Tag Archives: Florida Attractions

Dreams of Youth

Ponce de Leon Springs, FL 2013

Ponce de Leon Springs, FL 2013

There is a quote by Aristotle that says, “Youth is easily deceived because it is quick to hope.” I feel that youth is deceived because it believes that youth will last forever. Becoming older does not change this delusion; rather makes one try to chase it. Throughout history there were tales of some fountain where one could have youth restored to an otherwise aging body. There is a story that Ponce de Leon was chasing that dream when he came to Florida in 1511. The story is not true, or at the very least, there is no record directly attributed to de Leon where he mentions it, but it has worked its way into the lore of Florida history. It is funny to me that there are several “documented” locations for the Fountain of Youth throughout the state, when the story goes that he never actually found the fabled spring.

Over the past couple of years I have photographed five different locations that try to attach Ponce de Leon to the myth of the Fountain of Youth. Each has its own historical marker that “proves” the fact that de Leon actually found the spring of healing waters at that particular location. The truth is that he did not find, nor did he even look for the fountain. Fact or fiction has never been a bother to Florida when it comes to an opportunity to attract northern tourist to the state. Beginning in 1511, Florida has treated visitors to its wonders, both actual and those made up. In the advertising world this is referred to as “ballyhoo” and from the landing of Pomce de Leon to Disney the state has been steeped in it. Please do not get me wrong I am not criticizing, for me it is very much part of the charm of the state, and it is part of who we are. I just find it humorous that there are so many locations for something that was never found.

The picture at the top is for De Leon Springs State Park, where Ponce de Leon has become a marketing tool. The bus stop add for a laundromat shows the 16th century explorer holding up a pair of boxers, that  most likely  did not exists in de Leon’s day. The entrance to the state park bearing his name show him with his arm around a young lady in a 20th century styled bathing suite. In the end the ballyhoo is a fun aspect of the history of Florida and how sometimes myths work themselves into an accepted part of history. It is interesting to me that Florida has had to resort to ballyhoo to create its allure when the weather, lovely natural landscape, and friendly people should be enough.

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Under the Boardwalk

Boardwalk, Daytona Beach Florida 2013

Tilt-a-Whirl, The Boardwalk, Daytona Beach Florida, 2012

While I often go back to areas that I have photographed before, the Boardwalk at Daytona Beach is one that I have not been to in a few years. In the mid to late 1980s, when I was studying photography at what is now Daytona State College, I would often come to the Boardwalk to do what I thought of at the time as Garry Winogrand inspired “street photography.” I could count on the Boardwalk to offer a menagerie of people ranging from bikers, to college students, to retires, to homeless people, and to tourist. In the week after Bike Week and the week before Spring Break there would be bikers in the southern, older end of the boardwalk. This was popular with them as the pizza was cheap and the beer flowed freely. As you went north there would be an infusion of college students who, flush with their parents’ money would be staying and playing at the higher end hotels located toward the amphitheatre where there would be an assortment of contests including the ever popular, (at least with the males, but with the willing participation of the females) wet t-shirt contest. Both of these groups took advantage the warmth of spring and the fact that they were far from home.

Over the years the Boardwalk at Daytona Beach had gone through several upgrades. It has long ago, even before I started to go there, lost it’s wood planking, replacing it with colored concrete imprinted with relief sea gulls and pelicans on the walkways that took you from the pier to the south and the amphitheater to the north. Despite these occasional upgrades, there was always a sense of tackiness and history to the place. Over time I photographed unsuccessfully the famous diving woman that was atop the swimsuit shop. There, as it had been for many years the saltwater taffy machine churning, what I can only guess, the same blob of taffy as I saw all those years ago. Many windows would be covered from floor to ceiling with tee shirts printed with sayings that one would not wear in public, except in Daytona Beach. Then there were the arcades with games that were so old they were last popular before the days of video games, offer tests of skill and manliness to those looking for an ice cream, hot dogs and a beer. However, for all its tackiness and questionable cleanliness, there was also a sense of tradition and history to the place. So despite its rather sorted charm, it was a popular location for both grizzly bikers and families with kids.

The boardwalk always seemed somewhat sad to me. Here was a place to be a haven for fun in the sun, but no one seemed that happy. Workers seemed bored, fathers and mothers where short with their children, and teenagers trying to look cool in this somewhat seedy environment by trying to look both hip and aloof. Still it is my guess that they will go home happy with stories of time in the waves and with t-shirts that they cannot nor will not wear when they return home. I too came home feeling happy that I was still able to get some photographs as I did in 1986. In the end, the Daytona Beach Boardwalk was in many ways like my memory of it, some things the same and some of it missing, but still with a sense of what it once had been.

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Time Travel

Alligator Farm, US27, south Florida, 2012

Alligator Farm, US27, south Florida, 2012

Yesterday, a friend and I spent the day out looking for things to photograph. It had been some time since we had been to South Florida, especially on the east side of Lake Okeechobee, so that was the direction we headed. Our idea was to head down Highway 441 around the great lake and then catch Highway 27, over to somewhere north of Miami where we would then return north on Highway 1. I have written before about the trips that my father and I made to the western side of the Everglades to fish, but when we first came to Florida in the late 1950s we often took day trips to various parts of the state, including the east side of Lake Okeechobee. There was one trip to this part of the state that we made when I was maybe six or seven, where we stopped at a gator farm. There were many of these gator farms, especially near the Everglades, where male Seminole Indians would be on hand to wrestle alligators and the women would sell Seminole handicrafts.

Unknown to me at the time, the gators were kept very well fed and were most lethargic and in truth the man wrestling them was in little danger. But that was not how it seemed to a six year old. My brother, who at the age of twelve, I am sure was worldlier. The man would get on the gator’s back and pull it’s head up from behind. The gator’s mouth was wide open and one, if positioned in the right spot, could see deep down the gator’s throat. To me I was looking down the abyss, to what would be my final resting place if the gator decided to break through the seemingly flimsy chicken wire fence that separated the tourist from the predator. While all this was happening my mother and grandmother were off to the gift shop where they bought dresses for my mother’s nieces. My Grandmother, who owned a fabric store bought Seminole made fabric and was interested in how the dresses were made. My mother bought handmade crafts for my father’s brother who was a collector of Native American artifacts. Now, more than 50 years later, I remember those trips clearly, almost as if they had happened yesterday.

Yesterday while driving down Highway 27 from Belle Glade we past an old building almost hidden among the weeds. We stopped, as we tend to do when looking for “rusty gold.” While I have no idea if it was the one that we went to all those years ago, it had a very familiar look to it. A heavy growth of weeds and trees kept us from exploring deep into the property, but the front was fairly typical of what I remember as a kid. In some ways it was like looking at a ghost. The front building was all that was left for the most part. The words painted on the front of the building told of its glory days as a pre-Disney Florida roadside attraction, the “Finest Collection of Everglades Animals.” The animals are now gone, as are the wrestlers and the women who made the crafts. Gone too are the tourists. The building, at least for now, still stands as a reminder of a not too distance past in Florida’s history. I am glad that we stopped to make a few photographs and when days like this happens I am glad to be a photographer and time traveler.

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