VIVA FLORIDA 500
State celebrates 500 years of history
Published: Sunday, March 10, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 8, 2013 at 10:35 a.m.
Florida celebrates its birthday this year in a big way.
Viva Florida 500 related events
March 12: Florida Museum of Natural Science's Science Café explores Ponce De León's discovery of Florida. 6:30 p.m. at Chef Brothers Custom Catering, 5240 NW 34th St., Gainesville
March 20-April 22: Prima Vera, a salute to spring, multi-venue in and around Gainesville
March 23: "History of Juan Ponce de León." Dr. Michael Gannon kicks off Viva Florida 500 events at Alachua County Library. 2 p.m. Alachua County Library headquarters, 401 E. University Ave., Gainesville
March 23-Dec. 1: "Springs Eternal: Florida's Fragile Fountains of Youth," daily, Florida Museum of Natural History, 3215 Hull Road
May 25: "An Afternoon Journey with Ponce de León," 2 p.m. Alachua County Library headquarters
July 31: "Portraits of Osceola and Chief Micanopy." A look at two Seminole leaders during the Second Seminole War, 1835 to 1842. Art teacher Linda Tiffany instructs how to make portraits and tell about George Catlin's portrait of Osceola and Charles Bird King's portrait of Micanopy. 3 p.m. Archer branch, 13266 SW State Road 45, Archer
Aug. 3: "Florida's Modern History, Environmental Politics & Megatrends." Dr. David Colburn, author of "Florida Megatrends: Critical Issues in Florida" and Dr. Steven Noll, author of "The Ditch of Dreams: The Cross Florida Barge Canal and the Struggle for Florida's Future" discuss Florida's modern history. 2 p.m., Tower Road Branch, 3020 SW 75th St., Gainesville
Aug. 7: "The History of Space, Zoom to the Moon, Mars, the Stars and Beyond" with NASA expert Peter Chitko. Learn about the Mars rovers, the International Space Station, Curiosity and more, as well as the latest launches from Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. 3 p.m., Library headquarters
Sept. 15: "Visualizing ‘The Yearling.'" Celebrate the 75th anniversary of Marjorie Kinnan Rawling's book "The Yearling." Anne Pierce will talk about the images in "The Yearling." 3 p.m., Library Headquarters
Oct. 12: Viva Florida 500 Time Capsule Ceremony at the Family Literacy Festival, 10 a.m., Library headquarters
Current: "New World Treasures: Artifacts from Hernando De Soto's Florida Expedition," daily through Dec. 31. Appleton Museum of Art, 4333 E. Silver Springs Blvd., Ocala
March 23: "Tales of Blue and Gray." Union and Confederate re-enactors in uniform and period setting tell stories of the Civil War era. 2 p.m., Library headquarters, 2720 E. Silver Springs Blvd., Ocala
April 13: McIntosh Centennial Celebration to mark the 100th anniversary of this charming, Victorian-era community in northern Marion County. All day, McIntosh
May 4: "Down on the Old Florida Farm." Barnyard fun celebrating Florida agriculture, complete with chickens, ducklings and rabbits. 10 a.m. Library headquarters
May 4: Screening of "The Yearling," a film of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' prize-winning novel of life in the Ocala backwood filmed in Marion County. 1 p.m. Fort McCoy Public Library, 14660 NE County Road 315, Fort McCoy
May 15: "Make Your Mark," a workshop for writers, particularly those drafting 1,500-word histories of their organizations for library records. 11 a.m., Marion County Public Library Headquarters; reservations required
Sources: Alachua County Library District, Marion County Public Library, Florida Museum of Natural History, Appleton Museum of Art, Viva Florida 500 website
But then, it's a big birthday: the quincentennary, also known as 500 years. The party lasts all year long and everyone is invited; no presents or RSVPs are necessary.
"It's 500 years since Florida history began to be recorded, since the landing of Juan Ponce de León in 1513," said Rachel Porter, who's been coordinating the commemoration dubbed Viva Florida 500 since 2010. "That's a big deal; no other state can make that claim."
Except for a small Viking settlement in northern Newfoundland, Canada, the Spanish were the first Europeans to wander about North American soil in the early 1500s, years before the British or the French set foot in the New World.
And let's not forget indigenous indians already here, some for thousands of years, before even the Spanish arrived. Porter pledged they won't be.
Many of us learned that American history began pretty much with the Pilgrims' arrival at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts or even a couple of attempts at colonization in Virginia years earlier. If there was a mention of Florida at all, it tended to be in the footnotes — even though St. Augustine was a thriving settlement for some 50 years before the Mayflower even left England.
Why, even little Childersburg in Alabama that lays claim to being the "oldest city in the U.S." has its roots extending back to Hernando De Soto's camp there in 1540, the same De Soto who marched through Florida a year earlier before wandering north. St. Augustine was founded in 1565.
"We're celebrating the entirety of Florida history," said Chris Cate, communications director for the Florida Department of State that oversees the Viva Florida 500 initiative. "It's the coming together of all the cultures that make us who we are today."
So it's not going to be just marking Spanish influence in Florida, but that of the British, French, American Indians, the Confederacy, developers and barons of commerce and tourism as well. Even NASA; Florida was, after all, our portal into the heavens.
Launched over the New Year's holiday, Viva Florida 500 already is tied to more than 200 events around the state this year — from lectures to street festivals to foodie events — and more are expected. "They've been coming in so thick and fast," Porter said. "We will be reaching, very soon, our goal of all 67 counties represented in this event."
