Florida in Pictures – Tallahassee’s oldest church

The First Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee is the capital’s oldest building in continual use. It was dedicated in 1838. Atypical in the South, the church accepted slaves as members who sat in a balcony that runs along three sides of the sanctuary’s “second floor.” Earlier, the church served as a refuge during the Seminole Wars and then, in the 1960s, as a leader in the civil rights movement.

I was a member of this church during my K-12 years in Tallahassee. My brothers and I were also members of Boy Scout Troop 101 sponsored by the church during those years. All three of us became Eagle Scouts, so it saddens me that the church at some point ended its association with scouting. It also saddened me when a large number of members who disagreed with the church’s civil rights stance split off during the mid-1960s and formed a new church.

The church is on the National Register of Historic Places where its Gothic Revival architecture is noted. The foundation included rifle slots that, by now, have probably been covered over. In contrast, solar panels now provide a portion of the church’s power and were–in 2010–considered the county’s second-largest solar panel array.

My father, Laurence, wrote the church’s sesquicentennial booklet of poems called “The Future of Old First in 1982.” He had, in earlier years, been a deacon, elder, Cub Scout pack leader, and explorer post leader.

The photograph shown here was taken sometime in the 1800s:

Florida Memory Photo

The church as it appears today, with the Methodist Church in the background and the church’s education building on the right hand side of the picture:

 

I don’t know if the church ever rings the bell in the steeple these days. At some point, the steeple was renovated and those of us attending Sunday school classes were allowed to ring the bell on Sunday mornings. The bellrope was accessed through a trap door above the balcony pews just above the church’s narthex. Everyone wanted to ring the bell! We loved it for its old fashioned sound, a sound out of history.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s Florida Folk Magic novels are set in the panhandle west of Tallahassee.

 

 

 

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Florida in Pictures – Sea Oats and Sand

The sandy beaches of the Florida Panhandle are usually white and flanked by sand dunes covered with sea oats and sand spurs. Sand spurs are annoying because they, like spurs, grab on to your legs or your clothes. Sea Oats are graceful and protected. Pick one, and you might go to jail. Our panhandle beaches look quite a bit different than the multi-colored sand you might see south of Jacksonville. The sea oats add to the ambiance.

 

Florida Memory Photo

 

Wikipedia’s definition is accurate, I think: Uniola paniculata or sea oats, also known as seaside oats, araña, and arroz de costa, is a tall subtropical grass that is an important component of coastal sand dune and beach plant communities in the southeastern United States, eastern Mexico and some Caribbean islands. Its large seed heads that turn golden brown in late summer give the plant its common name. Its tall leaves trap wind-blown sand and promote sand dune growth, while its deep roots and extensive rhizomes act to stabilize them, so the plant helps protect beaches and property from damage due to high winds, storm surges and tides. It also provides food and habitat for birds, small animals and insects.

Trust me. You don’t want this in your yard. Wikipedia photo.

You can buy sea oats from nurseries but you can’t steal them from the beach. Frankly, when I was growing up here, it never occurred to me to pick the sea oats, much less buy them. They do stabilize the dunes and are an important part of the ecosystem. However, if you were to buy your own for your yard, you can use them to make bread.

As for the sand spurs, I think the devil made them.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of novels set in the Florida Panhandle, including “Lena,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” and “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Florida Folk Magic Trilogy

When Lena, the third book in my 1950s-era Florida Folk Magic trilogy was released several weeks ago by Thomas-Jacob Publishing, I said, “Okay guys, the series is a trilogy, so y’all quit pestering me about another book.”

The series addresses the racism of the Black/White culture in the Florida Panhandle at a time when the state had a lot more Klan activity, lynchings, and firebombings than most people outside the area knew about. Snowbirds came down from the northern states and eastern Canadian provinces in droves for the sunshine state’s beaches and other attractions in the peninsula. For the most part, they didn’t know that the peninsula had its nasty problems and so did the panhandle.

