October, 2011

October, 2011


The Clearwater Jazz Holiday celebrates its 32nd year of bringing today’s greatest jazz talents and fans together. This free event is held in Coachman Park (on the waterfront in downtown Clearwater.) The backdrop of the beach, warm Gulf breezes and brilliant sunsets adds to the ambience of this great jazz lineup:

Thursday, October 13: 5- 6pm - Global Affect; 6:30 - 8 pm - Kevin Eubanks; 8:30 - 10 pm- Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue

Friday, October 14: 4:30- 5:30pm - Valerie Gillespie Ensemble; 6- 7:15pm - Gerald Clayton Trio; 7:45 - 9 pm - Miss Tess & The Bon Ton Parade; 9:30 – 11pm- Brian Culbertson

Saturday, October 15: 2 - 3:15pm - Jazz Juvenocracy; 3:45- 5pm - Whitney James; 5:30 - 6:45pm - LaRue Nickelson Group; 7:15 - 8:45pm - Sammy Figueroa & The Latin Jazz Explosion; 9:15 - 10:45pm - Maceo Parker; 10:45pm - Fireworks

Sunday, October 16:  3- 4 pm - Ruth Eckerd Hall / Clearwater Jazz Holiday Youth Jazz Band; 4:30 - 5:45pm - Mike Markaverich Trio; 6:15 - 7:45pm - Christian McBride & Inside Straight; 8:15 - 9:30pm- Dianne Reeves

For VIP tickets, Reserved Seating and more information,  go to www.clearwaterjazz.com, facebook.com/ClearwaterJazz, or call 727-461-5200.

Travel to the 35th Annual Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival in Niceville on October 21, 22, and 23 for one of the best-known country music events.  This year’s headliners are Trace Adkins, Jake Owen, and Brantley Gilbert. The entire family will enjoy the entertainment, including local talent.

There will be a kids’ stage and clown shows, fine art and hand-crafts, rides, numerous exhibits, and a staggering array of food concessions.

In the days when Niceville was a sleepy little fishing village known as Boggy Bayou, fishermen poled flat-bottomed skiffs into the bay at night, listened for the jumping mullet, and cast their nets. They salted and preserved, sold what they could and traded with farmers in the Panhandle and Alabama for vegetables. During this year’s three-day festival thousands of hungry mullet fans will consume up to four tons of this humble fish.


Entertainment Schedule: Friday night--Country star Brantley Gilbert (Country Must be Country Wide); Saturday night - Trace Adkins, member of Grand Ole Opry, 4-time Grammy nominee, and winner of numerous ACM and CMT awards (Just Fishin'); Alcohol-free Family Day on Sunday features Vero Beach native Jake Owen.As the Academy of Country Music's 2009 Top New Male Vocalist, he spent 2011 touring with Keith Urban and readying his third album for release--(title track Barefoot Blue Jean Night, became #1 Country song.) Also performing will be: Sleepy Man Banjo Boys who recently made their Grand Ole Opry debut, Doctor Zarr's Amazing Funk Monster, and the Alabama Blues Brothers.

Discount tickets are available online, but prices at the gate are: All-day Friday - $10; Saturday before 5pm - $10.00; Saturday beginning at 5pm -$15.00; Sunday All Day - $10.00. Free admission for children age 11 and under. The Mullet Festival Site is located at the intersection of Highway 85 North and College Boulevard.  Go to www.cityofniceville.org or 850-729-4545.

   St. Francis Inn- St. Augustine

During the Civil War it was said that the St. Francis was one of the best Inns in St. Augustine. For those who like to be coddled once in a while and appreciate the remnants of history, it’s still tops.


The oldest inn in the city, the St Francis, was built in 1791 in what was called the Second Spanish Period. After England wrested Florida from Spain twenty years earlier, the Spanish took it over for another 38 years beginning in 1783.


History is what makes the Inn intriguing, but has nothing to do with the comfort factor. I have never been so pampered at any accommodation, and it’s only partially due to the amenities. It is the staff that sets the tone from the time you walk into the small reception area until you leave. Personnel can be trained to be cordial, but one has to believe that people are hired at the St. Francis due to their innate pleasant caretaker personalities.


One of the first transactions is delivery of the weekly menu and a careful explanation of the complimentary breakfasts, evening appetizers, and late evening desserts. There is no doubt that the culinary experience here is as important as the lodging.


Escorted to your room, ascending the steep stairs, it is a feeling of venturing into another time when graciousness was ordinary. In the rooms, or suites, the furniture is period, rounded out with modern conveniences. The bathrooms are especially nice with showers and large whirlpool tubs. There also awaits you literature on the historical city and a flacon of sherry and two snifters for bedtime imbibing—although after a day of sightseeing in St Augustine, you probably won’t need it for a sound night’s sleep.


There are eleven units in the three-story original building, and four in a dwelling across the street known as the Wilson House—named for the owner who was at one time, also the owner of the inn—plus two more in the adjacent cottage that was slave quarters.


Every room is different, but all have central air and heat, telephones, cable TV and DVD players. Some have kitchenettes and fireplaces. All have queen-size beds or larger, and the suites have sleeper sofas in the sitting rooms.


