Category Archives: Florida history

Take a Florida B-Movie Road Trip

Aside from sunny beaches, warm winters, and crystal-clear springs, we’re home to some truly horrible, made-in-Florida, B movies. We’re talking movies so bad, they’re amazing.  This week on our podcast, Rick Kilby and I take a B-movie road trip around Florida, using some of the best of the worst films made in Florida as a guide. Follow along!

St. Cloud: 2,000 Maniacs

Right next door to tourist-swollen Kissimmee, you’ll find St. Cloud, where filmmakers made this delightfully bad film — from which 10,000 Maniacs got its name — in 15 days. Stop by St. Cloud, an area with some fascinating history, and don’t forget to eat at The Catfish Place. Watch the trailer.

Green Cove Springs: ZAAT

Take one mad scientist, a catfish, and a human, and what do you get? ZAAT. Filmedin Green Cove Springs, a small town on the St. Johns River well worth a visit. It’s a beautiful Florida town that evokes whispers of yesteryear. It’s changing rapidly, though, so go see it now. At Christmas, they have an annual Parade of Trees, a mailbox with a direct line to Santa, and Christmas on Walnut Street. Watch the trailer.

Marianna Florida: Sharkansas Women’s Prison’s Massacre

Don’t be fooled by the name — This film is all Florida. Check out the scenes filmed at the caves at Florida Caverns State Park. A Jim Wynorski classic. Watch the trailer. P.S.: Jim, if you’re reading this, whatever happened with CobraGator? The trailer looks amazing!

Everglades City: Devil Fish (Monster Shark)

A visit to Everglades City isn’t complete without an airboat ride and a look inside the lobby at the Everglades Rod & Gun Club. Check out Joannie’s Blue Crab down the street, and don’t forget to check out the Lucky Cole photography in the bathrooms. Watch the trailer.

Orlando: Miami Connection

Grew up in Florida in the 1980s? This is so your movie. Seriously. Hungry? Go grab a bite to eat at one of Orlando’s amazing restaurants. Rick suggests Hot Dog Heaven, which opened around the time the film hit theaters. Watch the trailer
A newspaper ad for the 1972 Florida B Movie, Frogs
This Florida B movie features Sam Elliott in his breakout role. Seriously, the now-mustachioed star appears without one in this 1972 film, shot in the western end of Florida’s panhandle.
(Photo credit for newspaper ad for Frogs: American International Pictures, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Santa Rosa Beach & DeFuniak Springs: Frogs 

This 1972 eco-horror film asks the question, “Suppose Nature gave a war and everybody came?” and then answers it in the most bizarre, wonderful way possible. Watch the trailer, then you can stream Frogs. Plus, you need this Frogs t-shirt, you really, really do.
(Photo credit for newspaper ad for Frogs: American International Pictures, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Dominickers of Florida: Where Are They Now?

I’m posting this because I’ve hit a bit of a wall and I’m hoping someone who can help will see this and reach out to me. 

While researching Backroads of Paradise (by which, of course, I mean reading the WPA’s 1939 Guide to the Southernmost State and putting 5,000 miles on a RoadTrek as I traveled around Florida, looking for scraps of yesteryear), I learned — from the Guide — about a group of people called the Dominickers.

In A Guide to the Southernmost State, under the entry for Ponce de Leon, Zora Neale Hurston wrote this:

PONCE DE LEON, 45.2 m. (64 alt., 382 pop.), is the Site Of Ponce De Leon Springs, one of many ‘fountains of youth’ named for the Spanish explorer. In adjacent back country live’Dominickers,’ part Negro and part white, whose history goes back to the early 1860’s. Just before the War between the States, Thomas, a white, lived on a plantation here, with his wife, two children, and several Negro slaves. After his death his wife married one of the slaves, by whom she had five children. As slaves often took the name of their masters, her Negro husband was also known as Thomas. Of the five children, three married whites, two married Negroes. Today their numerous descendants live in the backwoods, for the most part in poverty.The men are of good physique, but the women are often thin and worn in early life. All have large families, and the fairest daughter may have a brother distinctly Negroid in appearance. The name originated, it is said, when a white in suing for a divorce described his wife as’black and white, like an old Dominicker chicken.’ Dominicker children are not permitted to attend white schools, nor do they associate with Negroes. About 20 children attend a one-room school. As no rural bus is provided, the pupils often walk several miles to attend classes. An old cemetery, containing a large number of Dominicker graves, adjoins the school.
We know Hurston wrote this passage, because in her unpublished notes about the same people, she wrote this: 

“These people are sensitive, treacherous and vindictive. They never start a disturbance but if any one bothers them – the whole family will do childish things to get revenge, to steal a hog or mutilate a crop is as good as a want. They are pathetically ignorant and an entire family will work hard for little compensation.

