sound.  In 1893 he invented the Kinetoscope, precursor of movies. In 1892 he built a special motion picture studio 48' x 12'.  The roof could be opened and closed and the entire structure turned on it's axis to receive direct sunlight for filming any time of the day.  By 1893 he had filmed his first commercial motion picture 20 seconds long.  200 to 300 films were made here.  In 1907 he built a studio in The Bronx. He created over 4,000 films and became the first honorary member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1929.  His lab at Menlo Park in New Jersey, built in 1879, was the first commercial research and development lab in the world.  With a loyal and tireless group of co-workers, aided by machinists, chemists, glass blowers, mathematicians and men who had a knack for putting things together, it became an "invention factory", home to the most extraordinary inventive effort ever seen.  The Wizard of Menlo Park was Time magazine's "Man of the Millenium". His goal was to transform middle class life.  

On Thursday we went to the Southwest Florida Museum of History in downtown Fort Myers.  Before there were electric lights on boats, the ship's compass was housed within a "binnacle".  Two kerosene lamps lit the compass, so even those on night watch could check the compass readings. There was a fishing boat and net display with a little story about a local man who acted as fishing guide for Zane Grey when he visited.

They had a small art gallery of paintings by Latin American artists.  This one is called "Marsh Spirits".  Kind of interesting and eerie, just like the swamps and bayous make you feel sometimes.

This one was just titled "I'm Hungry".   So sad.  Just touches your heart and makes you want to reach out and help in some way.  

And believe it or not, this one made me laugh, because John said,  "That's you every morning when you wake up and realize you have to face another day of living with me."  I guess I will just take it as a compliment that he thinks this painting looks like me.  He must need glasses, but I'm sure not going to tell him.

This is one of the private Pullman train cars owned by one of the many rich entrepreneurs down here in the early 1900s.  It is 84 feet long, 15 feet longer than the one Pullman himself owned.  It had a kitchen, servants quarters, three staterooms with bathrooms, a dining room and a lounge/observation room at the rear.  The cost of owning one was about $80,000 per year.  There was a fire engine display in the museum and a little trivia about dalmatians.  They date back to the Egyptian days and in the 1700s the English used teams of them to run with the horses pulling coaches, to guide the horses and protect them from stray dogs.  Ben Franklin brought them to this country and they were used by stage coach drivers, also sleeping in the stable to guard against theft.  They were used on early horse-drawn fire wagons and slept in the firehouse to guard the wagons and horses.  Nowadays they are more symbolic and used for teaching safety.  They are still called English coach dogs in Great Britain.  When we left here, we drove out to the end of Captiva Island to once again try eating at the famous Mucky Duck we had heard so much about.  But it was not to be.  They close from 3pm to 5pm and it was just after 3:00 and we had missed lunch.  So we headed back to Sanibel Island for lunch at Doc Ford's Rum Bar and Grill, which I had read about in a gift shop where they had many of his books for sale.  I'd never heard of him, but was told his mystery novels which take place in the local area here are pretty good.  I don't know about that, but his famous fish sandwich and the Sanibel Sunset cocktail were both excellent.  I highly recommend this place.

Back at our campground, we went for one last bike ride down to San Carlos Beach to watch the sunset, before we move on tomorrow to the Palm Beach area on the other side of the state, where we will stay at John Prince Park in Lake Worth for a month and my Mom will join us for the month of February.

Over and Out,

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Tampa Bay Area in Florida

Wed, Dec. 26th, 2012 - Thur, Jan, 3rd, 2013

Yeah!  I finally got my blog working again, thanks to my awesome son-in-law.  Thanks, Jeff.  There are all kinds of flamingos in Florida, but I'm not sure where they keep the live ones.  We haven't seen any yet.  This, one of many in our campground, is made out of an old tire.

Driving over the bridge to St. Petersburg, the clouds were really strange looking. This one looked very much like a cross.