The full sense of civility arrives in the morning as the aroma of coffee and cooking wafts up the stairwell. One guest expressed surprise, expecting a continental breakfast of the common sort, but the St. Francis offers a connoisseur’s morning meal. Each day’s menu is a different gourmand’s delight supplemented with fresh-baked bread and muffins and homemade jams, in addition to granola, cereals, yogurt, juice, milk, a selection of gourmet coffees, hot teas and flavored waters.


It’s all you can eat, and you can take it anywhere you like including the courtyard--one of those peaceful open-air yet private places cherished by visitors--although planned with a different intent. Courtyards were a common design when early residents lived under constant threat of invasion. Houses were built close together and directly on the street like fortresses with open courtyards nestled inside high walls for safety.


The only fear today is that you may wear yourself out before returning for more of the inn’s pleasures. St. Augustine is touted as one of the most walkable cities in the country with the St. Francis in the midst of 29 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. For those whom strolling is not a strong point, the inn will give you a bicycle, maps, and personal directions for pedaling around the sites.


There is one attraction, though, to which you’ll want to drive. About six miles away, the inn has a beach cottage--providing beach chairs and private parking just a short amble from the gorgeous white sand of St. Augustine beach. The cottage gives you access to a private bathroom and shower with all the necessities—even an outdoor shower to rinse the sand before leaving, and cold bottled water.


Back at the inn you never have to worry about parking because there’s an off-street private lot, and the complimentary appetizers are timed for return after a day on the town. Again it’s different hors d’oeuvres each evening, always augmented by wine and beer for easing into a tranquil twilight.


If you didn’t make it to the ocean maybe you’ll want to take a dip in the solar-heated pool before the late evening desserts are served.  The last course of the day could be a torte, pudding, cake, or cobbler depending on the chef’s decision, but it’s guaranteed to be a warm, delectable sendoff for the night.


In founding the nation’s oldest city there were hardships of war and poverty that caused many untimely deaths, which seems to explain a number of lingering ghosts.  However, rather than frightening, St. Augustine’s ghosts are reassuring. In this city it’s considered prestigious to have a resident spirit, and some say the St. Francis is favored.

It seems that in the mid-nineteenth century the inn owner’s nephew fell in love with a Jamaican maid, but the fulfillment of love with a black indentured servant was impossible, so in grief they both committed suicide.


Legend has it that Lilly is still hanging around, and although it is said she is sometime mischievous, her only intent seems to be in making guests comfortable by lending an aura of romanticism.


Employees who have been at the inn for more than twenty years say they have never seen Lilly, but there is an unmistakable ambiance of affability about the place that is unusual. Most believe, however, that it’s simply the result of quality management and good people rather than ethereal inspiration. At any rate, the St. Francis is a place that gets the small details right, making for a very pleasant stay.


The St. Francis Inn is located at 279 St. George Street in St. Augustine. Call 800-824-6062, 904-824-6068 or go to www.stfrancisinn.com.

Victory III - Scenic Cruise – St. Augustine


In 1777 the Usina’s were among St. Augustine’s settlers from the island of Minorca, off the coast of Spain. Many of their descendants remain in the area today. When Captain Frank Usina and his wife Catherine couldn’t return to Miami in 1900 because of a yellow fever outbreak, they settled in the area known today as North Beach—-then only accessible by boat.


When tycoon Henry Flagler asked the Usina’s to hold oyster roasts, Minorcan-style dinners and dancing along Mantanzas Bay he needed someone to ferry his guests staying at the Ponce de Leon and Alcazar Hotels, now Flagler College, and Lightner Museum respectively. Hence, the Usina family business with a boat christened the Victory I was launched.


In the early part of the last century with one of the Usina sons at the age of only 17 as the licensed captain, they added fishing excursions to their offerings. The boat remained the main transportation to the popular North Beach until the 1930s when a bridge and paved highway created access by automobile.


During WWII when St. Augustine was a military town, there was a halt on fishing excursions. But gas rations were approved by the USO for the Usina’s boat, Victory II, to take servicemen on R&R sightseeing excursions, and in 1949 the Victory II became a full-time tourism boat for seeing the sights.


Today the 1-hour-and 15-minute excursion on the Victory III is a relaxing way to see some of the historical and natural sights along the St. Augustine waterfront and beautiful Matanzas Bay. The top deck of the twilight tour, wafted by ocean breezes, is an especially peaceful way to wind down from a day of visiting the attractions.


Away from the dock, the boat passes under the Bridge of Lions and horse-drawn carriages clop by as you skirt past the Castillo de San Marcos-- the massive coquina-constructed fort begun in 1672 that took 23 years to complete. Twice the entire citizenry took refuge in the fort when besieged by the English. The invasion of 1702 caused fifteen hundred Spanish citizens to flee behind the fort walls. When they could not penetrate the fortress, the British burned the entire city. Because of that conflagration—although the colony was founded almost a 140 years earlier—there are no buildings standing in St. Augustine older than 1702.


Farther along the grassy coast the boat passes the 208-foot stainless steel cross at La Leche shrine. It marks the very place where in 1565 Pedro Menendez landed, claiming the site for Spain and the Church—a sacred spot where settlers began devotion to Our Lady of La Leche that continues today.


Making a wide turn the boat skirts North Beach then glides past Anastasia State Park where birds, watch contentedly from the salt flats. There are swimmers and fishermen who wave and it seems compulsive that everyone on the top deck waves back.