I grew up in this culture and was very much aware of the KKK because they visited my minister’s house, the houses of my friends, and put on rallies and parades. I had liberal parents and went to a relatively liberal church, the first white church in Tallahassee that invited African Americans to its worship services. In those days, whites poked fun at hoodoo–I guess they still do–but I had a good teacher named Flora who worked as a maid at a friend’s house around the corner. She introduced me to great food, the ways and means of the other side of our two cultures thrown together, and many truths.

The result is my trilogy of three novels. In Conjure Woman’s Cat, Eulalie–who is modeled after Flora–seeks justice for an assaulted Black girl when the police take no action. In Eulalie and Washerwoman, Eulalie battles against an evil conjure man who’s in league with the police and the town’s movers and shakers. In Lena, Eulalie goes missing and is presumed dead, leaving her family and her cat Lena in a state of confusion as the KKK threatens the town.

Lena is available in paperback and e-book from multiple online sites.  Eulalie and Washerwoman and Conjure Woman’s Cat are also available as audiobooks via Audible and Amazon. All three books can be ordered by bookstores from their Ingram catalogs under traditional store purchasing options.

The audiobook edition of Conjure Woman’s Cat received the prestigious Red Earphones Award from AudioFile magazine. Click on the earphones graphic to see the review. Click here to see AudioFile’s review of Eulalie and Washerwoman.

I hope you enjoy the series!

Malcolm

Florida in Pictures – Those bulkhead flatcars

The covers of all three books in my Florida Folk Magic Series feature a railroad crossing usually with bulkhead flatcars on it. First, the Apalachicola Northern Railway operated in the Florida Panhandle county where my stories are set. It still exists today as a shortline called AN Railway, operating between Chattachochee, Florida and Port St. Joe, Florida on the gulf coast. In the 1950s, as now, the line carried wood products, frequently in bulkhead flatcars.

The second reason for the cover picture refers to the age-old belief–which became part of hoodoo–that crossroads and crossings were dangerous places over and above the possibility for wrecks. Either bandits were there or spirits were there. So, great care had to be taken.

The car on the right is a bulkhead flat. – Florida Memory Photograph

Some of my railroad references in the books come from the fact that I was a volunteer at a Georgia railway museum that had operating trains as well as many historic examples of older operating equipment, including a bulkhead flat. As you can see from the photo, the bulkheads at each end of the flatcar helped contain the logs or other materials being hauled. In a part of the country where lumber and other wood products were important, these cars were a natural to mention in the books.

–Malcolm

 

Florida in Pictures – The River Styx

The River Styx, a Florida river that meanders through Liberty County in the Panhandle before emptying into the Apalachicola River, has such a tempting name, I couldn’t help but mention it in my Florida Folk Magic Series. It made a nice contrast to Florida’s so-called Garden of Eden near the town of Bristol. As an author, I enjoy unique place names and myths that figure nicely into a story.

Heres a picture of the river from the state’s Florida Memory archive. You can tell by looking at it that I’m going to like it. So does the alligator in my story.

 

Are you tempted to take your canoe and head for, say, White Oak landing, and see the river up close?

–Malcolm

 

 

 

Excerpt from my novel ‘Lena’

Lena, the third novel in my Florida Folk Magic series was released July 27 by Thomas-Jacob Publishing, following Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman. The novel is available on multiple on-line sites in e-book and paperback and can be ordered by your bookstore via standard bookstore purchasing agreements through its Ingram account.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the novel to tempt you into buying the book:

“So, our Lord of the worlds above—ha!–walked down the springtime path from Eden, all the way down to enjoy the splendor of orchids, lilies, and white-birds-in-a-nest, and He saw that they were exquisite and profoundly good, ha! Yet He found not a bog, nor a marsh, nor a swamp to make a fit home for cypress, tupelo, bulrush, pondweed, leopard frog, alligator, black swamp snake, sandhill crane, and great blue heron. He scooped Earth’s foundation with His hands and filled the scrapes and holes with tears and breath. When the plants and animals came, God Almighty was satisfied, just as we here today are satisfied that this everlasting water provided a fit place for Him to call our sister home.”