We went to the Tampa Bay History Center in downtown Tampa.  Their temporary exhibit was all about coffee, one of the most widely traded products on the planet.  Coffee was discovered 6,000 years ago in Ethiopian forests.  Guests to Ethiopian homes, even today, are hosted to elaborate coffee ceremonies lasting several hours, where the beans are roasted, ground and boiled in your presence.  You may choose to add salt, butter or spices and will probably drink three cups.  Turkey dominated trade and "Mocha" was the port city from which most early coffee was shipped.  "Java" is the Indonesian island where Dutch plantations were located.   Coffee blossoms are related to gardenias with a fragrant perfume.  Coffee cherries turn deep red as they ripen, with two beans, or hard seeds, in each cherry.  It grows on a woody bush with shiny leaves and grows to 40 feet tall in the wild, but is trimmed to 6 feet for easier picking commercially.  Two species are commercially important, Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora.  Arabica was the first traded coffee and is the most flavorful and used in specialty coffees.  Canephora is hardier, cheaper to grow and has more caffeine. The flavor is harsh and bitter and is used in instant drinks and supermarket cans.  It is grown in the tropics and thrives in volcanic soils.  Brazil, Vietnam and Columbia produce the largest amounts. Over 20 million families are employed in coffee production worldwide. Most earn between $1 and $10 a day.  It is very labor intensive from pruning, mulching, weeding, hand picking, depulping, fermenting and roasting.  The best flavor characteristics come from the coffee's "terroir", the climate, soil type and topography of the region, just like wine.  Coffeehouses stimulated talk and sharing of ideas.  In the 1700s they were linked to the Boston Tea Party and the French Revolution.  In London they were called "penny universities", where for the price of a cup, you could listen to enlightening talk for hours.  In 1777 Frederick the Great said, "My people must drink beer!  The King does not believe that coffee-drinking soldiers can be depended upon."  Current research says it is far more healthful than harmful.  In moderation, it has several health benefits, including lower rates of diabetes.  

From the 1880s to 1920s hand rolled Cuban cigars were the big industry here.  These are some examples of cigar bands used by the over 300 companies that were in business here.  These, along with cigar boxes, signs, posters and other promotional materials are highly collectible.Their cigars were crafted by immigrants from Cuba, Spain and Sicily.

The Girl Scout sashes with badges, dolls and cookies are a nod to my number one daughter and something nice she said to me a couple weeks ago, related to appreciating your parents as you get older.  I'm sure some of my readers remember buying some of those Girl Scout Cookies from her at the bowling alley on Coast to Coast league nights almost thirty years ago.  The Girl Scouts was started in 1912 in Savannah, Georgia by Juliette Gordon Low with 18 girls and now has 3.7 million members in the U.S. and 92 countries.

A couple examples of dolls and clothes made by the Seminole Indians.  They were famous for this style of clothing, called Patchwork, made by sewing small bits of cloth into patterned strips, used to make colorful striped designs.

Seminole dolls were once made from rags and sticks, but are now made from cypress wood and palmetto husks.

Just a little trivia for my son-in-law.  Baseball is big here, beginning way back in the 1840s.  Over 80 major league players have come from this area.  Surprisingly, they are also very big in hockey and have several championship awards.


View of the Convention Center and History Center in the distance, next to a Celebrity cruise ship along the Hillsborough Riverwalk.

View of Riverwalk and downtown Tampa from History Center patio.

Back at our campground, there is no shortage of Christmas light viewing, as we go for our evening walk.  I sometimes wonder how many lights some of these campers must have put up, when the had regular homes and yards.

