Book Review–Recalling Deeds Immortal: Florida Monuments to the Civil War

Lees, William B. and Frederick P. Gaske. Recalling Deeds Immortal: Florida Monuments to the Civil War. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. 2014. 370 pages, 305 pages text. Index, bibliography, end notes, b/w photos. ISBN 9780813049960, $44.95.

With the recent controversies over monuments and memorials, and not just those with some attachment to the Civil War as a whole or the Confederacy specifically, it can be easy to lose sight where monuments are, who or what the were erected to or for, who erected them, or in some unfortunate cases, what they even looked like. Authors William B. Lees and Frederick P. Gaske have done a fine job in rounding up and researching Civil War monuments located in the Sunshine State.

Lees and Gaske are well qualified to write such a book. Lees serves as Director of Florida Public Archaeology Network at the University of West Florida and Gaske has served as the state of Florida’s Historic Preservation Officer in addition to having coauthored the Florida Civil War Heritage Trail Guide, a free publication produced by the state.

The authors argue that to truly understand these monuments we must place them in the context of the time they were erected. Different monuments mean different things. It is also important that we understand that sacrifice meant different things to Union and Confederate soldiers.

The book is broken down chronologically which while it has its benefits, particularly in backing the author’s argument of understanding monuments and their place in time, also can become difficult for the reader if they are only looking to know about particular monuments. For those readers a straight alphabetical system would be a better choice. Readers searching for information on a favorite monument have to refer to the index to find where to turn.

The book is broken into five chapters: Reconstruction and Beyond, Remembering Confederate Sacrifice and Valor After Reconstruction, Remembering the Union Soldier and Sailor, Remembering Hallowed Ground, and Monuments Erected After the Civil War Centennial. The authors take each monument and work to tell its story through the use of contemporary sources, whether they be newspapers, archives, government records, and more. A look at the notes and bibliography of this book will show the research efforts that were expended.

While the Reconstruction period saw only a small handful of monuments erected, the ending of federal occupation was a boom period for remembering and honoring the dead. With the creation of the Daughters of the Confederacy and their later incarnation as United Daughters of the Confederacy at least 34 monuments were erected in the state. The subject matter and location of monuments varied from outright Lost Cause to monuments such as that in a Deland cemetery which contained a list of Confederate soldiers buried there. While the majority of these monuments are still in place some, such as the Daytona Beach monument, have been damaged or altered, and some, such as Orlando, have been removed since publication of this book.

What is fascinating is the continued creation and placing of memorials and monuments. In the post 1968 period Lees and Gaske account for 33 new monuments with more being erected today. This growth is provided by organizations such as Sons of Confederate Veterans who have this as one of their stated goals. The trend on these new monuments is toward smaller and less elaborate design which is probably due to design trends but more likely cost and budget concerns. While these new monuments are often meant to commemorate hallowed ground or to honor specific soldiers the fact that the Confederate flag has been used by many other groups, often with negative consequences, the claim of “heritage not hate” is a message that is often considered to be false.

This is a valuable book and should be on the shelves of those interested in Civil War history, Florida history, and even Civil Rights history. The story is an important one and one that will not be going away. It is our responsibility to understand those of the past did not live by our standards of today. To argue that the war was not based upon the issue of slavery would fly in the face of the Articles of Secession; to erase reminders of the war will not erase the war and to me is not the correct way to deal with the issue. We should not be standing in judgement of those who came before us for erecting these memorials and monuments, but rather, we should convey that history and work to tell a new full sided and complete story. To those putting up new monuments, you have a responsibility to be honest and not hide what we now understand to be true.

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Book Review–Finding the Fountain of Youth

Kilby, Rick. Finding the Fountain of Youth: Ponce de Leon and Florida’s Magical Waters. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. 2013. Bibliography, color & b/w photos. ISBN 9780813044873, $14.95.

I imagine in some ways we are all searching for the Fountain of Youth. We may want to have the wisdom of being a few years older but for most of us we want to hang on to our youth as long as possible.

In his beautifully illustrated book, author Rick Kilby  lets us in on the myths and legends surrounding Juan Ponce de Leon, the Fountain of Youth, and how this dream has been, and continues to be, used in marketing.

Mr. Kilby points out a common narrative in regards to many of the springs in the state. First is that these sites are sacred to Native Americans who lived near them for years before colonial settlers take up residence near them, drawn by the cool and pure water. As tourism becomes more important to Florida, entrepreneurs such as steamboat owners, begin using the “fountain of youth” myth to draw visitors to the healing waters. With family travel becoming more common these springs were often turned into tourist attractions with highlights such as waterskiing elephants (De Leon Springs), glass bottom boats (Silver Springs), mermaids (Weekie Watchie), and more. In the days of segregation African-Americans could visit locations such as Paradise Park, which was “For colored people only” according to period advertisements.