“The women are low in stature, fat and shapeless, they wear loose-fitting clothes and no shoes. One woman 74 years of age has never owned a pair of shoes. When a person is the smaller type his is almost dwarf-like in size. There seems to be no in-between size. The people move from one hut to another, often living alone for awhile and then moving back into the family group. Men, women and children work in the fields. Some houses are scrupulously clean while others are filthy. They just live from day to day – certainly not an ambitious group. Each generation marries into the lower class of white people, their original group will soon be extinct. Common law marriage is practiced, as a matter of fact – most of them “take-up” with each other.

“Local people claim that the Domineckers are 95 percent Negro. This statement is absurd. They are about three fourths white and one eighth Negro and one eighth Indian.”

At first, I dismissed the final three sentences as racism, but I nevertheless found myself fascinated with her assertion that “the original group will soon be extinct” and started doing some research. That research led me down a fascinating path, not the least of which involved spending a lot of time tracing migrations and census records. 

It became clear early in my research – both from reading anecdotal accounts and the census research – that Hurston’s assertion that the Dominicker people were mostly white wasn’t accurate; it appears they were mostly Indian (the surviving Dominicker people refer to themselves as Indian, hence my word choice).

This made me want to go deeper and learn more, because if their story is as incredible as I believe it to be, it needs to be told. 

I’m hoping people who have Google alerts for “Dominicker” will reach out to me. One of the descendants has already found me through a link to a talk I give about what I know so far – and I’m hoping this post will find the right people.

I’d also welcome information from any researchers who can help me find more source material, although I suspect it’s scarce. At one point, a website about the Dominickers existed, but it went dark a few years ago. I do have a link to William C. Hood’s The Dominickers of Holmes County, Florida, in which he references Hurston’s unpublished notes, but I can’t find the source material for this (although I would swear I had access to it at one time.) I also have a copy of Indians of North Florida and follow the appropriate Facebook groups; I’m looking for something more recent and more personal.

Ideally, I’d like to meet some of the descendants and review what history they know, because that will help me piece to together the paper records in a meaningful way.

Email me if you can help, and thank you, respectfully, in advance.  


Seth Bramson Debunks Fake Florida History

Earlier this week, I sent out my monthly newsletter, The Florida Spectacular. In it, I included a bit about Seth Bramson’s collection of Florida East Coast railway memorabilia.

In February, I led a 10-day trip through the Florida Keys and one of our stops included a short boat ride to the Pigeon Key historic district, one of Henry Flagler’s work camps as his crews built the Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway. We took a docent-led tour there, and the docent started talking about the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.

In the Keys and in hurricane history circles, this hurricane is legendary. Awful things happened, many to WWI veterans who had found work in the Keys. There was one bright spot for veterans, though: Those who boarded the train intended to bring them back to the mainland survived. Oh, the hurricane swept the train off its tracks, yes, but the vets in the train survived. It’s pretty much the only survival story people tell.

Except this docent. She told our group that the men on the train got swept to sea and died. I found this somewhat curious, because the photo of the train – off its tracks, but definitely not “swept out to sea” is fairly well-known (again, in hurricane history and Florida history circles… it’s a relative term).

Black and white photo of a train swept off its tracks
The train in question, clearly swept off its tracks. Also clearly not at sea.
(State Archives of Florida)

I asked this docent how she knew about the train, and she told me that a man named Seth Bramson told her. Four-plus years ago, I met Seth at a Florida conference, and while I find him a bit of a curmudgeon, I find him delightfully curmudgeonly – and also wildly knowledgeable about the  FEC and Henry Flagler.  I emailed him and asked about this; he replied almost immediately and – reader, I shit thee not – actually used the world “folderol” in his response. After the tour, I let the group know that the docent may have gotten her information from somewhere, but it wasn’t from Seth.

And if she did send him some orange blossoms (she didn’t) how did she do so, by FedEX overnight? By U S P S next day delivery?