Another day we went to Centennial State Park Museum in a preserved Cuban bakery in Ybor City, known as Cigar City, now just a Cuban neighborhood in the Tampa metro area.  Florida's tobacco industry started in Key West in 1831.  Fleeing Cuba at age 14 for Key West, Mr. Ybor started a cigar business.  He later moved here and started a town and a cigar factory, because of the port and Henry Plant's new railroad.  The largest factories employed thousands and were organized on different floors according to jobs performed.  Millions of cigars were made annually, 150 to 300 per day per person, and shipped all over the  world.  In order to keep workers happy and less likely to quit or move away or go on strike, many of the factories provided homes for their workers near their factories.  The small houses were side by side with another row directly behind them facing the same street and then two rows right behind them facing the street on the next block, housing over 200 people on one block with one outhouse and a well in the center.  Eewww!  There are quite a few of these houses still left around town, updated with indoor bathrooms, that can be bought for about $7,000, as long as you agree to abide by the historical rules to not change them in any way.

In the 1890s Tampa was considered the cradle of Cuban liberty and nearly every Cuban worker pledged one day's salary per week toward Cuban independence from Spain, which came in 1898.  Cigar companies moved here from Havana, Key West, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia and it became the largest cigar producing center in the world.  Work in cigar factories was unique for the South.  Men and women, white and black, worked side by side for relatively high wages.  By 1920 the industry had reached an annual output of 410 million hand-made cigars.  "U.S. made" meant no import taxes for Cuban cigars, the world's favorite tobacco.  By the late 1920s mechanization, northern competition, cigarettes and finally, the Depression, brought a major decline to the city, but they are now revitalizing it with historical downtown preservation, parks, museums and new shopping malls in some of the old cigar factories.  It's kind of a cool area with ethnic restaurants and such.

Back at our campsite, this humongous vine growing up the tree looks just like many house plants I've seen, only many times bigger. We see lots of these overgrown houseplants climbing up trees down here.

Another day we took a guided tour of Gamble Plantation Historic State Park in Ellenton, Florida.  It is a mansion of an antebellum sugar plantation of the mid-1800s, the only one of it's kind in Southern Florida.  Major Robert Gamble, Jr. came here to homestead on the Manatee River after fighting in the Second Seminole War 1836-1842.  He built the home and eventually owned 3,500 acres and 300 slaves, before giving up due to crop failures, poor prices and other disastors.  Spanish moss hanging in the trees. The walls were two feet thick, made of tabby concrete, a mixture of sand, lime, water and sea shells.  Besides sugar cane, they also grew oranges, lemons, limes, guavas, bananas, coconuts, pineapple and coffee.  Next to the house is a 40,000 gal. cistern that caught water from the gutters on the house, and a dinner bell to call workers in from the fields for lunch.

In the kitchen on the left side is a little gadget that wound up the yarn after it was spun.  There was a little button on it that would pop up after twenty turns, which is where the song "Pop Goes the Weasel" comes from.  Next to it stand two long sticks that were their washing machine.  They were used to stir up the laundry in a barrel or wash tub. The dogs hung out in the breezeway near the kitchen.  When they wanted the dogs to go awy, they would throw a wad of bread dough out in the yard for them to chase and fight over.  That's where the term hush puppies comes from.   In 1858 the place was sold along with 189 slaves for $190,000.  During the Civil War famous Confederate blockade runner Capt. McNeill lived here.  After Richmond fell, Jefferson Davis and several of his cabinet members fled.  Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin made his way here and hid out here for five days until a couple of Confederate sailors risked their lives in an open boat to take him to the Bahamas.  He eventually made his way to England and became a famous Barrister there.  The place is a monument to him by the Daughters of the Confederacy.  It was bought at auction in 1873 by Major George Patten (no relation).  He and his family lived in the home until 1898 when it became too expensive to maintain.  He built a new home on the property, which is sometimes open for tour, also.  It has not been lived in since.  Ellenton is named after Patten's daughter, Ellen.

Another day we went to Mixon Fruit Farms in Bradenton, where we took a tour of their orchards and factory along with the Wildlife, Inc. Education and Rehabilitation center they have on the grounds.  This is one of the many non-native pythons they have captured in the Everglades from people releasing unwanted pets.  They estimate there are now tens of thousands of them and they have a month long hunting contest as part of their efforts to get rid of them.

