state excursions and ramblings
NORTH FLORIDA ISSUE See these gentle creatures in Kings Bay at Crystal River
The remains of the abandoned Bob White Orange Factory
They exist at Weeki Wachee Springs
An interview with Mary Carol, one of the infamous Fl landscape painters
09 SEA COWS Nikhil Sunku
32 MERMAIDS MARK HARPER
Meet these cuties at Crystal River
14 ALLIGATOR FARM Sara Evans An old Roadside attraction that remains
17 BIRD SANCTUARY Tarzan man Encounter hundreds of native FL birds
Meet these cuties at Crystal River
14 DINOSOUR WORLD John Smith An old Roadside attraction that remains
17 THE ORANGE SHOP Jane Doe A roadside store since the fortys
ART AND WHAT NOT
21 FLORIDA CITRUS Matt Smith
21 THE HIGHWAYMEN Betty Sue
A history of the citrus industry
26 CITRUS REMAINS Katie Evans The remains of a now abandoned citrus plant
51 HENRY FLAGLER Chelsea Fergasun This guy was a pretty big deal
DAYTRIP ADVENTURES 21 RAINBOW RIVER Matt Smith Spend the day tubing and see waterfalls
26 SILVER SPRINGS Katie Evans Springs, glass bottom boats, and movies
51 ICHITUCKNEE Chelsea Fergasun Spend the day tubing or canoing
The Florida landscape artists
26 ROADSIDE SIGNAGE Farmer Joe A look into the the typographic history of signage
51 SEMINOLE CRAFTS Aleah Roundi Traditional art and beading handcrafts
Hey there Ambler reader. Glad to see you took intereset in us. The following has nothing to do with the magazine! The Roman Republic lasted from 509-27 BCE, the beginning marked by the defeat of the last Etruscan king, Tarquinius Superbus, and the end when Octavian took the title Augustus. After the Romans defeated Tarquinius, they created a constitutional government that had most of its power concentrated in a senate, or council of elders and two elected consuls. (Art Through The Ages) Age and family lineage were of extreme importance during the Republic. To be apart of the senate, one had to meet an age requirement, and in the beginning all the leaders traced their lineage back to a wealthy line of patricians, or landowners. (It was not until later in the Roman Republic that some leaders were elected from the lower plebian class.) The patricians were so proud of their lineage that they kept likenesses (imagines) of their ancestors in their homes and would parade them at public funerals of prominent relatives. This pride is exemplified in a Statue of a Roman patrician displaying the portraits of two ancestors. This particular patrician was so prideful of his family ancestry that he decided to pay a sculptor for a portrait of himself holding portraits of family members. Everyone for years to come would know that this patrician was from an important family line. Veristic portraiture became the artistic style of choice for the Roman Republic. Verism is “a somewhat dry realism, a realism which shows the person portrayed as he really is, without idealizing tendencies.” (Origins of Verism) The verism of the Republic “carefully describes the distinguishing features of its sitters, laying particular emphasis on physiognomic peculiarities such as facial asymmetry, and all the signs of aging from sunken and hollow cheeks to crow’s-feet and bags under the eyes.” (Portraits, Power, and Patronage) This can be seen in the Portrait of a Roman Patrician. Some historians call into question the accuracy of these portraits, speculating that some of the details and wrinkles may have been exaggerated.
If you thought mermaids only exhisted in the imaginations of sailors, then you havenâ€™t been to Weeki Wachee! Text JEREMIAH SMITH
Photos NIKHIL SUNKU
Mermaid during a performance at Weeki Wachee Vintage image of an old Weeki Wachee mermaid.
Located about an hour north of Tampa at
site for a new business. At the time, U.S. 19 was a small two-lane road. All the
the crossroads of U.S. 19 and State Road
other roads were dirt; there were no gas stations, no groceries, and no movie
50, Weeki Wachee is more than just a
theaters. More alligators and black bears lived in the area than humans.
mark on a road map. Weeki Wachee is an
The spring was full of old rusted refrigerators and abandoned cars. The junk
enchanted spring -- the only one of its kind
was cleared out and Newt experimented with underwater breathing hoses
in the world -- and one of Florida’s oldest
and invented a method of breathing underwater from a free-flowing air hose
and most unique roadside attractions. For
supplying oxygen from an air compressor, rather than from a tank strapped
almost 60 years, the fun, family oriented
onto the back. With the air hose, humans could give the appearance of thriving
park has lured in visitors with beautiful
twenty feet underwater with no breathing apparatus. An 18-seat theater was
mermaids who swim in the cool, clear
built into the limestone, submerged six feet below the surface of the spring, so
spring waters. Weeki Wachee Springs is
viewers could look right into the natural beauty of the ancient spring.
a magical entrance into a mysterious blue underwater world of mermaids,
manatees, turtles and bubbles. Sitting in the Mermaid Theater, visitors feel
hoses and smile at the same time. He taught them to drink Grapette, a non-car-
like they are inside the flowing spring, and are transported back to simpler
bonated beverage, eat bananas underwater and do aquatic ballets. He put a
times, before super theme parks and super highways appeared. So come to
sign out on U.S. 19: WEEKI WACHEEThe first show at the Weeki Wachee Springs
Weeki Wachee Springs and see a splendid side of Florida lore, where dreams
underwater theater opened on October 13, 1947 -- the same day that Kukla,
really do come true.