“Amen, James,” said Dorothy, using—for the first time as far as I knew—her husband’s name rather than “deacon” in public. Together, leaning upon each other on the roadside with Lane Walker and Eulalie’s daughter Adelaide looked suddenly old. He wore black and she wore blue.

Some people called James and Dorothy “Mutt and Jeff”—though not so as they could hear—because she was short and almost plump and he was tall and almost as fit as a football player. Today, he needed his wife’s shoulder and the starch in his white dress shirt to keep him standing straight enough to address the Lord.

She began singing “Sacred Lord, Take My Hand” and that steadied him though he didn’t sing even when Adelaide joined in, her strong alto voice almost as pure as her mother’s soaring soprano. Lane took off his faded grey poor boy hat and closed his watery eyes.

They arrived in the church’s 1948 Roadmaster, the same black car the coroner borrowed to carry Martin to the morgue and left it on the shoulder a respectful distance away while they stared at the green pickup my conjure woman borrowed from Lane as though it were a closed casket.

“This ain’t right,” snapped Adelaide in the don-t-give-me-no-sass tone of voice she must have learned from her mother.

“God’s plan,” said James.

Adelaide stood as close to the deacon as she could without kissing him which her crossed arms and tapping foot made it obvious was the last thing she planned to do.

“So our almighty God of the worlds above decided Florida would be a better place if Martin Alexander busted into a freight company owned by the chief of police, stole a tanker truck, drove south at top speed while being chased by the cops, and ran Mother and Lena off the road in Lane’s truck, drowning the old lady who served the Him with devotion and burning Martin to a crisp even though he went through hell already this year so that the four of us can stand here today and learn a lesson from it? No offense, Deacon, but was that the plan?”

Dorothy shoved between Adelaide and her husband. “Sorrow’s got your tongue. Let it be.”

Adelaide stood her ground.

“She ain’t here. Can’t you tell?”

“Adelaide, what are you saying?” asked Lane.

“I’m not as psychic as my mother, but I’m sharp enough to know she’s gone and that Lena is still here.”

“Find Lena, then,” said James, “while Lane and I pull his Studebaker out of the swamp.”

“I will.”

She turned away from them while Dorothy backed the Buick up close to the bed of the truck and Lane waded into the water with a long chain. Adelaide was coming up close on the dry end of the fallen Ogeechee Tupelo when Lane shouted “Hot damn—sorry, Deacon” and held up two, quart Mason jars on Eulalie’s moonshine.

“My word,” said Dorothy, “it’s still in good enough condition to pack a punch.”

“I’ll testify about the punch,” shouted James.

“I remember the night she got you drunk,” said Dorothy. They burst out laughing like they needed something to relieve the cares of the day.

“Here, take these, James, there are more down here,” said Lane.

“I’ll just put these in the car, sweet wife of mine,” said James, “to help us resist temptation until we get home.”

Adelaide watched them salvage the shine, muttering under her breath so that only the tupelo and I could hear her, “Finding that jick’s probably part of God’s plan.”

Copyright © 2018 by Malcolm R. Campbell

Malcolm

If you live in Florida, Tupelo Honey is “the” Honey of Choice

“In practice, because of the difficulties in containing bees, a small proportion of any honey will be from additional nectar from other flower types. Typical examples of North American monofloral honeys are clover, orange blossom, blueberry, sage, tupelo, buckwheat, fireweed, mesquite, and sourwood.” – Wikipedia

In Florida, honey producers are as protective about their Tupelo honey as Georgians are about what can be called a true Vidalia onion. I mention white Ogeechee Tupelo trees in my books because they’re a major tree along the Apalachicola River in the panhandle section of the state. They’re a primary source for Tupelo honey and, less well known, as a source of pecan-sized fruits which taste like limes (sort of) and make a pleasing drink and some great preserves.