The 165-foot St. Augustine lighthouse that has been guiding ships since 1874 marks the south end of the excursion where the boat reverses course and heads back toward the docks.


As the downtown skyline of historic buildings appear, sailboats and dolphins dance past. In the distance the spires of Flagler’s College, and the copper dome of Memorial Presbyterian Church glow in the setting sun. It seems a perfectly choreographed conclusion to a relaxing respite.


The Victory III departs for a 1-hour-and-15 minute narrated tour daily: (April 1-October 15) from the downtown municipal marina at 11 am; 1, 2:45, 4:30 and 6:45 pm. Oct 16-Jan 1, it departs at 11 am; 1, 2:45, and 4:30 p.m. Jan 2-31 they’re dry docked for annual maintenance. Feb 1-Mar 31 tours resume at 11 am; 1, 2:45, and 4:30 pm. Call 904-824-1806 or go to www.scenic-cruise.com.

Ripley’s Ghost Train Adventure – St. Augustine

Since St. Augustine is our country’s oldest city and endured violent upheavals, the possibility of ghosts there was intriguing—as it had been for TV’s GhostHunters.

We showed up at Ripley’s Museum at 8 p.m. for our tickets. It was after hours, when darkness was creeping on. In the Ghost Parlour displayed photos documented orbs (unexplained circles of light appearing), ribbons (streaks of light emanating from people) and ectoplasm (a misty vapor from the mouth and nose of the person the ghost is using as a host) that had been captured at various haunts. Now we knew what we were looking for.

Outside, the jovial young guides handed out EMF (electro-magnetic field) meters—the kind electricians and carpenters use so they don’t drill into live wiring. When there’s a steady flow of electrical current (near a lamp) the meter registers a red light. However when there’s a quick burst of energy, the light meter is triggered to dance along the display. We checked ours and saw the twinkling lights of everyone’s meters against the now-dark. We were also handed throwaway cameras, but they recommended we use our digital cameras and flick away. Later, we’d look to see what had been captured.

The thinking behind the light meter is that it captures the pure energy of a spirit. Usually this is not visible by the human eye. We were also encouraged to bring recording devices to capture “spirit voices.” We were told to be alert to a cold chill or any strange movements if our meters went berserk. This would be the ghost’s imprint of energy from a traumatic event. Usually we are oblivious to a spirit’s tiny amount of energy because we humans operate on full power.

Holding their swinging lanterns, the guides informed us that the three haunted sites we’d examine had all been verified by the St. Augustine Historical Society. We listened to their chilling tales, then jumped on the ghost train for this paranormal interactive experience.

First stop was along St. Francis Street—where Franciscan monks vowed to watch over gravesites (grave robbing was popular then). At the corner where it intersects with St. George Street, there is a tiny park with a statue of St. Francis. Snap, snap, snap. We’d check our photos later. As we exited under a trellis, the guide pointed across the street to the St. Francis Inn (1791), telling about the ill-fated Romeo-and-Juliet-type lovers and their double suicide on the third floor. “Wait a minute,” I interrupted and pointed. “We’re staying on the third floor. I left that light on. Is that the room?”  There were a few gasps and murmurs as people edged away and scuttled  back to the train. When we returned to the St. Francis much later, we asked the clerk, who confirmed Lily’s room was at the end of our hall. The stairs creaked as we made our way up and kept our eyes wide open. Although we saw and felt nothing unusual, my husband Bob demanded I photograph him as he posed crazily in front of her door.

Ensconced in the Garcia suite, we sipped some sherry, laughed, noted how unusually romantic we felt being at the St. Francis. Bob said it was their caring staff and great amenities…but I know it was Lily’s enduring romantic vibe.
The Ghost Train wound through the quiet brick streets and slowly passed the Tomalo Cemetery, then stopped at the Huguenot Cemetery—the public burial plots of 1821. We all peered over the wall—snap, snap, snap. We listened to the sorrowful tales and squinted to catch a glimpse of  Judge Sweeney stumbling, crawling  past in search of his stolen teeth or of Elizabeth waving a wispy goodbye to us from the city gates.

The final stop was at Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum—an 1880s poured concrete castle built by Standard Oil partner William G. Warden. It later became a classy hotel when owned by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (The Yearling) and her husband.

Two women died in a fire in April 1944 at the Castle Warden Inn, as it was called during the World War II era. But many observers now believe that Ruth Hopkins Pickering and Betty Neville Richeson were murdered and the fire set to cover up the evil deed.

Still in the dark, we stumbled up the eerily shadowed stairs to the the second and third floors and heard other theories about the tragedy and sightings of both women gazing from the windows where they perished. One man interrupted that he’d just touched a metal weight machine sculpture of an Indian and it had moved. The older man next to him shook his head and said “It did. I saw it.” as the guide swung her lantern toward that corner. “Hmmm. It’s lead. How could…?” she answered. We all laughed nervously and proceeded to the Murder Room.

Bob stood in a corner of that room with his meter blinking wildly. Snap, snap, snap. As we sat in stiff chairs to watch a short finale video, my chair shook. I looked at Bob as he stared intently ahead at the screen. “Did you wiggle my chair?”

Back outside in the safety of the lighted porch, we heard different people’s comments: one young boy said he’d heard women whispering in the Murder Room. As we looked over our photos taken, a young woman beside me scrolled through her digital photos--that were all covered in orbs!