This is an iguana.  The kids were quite fascinated, yet a little hesitant.  You sure didn't see me volunteering to hold any snakes.  

I think this is a gopher tortoise.  They get 40 to 60 years old in the wild, but can live over 100 years in captivity.


And a Macaw.  They also had an alligator snapping turtle, blonde raccoons, tan colored skunks, exotic pigs, owls and a couple other birds.  It was a very good tour.  Citrus orchards and such were also very interesting.  They had limes, lemons, grapefruit. oranges, tangerines, tangelos, pomelo, star fruit, kumquat and something called Buddha's hand, because it looks like a hand with a lot of fingers.

Afterwards we walked through the flower gardens, maze and koi pond, and of course had some orange swirl ice cream and bought a few gifts for the grandkids in the gift shop.

The bougainvillea is just gorgeous.

Later we stopped for a walk on Siesta Key Beach, one of the nicest beaches in Florida.  The white sand is so fine, it's just like walking in flour.  Cool works of art in the sand.  Check out those nice beach chairs with the half tents for shade.

Notice the sunglasses hanging out of the shark's mouth and his teeth.

This is what a snow man or woman looks like in Florida, complete with sea shell bra.

There were several boats pulling parasailors.  One parasail had three people riding on it.

I think John's trying to send a picture with that fancy new phone of his, that I think he loves more than me.  Oh well, I had a good run. It's hard to compete with technology.

The Henry Plant Museum in the 1891 Tampa Bay Hotel he built in downtown Tampa, the largest of the eight resort hotels he built on the west coast of Florida, to go with his transportation industry of railroads and steamships. This opulent resort hotel on 150 acres had 511 rooms, an 800 seat dining room, 2,000 seat casino/performing arts center, conservatories, tennis courts, golf course, horseshoes, morning concerts, billiards, cards, reading room, barber shop, boating, bicycling, hunting and fishing guides, kennels and dog rentals and lavish gardens and walkways.  Some notables who performed here were ballerina Anna Pavlova, composer John Phillip Sousa, showman Buffalo Bill Cody and spokesman Booker T. Washington, even though he could not have stayed there at the time.  It's so huge I couldn't begin to get it all in one picture.  It had at least 11 minarets.  Plant had  connections in Washington and convinced them to use his hotel as headquarters for the Spanish American War in Cuba in 1898.  Secretary of Navy Teddy Roosevelt stayed here with his wife, while his Rough Riders camped in tents along the river.  All of the officers enjoyed the luxuries of the hotel while they planned their strategies, and their troops suffered the heat, mosquitoes and bad food and water in their tents nearby.

The back veranda.  Henry bought up small railroad companies in the South, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and connected them  to New York and the entire Northeast.  For incentive the state paid him 13,840 acres for every mile of track he laid, a total of over 750,000 acres.  In his time he was "The King of Florida".

The Grand Piazza where the officers and war correspondents sipped their iced tea and planned their strategies.  Henry's railroads transported the troops to Florida and his steamships transported them to Cuba.  Cuba had been under Spanish rule for 382 years. The war lasted four months.  Cuba was independent in 1902 and we gained the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam.

A picture of one of the minarets through a second floor window.  Kind of a cool picture, I thought.  Only one of his hotels remains in operation as a hotel, Belleview in Belleair, the oldest wooden hotel in Florida.

Dining room.  The casino had a swimming pool with a floor that rolled back and covered it in the evening for dancing and theater.  The casino burned down.

The rooms off one end of the hotel are the museum.  They are filled with treasures that were collected by Henry and his wife on excursions to Europe while the hotel was being built.  They brought 41 train cars of furnishings, paintings, sculptures, etc. to decorate "Plant's Palace".

The hotel is designed so all the doorways and archways are shaped like a keyhole.  You can see a couple of the doorways here and one reflected in the mirror.  The hotel operated from 1891 to 1931.  It was sold to the city in 1933 for $25,000 and leased to the University.  Most of the building now has classrooms and offices in them.  