Fran and Ollie first aired on that newfangled invention called television, and
The Seminole Indians named the spring “Weeki Wachee,” which
one day before Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. The mermaids per-
means “little spring” or “winding river.” The spring is so deep that the bot-
formed synchronized ballet moves underwater while breathing through the
tom has never been found. Each day, more than 117 million gallons of
air hoses hidden in the scenery.
clear, fresh 74-degree water bubbles up out of subterranean caverns. Deep
in the spring, the surge of the current is so strong that it can knock a scuba
they ran to the road in their bathing suits to beckon drivers into the parking lot,
diver’s mask off. The basin of the spring is 100 feet wide with limestone
just like sirens of ancient lore lured sailors to their sides. Then they jumped into
sides and there, where the mermaids swim, 16 to 20 feet below the surface,
the spring to perform.
the current runs a strong five miles an hour. It’s quite a feat for a mermaid
to stay in one place in such a current.
tourist stops. The attraction received worldwide acclaim. Movies were filmed
In 1946, Newton Perry, a former U.S. Navy man who trained SEALS
at the spring, like “Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid.” Sights at the park included
to swim underwater in World War II, scouted out Weeki Wachee as a good
the mermaid shows, orchid gardens, jungle cruises, and Indian encampment
42 | ambler
Newt scouted out pretty girls and trained them to swim with air
In those days, cars were few. When the girls heard a car coming,
In the 1950s, Weeki Wachee was one of the nation’s most popular
and a new beach. The mermaids took etiquette and ballet lessons. Weeki Wachee’s heyday began in 1959, when the spring was purchased by the American Broadcasting Co. (ABC) and was heavily promoted. ABC built the current theater, which seats 500 and is embedded in the side of the spring 16 feet below the surface. ABC also developed themes for the underwater shows, with elaborate props, lifts, music, and story lines such as Underwater Circus, the Mermaids and the Pirates, and Underwater Follies. The mermaids performed Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, Snow White, and Peter Pan.
In the 1960s, girls came from as far away as Tokyo to try out for the
privilege of becoming a mermaid. The glamorous mermaids performed eight shows a day to sold out crowds -- as many as half a million people a year came to see the Weeki Wachee mermaids. Weeki Wachee Springs employed 35 mermaids, who took turns swimming in the shows and captivating the crowds by playing football and having picnics underwater. Some of the mermaids lived in the mermaid cottages out behind the attraction. The mermaids wore onepiece suits and were treated like royalty wherever they went in Florida. All sorts of people stopped to see the mermaids, even Elvis. Don Knotts, Esther Williams, and Arthur Godfrey all came to Weeki Wachee. The City of Weeki Wachee incorporated in 1966, putting the tiny city of Weeki Wachee on maps and state road signs.
In 1982, Buccaneer Bay opened with water slides and a white sand
beach. In 1997, the popular Former Mermaid shows began, bringing former mermaids back to Weeki Wachee Springs to swim in the Mermaids of Yesteryear shows, which play to standing room only crowds. The former mermaids may have moved on in life, but the enchantment of the Weeki Wachee Spring calls them back time and again, like
‘We’re not like other women, We don’t have to clean an oven And we never will grow old, We’ve got the world by the tail!’
a dream that can’t be forgotten. The former mermaids’ motto is: Once a mermaid, always a mermaid. Being a mermaid is a magical job. As the mermaids sing in The Little Mermaid show: “We’re not like other women, We don’t have to clean an oven, and we never will grow old, e’ve got the world by the tail!
Today, the tiny city of Weeki Wachee is one of the nation’s smallest
cities, with a population of nine, including the mayor of Weeki Wachee who, you guessed it, is a former mermaid. Who better to bring the dream back to life? Fresh coats of paint adorn the walls of the Mermaid Villa, the gift shop is stocked with fanciful and functional mermaid souvenirs, and the mermaid theater is being restored to its former glory. Recently, carpeting on the walls was pulled back to reveal original ceramic tiles in Florida colors: teal, pink and aqua.