You’re never truly alone when you take a ride on the spooky side: Ripley’s Ghost Train Adventure starts at 8 p.m. daily at the Museum at 19 San Marco Avenue. There is free parking and discount are available online. Go to www.ghosttrainadventure.com or call 904-824-1606.

  The Hotel Jacaranda- Avon Park

A former neighbor used to jump on his Harley and ride seventy-five miles just to have lunch at the Jacaranda and listen to the pianist. At the time I questioned his wisdom, but now that I’ve seen the place I believe he was on to something.


If you’re traveling through the central part of the state and looking for something different than the predictable fair of hotel chains you might want to investigate the Jacaranda. Even if you’re not seeking overnight accommodations, this is a place to consider.


The “Jac,” as those familiar often call it, is one of the oldest continuously operating hotels in central Florida, and listed on the National Historic Register.


Back in 1926 they must have felt guilty about ripping out a 150 year-old Jacaranda tree to facilitate building of the 90-room brick edifice—so, in penance, they honored the tree in naming the hotel—at any rate that’s one theory. Additional atonement was that the hotel had to be something special—nothing ordinary.


Elegant is defined as tastefully ornate, marked by grace, refinement, and style: That was the Jacaranda, and still is. Age does not erase character.

Today, the huge high-ceiling lobby with its glossy hardwood floor and library would be grounds for dismissal if an architect wasted so much valuable retail space—but then, flamboyance can’t be picayune. And the classic ambiance continues down the first floor arcade with its oriental rug-laden, polished terrazzo displaying along the way, SFCC offices and commercial space.

Like any establishment lasting 85 years the Jacaranda has changed hands a few times. The last transfer of stewardship was in 1988 when purchased by the South Florida Community College Foundation, Inc, and it has worked well for both institutions. The Jac was in disrepair and sold for about the price of a large house, but since then an excess of $3 million has been poured into the resurrection of its original splendor.


The architecture known as Revivalist Mediterranean was laid out in two parallel three-story wings, connected midrange, forming an H-pattern. The back wing is currently employed as a dormitory for SFCC students attending the school’s hospitality management and culinary arts programs. Conveniently, trainees perfect their skills in the Jacaranda’s modernized kitchen. However, General manager Sharon Schuler quickly points out that their dining room is completely dissociated with apprentice practice runs.


The 30 rooms for guests create a comparatively small hotel in contrast with the large appearance, and it’s quite intimate. The appeal to many is that the rooms have a look of another era, but they have all the conveniences you’d expect. Some have been converted to two and three bedroom suites with high-speed Internet, microwaves and refrigerators. All, of course, have cable TV and free local calls. The whole building has been upgraded with air conditioning and a sprinkler system.


On the second floor there are lounges with French door access to a wide Mexican-tiled veranda running the full length, overlooking a park setting in the street median, with magnificent oak trees draped in Spanish moss. The elevator leading to the rooms is the original—not spacious, and distinctive in its requirement of an operator. If you’re on upper floors you push the buzzer two or three times indicating the level, and they will come and get you.  In today’s do-it-yourself fast pace world, it’s enchanting.


But, perhaps most captivating is the hotel’s history. It’s a human frailty, we’re told, to crave association, even vicariously, with the rich and famous—and the Jac offers plenty to satisfy that weakness.


It’s safe to say that today, Avon Park wouldn’t offer much to excite the Hollywood elite, but there was a time when it did. As the roar of the 20s dwindled to a whimper in the Great Depression, lesser hotels closed their doors permanently.  The Jac, nevertheless, kept going with patronage of the wealthy and the stars who valued Florida’s weather, combined with small-town seclusion juxtaposed with the opulent lodging of their liking.


The hall leading to the heated swimming pool is adorned with pictures of Clark Gable, George Burns, Gracie Allen, and Victor Borge to name a few. Then, there was the entire New York Yankees baseball team, led by Babe Ruth when they came to town to play the St. Louis Cardinals in spring training.  That must have been a rollicking time, but there is no record of necessary repairs after both teams left.


The most notorious guest was old scar face himself, Al Capone. He too, must have liked the somewhat isolated environment when things got too hot back in Chicago. But, he also may have been scouting for new suppliers of his bootlegging empire. The backwoods of Florida, after all, was rife with moonshine stills in those days.


And, then along came WW II and the construction of the General Bombing and Gunnery Range east of town. The years of conflict brought hardship to many, but prosperity to the Jacaranda in the form of military men by the hundreds who were housed there while they trained as pilots.


It’s all heart-warming nostalgia but if you can break away from the longing for a while the dining room will steer you back to the present. The casual elegance of Jacaranda’s Palm Room or Citrus Room is a relaxing, graceful setting.

Lunch is served Monday thru Friday, and on Sunday they roll out an all-you-can-eat buffet of their famous southern fried chicken and other regional cuisine.  During season, Monday through Friday dinner is also served.


In addition through the seasonal months beginning November, pianist Jeff Klein will be there to serenade diners with an endless repertoire of numbers. This is his fourteenth year at the Jacaranda, having built a following it is said, from all over the state.


Oh…and it should be mentioned that there is one bit of romanticism from that bygone era that is noticeably missing from this historic site. They don’t allow smoking any more—it kind of fogs up their new renovations. Most people won’t mind. The Hotel Jacaranda is located at 19 E. Main Street in Avon Park. Phone 863-453-2211 or go to www.hoteljac.com.