Plant Field in the 1890s originally had a half-mile horse racing track, but was it converted over to auto racing in the 1920s and a race was held every year until 1973 as part of the Florida State Fair in February.  Also, several major league baseball teams held their spring training here. While Babe Ruth was playing with the Boston Red Socks on April 4, 1919, he hit his longest home run ever, 587 feet.  It landed right where the sign is in the middle of this picture.  On New Years Day 1926 the Chicago Bears, starring Red Grange, defeated a team featuring Jim Thorpe here.

Rowing programs from northern colleges also come here for winter training.  Rowers are considered by many as the world's most physically fit athletes.  On the riverfront wall to the right side of the picture, you can see some of the rower's graffiti artwork.  Look closely at the smaller building in the center and you will see a salamander engraved on it.

As we were getting ready to leave, a whole parade of antique cars pulled up to the grand hotel.  Just a club out for their Sunday evening cruise.  So cool.  Like our own private parade.

A swell way to end our day.

The next day we went to 400-acre Sawgrass Lake Park and the John A. Anderson Environmental Center for a walk on the boardwalk to see if we could spot any wildlife.  We saw this baby alligator about two feet long. We also saw a big fat one back in the trees a ways.

I think this is a small blue heron.

Just a nice view of that eerie looking swamp land with the Spanish moss hanging from the trees.

Then we saw a nine-banded armadillo, the first armadillo we've seen in the wild.  They weigh 6 to 14 pounds (up to 22 pounds).  They are one of the largest species of armadillo with a total length from head to tail of 25 to 42 inches and are 6 to 10 inches tall at the top of the shell. Their sensitive noses can detect prey through 8 inches of soil.  Armor covers their back, sides, head and tail and the outside of their legs.  Unlike the South American three-banded armadillo, it cannot roll itself into a ball.  It is capable of floating across rivers by inflating it's intestines or by sinking and running across riverbeds, due to it's ability to hold it's breath up to six minutes, an adaptation allowing it to keep it's snout submerged while foraging in soil.  It's leading predator is humans, as it is locally harvested for it's meat and shell and thousands are victims of auto accidents.  July to August is mating season.  A single egg is fertilized, but implantation is delayed 3 to 4 months to insure it is not born in an unfavorable time of year.  Gestation is four months during which the zygote splits into four identical embryos. The quadruplets remain in the burrow on mother's milk for three months.  Then they forage with the mother, leaving after six months to a year. They reach sexual maturity at one year and reproduce every year for the rest of their 12 to 15 year lifespan, having up to 56 young in a lifetime.  It tastes like pork, steals poultry and game bird eggs and is valuable in medical research, as they are susceptible to leprosy.  They are raised in Texas for armadillo races where they scurry down a 40 foot track.  In the Depression they were known as "poor man's pork" or "Hooverhog" by those who considered Hoover responsible for the Depression.  They migrated here from South America and have been spotted as far north as Nebraska, Illinois and Indiana.

AirStreamhenge next to a big RV sales lot near our campground.

Near the Mall three boats of rowers and several sail boats that are lit up at night and the lights move to show the rowers rowing and the sails moving.  Kind of cool.  Not sure if this was just for Christmas or if they are there all the time.  They have an annual seaborne parade in February at Gasparilla that draws 400,000 spectators.  Over half the cargo through Florida is handled at Port of Tampa.  The port is over 5,000 acres with 3 cruise ship terminals, 7 phosphate terminals, 14 dry bulk, 11 cargo and 3 full-service shipyards.  Phosphate is 90% of their outbound tonnage, making them the largest port by tonnage in the state, moving 50 million tons annually.  The state's two largest natural resource industries are citrus and cattle.  There are one million beef cattle on Florida ranches covering four million acres pastureland and one million acres grazed woods and scrub land.  They roamed free all over the state until 1947 when a fencing law was passed.  All citrus pulp and waste goes into cattle feed, as does molasses, a sugar cane by-product.  Florida leads the nation in oranges, grapefruit, tangerines and tangelos.  Plant City near our campground is the "World's Winter Strawberry Capitol".  They grow 18.5 million flats (over 220 million pounds) strawberries every year.  The Driscoll Berry warehouse is right next door to our campground.  They are also the national leader in production of sugar cane, bell peppers, fresh market sweet corn, snap beans, squash, radishes and eggplant.  They are the only state with commercial lime and mango crops.  With 90 million pounds of seafood caught every year, the total economic impact of the seafood industry to the state is over $1 billion and creates over 30,000 jobs. 

