Magnolia Florida, long gone and almost forgotten

“Magnolia, Florida was a thriving river port town in southern Wakulla County, Florida (until 1843, Leon County, Florida), established in the 1820s and is classified as an “extinct city” by the State Library and Archives of Florida. All that remains of the city is the rundown cemetery – the last known burial was in 1859.[1] The cemetery is on land now owned by the St. Joe Paper Company. The town was located near the small city of St. Marks, Florida.” – Wikipedia

People Playing Croquet in Magnolia – Florida Memory Project photo

When I was little, the old-timers in Tallahassee, Florida spoke of the extinct town of Magnolia, south of town on the St. Marks River, that developers once hoped would be a port city for cotton and other products.

There was nothing left of the town but a small cemetery that local ghost enthusiasts claimed was haunted. If you live in Tallahassee now and have been around for a while, you might recall that between 1963 and 1977, Elizabeth F. Smith captured the spirit of the area in her publication “The Magnolia Monthly” out of Crawfordville, Florida.

Magnolia–not to be confused with Magnolia Springs in Florida’s Clay county–was well-planned, but failed because the Railroad needed for its survival bypassed it and went to St. Marks instead. The town was founded by the Ladd family which you can learn more about here.

The remains of that railroad came up for sale when I was younger, and I thought then that it would make a nice tourist attraction. Never happened, for better or worse, though it might have improved the financial status of Wakulla County.

But my fascination for the town, the river, and the slash pine forests owned by the paper company stayed with me. I mention the town in my short story “Sweetbay Magnolia” in my new short story collection Widely Scattered Ghosts. In fact, the grandmother in the story had a house in Magnolia and the sweetbay magnolia in her back yard reminds her of old days and old loves.

As always, it’s the real places that get my attention.

–Malcolm

All that remains of the town. Florida Memory Project photo.

 

 

 

The place where I grew up is toast

“Hurricane Michael was the third-most intense Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in the United States in terms of pressure, behind the 1935 Labor Day hurricane and Hurricane Camille of 1969. It was also the strongest in terms of maximum sustained wind speed to strike the contiguous United States since Andrew in 1992. In addition, it was the strongest on record in the Florida Panhandle, and was the fourth-strongest landfalling hurricane in the contiguous United States, in terms of wind speed”. – Wikipedia

I cannot help but follow the weather maps and news about Hurricane Michael. When referring to Mexico Beach and Panama City, Florida, the word “catastrophe” is often used. I grew up in Tallahassee which is about 20 miles from the coast. We spent many hours along the coast from St. Marks to Alligator Point to Carrabelle to Apalachicola. We seldom went to Panama City because–even then–it routinely filled up with tourists. I’d never been to Mexico Beach.

The photographs, as editors keep saying, look like a war zone. I’ve seen this before, but not on this scale in Florida. It’s a miniature Katrina. We saw most of the affected coastline as kids from speedboats and sailboats. We spent many hours at a St. Theresa beach cottage owned by good friends. I hope it’s still there. It’s hard to look at all this in news pictures just as it’s hard to look at Glacier National Park wildfire stories in news pictures.

Not that I could do anything if I were there, but I feel like I should be there even though I’ve been away from the Florida Panhandle for so many years, I know very few people there anymore. Yet, there’s something special about the places where we grew up and/or spent a lot of time that draws us to them when the people there are in trouble.

The area where Michael hit has often been called “the forgotten coast” because most of the tourism and development were elsewhere. In that sense, I have always been happy it was forgotten because I didn’t want it to attract the commercialized mess of places like Daytona Beach. But now, I hope that FEMA programs and agencies that help with rebuilding places after so-called acts of God don’t forget the forgotten coast.

–Malcolm

 

 

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.

 

 

 

I wish I’d heard the blues at the Red Bird Cafe

Just across the main east-west thoroughfare from Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida, sits the oldest black neighborhood in the state. Known as Frenchtown, the area was beginning to decline when I rode my bicycle on Macomb and Dean Streets delivering telegrams while in high school. Those older than me remembered the days when Frenchtown’s Red Bird Cafe was an important stop on the Chitlin’ Circuit, and they spoke fondly of the days when Cannonball Adderley and Ray Charles lived in the area and were famous along the streets for their music.