                         Avon Park Depot Museum

The railroads played an important role in the early development of Florida, penetrating deep into difficult-to-reach areas of the peninsula before passable roads. Railroads were the most reliable transportation of materials necessary for growth, and it was a long time before highways and motor vehicles provided comparable arteries.


As late as 1934 when my parents came to Florida on their honeymoon, much of Florida’s highways had barely advanced beyond the primitive stage. By the time I was old enough to understand, my father was still complaining about Florida’s roads, which were paved with crushed seashells, chewing the tread off his tires.


Avon Park is one of those small central towns that possibly would not have survived had not the rails run through its midst. In fact the town benefited from two rail lines that brought provisions, but more importantly, people.


The first to arrive in 1912 was the Atlantic Coast Line, stopping twice weekly with a combined passenger and freight train. Twelve years later the Seaboard Air Line Railroad extended its tracks through the town, and in 1926—the same year the Jacaranda Hotel was built a few blocks east—they put up the station that is today’s Depot Museum.


Although the railroad still operates, the depot was abandoned more than thirty years ago. Almost immediately the Historical Society of Avon Park (then under a different name) led the drive to convert the old station into a museum. After a transfer of ownership to the city and a lease back to the Historical Society, the museum opened the last in May, 1981.


About a half block north of Main Street, the museum in its coral stucco and white trim looks like a new building—a testament to an exceptional restoration of an 85 year-old Spanish Eclectic style structure. And just as striking is the glistening stainless-steel railroad car sitting next door.  “California Zephyr,” it says in large, bold script above the windows and below in more demure signage-- “Silver Palm.” It too looks new, but it was built in 1948 as a sleeper car.

Five years after the museum opened they found the Zephyr in Amtrak’s yard in Sanford. At some point it had been converted to a coach, and in the ‘70’s the Auto Train of Florida remodeled it a second time into a dining car with a complete kitchen.  That’s the way you’ll find it today—with luncheons and dinners served by the Society.


Many museums are devoted strictly to art, but inside the Depot Museum you’ll see that it is dedicated to small town culture—if not art per se, artifacts that reflect the founding and development of Avon Park, with railroading being just one of many subjects.


The next time you pop those brown ‘n serve rolls into the oven remember that they were invented in Avon Park. Joe Gregor, a baker and also a volunteer fireman, in 1949 yanked some half-baked rolls from the oven when the fire siren wailed. A couple hours later on a whim he stuck what looked like an uneatable penalty of his civic duty back into the heated chamber and discovered the rolls turned out perfectly. General Mills bought the idea for $40,000 and immediately obtained a patent. Joe, of course, has a prominent place in the museum.


There is no patent on Head Field, the stadium built in Avon Park to lure the St. Louis Cardinals for spring training. It’s now the high school ball field, but it was the scene of one of the most outstanding athletic events in the history of small town America.  In 1927 the New York Yankees arrived to challenge the Cardinals in pre-season. Baseball historians consider the ’27 Yankees possibly the greatest team ever assembled, and there they were in Avon Park facing the “Gas House Gang” who were reigning World Champions. It’s doubtful that more talent has ever been amassed on a single diamond anywhere. 5,000 fans turned out (more than the entire population of Avon Park) mostly to see the magnificent “Babe.” And he smacked at least one for them—clear out of the park.


Baseball aficionados could spend half a day just viewing the display of the game’s pictures and relics.


Avon Park was also the home of House of David baseball team--a bunch of pretty respectable ball players who didn’t believe in cutting their hair. They barnstormed around the country putting on exhibitions and challenging anyone who would accept the dare.


It was home to the Red Devil Circus too. One of the ladies who volunteers at the museum can tell you a lot about that display. She was once a performer under the big top.


As you would expect there is a large military exhibit due to the WW II established Gunnery and Bombing Range outside of town.  There, pilots learned to fly the B26 Martin Marauder, an important medium bomber, but it was known as the “widow maker” or “flying coffin.” “Very hard to fly,” one old timer said. “You can still find pieces of those things in craters around the area.” They don’t practice bombing there anymore, but the base is still active—now called the Avon Park Air Force Range.


Among numerous other artifacts is a history of Oliver Crosby, founder of the town, along with Avon Park’s telephone switchboard—one of the last manual boards used in the state, and an ancient type setting machine used by the town’s newspaper.


If you can get a group together—at least fifteen—they will serve lunch or dinner in the California Zephyr. It can seat a maximum of forty, and reservations are necessary. The car is filled with photographic memorabilia of the great railroading era, and occasionally a train roars by on the adjacent track creating more realism.


This is a small, but excellent museum—relatable, and one that surprises almost everyone who visits.  Hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and the first Saturday of each month. For more information or dinner reservations call 863-453-3525 or go to www.hsapoline.org.


Oktoberfest will be held October 15 on Museum Avenue, adjacent to the Depot Museum. There will be vendors, food and beer available, and the dining car will be open for snacks. 


The first annual Florida Panther Festival on October 29 at North Collier Regional Park in Naples will shed light on the plight of the endangered Florida panther through interactive activities about the Florida panther’s life and habitat.