Ca' d'Zan (Casa de Zan), Venetian dialect for House of John, the home of John and Mabel Ringling on Sarasota Bay, designed to emulate the grandeur of the Doge's Palace in Venice.  Completed in 1926 for $1.5 million (original estimate $225,000) on 66 beautiful, bayfront acres, it includes tree trails, pathways, secret garden where they are buried, Mabel's 28,000 square foot rose garden (1913 Italian wagon-wheel design with 1,200 rose plants, 2006 most outstanding public rose garden in the nation), Museum of Art, Circus Museum and Learning Center with circus miniatures and interactive galleries.  Notice what looks like a grove of trees to the left side of the walk.  It is actually all one tree, a banyan tree.  There are fifteen on the estate.  I will talk more about them in my next blog. 

John (born MacGregor, Iowa 1866) was the youngest of the five Ringling brothers who founded the circus.  There were two more brothers who worked for the circus and one sister, who did not.  She and her husband, a railroad engineer, had a home across the bay and she is buried here with John and Mabel.  John started as a clown and later took over as advance man, routing and scouting circus acts in Europe in the 1890s, where he became an international celebrity.  He was an astute business man with expensive tastes.  By the 1920s he was one of the wealthiest men in the country with investments in Oklahoma oil, Florida real estate, finance, railroads, Montana ranching and an interest in Madison Square Gardens in New York.  He had multiple residences, a private rail car and an extensive art collection of over 600 paintings.  

The home has 56 rooms and 36,000 sq. ft.  The 3rd, 4th and 5th stories are just guest quarters.  Some guests were the New York governor and mayor, Flo Ziegfeld and Will Rogers.   Al, the oldest brother, was the instigator and founder.  He taught himself to juggle, ride bareback and walk a rope and took off with the carnival.  

There is a 12,000 sq. ft. marble terrace.   Mabel died two and a half years after the home was completed.  What a bummer.  John died ten years after it was complete.  Tickets were $25, but you could get them stamped to come back for a second day.   I also heard someone say that the art museum was free on Mondays.  Anyway, well worth the price.  We were here for almost ten hours.

The 125 ft. yacht, Zalophus, was moored here.  When entertaining, John's favorite Czechoslavakian band would be playing on the yacht with the music drifting up to the guests on the terrace or inside in the ballroom.  What a life!

This is the ballroom which was open to two other large rooms when entertaining large groups.  Check out the gilded ceiling with 22 hand-painted depictions of dancing couples from various nations, called "Dancers of Nations".   

Close-up of ceiling. 

This is what they called "the court", to us family room or living room. The chandelier is from the old Waldorf Astoria that was demolished to make room for the Empire State Building.  The Solarium was originally a screened porch with access to the terrace and in-ground marble pool.  It is now enclosed and the pool is being restored. 

Dining room.  There is a Tap Room off  to the side where the men retired to after dinner for their drinks, cigars and conversation, while the women had to go to the parlor and do lady-like things. 

John's bedroom with bedroom suite designed after one he saw that belonged to Napoleon.  It has a bathroom, walk-in closet, connecting office with private marble staircase and adjoins Mabel's bedroom which also has a bathroom and walk-in closet. 

