Living History Reenactors are Time Travelers

Living History Reenactors are Time Travelers

Shadows pinched the sunlight into slim shapes on the trail. A breeze lifted tree branches. The birds were silent.

Suddenly a war cry and the sound of thundering hoofs split the air. My back tingled with fear. I did not turn around.

So this is how it happens, I thought. Death comes as a surprise, an unwelcome intruder as you tramp through the present daydreaming about the past or pushing pictures into the future. A war cry shatters the air. The last sound you hear is the whoosh of a thrown tomahawk.

Then horse and rider, a Seminole Indian, swept past me, war cries in full whoop. No tomahawk in sight.  I had goose bumps everywhere but kept on smiling, walking, looking straight ahead into the camera’s eye.

Living history reenactors bring Civil War battles to life

This scene, thank goodness, was a reenactment at Dade Battlefield Historic State Park in Busnell.  VISIT FLORIDA video crew filmed the event and I was the Authentic Florida expert talking on film (you can see the video here about the Dade Battlefield reenactment.) We asked a Seminole on horseback to make the war pass. It is only a blink on the video.

But it was all too real for U.S. soldiers that cold winter’s day, Dec. 28, 1835, as 108 U.S. soldiers marched through the woods from Tampa to Ocala. “Be of good cheer” their leader told them, it wasn’t far to Ocala where they would be warm, fed and have belated Christmas celebration. Then the Seminoles swept down. Only three soldiers survived.

Every year in January the Dade Battlefield reenactment takes place. It is so much fun they do it twice, once on Saturday, once on Sunday. The dates in 2013 are Jan. 5 & 6th. Battles are at 2 p.m. each day but do plan to bring your family and come earlier to see period camps, the Sutler trade fair, period arts and crafts. Take part in musket shooting, tomahawk throwing (no thank you) and archery.

living history reenactors wear period hats

If you like seeing history come alive, Florida in the winter months has a cornucopia of conflicts and period presentations.  For a sampling of events, check out the Florida Reenactors Online News for an event roster. Also, individual parks, both state and federal, have events – be sure to look at their “Events” web page.

Living history reenactors fire rifles
Living history reenactors fire rifles

Why winter? It is real simple. All those old uniforms were heavy, as in HOT, and besides who wants to do reenactments in the summer when your most attentive audience members are mosquitoes?

Find living history reenactments on weekends around Florida

Many reenactments are on weekends since the men and women in costume, surprise, have Monday through Friday lives. But don’t ask about those lives. When they are reenacting, their speech is in the period language, nothing modern day. They take on the persona of their character, their time, and their place. That is why reenactors are called living historians – a very cool label.


In my Florida travels I meet fantastic people who are travel writers, residents, newcomers, guides and entrepreneurs, all are digging into the Florida places they love and finding treasures worth keeping. Here is Larry French of Deltona, novelist, speaker, editorial writer and content provider of science, social studies, language arts and math curricula. Oh, and did I mention Larry has been a Civil War reenactor for 35 years?

Here is our conversation from a phone interview on Oct. 30, 2012:

Lucy: “So did your love of history and writing about it in a novel lead you to reenacting?”

Larry: “Actually the reverse. I’ve always been intensely interested in history. I was fascinated with the Civil War as a kid, that grew through high school and in college I wrote a paper on Antebellum Florida.

Then in the Florida Park Service part of our job was becoming educated about the local history. I found out about the Battle of Olustee and that sparked my interest in finding a group. Can you believe 35 years ago I actually found reenactors, the campaign type guys – their portrayals were true to actual life?

That appealed to me, I immersed myself and developed a persona, a person who lived near my location, Enterprise, Florida, who had a similar profession.”

Sergeant French at Olustee 2011

Lucy: “What kind of soldier?”

Larry: “Confederate soldier, a third sergeant with the 2nd Florida Volunteers, Company E, recruited around Enterprise.

It was quite an experience. I found out how soldiers would write home so I began writing home to my wife. That was the start of my historical fiction story.

There is so much history. I just love it. When I do reenactments I slip off everything modern. I sleep on the ground, carry all my provisions.”

Note: Larry has finished his novel “Time Will Tell, The Awakening” and an agent in New York is reading the manuscript. Read more about the novel and reenacting and getting involved in reenacting on Larry’s web site.

Also, he is part of the historical interpretation committee for the 2nd Florida Volunteers, Company E and they do school presentations plus immersions – you can sign up to spend a day with a reenactor at an actual reenactment.


Nov. 10-11 – Ocali Country Days Festival at Silver River State Park, Ocala. 9-4 each day, experience North Central Florida life in the 1800s with sugar cane syrup making, spinning, woodworking, crafts and food. Park fee waived. Festival fee $5 per person, under the age of six admitted free.