Visitors can swim at Buccaneer Bay, see the Misunderstood Crea-
tures animal show, or take a riverboat ride down the Weeki Wachee River and into Old Florida. A family of peacocks roams the grounds. Turtles, fish, manatees, otters and even an occasional alligator swim in the spring with the mermaids, amusing both children and adults. Visitors can pose with mermaids, and even swim in the spring with the new Sea Diver program. Children can attend the summer Mermaid Camp and fulfill their dreams of becoming a little mermaid or a merman.
Though decades old, Strawnâ€™s story is one of the tenuous fortunes of the citrus industry. Text: JIMMY JOHN
Photos: CHRIS BROWN
John Strawn pulls his long, tired frame out of his SUV,
was mad that his nearby wooden plant had burned to the ground. The new
grabs a cane and walks toward the glass-and-steel
metal behemoth would never meet that fate. It was built to last. Back then
Bob White Citrus Exchange, a building that was once
there was little disease in the citrus industry and no foreign competition.
the hub of North Florida’s orange industry. Where a
Land for new groves was abundant and the national craving for oranges and
visitor sees broken windows and rusting metal pan-
grapefruit showed no signs of ebbing. Why wouldn’t Theodore Strawn think
els, Strawn’s eyes sparkle, recalling the days when
his newest operation would last forever?
the conveyor belts were whir-whir-whirring, when
glove-clad packers wrapped oranges in paper be-
re-creation of old Florida: Weathered wooden planks connect a handful of
fore boxing them up, when the fruit was brought in
smaller buildings. A four-story water tower looms over everything. A machine
by mule. An Amtrak train barrels down the nearby
shop still overflows with gears, oily rags and a thousand metal parts. Three
rail line -- the same tracks that once took boxcar
Chevron gas pumps are frozen at 49 9/10 cents a gallon.
loads of the famous Bob White oranges to Chica-
The Bob White packinghouse compound looks like a Disney World
The 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s were kind to the Strawn family. The packing
go, New York and other northern markets -- and it breaks the spell. Strawn
house prospered. Growers gave the mule a rest and began bringing in fruit by
sees the plant as it is, graffiti, broken beer bottles littering the loading dock,
the carload. Only the very best grade of orange was given the Bob White mark,
a name taken from the northern quail that Strawn family elders liked to hunt.
“I sure wished it looked like it did 40 years ago,” says the 81-year-old, shak-
ing his white head with a sigh. It’s a heartbreak.”
overseeing a bookkeeper and others who tended the packinghouse’s business
Though decades old, Strawn’s story is one of the tenuous fortunes of the
affairs. Starting in November every year, dozens of workers processed millions
citrus industry. A single night of deadly frost eradicated his livelihood
of pieces of fruit. The Bob White’s went up north. The second and third tiers
and that of thousands of others in northern Florida. These days there are
remained in Florida for roadside stands, markets or to feed the family’s cows.
different enemies -- disease, development and hurricanes -- but the end to
a life’s dream can still come almost as swiftly.
they were the last of the orange varieties to mature each season. The summer
break gave the Strawns time to travel, shoot bobwhites and relax while work-
In 1921, the Bob White Citrus Exchange was one of a kind, a big
John Strawn returned from college late in 1951 and went to work
Come June the Valencias would arrive, called “tardys” because
steel building with a distinctive sawtooth roofline. John Strawn’s grandfa-
ers repaired and retooled the belts and pulleys and assembled new shipping
ther, Theodore, invested heavily in the state-of-the-art packinghouse. He
boxes for the coming season. This continued through the decades -- more and
51 | ambler
more oranges, more and more money, year after year. Until Christmas Day 1983.
An intense Arctic high-pressure system moved out of Canada on
Dec. 23, 1983, and within two days it had covered the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. It then slipped, stealthily, far south. Christmas morning in North Florida dawned clear, breezy and extremely cold. Temperatures were in the teens, way below the 28-degree deathmark for citrus. The cold temperatures continued on the morning of the 26th.
Most farmers did not know the frigid weather was coming because
the federal Frost Warning Service missed it. It was a watershed moment for citrus farmers in North and Central Florida. It destroyed nearly a quarter of the citrus crop statewide. Total fruit losses topped 51 million boxes. In today’s dollars that would be more than $4 billion. The effect of the freeze -- especially when linked to another big cold snap in 1985 -- was a wholesale shift of the industry to warmer South Florida.
The Bob White orange packinghouse no longer had any oranges to
pack. Strawn remembers seeing only one carload of oranges arrive and get packed before the super-freeze. In its wake were dead trees and abandoned groves. In a fit of nostalgia a few years later, Strawn cranked up the packinghouse machinery just to see if it still worked. The lights came on, the belts ran and Everglades on a Summer Day, 1967
‘I sure wished it looked like it did 40 years ago’
Mangrove Islands 1959 Seculuded Beach in the Late Afternoon. 1970
ambler | 52
The packinghouse has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and there has been talk of moving some of the out-buildings and machinery to local historic parks, but it has yet to happen. The 2004-05 hurricanes damaged the roof, although it does not leak too terribly.