Red Bird Cafe - Florida Memory photo
Red Bird Cafe – Florida Memory photo

The yellow Western Union tag on my shirt identified me as a harbinger of death as surely as a black car in a military neighborhood. Perhaps it was that tag or perhaps it was luck, but I never ran into any trouble in Frenchtown even though most of my friends thought I was crazy to go there even though the job required it. I usually took bad news because that’s what telegrams were all about in Frenchtown. The recipients often made me open the yellow envelopes and read the messages at their front doors, and helplessly seeing their reactions and sometimes helping them compose a reply was–I think–my introduction to what it was like to feel the blues.

I wish I’d been more daring then, for I went to a Peter, Paul and Mary concert at FSU, but never went to the Red Bird other than to pedal past it on my bike. Surprisingly, I delivered–much to my embarrassment–more than one singing (usually “Happy Birthday”) telegram in Frenchtown where whole families and their neighbors gathered in the small yards to hear that poor, sweaty white boy sing. Who knows what would have happened if I’d ever had to sing such words at the front door of the Red Bird. Maybe somebody with an “axe” (guitar) would have emerged from the crowd and joined in. Never happened. But as I worked on my Conjure Woman’s Cat novella with its strong leaning toward the blues, I couldn’t help but think of Frenchtown and all the music there I never heard in the world where it lived.

If I owned a time machine, I’d get out the yellow Western Union tag that I “borrowed” from the company when I left, and I’d go back to the Red Bird and listen. In real life, all that music was at once so close and so far away.

–Malcolm

http://www.conjurewomanscat.com/

Hello Florida Readers: Need fantasy, magic and ghosts?

One of my contemporary fantasy novels, three paranormal short stories and a collection of three folk tales have Florida settings. I grew up in Tallahassee and explored most of the state’s panhandle, so I enjoy going back for story locations.

  • The Seeker: (Tallahassee, Panacea, Carrabelle, Tate’s Hell Forest) – Contemporary fanntasy novel about a perfect love gone horribly wrong between a young man from Montana and a young woman from Carrabelle who meet on a summer job in Montana’s Glacier National Park. Misunderstandings arise after the young woman is assaulted on a dark, Tallahassee street.

    Paperback, Kindle and Audiobook, and they are family friendly.
    Paperback, Kindle and Audiobook, and they are family friendly.
  • Emily’s Stories: (Tallahassee, St. Marks) – This three story set of magical paranormal stories features a 14-year-old girl who talks to ghosts and birds to solve problems. She doesn’t want a housing development in her favorite woods, sees a bear stalking her father on a Montana vacation, and wonders why her grandmother loves the sweetbay magnolia tree in her back yard so much. The audiobook was narrated by actress Kelley Hazen who makes you feel like you’re right there in the stories.
  • Cora’s Crossing (Marianna) – In this paranormal story, two college students driving home on a stormy night find their route oddly detoured across an ancient, haunted bridge north of Marianna. What they find there, and the danger it gets them into, will make them truly believe that Bellamy Bridge is haunted. The bridge, which is still there, is closed to vehicles but can be reached by a trail.
  • Moonlight and Ghosts (Tallahassee) – An abandoned and purportedly haunted mental hospital attracts the attention of a young man who used to work there. Something or someone wants him to return and, as it turns out, solve a crime in progress. Needless to say, this is a paranormal story, but it also ties into my experiences years ago as a manager at a center for the developmentally disabled.
  • Spooky Stories (Marianna, Tallahassee) – This two-story set bundles “Cora’s Crossing” and “Moonlight and Ghosts” together in one volume. This edition is also available as an audiobook.
  • Kindle and Audiobook
    Kindle and Audiobook

    The Land Between the Rivers (Tate’s Hell Forest) – This three-story set of folktales features Panther, Snakebird and Bear at the dawn of time as they make their way through the wetlands and flatwoods between the Apalachicola and the Ochlockonee rivers. I camped and hiked throughout this area when I was growing up, so it’s a favorite of mine–one that still needs the determined efforts of those protecting Florida’s endangered species of plants and animals in the state’s at-risk ecosystems.

