Last week, I ran across an old email, and promptly went online to eBay, created an account, and purchased a treasure-hunting DVD, packed full of information.
Have a taken up a new hobby, you may ask?
No. I don’t have time for the ones I have.
Modern treasure hunting these days is done with a metal detector. At least, that–I don’t know much about treasure-hunting. I have no metal detector, and I don’t plan to get one. But in order to find good places to hunt, these treasure hunters (as they call themselves) pour (and I do mean, pour) over old maps, books and even postcards.
So I ordered this disk. It has so much information, mostly in the form of high-resolution maps, that the creator had to put it on a DVD. Most (but not all!) of the maps were too macro for my use, as I have already found several maps that are excellent resources, including one that names every street in St. Augustine. The postcards were fun, but not as interesting as even the maps.
But the books made it worth the cost of the DVD. Could I have found the books online, myself? Maybe. If I had known what to look for.
One book is a perfectly delightful travelogue, published in 1922 (the very year where much of my story takes place), describing this woman’s journey across Florida in search of a suitable place to spend the winter. The title is Florida Days, and the author is Vilma M. Goodman. Here are the opening paragraphs:
SOME of my adventures and experiences may be of value to tourists of limited means ( like myself ) , who go to Florida not only for recreation and change of climate, but to gain strength and to rest.
I met ladies in Florida who were not invalids, and only needed pleasant surroundings to be benefited by their trip South.
After one or two trying experiences, they grew disheartened (disgusted I might say), and without remaining long enough to get sufficiently rested, after a long journey, booked on the first train or steamer North.
I am indeed thankful that I had the courage and strength to pack my trunk and change my environment by traveling from the West Coast to the East Coast of Florida.
Clearly, this woman knows how to write, and how to engage her reader. I read on. It did not take me long to reach this description of the city of Jacksonville, my hometown:
I SPENT a very pleasant day on board the “Huron,” and it was with regret that I landed in Jacksonville
and saw the last of these agreeable people. I remained on deck all morning to get the first glimpse of
Florida, and I must say that the flat, bare land—with here and there a few stunted trees and shanties—did not make a very striking impression.
Ouch. I read on. She then describes some of the rigors of travel back in those days:
I then went to Palatka by bus, and then up the St. Johns River by boat. The stars came out just as the “Osceola” left her landing.
A description of the wonderful time she had on board the “Osceola” follows. Then:
I got on at Palatka at about 8 P. M. on November 27th and landed at Sanford the next day at noon. The weather was fair. I then drove about twenty-five miles (by bus) to Orlando, a small Garden of Eden, where I rested only a day at the Empire Hotel.
She loved Orlando, but was duty-bound to travel on to the mysterious town of A___, where she promised to be the guest of Mrs. X___. She very kindly anonymized any unpleasant experience she had with anyone or any place in this manner.
I disliked leaving this beauty-spot the next morning in order to keep an unimportant appointment with a lady in A , but duty seemed to call. I rose about five and left on the Tampa bus at 7 A. M., arriving in Tampa at 12:30, almost broiled to a “frazzle” in the front seat, by the combined efforts of the engine and a burning, welcome sun. How I regretted that I did not travel on the Atlantic Coast Line then.
The heat in Tampa one cannot describe; one can only feel…
Things aren’t looking up. They don’t get much better.
After lunch, a few hours on the shady balcony revived me, and at 4:45 P. M. railroad time I left by boat and arrived in A at 7:30 P. M., and then began the search for the street car to take me to the bungalow of Mrs. X .
Little things stand out. She refers to 4:45 “railroad time”. I knew what she meant by that, because I had already researched the establishment of Standard Time. Before Standard Time, local times were pretty much set by the railroads. According to Wikipedia, Standard Time was established by the late 19th century. But who am I going to believe, Wikipedia, or this eyewitness speaking to me from across the years?
The very last leg of her journey was the worst:
I got on the [street]car at 7:45 P. M. and handed the conductor my fare and the address, asking him to let me off when he reached the street. He looked at me, then at my baggage, and sorrowfully shook his head. “That street, the last one on this line, is not cut through on this side, (they call this the Jungle), and you could never find it in the dark, and you see it’s been raining (I saw all right) and walking several blocks you’d get very wet at the crossings.” I looked around. Everything was dark and dismal in this Jungle. I shuddered, and when the car made its final stop, I investigated further, but, at the Conductor’s sensible suggestion, rode back to town and hired an auto to take me to my destination. After more than thirty minutes’ riding back and forth, through rivers of water, I at last found the house and Mrs. X at home.
The mysterious location of A___ could be any one of dozens of coastal towns, but the mention of streetcars makes me think the town must not be too small, and was only 2 hours and 45 minutes away from Tampa by boat.
This last excerpt has another fascinating tidbit in life in the early 20s:
I had a $25.00 money-order in my possession which I wanted to cash at the Post Office and, for the purpose of identification, I took my savings-bankbook with me, as well as my Military (State) Census card, and a card addressed to me by a friend that very week from Tannersville, N. Y., in care of Mrs. X at A . I cashed the money-order upon presenting all my credentials and went to a cafeteria to lunch, after which I sat on a bench of the principal business street waiting for Miss B , my steamer acquaintance, to join me for an afternoon’s outing. I had half an hour’s time and got up to walk up and down the street, and when I returned to the place of meeting, I missed my work-bag, containing the passbook, cards, etc., mentioned.
I love all the detail! She actually cashed her money-order (nice to know they existed back then) by presenting a military census card (whatever that was), her bank savings-book (anyone remember those?) and a letter.
And she lost her purse. You would not believe all the trouble this causes her, especially with her hostess.
If you would like to read this little gem, send me a note and I’ll email you the PDF. Since it was published in 1922, it is legal for me to do so.