View down into the court, or gathering and entertainment area, which opens out to the terrace and the breakfast room, which leads to the butler's pantry and kitchen, above which are the servants quarters.   In the breakfast room there were matching leather, upholstered cushions on the floor in front of each chair, so the women wouldn't have to touch the cold tile floor with their feet. 

In the Tibbals Learning Center are the Circus Miniature and Interactive Galleries.  Howard Tibbals spent 50 years of his life creating the world's largest miniature circus.  It is modeled after the Ringling Brother's Circus, but they would not let him use their name, so it is called the Howard Bros. Circus Model.   It is a 3,800 sq. ft. exhibition space and replicates the 20 acre circus when it was at it's largest from 1919 to 1938.  It features eight circus tents and 42,000 objects.   At it's largest they held 15,000 with folding chairs the length of the tent and bleachers along the curved ends.  If they were sold out, straw was spread on the ground for children.  A packed Big Top was known as a "strawhouse".   There were also tents for the performing horses, working horses, camels, giraffes, zebras, elephants, blacksmiths, leather workers, dressing rooms, etc.  The action was in three rings, on four stages, around the hippodrome and in the air and the show lasted two and a half hours with no intermission and over 800 artists performing in 22 displays.  At the time there were no zoos and the circus was the first place Americans saw animals from another continent.

It shows the parade that leads people to the Midway with sideshows, souvenirs and food, and through the menagerie of circus wagons full of exotic animals, including lions, tigers, polar bears, orangutans, and kangaroos.  There are also all the behind the scenes tents, like the dining hall where they fed 1,300 people three meals a day.  It was the first one to arrive in town, so meals would be ready when the rest of the crew arrived.  All the supplies they would need were ordered ahead by the advance man.  A typical day's order was 2 barrels sugar, 30 gal. milk, 36 bags table salt, 30 bu. potatoes, 110 doz. oranges, 200 lbs. tea & coffee, 226 doz. eggs, 285 lbs. butter, 350 lbs. salad, 1,300 lbs. fresh veggies, 2,220 loaves bread, 2,470 lbs. fresh meat, and 3,600 ears corn.

It took Mr. Tibbals over a year to assemble the exhibit.  It also includes the railroad cars, tracks, depot, etc.  He actually packed everything into the wagons and onto the train cars just like they really did it and unloaded the same way, starting with the dining tent.  He is an engineer and the loading and setting up was what fascinated him the most.  The U.S. Army and armies all over Europe studied the detailed logistics of the circus methods of traveling all over with so much gear.  Between 1919 and 1938 they traveled in over 100 train cars with 1,300 workers and performers and 800 animals, moving every day covering 15,000 miles and 150 towns per year.  He built the bulk of it in the basement of his Tennessee home.  He continues to work 20 hours a week adding more thoroughly researched details.  He was born in 1936. 