  • My work in progress is a folk magic story set in Liberty County in the 1950s. The characters include a conjure woman, her cat, her customers, and some really nasty people who need to be jinxed. More on this later.

Malcolm

New Personal Note: The HVAC Georgia Summer Blues

It’s really spooky: ‘Moonlight and Ghosts’

I’m happy to announce my really spooky short story “Moonlight and Ghosts” was published today by Vanilla Heart Publishing in an e-book format.

Publisher’s Description: On a moonlit night, Randy’s intuition is drawing him back to an abandoned psychiatric hospital where he once worked. He and his friend, Alice, have heard the ghost hunters’ claims the building is haunted, filled with strange lights, apparitions and the voices of former patients calling for help. The Forgotten point Randy and Alice to a crime in progress… and there’s not much time to save the victim.

That abandoned building…

There used to be an abandoned psychiatric hospital and developmental center near the house where I grew up. Before it was converted from a secondary hospital for use by the state department of mental health, I visited patients there–and it all seemed normal enough. It closed for a variety of reasons, including lack of funding and ended up sitting as an abandoned and often vandalized building for over two decades.

During this time, it became a magnet for ghost hunters. The more I looked at the pictures on line, the more my imagination started tinkering with an idea for a story. Like the main character in the story, I once worked as a unit manager at a center for the developmentally disabled. Fortunately, I never worked in this building. But what if I had and what if I went back on a moonlit night and found several ghosts waiting for me with an emergency message?  Hmmm…

I hope you like it!

Price: 99 cents on Kindle, and in multiple formats, on Smashwords.

Watch the Book Video on YouTube

Read the beginning on Amazon (use “look inside”) or on Smashwords (use “view sample) for free.

Malcolm

Take a few notes: you might write about this place some day

In fiction writing, we have the freedom to create settings of our choice. But readers will pick up on phony settings pretty quickly. The more realistic and more interesting your setting, the more likely the characters who inhabit it will be believable and interesting to the reader. — Robert Hays (“The Life and Death of Lizzie Morris”)

Liberty Port in the Philippines
When I was in high school, I tried multiple times to keep a log or journal. But that required more extended discipline than I had. While I began each attempt with the best of intentions, the entries quickly morphed from wordy and detailed into sketchy and infrequent.

A little discipline then could have saved me a lot of trouble when I began writing my novel “Garden of Heaven.” It uses settings I should know well: Glacier National Park, Montana; Tate’s Hell Forest and Tallahassee, Florida; Olongapo, Philippines; the aircraft carrier USS Ranger; Decatur, Illinois; Gronigen, Netherlands.

Each of these places holds memories for me that fit the plot and themes of the novel. Yet, when it comes to nitty-gritty details, memory can be tricky. When exactly did the USS Ranger leave Alameda for Vietnam in 1968 and what stores existed on Tallahassee’s College Avenue a few years before that? What year did the Decatur transfer house get moved and how far was the Galaxy Bar from the main gate?

Fortunately, books, magazines and online research helped fill in the gaps. So did e-mail correspondence with people at Glacier, Tate’s Hell, and Decatur. Frankly, a good journal would have taken me a lot less time. Not that I would have recorded everything I might have needed in a novel written decades later. But recording my observations would have given me a good start.

USS Ranger (CVA-61)
Since it’s quite likely that a writer will end up using places he has a passion for or where defining moments occurred–whether it’s the town where he grew up, the theater where his military service unfolded or the destination for his favorite vacation–I’m thinking it just makes good sense to become a bit more of a packrat.

In addition to photographs, a few notes, brochures, newspaper clippings, ticket stubs, itineraries, and other materials will not only reinforce the writer’s observations when he’s there; they’ll support his memory years later when he puts his protagonist into the deep swamp he saw when he was a kid or the sailor’s liberty town he saw when he was in the Navy.

Such details don’t need to turn into the pages and pages of description readers of today’s novels often skip over. They do bring a place to life. They’re the difference between a setting with depth and one that appears plastic and ill-formed.

And if you have the discipline, keep a diary, log, journal or notebook: your readers will thank you and your writing will be all the stronger for it whether you’re writing about stealing cookies on the mess-decks of an aircraft carrier or the sound a panther makes in a notorious Florida Swamp.