Selected content from Florida, part 2: Diamond ball and the etymology of ‘cracker’

Florida: the American Guide Series

Part two in a series of selected highlights from the Work Project Administration’s Florida guidebook, Florida: a guide to the southernmost state, 1940 (c1939). All content is quoted directly from the Florida guidebook. Any comments in brackets are mine.

[These selected excerpts are from the sections on Florida’s folklore history and its sports and recreation activities. The WPA’s take on the history of the word ‘cracker’ is particularly interesting]:

On Florida’s Folklore

The folklore of Florida is in great measure a heritage from the ‘cracker,’ the Negro, the Latin-American, and the Seminole. From these four strains has been woven a pattern of beliefs and superstitions that dictate many of the ways of Florida life.

The cracker, a pioneer backwoods settler of Georgia and Florida, has come to be known as a gaunt, shiftless person, but originally the term meant simply a native, regardless of his circumstances. Belief that the name may have been shortened from ‘corn cracker’ is given credence in Georgia, but in Florida it derives from the cracking of a whip. It is a name honorably earned by those who made bold talk with their lengthy, rawhide bullwhips in the days when timber and turpentine were the State’s chief industries. Those enterprises involved heavy-haul jobs, with oxen the motive power, bullwhips to keep them moving, and the pistol-shot crack of these whips to signal the wearisome progress of the haul through the woods. Cracking the whip became, in fact, an art and a means of communication–an art of making a noise without permitting the whip to touch the animals, and a signal system by which conversations were held across miles of timber barrens (Florida, p. 128).

On Florida’s Sports and Recreation

Florida offers many exciting spectator sports: horse and dog races, air and auto races, boxing and wrestling, basketball, baseball, football, diamond ball, polo, and jai alai […] Florida claims to have originated diamond ball, now known as softball, played by more than 3,000 teams throughout the State (p. 118)

[Softball? Well, you’re welcome, rest of the United States.]


Selected content from Florida, part 1: Florida’s contemporary scene

A selection of highlights from the Work Project Administration’s 1940 (c1939) survey guidebook to Florida.

All content is quoted directly from the Florida guidebook. Comments in brackets are mine.

On Florida’s Contemporary Scene

Politically and socially, Florida has its own North and South, but its northern area is strictly southern and its southern area definitely northern (Florida, p. 3).

Florida: a guide to the southernmost state[I grew up in north-central Florida and I’ve always had to explain to non-Floridians who don’t think Florida is a “southern” state that the farther north you go in Florida, the more southern you get. It’s a Florida axiom that defies physics].

The first-time visitor is primarily a sightseer. […] If traveling southward by the Gulf coast route, he stops to partake of a Spanish dinner in the Latin quarter of Tampa, to sit on the green beaches of St. Petersburg, to view the Ringling Circus animals and art museums at Sarasota, to admire the royal palms at Fort Meyers. Thence he follows the Tamiami Trail through the ghostly scrub cypress and primitive silence of the Everglades, to encounter at last the theatrical sophistication of Miami. […] From Palm Beach, which has long been the earthly Valhalla of financial achievement, he may detour inland to discover the hidden winter-vegetable kingdom on the muck lands along the southern shore of Lake Okeechobee, where Negro workers harvest thousands of carloads of beans and other fresh food supplies; or farther north he may swing inland by way of Orlando, through the great citrus groves of the hilly lake region and the thriving strawberry country around Plant City; then up to Ocala, where he can look through the glass bottoms of boats at water life in the depths of crystal-clear springs. Returning to the east coast, he inspects the far-famed natural speedway at Daytona Beach and the old Spanish fort at St. Augustine before he reaches the northern terminal city of Jacksonville. Frequently at the end of the tour, the visitor announces that he is never coming back.

His second excursion into Florida is somewhat different. On his first trip, unconsciously or deliberately, he had selected a spot where he thought later on he might want to live and play, and when he comes again he usually returns to that chosen place for a season. Ultimately, in many cases, he buys or builds a home there and becomes by slow degrees a citizen and a critic (Florida, 6-7).

More to follow…


Rare Books: Florida; a guide to the southernmost state

Florida: a guide to the southernmost stateAt a UCLA book sale I found a 1940 edition (1st edition, 2nd printing) of a Florida guidebook written and compiled by the Work Project Administration’s Federal Writers’ Project.

The Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) was a New Deal-era program to provide employment opportunities to skilled workers such as writers, researchers, historians, librarians, and teachers (“New Deal Programs: Selected Library of Congress Resources,” Library of Congress).