Nov. 10 – History of the American Soldier from 9-5 at Fort Clinch State Park, Fernandina Beach. Park entrance fee ($6 per vehicle up to eight people) plus one canned food donation per person for Fort admission. Canned food donated to Barnabas Center Food Pantry.

Dec.1-2Union Holiday Encampment, Fort Clinch State Park, Fernandina Beach.  Sat. from 9-5 and Sunday from 9-12. Park entrance fee plus $2 per person Fort admission.

January 5 & 6, 2013 – 177th Anniversary Dades Battle – 33rd Reenactment, at Dade Battlefield Historic State Park, Bushnell, from 9-5 each day, battle at 2 p.m. Fee $5 per person, children under six free, parking $2 per vehicle.

January 19-20
– Brooksville Raid Reenactment at Sand Hill Scout Reservation, with over 1500 reenactors and their families. See the Raid web site for upcoming details.



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Lighthouse at St. Augustine still a beacon

Florida history makes a great walk in DeLand


Funky Florida, Cedar Key at the End of the Road

Funky Florida, Cedar Key at the End of the Road

This small Florida town calls itself a city. Pretentious? Heck, when you live at the end of the road and are a throwback to a slower time then you can be whatever you want to be.

The City of Cedar Key sits on a large spatter of an island, surrounded by more islands and kissed by the Gulf of Mexico. Get there by going west on State Road 24, a straight shot through the woods. Take the two-lane road to the very end and voila, you’ve arrived.

Cedar Key waits for you at the end of the road

Could Cedar Key be the funkiest Florida town/city ever? Yep. Could be.

Where else will you find one resident curmudgeon, the best clam chowder in the world and dogs in every block straining on their leashes?

Funky Florida - Cedar Key walking the dog
Walking the dog is a popular Cedar Key activity. Photo by Lucy Tobias

Plus Cedar Key has Second Street, just a few blocks long with more art galleries than parking places.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key Second Street
Sign on Second Street. Photo by Lucy Tobias
Funky Florida - Cedar Key art center
Mosaic art at Cedar Key Art Center. Photo by Barbara Fitos

Dogs without leashes step across the street like they know the route, part of their daily routine.

Add on the Island Hotel & Restaurant, with rooms rumored to be haunted, some of them anyway, and a restaurant that serves great dinners. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this building anchors the corner of Second and B Street and has since 1859.

Cedar Key has one zip code and many art galleries

All this and more located in one zip code – 32625.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key pelicans
Pelicans on Dock Street. Photo by Susan Peters

Cedar Key celebrates stunning sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico, has two fishing piers, hopeful fishermen, more birds than people, two history museums on an island with a census showing 927 people on a good day, great shelling, snorkeling and finally smiling locals who stop visitors like us to ask hopefully “Are you here to stay a few days?”

We began our visit to funky 32625 with food, standing outside in line waiting to get into Tony’s Seafood.

Funky Floarida - Cedar Key Tony's Seafood
Old doors, entrance to Tony\’s Seafood. Photo by Barbara Fitos

Their clam chowder has won “world’s best” two years in a row. Tony’s, on the corner of 2nd Street and D Street (SR 24), occupies the first floor of the Hale Building built around 1880.

Hale was a busy guy. In 1880 Henry Hale built a house at the west end of Sixth Street that looked out over a bayou called Goose Cove. In the 1920s St. Clair Whitman bought the house, raised a family and stayed until his death in 1959.

The house stood empty for a long time and we all know what that means. Scheduled for demolition in 1991 the Whitman family offered it for free to anyone who would move it.

Local citizens and elected officials formed a partnership with the Florida Park Service. The small red house with a metal roof was moved to the grounds of Cedar Key Museum State Park.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key Whitman Kitchen
Table in the Whitman Kitchen, circa 1920s. Photo by Susan Peters

A restoration, completed in 2002, polished the floors, expanded the house, put in furniture from the 1920’s and 1930’s and displayed some of Whitman’s extensive collections, especially shells.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key St. Clair Whitman House
The St.Clair Whitman House. Photo by Susan Peters

You can do a self-guided tour of the home as part of your $2 park visit admission fee. The park also has a sweet museum with displays of Cedar Key’s history timeline. With all the marshes and tidal flats it comes as no surprise that the Timucuan Indians liked this place a lot. Artifacts put them here as early as 1500.

Funky Florida – Cedar Key – eat, shop, soak up history

Back to the food. We waited. Unlike the Timucuans who scooped their seafood out of the water, we wanted ours already harvested and cooked by someone else. After soaking up some sunrays we were ushered inside Tony’s.