They also have the Dunn Bros Parade miniatures on display, which is thousands of animals, performers, wagons etc.  Dunn displayed his first model circus in a department store in Enid, Oklahoma and turned it into a career.  He estimated over 5 million people viewed his traveling miniature circus at over 200 department stores across the country.  The first American circus parade was in Philadepphia in 1797 and the first true circus performance was there in 1793 with George Washington and his family in attendance.  In the 1940s most parades were discontinued, as radio and TV advertising became more effective.  In 1963 the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin restarted an annual "Great Circus Parade".   Baraboo was the original headquarters of Ringling Bros. where they grew up.  Their winter headquarters was eventually moved to Sarasota in 1927 for 60 years and finally to Venice, Florida.  Now they practice at the Tampa Fairgrounds.  They bought Barnum and Bailey after Bailey's death in 1906 and became RBBB.  John Ringling, the last of the five brothers, died in 1936 with no direct heirs and the circus in a financial mess.  His home and art museum were left to the state.  His nephews (Ida's sons) John Ringling North and Henry took over and got the circus back on it's feet.  John was brilliant circus owner and an international playboy and played himself in Cecil B. DeMille's 1952 movie "The Greatest Show on Earth", which premiered in Sarasota, starring Charleton Heston, Dorothy Lamour and Jimmy Stewart.  It was filmed live all over the country and John hired the performers and oversaw all aspects of the movie.  He even co-composed one of the songs, "Lovely Luawana Lady".  It cost $3 million to make with $500,000 in advertising and grossed over $12 million the first year.  The last performance of the Big Top was in Pittsburgh in 1956, ending a 131 year tradition.  After that they moved their performances into arenas.  Irvin Feld, a clown, started the Clown College in Venice in 1968 and eventually bought the Ringling Bros. Circus where he signed the contract at the Coliseum in Rome.  He sold it to Mattel Toy Company in 1970 for over $47 million.  In 1982 he bought it back.  He died two years later and his son took over.  The name changed to Feld Entertainment , Inc. in 1996.   Feld also developed "Circus Fit", a youth fitness program and CEC, Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida, a state-of-the-art breeding and retirement facility for the conservation, breeding and study of the Asian elephant.  Circus training for all ages is more popular than ever and growing throughout the world.

Calliopes were first built in the 1850s.  This Two Jester Calliope is one of only a dozen original steam calliope instruments left in existence today.  The 36-whistle instrument is the largest ever placed in a circus wagon, an American invention, built in Denver in 1920.  Stilts have been used for hundreds of years in agriculture and construction.  The parades were led by a bandwagon.  The one in the museum was built in 1878, weighs over 8 tons and was pulled by 40 black horses in Barnum and Bailey.  They also have one of those human cannon machines on display and the original private family train car of John and Mabel, named Wisconsin.  

Elephant blankets with 25 yards of material, trim and supporting canvas backing, with thousands of rhinestones and sequins weigh up to 200 pounds. The tradition of training elephants goes back 4,000 years to the Hindu Valley.  Clyde Beatty was known for showing 40 lions and tigers in a single cage.  Ursula Bottcher had an act training ten polar bears.  The Cristiani family was known their simultaneous running leap onto the back of a galloping horse.  In 1859 the Great Blondin walked an 1,100 foot wire across Niagara Falls.  In 1970 someone walked a 1,000 foot wire across Tallulah Gorge in North Georgia, doing two headstands along the way.  In 1974 someone walked a wire between the two towers of the World Trade Center.  In 2011 Nick Wallenda finished the high wire act that killed his great-grandfather.  John Ringling brought the Wallenda family to America in 1928.   

Mary Wirth's costume.  She started training at 7 and by 10 was a talented trick rider.  At 18 she was touring with Barnum and Bailey as "The World's Greatest Bareback Rider", somersaulting backwords through rings on horseback, starting a 25 year career.  Jules Leotard is credited with inventing the Flying Trapese, but is best known for the item of clothing that is named for him.  There was also an exhibit about Cirque du Soleil which was founded in 1984 in Quebec by a small group of entertainers who dreamed of traveling the world entertaining audiences. It has now been applauded by tens of millions of spectators on four continents.  The greates circus tragedy took place in 1944.  With 7,000 watching the Great Wallendas on the highwire, a fire started, consuming the Big Top in minutes with 168 killed and over 500 injured.  The circus was fined $10,000 and six employees served jail terms.  Later in the 1950s a convicted arsonist confessed to setting the blaze.

Also on the grounds is an awesome art museum with Ringling's lifetime collection and more.  It is in a U-shape around this great courtyard garden with lots of great sculptures. 

All along the roof line is full-size sculptures of people. 

When we were at the Siesta Key Beach, a couple from Bosnia asked me to take a picture of their family in front of this sand sculpture they had made. 

Happy New Year to all.  I hope to have another blog (about Fort Myers) in a few days.  We are now in Lakeworth, Florida, Palm Beach area on Atlantic side.

Happy sailing!