FWP writers and researchers traveled to each state and wrote detailed narrative-style surveys on each state’s population, geography, agriculture, history, its principal cities, and its major industries, etc. The guidebooks are interesting because they also include suggested driving tours that visitors can take to see points of interest–suggestions that include travel distances, suggested routes, road conditions, points of interest, and gas station locations.

Florida: the American Guide SeriesThis American Guide Series project took place between 1937 and 1941, producing a guidebook on each state, as well as selected cities, regions, and territories.

Related resources online

Google Books provides full text access to a 1956 edition (8th printing) of the Florida Guidebook, which includes some black and white images of Depression-era Florida.

You can read about the Work Project Administration’s American Guide Series on Wikipedia.

The Library of Congress also has a variety of online resources, manuscripts, and websites related to the New Deal and the Federal Writers’ Project.

Full Reference

Federal Writers’ Project of the Work Projects Administration for the State of Florida. Florida; a guide to the Southernmost State. Compiled and written by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Work Projects Administration for the State of Florida. New York, Oxford University Press, 1940 [c1939].

Rare Books: The Twentieth Century Atlas of the Commercial, Geographical and Historical World

atlas_coverFile this one under “Comically Long Book Title.” I recently found an edition of The Twentieth Century Atlas of the Commercial, Geographical and Historical World (that’s the short title) at an antique store in Santa Barbara, California. The atlas, created by J. Martin Miller, was originally published in 1899 and was reissued several times between 1902 and 1909 by various publishers (Library of Congress, WorldCat). My particular copy, according to the copyright stamp, appears to have been republished in 1902 by Miller and L.G. Stahl.

copyrightI really love old maps and atlases. I am particularly fascinated by how historic maps and atlases often reflect geopolitical biases and can capture an antiquated (and often Anglo- and Euro-centric) worldview frozen in time. Naturally I was drawn to this atlas, but my favorite thing is its ridiculously long title. Most catalogs show the title simply as The Twentieth Century Atlas of the Commercial, Geographical and Historical World, but the title page shows the atlas’s original full title, reproduced below (deep inhale!):

The Twentieth Century Atlas of the Commercial, Geographical and Historical World with a Description of Every Known Land, Both Near and Remote, Ancient and Modern, Embracing Complete, Original and Authentic Maps of the Present Development of All Countries, Empires and States of the World Comprising Graphic Description of the People: Their Civilization, Their Religion, Their Government, Their Cities, Their Imports and Exports, Their Wealth, Their Railways, Their Canals, Their Cables, Their Telegraphs, etc., etc., Including Useful and Timely Statistics, Educational, Industrial Military, Naval.

They really don’t make book titles like that anymore.

Love Letters of Men and Women of Genius

Here’s some intersting information: I recently bought an old pocket-sized book for 25 cents titled “Love Letters of Men and Women of Genius” at the Young Research Library’s book sale. It’s from Haldeman-Julius Publications, Girard, Kansas, edited by E. Haldeman-Julius. There’s no publication date but it’s very old.

It contains love letters between Napoleon and Josephine; Mary Wollstonecraft and Gilbert Imlay; and Victor Hugo and Adele Foucher, among others.

The following is the text of a love letter Napoleon Bonaparte wrote to his wife Josephine. There is no date on Napoleon’s letter but it is was written and sent from Marmirolo, Italy where he was on a military campaign, yet he had time to write love letters. Any comments in […] are mine.

“I have your letter, my adorable love. It has filled my heart with joy…Since I left you I have been sad all the time. My only happiness is near you [and conquering Europe!]. I go over endlessly in my thought your kisses, your tears, your delicious jealousy. The charm of my wonderful Josephine kindles a living, blazing fire in my heart and senses. When shall I be able to pass every minute near you [when you’re exiled], with nothing to do but to love you and nothing to think of but the pleasure of telling you of it and giving you proof of it? I fancied that I loved you some time ago; but since then I feel that I love you a thousand times better. Ever since I have known you I adore you more and more every day. That proves how wrong is that saying of La Bruyere ‘Loves comes all of a sudden.’ Ah, let me see some of your faults; be less beautiful, less graceful, less tender, less good. But never be jealous and never shed tears. Your tears send me out of my mind–they set my very blood on fire. Believe me that it is utterly impossible for me to have a single thought that is not yours, a single fancy that is not submissive to your will [kinky]. Rest well. Restore your health. Come back to me and then at any rate before we die we ought to be able to say: ‘We were happy for so very many days!’ Millions of kisses, even to your dog.”

Her dog?! Well, tune in next time for Josephine’s response!