Two thumbs up. The clam chowder is seriously wonderful and well worth the wait. Plus I had steamed clams on the side and they were pretty amazing too.

Aquaculture is big here. The demise of mullet fishing (gill nets were banned in 1995) led to retraining fishermen for growing clams in beds in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1997 clam farming produced 100 million clams.
If you like seafood, keep the record numbers going by coming here to eat your share. One opportunity – attend the annual Clamerica Clelebration on the Fourth of July, named a Top 20 Event by the Southeast Tourism Society.

Tony’s sits on a busy intersection.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key signs
Colorful sign at 2nd and D streets. Photo by Barbara Fitos

Across the street is Curmudgeonalia with books (a good Florida selection), cards and gifts. The owner is a resident curmudgeon Dick Martens (I am not making this up). This is the only bookstore within 60 miles.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key Curmudgeon
Curmudgeon sign, photo by Susan Peters

On the opposite corner is the Cedar Key Historical Museum housed in the Lutterlogh Building also built around 1880. Cedar Key recycles its buildings and treasures its history.

Just inside the museum door look left to see the arched doorway that once led to the Maddox Theater. The theater is gone but they saved the doors.

A self-guided walking tour has a new color booklet you can purchase with photos and descriptions. The price will be about $10 but the tour guides hadn’t arrived when we were there and the price was still iffy.

By the time we finished lunch and moved next door to plunder a truly eclectic consignment shop called Déjà Vu, we all agreed a day trip to Cedar Key was not enough. The locals are right – stay a few days.

Stay a few days in Cedar Key

Cedar Key is a small place. The pace is slow and yet you can’t drink it all up in four to five hours. Why would you want to? The laid back atmosphere aches for slowing down, for quality time with friends and family, for long conversations and good browsing through the art galleries, then sitting at the beach or renting a kayak and exploring the islands.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key City Park
View of the Gulf of Mexico at City Park. Photo by Barbara Fitos

Consider this – if you are going to stay for the sunset show, why not spend the night? Beats the long drive back in the dark on SR 24.

Suggested excursion: a sunset cruise with Captain Doug’s Tidewater Tours, the cost is $25 per person.
The closest island is Atsena Otie Key and it is here that Cedar Key began as an army supply depot, 1836, and hospital, 1840. It is easy to see Atsena Otie Key from the new pier and dream of taking a day cruise over there to seek out the historical remains.

As we walked around we saw lots of rentals for condos, cottages, B&Bs, homes, hotels, apartments and rooms.

If it is view you want Harbour Master Suites on Dock Street all face west towards the Gulf of Mexico and that means splendid gulf views.

The Faraway Inn, a certified Green Lodging Florida, is pet friendly and sits on the site of the 19th Century Eagle Pencil Company Cedar Mill. We saw happy dogs outside when we went by.

There are 10 rooms at the Island Hotel. In keeping with historical ambiance there are no televisions or phones in the rooms of the main hotel.

Remember cedar pencils? They were made here in Cedar Key

The museums tell the story of all those pencil factories but not a whole lot of cedars to be seen today. They were chopped down before conservation policies. Backack in the 1800’s cedars were a hot item. In 1855 Eberhard Faber set off a timber boom when he bought large tracts of acreage in Levy County and started a pencil factory. You can buy a pencil smelling strongly of cedar at the Cedar Key Historical Museum.

Combine all the timber activity with Dave Yulee’s building of a cross-Florida railroad from Fernandina Beach to Cedar Key and it is easy to imagine Cedar Key as a booming port town. The population peaked at 1,887 in 1885.

Now that might not sound like much to someone from Chicago or Miami but Levy County in 1885 only had 5,000 people.

Cedar Key once called the Venice of America

A newspaper clipping from the time called Cedar Key “the Venice of America”. Well, why not? When you are living the end of the line, literally, go for it.

Is the Venice of America a city or a town? It doesn’t matter. Cedar Key is a great place. We’re going back soon and stay a few days.

Speaking of small towns, Cedar Key is one of 20 American towns selected by Budget Travel Magazine as America’s coolest small towns. Until February 11 you can vote for Cedar Key by going to their Web site and casting a vote.

Funky Florida - Cedar Key Arts Center
Mosaic fisherman at Cedar Key Arts Center. Photo by Susan Peters

Upcoming events:

Sat. Feb. 19 at 1 p.m. – Historical Society Auction to be held at the Island Hotel. Lively bidding on collectibles including china, art work, antiques and more.

Monday, Feb. 28 at 10:30 a.m. join Refuge Ranger at Cedar Key Library for a program on bats and bat houses. Did you know there is a giant bat house on the Suwannee River that holds 40,000 bats? Learn how to make your own bat house for natural mosquito control.

