In Florida, It’s Absolutely Great to Be a Cracker

Before we get to the subject of Crackers, welcome to the first Blog Hop sponsored by the Florida Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. We’re exploring some of the crazy and interesting idiosyncrasies of life in the Sunshine State. Read on and click the links below to meet more MWA members and to comment, share your favorite stories, and enter our contest to win a Kindle Paperwhite.

This Orlando postcard from the 1890s was captioned "The Cracker in Town."

This Orlando postcard from the 1890s was captioned “The Cracker in Town.”

In a lot of places, you might be slugged for calling someone a cracker, if you mean a bigoted, “redneck” Southern white. But in Florida, it’s great to be a Cracker—so much so that we capitalize it.

We laud Cracker architecture and Cracker cuisine. We have novels called Cracker westerns and the Florida Cracker Horse Association. We write obituaries in which folks say something like, “Daddy was a fourth-generation Cracker, and so proud of it.”

All this embodies a heritage that’s elusive even in parts of Florida. What is South Florida on the map is North Florida in terms of culture, so quintessential Crackerdom may be elusive, say, south of Vero Beach.

Cracker-SteClaireHistorian Dana Ste. Claire literally wrote the book on the subject: Cracker: The Cracker Culture in Florida History (University of Florida Press, 2006). He defines a Cracker as “a self-reliant, independent, and tenacious settler,” often of Celtic stock, who “valued independence and a restraint-free life over material prosperity.”

The term goes way back. In Shakespeare’s England, it meant a braggart or a big talker, and by the 1760s it was used in the Southern colonies to refer to Scotch-Irish frontiersmen.

FloridaCrackerCropped-smThe rough-and-ready qualities of these folks proved an asset on the Florida frontier, where they had to make do in a subtropical wilderness without indoor plumbing, electricity, window screens, bug spray, motorized vehicles, or even towns.

But some did have cattle, and many were attracted to the lifestyle of the cow hunter (in Florida history, it’s never “cowboy”).

To this day, many folks think Crackers got their name because of one of the techniques cow hunters used to herd cattle: “cracking” long, braided, rawhide whips in the air. “Cracker cowmen developed cattle-raising into Florida’s first industry,” Ste. Claire writes. Some did very well at it. As time passed, you could sure still be a Cracker and have money in the bank.

By the early 20th century, “Cracker” had become a regionally affectionate term, and the contributions of the folks called Crackers have been increasingly celebrated in Florida as a distinct and valuable heritage.

Cracker Kitchen-blogPart of that heritage includes good eating. As the fine Florida novelist Janis Owens writes in her cookbook, The Cracker Kitchen (Scribner, 2009), one of the finest compliments “any Cracker can get, male or female, rich or poor, is that they set a fine table.”

Recipes include Mama’s Cornbread, Green Bean Bundles, Sweet Potato Pie, Carrot and Raisin Salad — just like Owens’ mother always ordered at Morrison’s cafeteria — plus Buttermilk Pie and lots more.

The Florida Humanities Council offers a Cracker-themed music CD, in the council’s online store (www.flahum.org/Support/OnSaleNow)

“Cracker” remains a word to be used with care, however, as historian Ste. Claire notes. Abraham Lincoln once said that no matter how much you respect the common man, never call a man common to his face, and that’s probably still good advice when it comes to Florida Crackers.

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Visit our other Blog Hop contributors and win more prizes:

Victoria Allman, Gator Bites, http://www.victoriaallman.com/blog

Miriam Auerbach, Bonkers in Boca, http://www.miriamauerbach.com/bonkers-in-boca

Gregg E. Brickman, Crazy South Florida—How it got to be home, http://www.GreggEBrickman.com/blog.html

Diane Capri, Fishnado!, http://www.dianecapri.com/blog

Nancy J. Cohen, Characters Too Weird to Be True, http://nancyjcohen.wordpress.com

Joan Lipinsky Cochran, The Million Dollar Squatter: Crazy in the Land of Coconuts and Bagels, http://www.joanlipinskycochran.com/blog.htm?post=952677

jd daniels He Did What? http://www.live-from-jd.com

Dallas Gorhman, http://www.DallasGorham.com

Linda Gordon Hengerer Crazy Treasure on the Treasure Coast, http://footballfoodandfiction.blogspot.com/