In recent months the vandals have become more brazen -- with
all the easy stuff like copper wire gone they have had to work harder to get to the things that they can sell for scrap. They used a truck and a chain to pull down the utility pole in the middle of the compound just to get at the aged transformer on top. They ripped one of the three Chevron gas tanks out of the ground.
It is becoming such a nuisance that the White Orange and all of
its out-buildings may soon be razed. “We may just have to tear it down,” Strawn said. “It’s a real heartache.” After inheriting the property all those decades ago, Strawn recently deeded the property to a son, who has been unsuccessful at selling. the sizing rollers spun. Strawn watched the contraptions operate for a few minutes, eerily devoid of any fruit. Then he shut everything off. Forever. The belts remain in the same spot where they stopped that day. There are 1983 calendars still on the wall turned to the month of December. Payroll receipts from as far back as 1923 sit in a supply closet. “I could spend money to fix it up, but for what?” Strawn says.
The “Private Property” and “No Trespassing” signs are routinely
ignored. At first people came onto the compound and stole copper wire or anything else of value until it was gone. Now others come simply to break out windows and damage anything damageable. “The vandals are destroying so many things,” Strawn says, sitting back down into his SUV. His knees can only take being upright for so long. “They aren’t gaining any things of value, just destroying.”
“Being metal and glass, if it weren’t for the vandals it would still be
looking good,” Strawn says, still not completely letting go. “With a little paint, this place would look all right.”
But he knows that the citrus business has become a game for
serious players, far to the south, with deep pockets.
“It’s just not feasible to get back into oranges,” Strawn says as his
visitor locks the gate. It’s a whole different world.”
Down here it’s the manatees’ world, and you’re just visiting. Photos: HEATHER FERGUSON
Text: JANICE WALKER
The welcome sign on the outskirts of
Oh no. No, sir. That’s where you’ve got it wrong. People have very strong opin-
Crystal River isn’t the kind you see ev-
ions about manatees in Kings Bay. See the signs around town, the ones that
ery day: “Manatee Information: Tune to
say, “Save Crystal River” and “Get U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Off Our Back”?
1610 AM,” it reads. Then, too, not many
Around here, people care about manatees more than you can imagine.
towns have a red-white-and-blue statue
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge administers a substantial part of Kings
of an endangered marine mammal in
Bay, a 600-acre lake that discharges into the Gulf of Mexico 65 miles north of
front of City Hall.
Tampa. The town of Crystal River adjoins the refuge—embraces it, you might
Stop to ask where you can see
say, geographically, though not always figuratively. Indeed, there have been
these aquatic celebrities, and you learn
times when some residents have treated refuge manager Michael Lusk as the
that a couple dozen local dive shops of-
uniformed embodiment of evil.
fer snorkeling tours in Kings Bay. Or you
On his arrival at Crystal River in 2009, Lusk walked straight into a critical
can rent a kayak and paddle to one of the warm springs where manatees hang
mass of contention: government regulation versus personal freedom, public access
out in winter. Or if you want to watch from dry land, you can head over to the
versus private property, change versus tradition, idealism versus money. And though
canal west of Three Sisters Springs.
the local conflicts mirrored national issues, their cause was unique, and uniquely
ironic: the manatee, a creature as devoid of aggression as a teddy bear.
At the canal it takes only a few minutes before the first manatees
cruise below, pale ghosts in the jade green canal. They pass alone, or with a
single calf, or occasionally in groups of three or four. There’s a constant flow
looks something like a chubby dolphin or small whale, though it’s related to
of people coming and going too.
neither. (In fact, manatees share a common ancestor with elephants.) Mana-
tees lack the blubber layer that allows whales to tolerate cold; in water be-
“It’s like a big rusty oilcan floating in the water,” a man says.
Weighing up to 1,200 pounds or more, the West Indian manatee
“Why, they don’t look like nothin’ at all!” a woman exclaims in a Dixie drawl, and
low 68°F, they begin to weaken and die. The subspecies found in the United
she has a point. The blobby shapes passing under the bridge will never win any
States is the Florida manatee, which disperses into coastal areas of the Atlantic
wildlife beauty contests. The only color they show is the pink of propeller scars,
Ocean and Gulf of Mexico; in winter, when sea temperatures drop, they congre-
parallel gashes like sidewinder rattlesnake tracks on their gray backs.
gate inland at natural springs and other sources of warmth, including power
plant discharge pipes.