So when I sat down to write my much-delayed February March April newsletter, I wanted to let readers know about his massive collection and how they could, if they so desired, learn more about Seth, the FEC, and other bits of South Florida history. Seth sent an effusive thank you for the shout out, and I want to share it here, because it’s delightful and also filled with righteous indignation over the way some folks have perhaps misrepresented South Florida history.


“But in addition to being ‘Mr. F. E. C.’ and ‘Mr. Miami Memorabilia,’ I am also known at ‘the great debunker,’ because as Cathy noted, so much of the tripe, the hooey, the silliness spewed out by so many of the know-nothings who think they know everything is nothing short of shameful.

“For you information, edification and enlightenment (not to mention, which I am doing, your amusement!), just a few debunkings of the nonsense:

Red train car with palm trees in the distance
This train car is not native. Crane Point Hammock, just beyond it, is wonderful. Go visit.
Keys Weekly, used with permission.

“The railroad car that was on Knight’s Key and is now at the preserve a few miles up the road is not and never was FEC. The story is nonsense. It was a circus car and was brought to Knight’s Key by the brothers from Coral Gables who had a land scam going and thought the car would attract potential buyers, but they never, ever said it was from the FEC, which it wasn’t (it was actually a New York Central Railroad car which had been sold to one of the circuses.) That silliness started after the late, great Dan Gallagher died and the new people came up with that fable.”

I love Crane Point, the nature attraction behind the train car, but never knew this about the train car itself. I always assumed it had something to do with the FEC, but when I next travel to the Keys, I’m definitely taking a closer look. Seth continues…

Orange blossoms and oranges
Bramson makes an excellent point about this urban legend: FedEx didn’t exactly exist when Julia Tuttle was alive.
mcc by Pixabay

“Julia Tuttle never sent any orange blossoms or any other fruit to Mr. Flagler to get him to extend the railroad to Biscayne Bay. He did it because she, the Brickells, the state of Florida and private land owners gave Mr. Flagler alternate sections of land on either side of the track to induce him to extend the railroad. (A section is 640 acres) And if she did send him some orange blossoms (she didn’t) how did she do so, by FedEX overnight? By U S P S next day delivery? The story was debunked as early as 1913 in a promotional booklet issued by the then-incorporated Village of Coconut Grove (which we have here in The Bramson Archive) which stated that, while the story is very romantic, no such thing occurred.”

I always wondered about how the alleged orange blossom arrived in such great shape that it tempted Henry Flagler to make such a grand business decision. Seth’s explanation makes a lot more sense. No disrespect, of course, to the “Mother of Miami.” And about that…

A black and white photo or a woman in a dark dress
Meet Julia Tuttle.
Public domain

“Julia Tuttle was not, contrary to the nonsense bandied about the late queen bee and Miami’s walking fountain of MISinformation (no names, please, we’re British!) ‘the mother of Miami’, as there were at least four ‘mothers of Miami’: Mary Brickell, Mrs. John Sewell, Mrs. Tuttle and Ida Cohen, wife of Miami’s first permanent Jewish settler, Isidor Cohen, who arrived on the shores of Biscayne Bay on Feb. 6, 1896. (The Brickells were here by the mid-1870s; Mrs. Tuttle did not arrive here until 1888, although her parents were here at least by 1878.)”

A book cover reading "The History of the Jewish Community – L'Chaim – of Greater Miami – By Seth Bramson"
Bramson has some things to say about Miami’s Jewish history.
Arcadia Press

“Jews were not allowed to buy property north of Fifth Street on Miami Beach until after 1920.” Even as a young person I asked, ‘how do you know that; where is it written?’ They didn’t know and it wasn’t written, and when I wrote L’Chaim! The History of the Jewish Community of Greater Miami, the Cohen family turned over all of the family’s historic records to me, and sure enough, therein, were the two letters from Lummus Brothers Investment Company dated February and March, 1917, selling Mr. Cohen land north of Fifth Street on Miami Beach.”

I’d never heard such a thing, but I can tell – with equal passion and outrage – all about the “fake history” that abounds in my town, so I share his angst about debunking myths like this.

Seth has 15 different talks on South Florida, local, and Florida transportation history, seven of which he calls his “adult show and tell” talks (doesn’t that sound luscious?) where he brings memorabilia for people to see.  He’s a fascinating guy. You can email him if you want to learn more about his collection (or fake South Florida history).