Activities include presentations by panther biologists, a Living with Wildlife Pavilion, interactive walks, fun and educational activities for children, live bluegrass music by Frontline Bluegrass and the BugTussle Ramblers. There will also be food vendors, and information from various conservation agencies and organizations in panther territory.  The Festival is free of charge.

The Living with Wildlife Pavilion will provide area residents proactive steps that can be taken to protect pets and livestock on private property from any wildlife.  It will include tools biologists use to monitor panthers, capture videos, a demonstration livestock pen, handouts, and the popular Adopt-a-Panther program.

Presentations by panther research team members will include secrets of panther-capture techniques, why panthers are tracked, and how orchids play a role in panther habitat. There will also be face painting, children’s games, and food vendors throughout the day.

Rangers from Big Cypress National Preserve will guide a one-mile walk on the trail at North Collier Regional Park.  You’ll discover interesting facts and learn to look for tracks and other signs of wildlife. You’ll also meet one of the Preserve’s panther biologists and hear about their research.


The free two-hour educational walk requires advance registration and takes place four times on Saturday. For information and reservations on these, visit www.FloridaPantherFestival.com.  Free Panther Tales walks will also take place throughout the day and are open to everyone first-come, first-serve.  These will be short, leisurely walks along the park’s trails.

The previous day, Friday, October 28, a variety of field trips are available into areas in southwest Florida where panthers roam. These require advance registration and various costs apply:  Choices include a guided swamp buggy tour and hike at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, a bird rookery swamp trail hike at the CREW Land & Water Trust’s public hiking trails, an extensive swamp buggy ride through Big Cypress National Preserve, a guided tour of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary’s boardwalk, and guided bicycle tours through Picayune Strand State Forest and Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park.  Visit www.FloridaPantherFestival.com or call 239-353-8442 ext. 229 for more information.

Babcock Wilderness Adventure-Punta Gorda

If you think you’re up to a new thrill ride you might try the Babcock Ranch Eco Tour. I was expecting one of those unstoppable jacked-up, big-wheeled monstrosities, but it's just  an old windowless bus.  It handles the chores well and it's a novel ride, but it’s not the dynamics of the vehicle that is thrilling—it’s where it takes you.


You travel through wild conservation land where no prudent person would go on foot unless protected with waist-high waders against thorns, saw grass, sinking bogs, and possible snakebite. The problem with waders is that you can’t run fast, and in this wilderness you’re liable to come face to face with native creatures that would prompt you to move rather quickly.


In the bus it’s the close proximity to those menacing elements--yet a total shielding from them--that makes people feel almost giddy.


Babcock Wilderness Adventures Inc. operates on the 91,000 acres known as Crescent B Ranch—part of the original 156,000 acres purchased by E. V. Babcock in 1914, and where successive generations of Babcock's engaged in logging, ranching and farming.


When the Babcock Family sold the ranch in 2006 it was one of the single largest purchases of land for the purpose of preservation in Florida history. Covering parts of Lee and Charlotte Counties, it protects regional water resources and diverse natural habitats, along with historic and cultural assets. The now 73,239-acre Babcock Ranch Preserve anchors a conservation corridor of public and private land that stretches from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico.


Once the old bus is in gear the guide narrates as you pass over meadows of grazing Cracker cattle, splash along a fresh water marsh, and slog through the dense Telegraph Cypress Swamp. Weaving between the cypress knees there appears to be nothing resembling a roadway, and often the murky water is deep enough to flood over the first step the of the bus's doorless entry. If a gator should crawl in, the guide said, it was the job of the front passenger to grab it by the tail and sling it back into the swamp.


This place is the real thing—Hollywood filmmakers have chosen on three occasions to shoot here because nature scenes of this type cannot be duplicated on a set. The best known film, Just Cause, starred Sean Connery who was deathly afraid of alligators, and after an encounter with one of the swamp’s big fellows, made unreasonable demands that almost shut the production down.


But that will never happen on the bus, and it would be a shame if you didn’t bring your own camera on this safari because there are always flocks of birds, and white-tailed deer are often spotted as well as strutting wild turkeys. Fearless alligators make no effort to hide themselves in the swamps, and occasionally a black bear or a wild boar makes an appearance.


Florida panthers seem to be the prize of every preserve, because there are so few and they’re nocturnal creatures, so are rarely seen. At one point riders get off the bus and trek through the swamp on a boardwalk to a large caged area holding a panther. Private owners who thought the big cat would make a good pet, surrendered her to the Preserve after discovering they could no longer handle her. Unfortunately she was de-clawed and is unable to defend or forage for herself in the wild. At least you can see her in her natural habitat.


In the Babcock tradition, Crescent B Ranch is still occupied in farming and ranching. Unexpected is the fact that they still employ dogs and cowboys on quarter horses to herd cattle. Once you’ve seen the landscape it’s understandable. Unobstructed ranges allow livestock to wander into areas where a four-wheel drive jeep can’t even go.


Back at the starting point there is a gift shop and a small building they refer to as a museum. It’s part of the Just Cause set that remains and has sparse displays mostly of movie memorabilia, but it’s anticlimactic after you’ve been on the tour. There is also a small rustic restaurant that serves light meals during the season. Frankly, after handling the little gator that the guide brought aboard the bus I lost my appetite.