“There’s no room for the manatees,” says another man, noting the
boat traffic sharing the narrow canal with the animals. “That’s how it goes.” He
stands in the middle like the sheriff in a town of feuding clans, trying to keep
shakes his head ruefully. “Places get commercial, and people just don’t care.”
At Kings Bay manatees have a near-perfect winter refuge. Dozens of springs
and the establishment of the refuge a decade later.
scattered around the bay pump out fresh water at a constant 72°F year-round.
The Kings Bay area is so suited to manatees that the wintering population has
servationists, boaters, landowners, politicians, and tour operators facing off over
grown from about 30 in the 1960s to more than 600 today, mirroring the spe-
the future of Kings Bay. And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the
cies’ increase to about 5,000 throughout Florida. On any day from November
national wildlife refuge system and manages the manatee population, stands in
through March, Crystal River residents can quite literally walk out their doors
the middle like the sheriff in a town of feuding clans, trying to keep the peace.
and see dozens of manatees swimming, loafing, and sleeping in city canals like
lazy dogs curled up on the lawn.
just as controversial,” Michael Lusk says, “but the emotion around these ani-
mals is amazing.”
“This is basically an urbanized wildlife species that lives in our
The “swim-with” program is just one of several issues that have con-
“There are plenty of wildlife issues, like wolves out west, that are
backyard, 50 feet from where we sleep,” says USGS biologist Robert Bonde,
On a typical winter weekend Three Sisters Springs doesn’t look much like a
who’s studied Florida manatees for more than 35 years. “They’re as wild as
wildlife refuge. Party barges, runabouts, kayaks, and swimmers crowd the nar-
free-ranging elephants, yet here they are.”
row adjoining canal. Add some kegs of beer and blaring hip-hop, and it could
be a fraternity party.
This cozy proximity has made Crystal River the de facto manatee
capital of the United States, a title enhanced by yet another unique circum-
stance. Nowhere else are people encouraged to enter the water and swim with
when one-ton animals regularly swim past. The tour boat captains have lec-
manatees: approaching them, interacting, and even touching them. Such inti-
tured their customers: Don’t disturb resting manatees; don’t block them when
macy with an endangered and federally protected wild animal would never be
they leave the roped-off area where people are forbidden. But kids squeal, and
permitted if it were proposed today, but the activity has long been a popular
adults... Well, they sometimes do more than squeal.
tourist draw at Crystal River, predating the Endangered Species Act of 1973
Mike Birns leads tours to Three Sisters and other manatee-viewing spots
21 | ambler
These folks are mostly as respectful and subdued as people can be
WINTER MANATEE ABUNDANCE IN CRYSTAL RIVER
1983-2013 700 600 500 400 300 200 100
CAUSE OF MANATEE DEATHS 1 2
Undetermined Natural Watercraft Perinatal Unrecovered Flood/Canal Lock Other Human
1. Edward BAll Wakulla Springs State Park 2. Wakuulla River and St. Marks River 3. Fanning Springs Conservation Area 4. Manatee Springs State Park 5. Crystal River 6. Blue Spring State Park 7. Merrit Island NWR 8. Manatee Observation & Education Center 9. Spring Bayou/Craig Park 10. Tampa Electrio Company 11. Lee Couty Manatee Park
around Kings Bay. “This happens on a regular basis on my trips,” he says. “Someone comes back to the boat, and she’s just bawling: ‘Oh it was great! It came
8 9 11
right up to my face!’ She’s so overcome by emotion she can’t wait to go out and save the manatees. I’ll tell you, for a lot of people, it really is a spiritual experience.” Manatee advocates agree that many of the more than 150,000 people who
come to Crystal River each year to swim with (or kayak above) the manatees
fluential Save the Manatee Club, somewhat grudgingly supports the swim-with
leave with a heightened appreciation for the animals—though that fact doesn’t
program, though he’s determined to see changes made. “Most manatees don’t
excuse disruptive behavior. In 2006 local activist Tracy Colson began making
want to have much of anything to do with people,” he says. “They seek out quiet
videos of manatee abuse, including people riding manatees and guides taking
places to rest, especially on cold winter days and nights when their most critical
babies from mothers to pass around to tourists. Her YouTube posts shocked
priority is to stay warm.”
manatee lovers and helped bring stricter guidelines for interaction.