The myth of Juan Ponce de Leon searching for the “fountain of youth” is laid out and addressed thoroughly by Mr. Kilby. Let’s also be honest; how was Ponce supposed to find the real “Fountain” when it seems to have been located in so many places. Florida cities as diverse and far away from each other such as St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Sarasota County, De Leon Springs, and Venice, have use the “fountain of youth” motif in advertising and promotion. But let us not forget that drinking a glass of Florida orange juice may also be the key to staying young.

While this book is fun, enjoyable, and upbeat, there is also a sadness to be recognized when one realizes much of what Mr. Kilby puts forth is no longer available. The interstate system, along with the ease of flying, have put many of these locations out-of-the-way and no longer relevant to today’s visitor to the state. The quaintness of these attractions make them seem outdated and boring when compared to billion dollar theme parks with every bell and whistle imaginable. A cell phone in hand is oftentimes more interesting to not just the young but their parents as well. In addition, the reality is that today’s world is doing considerable damage to springs and our underground water reservoirs. Fertilizers, pesticides, and septic field runoff, have changed many springs from clear and beautiful to overgrown with algae and murky to the eye. Fish, which were often abundant, can be difficult to find in some locations.

All is not a lost cause however. Many of the springs are now part of state parks so they have a measure of protection. Many of them are regularly open and can be used for recreational purposes and these are often full of visitors to whom the water seems clear because they do not know better. It will take a large turnabout however to fully save and replenish these natural beauties. We need to look at and address population growth. Further, the use of native plants should be encouraged rather than trying to all have lawns that look like manicured golf courses. Fertilizers and pest control are large problems for our spring systems.  Nature is resilient and these wonders can return to their former state if we allow them to.

While not a large book this is a book that packs a wallop. It is full of dozens of vintage images including brochures, photos, post cards, and more. There is a retro, or maybe kitsch, vibe here that is quite appealing. The writing is easy to follow and presents a lot of interesting information. Those interested in natural Florida, those interested in the history of tourism in our state, and those with a nostalgic bent, would be wise to pick up a copy of this book and enjoy a couple of hours of reading! You won’t regret it.

Rick Kilby is the President of Kilby Creative, a graphic design and advertising firm.

You may keep up with Rick by reading his Old Florida blog.

Other reviews of University Press of Florida books may be found here.

Book Review–Florida’s Golden Age of Souvenirs 1890-1930

florida's golden ageRoberts, Larry. Florida’s Golden Age of Souvenirs, 1890-1930. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. 2001. 217 pages, index, bibliography, color photos. ISBN: 9780813024240, $39.95.

Twenty-first century tourists who come to Florida are bombarded with thousands of options for souvenirs to take back to their home town. These modern trinkets, often of a disposable nature, are not the focus of this large, hardcover, beautifully illustrated volume. Instead, what we get here are items of a higher quality that while decorative, are often functional as well.

The late 1800’s and early 1900’s were a period of tremendous growth for the state of Florida. From a population of under 395,000 in 1890 the state was home to just under 1,500,000 residents in 1930. Along with the increase in population came an increase in tourists; many being winter visitors who spent several months in the balmy Florida climate rather than face the ice and snow of their home state. These part-time residents would often want reminders of their time in Florida.

Author Larry Roberts has put together a wonderful pictorial book showcasing the variety of souvenirs available to visitors during the early twentieth century. Starting with a historical sketch of Florida tourism the book then is broken down by type of souvenir. Included are china, spoons, carved alligators, Harris and Barnhill prints, orangewood and mauchline ware, Seminole dolls, glass, jewelry, Olive Commons jewelry and porcelain, Silver Springs pottery and metal and shieldware.

Each chapter starts with a small amount of text, providing readers an introduction to the subject. The photos for each chapter are set up after the conclusion of the introduction. This text will often make reference to one or more of the photos forcing readers to flip pages in order to view what is being discussed.

The photos are of high quality, with excellent color, but only have brief descriptors. Also, items only receive one view so if there are details on multiple sides of an item we don’t get to see them. This becomes particularly problematic for some items such as the Silver Springs pottery created by Henry Graack. In the text we learn about the makers mark he used on the bottom of his works but we never see an example. The signature that Olive Commons hid in her works is discussed but again we never get to see an example. While interesting and good to know, novice collectors might like to see her mark thus giving them knowledge and confidence should they potentially find a piece of her work.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. The text was easy to read and the photos beautiful to look at. For those looking for a price guide or in-depth collecting reference you should look elsewhere. If you are interested in learning a bit about early Florida tourism and seeing what visitors would have taken home with them, this is a book worth looking for. This is by no means an inexpensive book but it is  a large size, hardcover, printed on high quality paper and these type books are never cheap.