When I lived in north Florida, Tate’s Hell–fifty miles west of Tallahassee–was one of my favorite places. Much of it is swamp. Much of it is forest. Other than the logging companies who just about ruined it, few people went there in the 1950s and 1960s. Now, it’s being restored.
I’ve featured Tate’s Hell in several of my books and stories, including my recently released novella Conjure Woman’s Cat. An easy drive from Tate’s Hell is Florida’s Garden of Eden. That was once a well-promoted tourist attraction. Now, most of the old signs are gone; however you can still enjoy the heavenly habitats on the Garden of Eden Trail in the Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve. After just a short hike, you’ll find a wonderful view of the Apalachicola River.
The founders of the Garden of Eden based their attraction on the work of the reverend E. E. Callaway who documented a fair number of features in this area that matched the Biblical story, including the Apalachicola River which split into four rivers. Callaway also thought that Florida’s imperiled Torreya tree was the Biblical Gopherwood from which the ark was built.
In those days, our local paper had an active letters to the editor section that often functioned the way blog comments and Facebook threads do now. Callaway constantly posted short letters talking about the sacredness of the site, hoping, I guess, that more ministers would support his findings. The reverend and I sparred politely on more than one occasion about whether Adam and Eve were native Floridians. I said they weren’t.
However, I have always been fascinated–possibly in a twisted and cynical fashion–about the proximity on several state and county roads–of Hell and the Garden. My dark “Garden of Heaven” trilogy played out multiple scenes along this theme. Conjure Woman’s Cat is set near Torreya State Forest and has numerous references to Tate’s Hell.
According to local legend (around Sumatra and Carrabelle, Florida), Tate’s Hell is named after Cebe Tate who was bitten by a rattlesnake there while hunting a panther that had been raiding his livestock. Just before he died, he told those who found him, “My name’s Cebe Tate and I just came from Hell.” That happened in 1875 and the name stuck.
Needless to say, I couldn’t help but write a short story about taking snakes from Hell and transporting them to Eden. Yes, I know, I shouldn’t have done that, but for better or worse that’s just the way my mind works.
The result of this madness is my new Kindle short story “Carrying Snakes Into Eden.” It’s set in the 1960s. Had I published it then, I’m sure the reverend Callaway would have complained about it on the letters to the editor page, and I probably would have responded that Cebe Tate might just be related to Adam, if not Lilith.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of Emily’s Stories, Conjure Woman’s Cat and “Carrying Snakes Into Eden.”
I invite you to visit my Conjure Woman’s Cat website.