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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


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





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 haven’t been to Weeki Wachee! Text JEREMIAH SMITH



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, Strawn’s story is one of the tenuous fortunes of the citrus industry. Text: JIMMY JOHN



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,

weeds everywhere.

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



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.”

the peace.

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


1983-2013 700 600 500 400 300 200 100




















Linear (Maximum)






Linear (Average)


3 4

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

should go.”

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,

people too.”

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,

flock here.

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

crowded planet.

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

ambler | 52

‘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

worth living.

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.”

‘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

ambler | 54


Magazine about unique travel within the US


Magazine about unique travel within the US