Tupelo honey, which I thought was the only kind of honey on earth when I was growing up, is light-colored and has a slightly floral taste and (kind of) smells like cinnamon. When I mention it outside of Florida and southern Georgia, most people have never heard of it.  Being old fashioned–or possibly just old–I remember buying honey in boxes where you got a giant slab of honeycomb which I thought was the best part. Now we get strained honey at most stores. What a loss.

Here’s a great picture from Florida Memory showing Tupelo trees along the Apalachicola River:

1960 photo from Florida Memory

I like the passage in Florida’s Wetlands, Volume 2, about the Tupelo: “Like cypress, Ogeechee tupelos are practically immortal. They can live for hundreds of years and they keep replacing their stems, so they need not reproduce frequently.” Old trees carry the land’s stories if you know how to listen.  You can find these trees most often in floodplain swamps, as shown by this photograph from the Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI):

Tupelo at Torreya State Park in Florida’s Liberty County–FNAI photo.

In Florida, you’ll find these trees primarily in panhandle swamps near the Apalachicola River. This is where a fair amount of Tupelo honey comes from.  For those of us in Tallahassee, that was close enough to have a constant supply of quality honey.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s “Lena” will be released on August 1 as the final novel in his Florida Folk Magic trilogy.

 

Florida Wildflowers: White Birds in a Nest

Wikipedia photo

White Birds in a Nest (Macbridea alba) is a threatened Florida wildflower in the mint family that is found in the panhandle. It favors pine woods and savannas in environments that require periodic fires that manage the ecosystem. Years ago, somebody said the flowers reminded them of birds eggs or the heads of baby birds, and the notion became its common name.

Fire suppression–rather than letting natural and necessary burns take place–has played havoc with this plant along with many others in longleaf pine environments. It depends of bumblebees for pollination, and those are in decline. And then, too, there’s always the land’s old enemy development which takes its toll. Pesticides and pastures are among the usual suspects.

When I was growing up in Florida, these plants were much more common than they are now. I mention them in my 1950s-era folk magic crime novels because they were very much a part of the characters’ environment, a part of the wild flower display you can see along state highway 65 between Eastpoint on the Gulf coast north through the Apalachicola National Forest to SR 12 just west of Quincy. The flower can also be found in Alabama. The blooms stand out in their natural habitats between May and August.

When people find these flowers in the wild, they often pick them, thinking they can take them home and display them in a vase. They’re too fragile for that and will probably wilt in the car on the way back to the house. The Forest Service, in Ethics and Native Plants, states that “For many of us a field of wildflowers is one of the most beautiful experiences we can encounter in Nature. There is a deep impulse we carry from childhood into adulthood to reach out and pick a flower in a beautiful butterfly-filled meadow or along a public wooded trail lined with spring beauties, irises, or wake-robins. It is because we all carry such memories that we have devoted an entire website to Celebrating Wildflowers. Millions of people visit the public lands each year and if only a small fraction of them each picked a few flowers, soon there would be none for the rest of us to enjoy.”

If you live in Florida or are visiting the state, you can see White Birds in a Nest in Bay, Gulf, Franklin, and Liberty counties. The Apalachicola National Forest has the most stable populations.

I find these flowers to be quite showy and hope we can preserve them via common sense and Forest Service preservation plans.

Malcolm

“Lena,” the final novel in Malcolm’s Florida Folk Magic trilogy will be release by Thomas-Jacob Publishing on August 1.