The importance of the adventure is that not only do you hear of Florida’s pioneering history—one that is difficult for many basking in the current technological climate to imagine, but the natural elements and conditions of that time are preserved for you to witness first hand—and hopefully will remain so for posterity. Call 800-500-5583 for more information about Babcock Wilderness Adventures located at 8000 State Road 31 in Punta Gorda, or go to www.babcockwilderness.com.

     Muscle Car City - Punta Gorda

Muscle Car City wasn’t what I expected—in fact it exceeded every expectation multiple times. First was the size of the building—It’s a former Wal-Mart store—99,000 square feet filled with cars. Second was the quality of the cars. They’re all absolutely perfect museum pieces. Some could even be qualified as specimens of art. Third was the character of the business—professionally operated, expertly displayed, and eat-off-the-floor clean.


Looking at the magnitude of the production I wondered what kind of an entrepreneur could pull this off, and after talking with owner Rick Treworgy, it was obvious that it was not just a requirement of financial wherewithal, but also a never flagging love of automobiles and the industry. In Rick’s case the fascination is almost exclusively with General Motors.


There was one 1940 Willys coupe set up for drag racing with a monstrous engine (probably Chevrolet—I didn’t open the hood), and a roll cage in the event of summersaults at 200 miles per hour, and the original Miss Budweiser Hydroplane which was capable of similar stunts at ferocious speeds. Otherwise all motorized vehicles were GM—there was one motorcycle, but it had a Chevrolet big block stuffed into the frame, linking it to the General.


Most of Rick’s cars are not representative of those sold to the masses. They’re high performance vehicles from the late ‘50s through the early ‘70s—muscle cars, they were reverently branded—cars that demanded and got respect on the highways. Some were beautiful as well, but their forte was in the way they went down the road.


They were mostly equipped with four on the floor and V-8 engines often topped with dual four barrels or three deuces. They had enough cubic inches to fill a bushel basket, and sufficient torque to lay strips of rubber into the next county. It was a time when a V-8 burble was melodic, gasoline was cheap and smoking tires was prestige.


I saw one Buick, one of those late model Cadillac’s with a blower on a Corvette engine, a few Oldsmobiles, several Pontiacs and the rest were Chevrolets with a preponderance being Corvettes. The Vettes ranged from the first Blue Flame dual-carbed six-cylinder model to the very latest mega-powered.


When asked to identify his favorite, Rick joked that it’s always the next car he’s going to buy. But, he did admit that the ’55 Chevy is probably his all-time pick of the litter. It was the car he wanted but couldn’t afford when he first started driving—now he owns about a dozen of them.


Rick says he has bought cars from all over the country, but tries to stay east of the Mississippi, and most of them are acquired from Mecum Auctions. He buys them in good condition, but he has his own mechanics and fabricators to go over them, and they’re not displayed until they’re perfect.


There are 210 cars in the museum out of a fleet of 260. Rick says he’s always looking for big buildings and more room. He must have sensed that I was multiplying figures in my head. “It’ll never pay for itself,” he said, even though attendance has reached a rate of a hundred thousand per year in the less than three years it has been open.


However, for Rick Treworgy who made his fortune in construction related businesses, profit doesn’t seem to be the primary concern. This is a pursuit of that magnificent obsession. And, if affordable, it’s a compulsion worth sharing with others who appreciate the finer things from an industry that more than anything shaped the culture of our country.


Rick knows too that car lovers are fans of more than just muscle cars. So he has peppered the display with a few vintage cars and select trucks, delivery vans, fire trucks and pickups. There is a collection of kiddie-cars, and spread throughout are automotive memorabilia such as signs and antique gas pumps.


As you might imagine, gazing at all that heavenly horsepower can work up a ferocious hunger, so on the way out there is a ‘50’s-style diner where you can fuel up on the typical drive-in cuisine of that era.


At the entrance/exit there is also an auto boutique that sells anything from T-shirts to car accessories. Plus the activity is not always on the inside. On the third Saturday of each month the museum hosts a car show in their huge parking lot, and on the last Sunday they hold a flea market of car parts.


Muscle Car City is unapologetically a venue for car enthusiasts, yet it’s so much more because it’s a reminder of a simpler time, and a fun time in our social makeup that will not likely come around again. Further, you will find few car museums of this caliber. It is extraordinary.


Museum hours: Tuesday thru Sunday 9 am-5 pm. Admission: Adults $12.50, children 2-12 is $6, Annual Pass -$37.50. Located at 3811 Tamiami Trail in Punta Gorda. Phone 941-575-5959 or go to


McKee Botanical Garden – Vero Beach


Celebrate Scarecrows in the Garden October 15-31. In 1922, the McKee-Sexton Land Company was established in Vero Beach. In 1929 they purchased an 80-acre tropical hammock along the Indian River and McKee Jungle Gardens was born. 

With the help of landscape architect William Lyman Phillips, now known as the pioneer of tropical landscape architecture, the basic infrastructure of streams, ponds and trails was designed. Native vegetation was augmented with ornamental plants and seeds from around the world as Arthur G. McKee and Waldo E. Sexton set about assembling one of the most outstanding collections of water lilies and orchids.

By the 1940's more than 100,000 tourists were visiting McKee Jungle Gardens each year, making it one of Florida's most popular attractions. In the early 1970's, attendance dwindled due to competition from new large-scale attractions and the garden was forced to close its doors in 1976.