Their goal is that we learn. In public schools, for instance, the Sunshine State Standards have been adjusted for fourth-graders.
But there's more.
"Part of what we're hoping for is a lasting effect on the education component," Cate added, "not just for Floridians but for people around the world, that Europeans were in Florida before anywhere else in what we know as America today."
Catching the spirit
One way every county will be joining in is capturing a slice of today in a time capsule.
Late last year, Viva Florida 500 sent capsules to the main library in every county. What goes into it, where it's buried, when and for how long is up to each community.
The Alachua County Library plans to plant its time capsule this fall during its annual Family Literacy Festival on Oct. 12.
"This is a way to make history fun and interesting, and put into context locally," said Nickie Kortus, a spokeswoman for the library system headquartered in Gainesville. "This is how we fit into the rest of the state."
The libraries in Alachua have scheduled a full plate of activities through the year, kicking off on March 23 with a talk by Michael Gannon, a historian and author of "Florida: A Short History." He's expected to talk about Ponce de León's landing 500 years ago, how the explorer came to call the land "La Florida" and other details about the state's ties to Spain.
Other activities include looks at author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, the Cross Florida Canal proposal, Seminole Indian leaders Osceola and Micanopy and even the state's ties to space exploration.
"We think there's a little something for everyone," Kortus said. "As a library, we try to make information relevant, pertinent and timely. We're getting into the spirit of Viva 500."
Marion County hasn't decided yet what to do with its time capsule, said Karen Jensen. The library is conducting an online survey on its website through the end of the month on what people in the county would like to put into it and how long it should be stashed away.
"Between 50 and 100 years seems to be the most common time so far," she added. Ultimately, the decision will be made by the County Commission, but it's likely to be interred wherever in December.
The library system headquartered in Ocala kicked off its Viva Florida 500 events in early February, and has on the calendar "Tales of the Blue and Gray" on March 23, a "Down on the Old Florida Farm" exhibit at the headquarters and a screening of "The Yearling" on May 4. More events are expected.
"Libraries are about communities, the logical choice" for Viva events, Jensen said. "We are a go-to place for most of the public when they're searching for information."
And it's not just libraries.
The Florida Museum of Natural History on the University of Florida campus on Tuesday hosts at its "Science Café," a look at Ponce de León and his landing in Florida 500 years ago.
According to a museum release, Kathleen Deagan, the museum's research curator of historical archaeology, "will describe the daily life and times of Ponce de León before he came to Florida, and how he became governor of Puerto Rico and Florida." The event begins at 6:30 p.m. at Chef Brothers Custom Catering, 5240 NW 34th St., Gainesville.
Then on March 23, the museum opens "Springs Eternal: Florida's Fragile Fountains of Youth" exhibit, a look at Florida's springs and the effect of development on them. The exhibit runs through Dec. 1.
And, of course, the Appleton Museum of Art in Ocala last month unveiled its exhibit of De Soto artifacts found not long ago on a ranch near Orange Lake. The exhibit runs through Dec. 31.
The artifacts, which include coins bearing the image of Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella as well as lead shot and bits of chainmail, establish that De Soto spent time in Marion County during his 1539 exploration of the state and Southeastern sections of the nation.
But it's history…
And why is any of this necessary anyway? After all, history is so once upon a time.
"Three of five people who live in Florida now were born somewhere else," said Janine Farver, executive director of the Florida Humanities Council in St. Petersburg. "Somehow Florida was left out of the narration of U.S. history. But Florida is a primary place where America really began.
"Every part of the state has history," she added, "and everybody has an opportunity to be a part of this."
In an essay written for the council by John Belohlavek, a professor of history at the University of South Florida and chairman of the council, and former council member Andy McLeod, they contend history is our portal to the future.
"History is a gateway to learning and success today," they wrote. "When we tell our stories, read a history or visit a place associated with the past, we exercise the capacities of observing, researching, differentiating fact from conjecture, employing context and organizing complex events and ideas."
Florida's history also is a "lens for America's story," they added. "When we learn Florida's legacies, we are educating ourselves about the United States.
"President Harry Truman, once a regular visitor to the ‘Little White House' in Key West, observed, ‘The only thing new in this world is the history that you don't know.' "
Darrell Riley, an associate professor of history at the College of Central Florida in Ocala, continued the theme: "Florida is a lot more than beaches and Mickey Mouse. A lot of our cultural aspects are tied to the Spanish rule for 300 years.
"Our lives are more complete because of what has happened in our past."
A specialist in Florida history, Riley noted five of the most important events in the state's history are:
The Spanish occupation in the 1500s and the founding of St. Augustine.
The struggles between the British and Spanish in the 1700s leading to British occupation.
The Seminole Indian Wars in the early 1800s that led to Florida becoming a U.S. territory and a state in 1847.
The Civil War in which 90 percent of the white population of Florida at the time fought, and not all of them for the Confederacy.
The land boom of the 1920s, the Great Depression and World War II that led to Florida becoming a modern state. "More than 2 million men trained in Florida for war, and afterward many came back to live or retired here," he said.
Additionally, he credited advances in pesticides to control mosquitoes and modern air conditioning as significantly boosting Florida's development.
"We couldn't live here year-round without either," he said.
Rick Allen can be reached at email@example.com.