 

 

 

 

 

On Location: Florida’s Garden of Eden Trail

In the 1950s retired lawyer and Republican candidate for governor Elvy Edison Callaway opened his Garden of Eden Park along the highway in the Florida Panhandle town of Bristol. Callaway believed that God had created man in the delta of the Apalachicola river, which split into four rivers, just as the Bible describes four rivers leading out of Eden. – Atlas Obscura

Signs like these pointed out Biblical-related highlights throughout the old park.

Florida’s Garden of Eden park near Bristol in the panhandle west of Tallahassee is long gone, though in its memory, there’s still a Garden of Eden Trail in the Nature Conservancy’s Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve:

According to the Conservancy, the Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve protects one of the rarest of habitats: steephead ravines and streams. The Apalachicola River and Bay region is one of five biological hotspots in North America; it is unique to Florida and home to a disproportionate number of imperiled species. The preserve’s longleaf pine sandhill uplands have undergone a complete transformation over the past 30-years: the groundcover restoration techniques developed at ABRP are currently being used across the southeastern U.S.”

Nearby Torreya State Park , (north of the Bluffs and Ravines Preserve) and also at Bristol, makes for a great side trip.

The 3.75 mile trail leads to Alum Bluff overlooking the Apalachicola River. If you’re new to Florida, or live in the peninsula region, the sheep head ravines, longleaf pines, and sand hills are a sight to see.

Trail today – Artie White photo, Flickr creative commons.

Fortunately, a lot of restoration work has been going on there, including the introduction of wiregrass plugs and pine seedlings. Ensuring the preservation of the endangered Florida torreya and Florida yew trees is still in doubt. I hope we don’t lose them.

I took a dim view of the park and the Eden theory when I was growing up in nearby Tallahassee. However, as a writer of a trilogy of magical realism novels set near the trail, the site and and its potential symbolism have been a great way to add myths and local color to the novels. And, as an environmentalist, I’m happy with the Nature Conservancy’s protection and proactive restoration work on behalf of this unique environment.

In addition to the conservancy, groups like the Torreya Guardians are also working to save the Torreya tree. Among other things, experiments that appear to have promise include planing seedlings in a variety of environments (not necessarily in Florida) to see if healthy trees can be created and subsequently returned to their natural environment.

If you live in the Florida Panhandle or are going there for a visit and want to see visit the trail, Florida Hikes as a brief overview here.

Malcolm

 

 

Coming this year: ‘Lena,’ the third novel in my Florida Folk Magic Series

We hear that books in series tend to sell better than standalone books. But, we also hear that if the first book in a series is well liked, the author might have trouble keeping readers’ interests in subsequent books.

Early reviewers who liked “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” said they though book two, “Eulalie and Washer Woman” was even better. The readers were happy and I was relieved that I hadn’t botched up the whole thing by writing a sequel.

The odd thing is, the sequel has sold fewer copies than the original and has a fraction of the reviews. Go figure.

So, I had mixed feelings writing a third book. On one hand, I thought that with the declining interest shown for book two, it was kind of silly to write book three. However, I had a few things left to say. Or, perhaps, the characters did. Book three was harder to write than the previous books. So, it took longer.

But finally, Lena is almost ready to send to my publisher. We’ve already been having conversations about the cover. As far as the cover goes, our artist for books one and two has moved onto other things. So, we’ll need somebody new.

What’s left to do? Well, this is the polishing the manuscript phase. That means going through the story page by page to get rid of any inconsistencies, typos, continuity problems, or stupid mistakes I can find before sending the DOC file to Thomas-Jacob Publishing. Fortunately, we have a great editor who will catch 99 and 44/100 percent of the mistakes I miss.

I have no idea how long it will take to get everything squared away. Several months, perhaps. Like most authors who get to know their characters throughout a series of books, I will miss these people. But, I suspect it’s time to move on to other themes and other stories. (I reserve the right to change my mind.)

For years, I wondered if I would ever find the characters and story lines to write about the racism in Florida during the years when I was growing up. For prospective readers, I hope I did.

Malcolm

Click on my name for my website.