The land was sold and all but 18 acres were developed. The remaining acreage, zoned for additional development, sat vacant for twenty years. In 1994, the Indian River Land Trust launched a fund-raising campaign and successfully purchased the property on December 1, 1995 for $1.7 million.

Close to $9.1 million was raised to purchase, stabilize and restore the Garden. Its formal dedication was November, 2001. Known for its 18-acre subtropical jungle hammock, this dense and diverse collection also features several restored architectural treasures. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is a historic Florida landmark endorsed by The Garden Conservancy as a project of National Significance and received the Florida Trust's "Outstanding Achievement in Landscape Architecture" in 2002. 

McKee Botanical Garden is open Tue-Sat from 10 am to 5 pm and on Sundays from noon-5pm. It’s located at 350 US Highway 1—at the southern gateway of Vero Beach.

Admission Fees through October 30: Adults -$7; seniors-$6; children (3-12)-$4; under age 3 – free. Admission October 31 - April 30: adults-$9; seniors-$8; children (3-12)-$5; under age 3 – free. Their garden gift and book shop is located at the garden entrance. The café is closed during July-October.

McKee Botanical Garden is wheelchair accessible (first-come, first-serve--call 772-794-0601 ext. 108 to reserve.) McKee Botanical Garden has a reference library with limited lending for members only. Call to be sure it’s open.  Go to www.mckeegarden.org.

Key Largo Pirates Fest


AARRGGHH! Travel to Key Largo, unleash your inner pirate and join Black Caesar for this year’s Pirate Fest.

Black Caesar was an 18th-century African pirate known for his huge size, immense strength, and keen intelligence, this African tribal war chieftain escaped from a slave ship and used Elliot Key, just north of Key Largo as a base camp to hide his loot and harem of over 100 women. For nearly a decade, he raided shipping from the Florida Keys and later served as one of Captain Blackbeard's chief lieutenants aboard the Queen Anne's Revenge. He was one of the surviving members of Blackbeard's crew following his death at the hands of Lieutenant Robert Maynard in 1718.


Caesar's Rock, one of three islands located north of Key Largo, is the present-day site of his original headquarters and named in his honor. He’s known to haunt Key Largo and its shores.

Entry to the following events is free except where noted and $5 Captain Morgan drink specials will be featured at all locations.

Thursday, October 20: 6:30 pm-Snapper’s Restaurant, MM 94. Enter the Captain Morgan look-alike contest, lots of prizes. Captain Morgan $5 drink specials, live music and plundering.

Friday, October 21- Black Caesar’s Parade and Pirate Bash starts at 6:30 pm.  Join Black Caesar at the kickoff at 5:00 pm at Coconuts House Restaurant. Participants can win in the following categories: Best Pirate or Wench, Best Pirate Couple, and best float or decorated vehicle. Follow the tradition of last year’s parade, as keys cruisers, pirate decorated motorbikes, sword swinging wenches and a motley crew of pirates leave Coconuts at 6.30 PM and meander to US1 and head south to stage an invasion of the Pilot House on Seagate Blvd .Then it’s time to splice the mainbrace at the Pirate Bash with live music, dancing, grub and grog. Entry to the parade is free. All entries received by Thursday October 20th will receive a free souvenir event t-shirt, while supplies last. 

Saturday October 22: Pirate-themed Brunch from  9am -2pm, Key Largo Conch House, MM100. Black Caesar Returns to Key Largo – a swashbuckling fun-filled day for the whole family: Noon - 11 pm-Sundowners & Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill - MM 104. Black Caesar and his band of Pirates will be around all day to entertain with stories, fun and interactive activities for the whole family. Shop at the Pirate Bazaar and Thieves Market. Pirate shows, black powder demonstrations, cannons, swordfights and pirate boats raft up on the Bay. Black Caesar and his pirate band invade at sunset – Voted best historic re-enactment by Florida Magazine;  Concert on the Bay from 2 – 10pm - Blackwater Sound. Continuous live music as bands perform on the water from the pirate ship Queen Anne’s Revenge II. The concert can be viewed from the water’s edge at Sundowners and the Big Chill or join other pirate boats on the water for a pirate raft-up.

Sunday, October 23: Underwater Treasure Hunt: 8 am Capt. Slate’s Atlantis Dive Center; Pirate-themed Brunch at 9am -2pm Key Largo Conch House, MM 100; Black Caesar’s By-Land-or-Sea Booty Hunt at 11 am, Sundowners, MM104 Bayside. Entry fee $15 includes souvenir T-Shirt and Continental Breakfast;  Pirates’ Poker - By Land or by Sea Poker Run at noon, register at the Elks Club MM 92.6 Bayside; $15 entry includes souvenir T-Shirt, first hand and Continental Breakfast.

Pirate Bazaar and Thieves Market continues from  noon til 5pm; Buccaneer Bash and Finale at 4pm till late on Sundowners Beach, MM 104 Bayside -Adult and Kids Costume Contests: Best Buccaneer and Sauciest Wench, and Under 14 Likeliest Lad and Loveliest Lassie; Booty Hunt, Underwater Treasure Hunt and Pirates Poker awards. Live Music, Grub and Grog. $5 Captain Morgan Specials. Go to KeyLargoPiratesFest.com or call 305-394-3736.