March 16-20, Levy County Railroad Days (150th anniversary of the completion of the Florida Railroad), events in Bronson, Otter Creek, Cedar Key, see Web site for days and times.

According to George Sresovich with the Historical Society this is going to be a really huge event. From 9-4 p.m. on March 18,19 & 20 the Cedar Key Community Center will have the Ocala Model Railroaders’ Historic Preservation Society Florida Railroad Display.

See the trains. Then go to Tony’s for chowder or get a bowl of crab bisque at the Island Hotel. Want more? You have lots of seafood choices at restaurants lining Dock Street, all with those famous Gulf views.

April 2-3, Cedar Key Arts Center presents the 47th Annual Old Florida Celebration of the Arts. Yes, it is true. Cedar Key is a very small town with limited parking. For festivals, people park their cars on outlying keys and shuttle buses bring them into town.

For an event calendar with contact information see the Cedar Key Chamber’s Web site.

Funky Florida - cedar key - mosaic bird
Mosaic bird. Photo by Barbara Fitos

©2011 Lucy Beebe Tobias
Note: This Saturday Morning Magazine story is part of an occasional series on funky small towns in Florida. Want to share the adventures? Ask your friends to subscribe to the free Saturday Morning Magazine, it is easy to sign up on my Web site,, so they can get all the great stories about undiscovered Florida and beyond.


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Turtle Walk with Grandchildren & More

Turtle Walk with Grandchildren & More

When I go to book presentations and signings for “50 Great Walks in Florida” the most asked question is: “What is your favorite walk?”

Each one is different. I love them all. As proof, I’d do them all again in a heartbeat. I did 80 walks and the 50 great ones made the cut.

But I always do ask the audience if they have children and grandchildren. Do you? If the answer is “yes” then open your 50 Great Walks to Chapter 30: Guided Nighttime Turtle Walk, Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, Vero Beach.

A nighttime turtle walk will make memories for grandchildren

June and July are nesting season for loggerhead turtles. Starting May 15 at 8 a.m. Sebastian Inlet State Park will begin taking reservations for June walks. Be sitting by the phone. These spots go fast. July’s reservations will be taken starting June 15 at 8 a.m. The number is 772-388-2750.

Another choice: Sea World @ Vero Beach. They too start taking reservations on May 15 at 8 a.m. for June. The phone number is the same 772-388-2750.

Why this walk? Two reasons: I am often asked “What is there to do in the summer in Florida”. Here’s an answer. And, while you may or may not see a turtle laying eggs the night you go, if you do it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Your evening starts late, after dark, with a movie about turtles then patrols go on the beach looking for nesting loggerheads. If they find one, you all walk down the beach to the site. (My recommendation: do not wear flip-flops).

On our nighttime walk, we went to a turtle laying eggs and stood behind her. The children were asked to come up close, get down on the sand and watch her lay eggs, something turtles have done for millions of years. I stood in the back with the adults and I’m not ashamed to say, I cried. It was beautiful, ancient, moving and solid proof that everything on Mother Earth is connected. What we do matters, like not throwing plastic bags on the beach or in the water. A turtle might eat it (looks like a jellyfish) and die of starvation as the plastic stays in their stomach.

Memorial Day weekend happens in May and the weekend is well displayed at Fort Clinch State Park in Fernandina Beach. They have a World War II Event from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 23 and from 9 a.m. to noon on Sunday May 24. Featured are military displays and memorabilia of the Allies, Axis and Home front.

Getting ready for guided Willow Pond Walk at Fort Clinch State Park
Getting ready for guided Willow Pond Walk at Fort Clinch State Park

Stay and do the two walks in 50 Great Walks – Ch. 11: A Stroll Through History: The Historic Downtown Fernandina Beach Centre Street Stroll (whew! That’s a mouthful) and Ch. 12: Nature’s Classroom: Willow Pond Nature Trail, Fort Clinch State Park.

mural in DeLand
mural in DeLand

Finish up May in beautiful DeLand (Ch. 25: Painted History Walk).

On Saturday, May 30 there is a nature hike at Bicentennial Youth Park about reading skulls and bones of animals. Gregg Thompson, biologist and naturalist, will share his extensive skull collection. Cool! Call 386-668-5553.

So, now you know my confession – I cry in the face of beauty and it is not just with turtles. Want to see something beautiful? Bok Tower Gardens near Lake Wales redesigned their Web site and it is a thing of beauty, especially the photographs. Take a look at Bok Tower Gardens.

Lucy Beebe Tobias is the author of “50 Great Walks in Florida” and the Authentic Florida Expert for VISIT FLORIDA.


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