Patrick Rose, an aquatic biologist and executive director of the in-
Rose believes the situation at Crystal River constitutes harassment of
ambler | 22
manatees, “in direct violation of both the Marine Mammal Protection Act and
residents already resentful of limits on the way they can use the bay in their
the Endangered Species Act.” He advocates stricter rules requiring swimmers
backyards, the regulations represented an unacceptable infringement of their
to stop a body length away from manatees, which would then be free to inter-
freedom by a too-powerful federal bureaucracy.
act or not, at their choosing. “The majority of the dive shops are trying to do a
good job,” Rose says. “If they want to be responsible and protect the privilege
lieve the regulations are part of a wider plan by conservationists, who see
they have here, which is so unique, then fine. If not, the swim-with program
the expanding Florida manatee population as a chance to establish more
refuges and further restrict not just boating but economic development and
Tracy Colson agrees. “There should be no rubbing or touching,” she
private-property rights. “The big issue is making the entire bay a refuge,” res-
says. “That’s what dogs are for. Manatees are wild animals. Let them be wild.”
ident Lisa Moore says. “If environmentalists win here, they’ve got it made. It’s
The issue reaches deeply into pocketbooks. Estimates of the local econom-
all downhill from here.”
ic impact of manatee-related tourism range from $20 million to $30 million
The notion that Crystal River residents are being punished for their suc-
Some of those in the anti-regulatory Save Crystal River group be-
a year. Some dive-shop owners claim they’d
cessful stewardship of manatees has fueled
lose substantial business if customers weren’t
residents’ anger; local T-shirts depict the U.S.
able to go home and tell friends, “I touched a manatee.” Aware that their livelihood could be in jeopardy, 16 tour operators in 2011 formed the Manatee EcoTourism Association (META), working with the national wildlife refuge and the Save the Manatee Club to find a balance between access and protection. With Mike Birns as president, META has voluntarily adopted rules on human-manatee interaction that are sometimes even stricter than required by federal law.
‘Around here, people care about manatees more than you can imagine.’
Fish and Wildlife Service as a giant gorilla standing on City Hall. “I don’t think any of us would disagree that manatees have done very well,” Michael Lusk says. “But that’s a testament to the fact that they have been protected. Saying they don’t need any more protection is like saying, Hey, our city is growing, so we don’t need any more traffic regulations, and we don’t need any more health codes.” Pat Rose says Crystal River’s anti-refuge contingent—as well as boating interests and develop-
For all the contention around swim-
ers who continually work to weaken manatee
ming with manatees, it’s not the issue that’s caused the greatest controversy in Crystal River. The acrimony, accusations,
protection laws throughout Florida—“have the money to fight for what they
and insults that have split the community, inspired full-page attack ads in
believe in, and more power to them. But I don’t think that should be confused
newspapers, and poisoned the atmosphere at public meetings stem in large
with facts, or with the law.”
part from where, and how fast, people are allowed to drive their boats.
Yet another contentious issue looms in the not too distant future for Crys-
As air-breathing mammals, manatees spend much of their time
tal River. Though tour boats take snorkelers and divers to several locations
near the surface, where they’re vulnerable to moving boats. With more man-
around Kings Bay, the narrow canal alongside Three Sisters Springs is by far
atees living in Kings Bay year-round, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2012
the most popular. At times more than 200 manatees crowd into the area trying
tightened restrictions on the designated high-speed sports zone, cutting its
to rest and stay warm, while dozens of kayaks and scores of swimmers sur-
size and lowering the speed limit from 35 miles an hour to 25 in summer. For
round them and 20 or more tour boats lie anchored in the canal.
23 | ambler
“What I hear from all the different user groups—the Save the Manatee Club,
the city council, neighbors, kayakers, snorkelers—is that we need to manage
into the canal at Three Sisters Springs. As you lower your head, water muffles
the access into Three Sisters Springs when it’s full of manatees,” Lusk says.
the sound of people talking and laughing. You paddle near the roped-off sanc-
“Because it becomes an unpleasant experience not only for manatees but for
tuary and stop, watching dozens of big gray shapes resting near the bottom,
soaking in the springwater surging from the Earth, warming themselves before
they venture back out into the bay to feed.
That’s easier said than done, though. Legal issues regarding wa-
And so you too shimmy into a wet suit and put on a mask and slip
terway access and questions regarding the fair allocation of visitation rights
complicate matters, and some dive shops and other local businesses would
approaches, stopping when its face is just inches from your mask. What ensues,
surely protest loudly at anything that might limit tourist numbers. As if a quota
you tell yourself, is mutual contemplation.
system weren’t controversial enough, Pat Rose of the Save the Manatee Club
advocates making Three Sisters a true sanctuary for manatees, keeping snor-
manatee does what it does very well. Its big, dense bones make it buoyancy
kelers and kayakers out of the water entirely and allowing observation only
neutral in the water; evolution didn’t consider that those bones would make it
from a boardwalk around the springs. If that proposal ever comes to the table,
more likely to die from serious boat strikes. That flat, wrinkled face is as sensi-
it might make the fight over Kings Bay speed limits seem tame.
