Florida

Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida

In May 1668, Captain Robert Searle and 70 English buccaneers arrived at St. Augustine to sack the city. In the process, they freed Henry Woodward, first settler of South Carolina, from Spanish prison. In response to the daring raid, Governor Francisco de la Guerra y de la Vega ordered construction of a stone fort on the western shore of Matanzas Bay.

That fort was the Castillo de San Marcos, today the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. It was built between 1672 and 1695, and changed hands five times between 1763 and 1862.

The Castillo de San Marcos was designated a national monument in 1924 and is currently managed by the National Park Service. In addition to preserving a rich historical legacy, the fort offers beautiful views of Matanzas Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

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Christine: A Potently Pessimistic Period Piece

Events leading to journalist Christine Chubbuck’s 1974 on-air suicide are recounted in Christine (2016), a bleak but potent film written by Craig Shilowich and directed by Antonio Campos. Strong performances by its lead actors and its visual authenticity make Christine the best overlooked film of 2016.

Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) is a sincere but troubled woman working as a reporter for a local news station in Sarasota, Florida. She lives with her mother, Peg (J. Smith-Cameron), and performs puppet shows at a children’s hospital on the weekends. Her life begins to spiral out of control when, approaching 30, she discovers she has a cyst on one of her ovaries and may never have children.

Her boss, Michael (Tracy Letts), is concerned about falling ratings and wants Christine to cover more sensational stories. This professional dilemma is compounded by the arrival of station owner Bob Andersen (John Cullum), who wants to move some personnel to Baltimore. Christine is passed over in favor of anchor George Peter Ryan (Michael C. Hall) and sports anchor Andrea Kirby (Kim Shaw). This is a double-blow because Christine had an unrequited crush on George.

I won’t reveal how the film ends, but you probably already guessed. Rebecca Hall, who also starred in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017) and The Dinner (2017), is outstanding as Christine Chubbuck, and won several awards for her effort. I’m not sure this film would have been nearly as good without her performance. She disappeared into the role, bringing her character to life with all the emotion and idiosyncrasies of a real person.

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Dinosaur World in Plant City, Florida

It’s hard to describe my feelings in visiting Dinosaur World in Plant City, Florida. When Jurassic Park came out in 1993, it was the summer before I entered junior high. My family and I were visiting friends in Florida, and I was so excited I refused to change my Jurassic Park t-shirt until we saw it. That’s how much I loved dinosaurs. The 12-year-old me would have been in heaven at Dinosaur World.

I’m not sure why kids are so fascinated by dinosaurs, but they absorb so much knowledge about the subject it puts adults to shame. Kids can rattle off complex Latin names with ease. I’ve forgotten half of what I used to know about all the different species and popular theories. For a theme park like this to be successful, it’s got to be able to withstand the inquisitive questioning of an eight year old and ignite his or her imagination.

Dinosaur World does all these things. I couldn’t believe how many different dinosaurs and other prehistoric species they had on display. You could spend hours navigating the park. There are over 150 life-size dinosaur sculptures, created by Swedish businessman Christer Svensson. The sculptures are made from polystyrene foam, fiberglass, and putty.

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Tragedy and Mystery at Marco Island Cemetery

Once part of the remote interior of Marco Island, Florida, Marco Island Cemetery stands as a testament to the resiliency of the island’s inhabitants. Spanish explorers named the island La Isla de San Marco, and it is the largest barrier island within southwest Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands region. Today, it is home to over 17,000 residents, as well as thousands of vacationers who visit every year to enjoy the beautiful weather.

In the early 1970s, however, less than 4,000 people resided there. Many had left earlier in the century due to economic hardship and the Great Depression. Old Marco Cemetery, as Marco Island Cemetery was called at the time, was all but abandoned, left to nature and the social outcasts who came there to drink and race dirt bikes and motorcycles along its trails. Then, in 1973, a tragedy occurred that triggered its renewal.

Linda Walters, 16, and Lisa Nankevill, 15, were staying at Lisa’s father’s home on Pepperwood Court, which according to newspaper reports was, at the time, located about two blocks from the cemetery. Lisa’s father awoke during the night to hear music coming from her bedroom. Thinking nothing of it, he went back to bed.

When he woke early the next morning, the music was still playing, and when we went to investigate, he found the two girls missing with a note taped to a picture of Lisa’s mother. He did not report them missing to police because they had taken off on their own before. Many teenagers on Marco Island hung out at the 7-11 convenience store a few blocks away, near Old Marco Cemetery, which was open 24 hours. Later, eyewitnesses placed them at a party that night. They left around 9pm.

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20-Acre Enigma of Naples’ Rosemary Cemetery

A graveyard is not something many people expect to encounter while visiting the pharmacy at a busy urban intersection in one of the wealthiest communities in the United States, but that is exactly what you will find at the intersection of Tamiami Trail North (U.S. 41) and Pine Ridge Road in Naples, Florida.

For years, passersby have wondered about the origin of this small cemetery and the identity of the people interred there. Adding to the mystery are reports of paranormal activity and rumors that neighboring businesses inevitably close their doors after only a short period of time.

While only home to a little over 19,000 people, Naples, Florida is one of the wealthiest cities in the United States, with the sixth highest per capita income and the second highest number of millionaires per capita in America. Every year, tourists flock to the area, and Naples Beach was voted the best beach in America by the Travel Channel in 2005.

It wasn’t always this popular, or this populated. In the 1870s, reporters described the area’s agreeable climate, abundant fishing, and shoreline as like that of Italy. So when a U.S. Senator from Kentucky named John Stuart Williams and his partner, businessman Walter N. Haldeman, founded a city there, they called it Naples, after the city in Italy.

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Bathtub Messiah: The Strange History of the Koreshan Unity

 

At the turn of the last century, deep in the pine flat woods of southeast Florida near the small village of Estero, a group of religious believers sought to build a new Jerusalem on the Gulf Coast. These followers of Dr. Cyrus Teed, called Koreshans, believed the earth and universe were contained within a concave sphere. At its peak, their New Jerusalem was home to 250 people. Today, it is the Koreshan State Historic Site. Some visitors report eerie encounters with the vestigial remains of the so-called Koreshan Unity. Even without these stories, it is one of the most interesting ghost towns in Florida.

Cyrus Teed was born in 1839 in New York. He quickly gained an interest in science and medicine and opened a clinic in Utica. During one of his experiments, he was electrocuted and claimed a divine spirit had told him that he was the Messiah. He changed his name to Koresh and began to gather followers. This small group moved to Chicago in 1888 and established a commune. Apparently they were not well received. According to Jack Powell, author of Haunted Sunshine (2001), “The Chicago newspapers ran article after article on him. He was characterized to the public as the leader of a cult that took worldly goods from its followers and kept them enslaved through fear.”

Dr. Teed and his followers came to Estero, Florida in 1894 and acquired 1,600 acres of land through donation and purchase. There they held seminars for the public on Cellular Cosmogony, Teed’s own Hollow Earth theory. The group also believed in communal living, sharing property, gender equality, and various forms of celibacy. The Koreshan Unity was a thriving community with residences, gardens, a bakery, art hall, and store. The seven women who made up the Unity’s governing council lived in a large building called the Planetary Chamber.

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