The Contemporary Scene from Florida, A Guide to the Southernmost State - 1939

Across the wide strip of its upper area, from the Atlantic to within a short distance of the Mississippi border, Florida is at once a con­tinuation of the Deep South and the beginning of a new realm in which the system of two-party politics reasserts itself. Narrowing abruptly to a peninsula, it drops through five degrees of latitude and a constantly accentuated tropical setting, until the tip of its long Roman nose pokes very nearly into the confines and atmosphere of Latin America. Equato­rial waters move up from the south along its coasts, to temper its climate and confuse its seasons; every winter a tidal wave of tourists moves down from the north, to affect its culture, its economy, its physical appearance. Throughout more than four centuries, from Ponce de Leon in his caravels to the latest Pennsylvanian in his Buick, Florida has been invaded by seekers of gold or of sunshine; yet it has retained an identity and a charac­ter distinctive to itself. The result of all this is a material and immaterial pattern of infinite variety, replete with contrasts, paradoxes, confusions, and inconsistencies.

Politically and socially, Florida has its own North and South, but its northern area is strictly southern and its southern area definitely northern. In summer the State is predominantly southern by birth and adoptions, and in winter it is northern by invasion. At all seasons it is divided into Old and New Florida, separated by the Suwannee River. The political thought that controls it originates in a united minority above the Suwan­nee and reaches down into the more populous peninsula to impose the di­minishing theory that Florida should be preserved for Floridians rather than exploited for visitors.

Religious intolerance marked the conquest and early settlement of Flor­ida, but the State has long since embraced practically all cults and reli­gions, and licenses the occult and the supernatural. Yet its melting pot is a brew of conflicting ideas, which enables the native to dictate State policies and politics. And so the Florida Cracker runs the courthouse and assesses, collects, and spends the tax money.

The background traditions of Florida are of the Old South; and though the Republican Party regularly appears on the ballot, only once since Reconstruction days has the State switched from its Democratic allegiance. In 1928, when prohibition and religion confused the issues, the electorate supported Herbert Hoover.

To the visitor, Florida is at once a pageant of extravagance and a land of pastoral simplicity, a flood-lighted stage of frivolity and a behind-the­-scenes struggle for existence. For the person with a house car it is a succes­sion of trailer camps and a vagabond social life. For the Palm Beach pa­tron it is a wintertime Newport made up of the same society, servants, and pastimes. For migratory agricultural labor it means several months of winter employment in the open under pleasant skies; and for the Negro turpentine worker, an unvarying job in the pine woods.

The derivation of the name Florida has not been overlooked in publicity literature, the rhetoric of which has lent itself to a major misconception. Nature, though lavish, has not been flamboyant enough to make the great variety of native flowers and plants notably obvious except to naturalists, scientists, and botanists. Spectacular settings have been devised by man, but since Florida remains primitive in many respects these splashes of color are comparatively isolated and, in some cases, hidden. Swamps and jungles have been enclosed and converted into Japanese, cypress, Oriental, and many other kinds of gardens, to which an admission fee is charged. Here have been assembled extensive collections of native and ex­otic plants.

On the other hand, florid rhetoric has not exaggerated the State's much publicized scent-the perfume from a half-million-acre bouquet of citrus groves. A border region of localized smells, however, suggests that all is not fragrance in the land of flowers. From sponge and shrimp fleets, men­haden fertilizer factories, and the stacks of paper mills drift malodorous fumes that lade the sea breezes with unsung vapors. A neutralizing in­cense, the aromatic smoke from burning pine woods, has steadily lessened with the expansion of forest-fire control, but occasionally there is a pall as well as a moon over Miami from Everglades muck fires.

Attempts to romanticize Florida's playground features have resulted in an elaborate painting of the lily. Coast resorts have been strung into a be­jeweled necklace that sparkles on the bosom of a voluptuous sea; all is glamour and superficiality. This superimposed glitter diverts attention from Florida's more characteristic native life.

The pioneer settler came from the same stock. as the Appalachian mountain dweller, and long existence in the flat pine woods tended to perpet­uate his original pattern of thought. He knew little of life beyond his own small clearing and saw only a few infrequent visitors, until a network of highways left him exposed to many persons in motorcars. This traffic af­fected his economy and aroused his instinct to profit. He set up a roadside vegetable display, then installed gasoline pumps and a barbecue stand, and finally with the addition of overnight cabins he was in the tourist busi­ness.

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