tive and muscular as a human tongue, perfectly adapted to allow a manatee to
In the meantime travel magazines and television shows continue to publicize
feed on aquatic grasses. Those strange hairs all over its face? They’re vibrissae,
the chance to swim with manatees at Kings Bay, and Crystal River’s appear-
like the ones cats and dogs have, connected to sensors that relay the slightest
ance in the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die sparks people’s imagina-
tactile impulse to the brain. Cats and dogs have about 50 vibrissae on their
tion and desire for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of communing with these
faces; a manatee has 600.
creatures.“There’s no other place like Kings Bay,” Michael Lusk says. “And it is
precisely that uniqueness that will lead to escalating conflicts as more people
abundant food and no predators, so that it became unwary and vulnerable,
so that its survival depends on our regard for it, our willingness to share this
“I’d like to find that place where we can allow people to interact
A manatee turns toward you, at once ponderous and graceful, and
Is a manatee ugly? Pretty is as pretty does, the saying goes, and a
It’s not the manatee’s fault that it evolved in an environment with
with manatees and have that powerful experience, but manage it so that man-
atees are protected and safe. And I think we can find that.”
turn to watch it fade slowly from sight. Down here it’s the manatees’ world, and
you’re just visiting.
Mike Birns has heard angry words at public meetings but has also seen
Contemplation time is over. The manatee swims past you, and you
opposing sides come together at times to compromise. “What’s funny,” he says, “is that the manatees have made us examine the very nature of how we govern ourselves.”
‘Manatees are wild animals. Let them be wild.’ Divers swim with a manatee in Crystal River. Manatees move so slowly that algae growth often form on their backs.
Mary Ann Carol was the only woman in a group of sixteen traveling artsits that depicted the iconic landscpape of Florida. Text: JOHN EVANS Photos: ALEX RODRIGEZ
M Mary Ann Carroll was out driving when she discovered The Highwaymen for the first time. As a young woman, she had picked citrus and cotton like Al Black, and was raising seven children on her own. Times were hard for her and, again, painting was the ticket out. Born Mary Ann Snead on November 30, 1940, in Sandersville, Georgia, the
paintings out along the highways at offices, in malls, and on the roadside.
daughter of sharecroppers, Mary Ann Snead grew up with seven siblings in
One day Carroll says she just happened to drive by and saw the group sitting
Wrightsville before moving to Fort Pierce, Florida at the age of eight. “I always
on the lawn. She stopped to talk. “They said, ‘Man, we need to go make some
enjoyed drawing from a very young age,” says Carroll, “but Harold Newton in-
money, but we ain’t got no car.”
spired me to learn to paint.” While Carroll had no formal training, she was
soon painting every day and into the night, often outside as air conditioning
how to sell mine, I’ll take you.” Carroll had only been selling a painting now
was not common in those times. Her early paintings bear her maiden name,
and then, for $12 to $35 each. But that day, “I made $75 in one day, in the 1960’s
Mary Ann Snead.
that was a lot of money since most people only made $35 to $75 a week.”
She attended Means Court School in Fort Pierce where her third
“I said ‘I’ve got one.’” Carroll says she responded, “If you show me
“I learned how they sold their paintings going up and down the
grade science project, a drawing of a thermometer, won her recognition. She
highway stopping at businesses.” With the selling tips she picked up, Mary Ann
later attended Lincoln Park Academy where Zora Neale Hurston, the famous
Carroll was soon packing her paintings in her 1964 Buick Electra again and
American folklorist, anthropologist, and author of “Their Eyes were Watching
traveling the state selling her paintings. She had became officially the only
God” had a short teaching position until her death in 1960.
female artist of the 26 Highwaymen artists. Asked if the name “Highwaymen”
bothers her, she responds, “Not at all. I figure there’s “men” at the end of wom-
Mary Ann Carroll married but the marriage didn’t last, and she
found herself a single mother with seven children. “The Lord has blessed me.
en, so it’s fine.”
He gave me so much talent. I just haven’t been able to use it all,” explains Car-
Carroll’s paintings reflect the rich Florida landscapes. “I love to paint the dead
roll who did lawn maintenance, carpentry, built houses, did electrical repairs
trees and density of the woods even though I don’t like snakes in all. I love the
along with teaching herself to paint to support herself and her children. This
water but I can’t swim,” explains Carroll.
was the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. A time of segregation when towns were divided,
art galleries and stores were closed to non-white. Yet in Fort Pierce, A. E. Back-
of Fame along with Alfred Hair, Harold Newton, R.A. (Roy) McLendon, James
us’ home, in Fort Pierce, was a special place where people of all races came to
Gibson, Livingston (Castro) Roberts, Al Black, Sam Newton, Curtis Arnett, Heze-
enjoy the art and the hospitality of the man, his friends called “Beanie Backus,”
kiah Baker, Ellis Buckner, Robert Butler, Johnny Daniels, Willie Daniels, Rodney
who would also become the one of Florida’s most famous landscape artist.
