In 1963, author Gloria Jahoda moved from New York to Tallahassee when her husband accepted a faculty position at Florida State University.
Gloria was curious to discover the area and noticed that many tourists were not stopping to visit her new home in North Florida but were instead heading south in search of orange groves, beaches and palm trees. This awareness prompted her personal journey of The Other Florida, an area often neglected by writers and historians.
Jahoda chose the rural back roads as her subject matter, introducing her readers to turpentine tappers and moonshiners, preachers and fascinating Florida crackers, characters with indomitable spirit and resiliency.
We learn about Floridians, living and historical- Dr. Gorrie, the mid-eighteen century inventor of the ice machine which he designed to comfort his fever-ridden patients, real life hermit Yancey Register, snakeman Turner Gentry, and British classical composer Fredrick Delius who became influenced by local African American spiritual music.
Jahada does her homework, detailing Florida history but her true gift is one as a naturalist. Her description of the Florida landscape and wildlife capture old Florida and its natural wonders.
Jahoda describes tent revivals, small negro churches and turpentine camps which reveal a Florida that is now, mostly history. She shares her travels to Wewahitchka, Bagdad, Blountstown, Solano Grove, Wakulla, Bethel and St. Marks. She reports of the poverty and racial tensions as the 1960’s civil rights era takes hold.
Jahoda highlights factoids now part of the Florida lore – Bristol being the purported true Garden of Eden, stories of Tate’s Hell – northwest of Apalachicola and real stories of the Natural Bridge, the site of the last Confederate victory.
My husband and I were headed up to North Florida for a week adventure and her stories enhanced our trip. When we passed Tate’s Hell, I could imagine Cebe Tate’s desperate journey through wilderness to find the panther killing his livestock and the John Gorrie Museum became more meaningful.
The Other Florida can be found in the public library. I found my copy in a used book store but also noticed they can be purchased on Ebay.
Jahoda was a talented, caring writer who helps us put pieces of Florida’s past in perspective, enhancing the present. An old read, but a good one.