Demps, Issac Knight, R. L. (Robert) Lewis, John Maynor, Alphonso (Poncho) Mo-
“I went to A. E. Backus’ house,” relates Carroll, “He had an open house where
ran, Lemuel Newton, Willie Reagan, Carnell (Pete) Smith, Charles Walker, S. M.
anyone could come. I got to show him some of my paintings. He said they
(Sylvester) Wells, and Charles Wheeler.
were nice. He didn’t tell me to change anything.”
her amazing story.
Backus had taught Alfred Hair to paint landscapes, and Hair along
In 2004 Mary Ann Carroll was inducted into the Florida Artist Hall
We got the opportunity to speak with Mary and learn a little about
with Harold Newton and other artists created an assembly line by painting multiple works at one time. They would then load their cars and sell their
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‘I don’t really sketch. It’s never been a part of what I did. I just get the bare board and start to paint.’
Did you grow up in Florida?
Did you face any difficulties as a Highwaywoman?
I was born in Zanesville Georgia. My mother immediately moved
It was a challenge, the whole life of going places where you’re not
us to Wrightsville Georgia. At the age of 7 we moved down to Florida to Fort
welcome or appreciated. Some people wouldn’t talk to you. Some would say
Pierce because everyone said there was money growing on trees. The money
yes, some would say no and some would be very nice. I went into an office and
on the trees was the fruit.
a gentleman said he wanted to show his wife the paintings so I came over to the house and they both greeted me highly and decided to buy the paintings.
When did you become interested in the arts?
I was drawing all my life, as a little girl making drawings and toys.
thank God for the sweet people because every one that bought a painting put
I found there were as many sweet people as there were bitter. I
The first picture I drew in class in school was in science, my teacher took it and
bread on the table, shelter over my head and in the midst of raising 7 children
put it o the bulletin board. It was a picture of a thermometer. So I consider that
single parent they help me be a mom and daddy. There are so many beautiful
my first art exhibit. So after that I kept drawing and the years went by. I used to
people in the world. You look back and it makes you think that life was really
look at painters, I loved Norman Rockwell, and he seemed like such a unique
man. But I really didn’t know it was done with your own hands. So I started dabbling into paint.
What surface did you usually paint on?
I would usually use Upson board. It was cheap you could buy a 4x8
board for just 2.49 total of 3.12 with tax. It as more suitable for my pockets.
How did you get involved with the Highwaymen?
When I ran out of that I would get the canvas because that’s what the artists
Around the time I began to paint, I met a man named Harold New-
on the other side of the track used. And I didn’t have to prime it, which was
ton, he had flames on the side of his car and I thought that was unique. One day
nice when I was in a hurry. But the Upson board was cheaper and we didn’t go
I saw him and I asked him about the flames on his car, and he said he did them.
around always buying canvas.
And I said ‘Oh yeah you did?’ then he showed me a painting in the backseat of his car and that’s when I found out he was an artist. And I asked, ‘Well, will you
Did you ever have a problem being the only woman in the group?
show me how?’ And he said yeah. So he had me come by and he tacked up an
We all get along just fine. As long as the guys didn’t tackle me or
18x24 and he mixed the paint and told me where to put it. He added in some
anything; we all had a good understanding. I didn’t drink or smoke, so therefore
palm fronds, so I guess that made the painting better. So I guess that was the
we had different leisures. But none of them never disrespected me in anyway.
first painting I ever did.
And thank God, I could fight a good bit.
53 | ambler
What is your creative process?
I don’t really sketch. It’s never been a part of what I did. I just get the
bare board and start to paint. There have been times where I sat down and I wanted to paint but I didn’t have anything in mind and I go to mix up my paints and there’s always blues and greens and grays and I say, ‘Ok Lord here it is.’ And then those would sometimes be the best things I’ve done.
Do you find that art is able to bring calmness?
I can truly say that mind is a mind soother. Every time I sit down and
I have food with me I forgot about the food. You don’t have to be a Leonardo Da Vinci or none of those. Just be yourself, be the best you can and be happy with yourself. Sometimes things are done that you never dreamed of.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists?
You must believe in yourself, even if no one else does. My life, no
matter how bad it might have been, I took joy out of it. I took the bad and reframed it. You know like you take a bad painting and put it in a beautiful frame? It makes a difference.” marycaroll.com
‘You must believe in yourself, even if no one else does. My life, no matter how bad it might have been, I took joy out of it.’ Everglades on a Summer Day, 1967 Mangrove Islands 1959 Seculuded Beach in the Late Afternoon. 1970
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