Vicki Landis, Eavesdropping 101, http://www.victorialandis.com

Sandy Parks, Keep your eyes to the Florida skies, http://www.sandyparks.wordpress.com

Neil Plakcy, Moscow on the Intracoastal http://www.mahubooks.blogspot.com/

Johnny Ray Utilizing Google Plus Air to Facilitate Author Interviews, http://www.sirjohn.us

Joanna Campbell Slan, Honey, You’ll Never Guess What Rolled Up in the Surf http://www.joannaslan.blogspot.com

 

 

 

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As April dawns, the tale of Palmetto Pete returns

A vintage view of Lake Eola Park

A vintage view of Lake Eola Park

It’s April 1, and I’ve just returned from a walk at Orlando’s Lake Eola Park, which offers excellent people- and creature-watching. Folks stroll along with anything from a pomeranian to a python. But on this very April day a few years ago,I stumbled on the strangest pet story I’ve ever heard from Central Florida’s past.

It was just about twilight when I found myself walking at the park behind a stooped, white-haired man with a long beard. Behind him on the pavement were what first appeared to be five flat, dark, oval stones. Ack! They moved. They looked like palmetto bugs, our Florida roaches. Impossible. The man turned and fixed me with a gaze that would melt butter.

“Whatever you do,” he said in a low voice, “be careful where you step.” I could only stare. When he stopped, the line of dark shapes behind him stopped, too.

Thanks to 'Anonymous Cow,' Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to ‘Anonymous Cow,’ Wikimedia Commons

“You see,” he said, “these are true descendants of Palmetto Pete, the biggest bug ever to come out of Florida. They don’t hatch ’em like Pete any more. He was a star. Palmetto Pete’s Scrambling Circus, Pappy called it. People loved it.”

“But, roaches?” I said, thinking of those creatures that plague the recesses of my old kitchen.

“See, this was back in the 1920s,” he went on. “People were flocking into Orlando like bees to honey.” Or like roaches, I thought.

Prof. Heckler entertained New Yorkers in the 1920s. (Courtesy sideshowworld.com)

Prof. Heckler entertained New Yorkers in the 1920s. (Courtesy sideshowworld.com)

“My pappy had heard about these flea circuses at fairs up north. He figured we had almost as many of them palmetto bugs around our yard as an old dog has fleas. They were a whole lot bigger, too, and strong!

“Pappy hitched those critters up to a tiny wagon they pulled around a cute little circus arena he built for them. They weren’t all smart like Pete , of course. Pappy knew Pete was special the minute he saw that bug sauntering across our kitchen floor. My mammy was just about to give Pete a smack with a rolled-up newspaper, but Pappy said, no ma’am, that bug’s gonna make us some money.”

I shivered. “So what happened?”

Could this be Pete? Guess not. It's a 'sea roach,' says FloridaMemory.com (found in 1984)

Could this be Pete? Guess not. It’s a ‘sea roach,’ says FloridaMemory.com (found in 1984)

“Oh, Pete was a wonder,” the old man went on. “Could catch a tiny trapeze, ride on the back of a little dog; he could even fly. Pappy was making money hand over fist with his circus. There was just one problem: That bug was bad to drink. This was during Prohibition, and Pete began lappin’ up that moonshine. That roach just became a disgrace. He started falling off that tiny dog’s back, and talking real rude to the lady bugs. One sad day Pappy found him on his back with his legs up in the air.”

A tear dropped onto his worn jeans. And then the old man gathered himself up to walk away, but before he did, he leaned over and whispered one more thing to me.

“Dearie,” he said, “Happy April Fool’s Day to you.” I send the same greeting to you, gentle readers. April 1 is a fine time for foolery. But, we must admit, from what we know of Florida, big Pete might really have existed.

P.S. I looked up ways to battle roaches in Florida, hoping to add something useful to this tale, but found so many online that I opted for this instead: Baton Rouge blues master Silas Hogan’s version of “I Got Rats and Roaches in My Kitchen.” Not Florida, but close enough. http://bit.ly/1jUoTtJ

 

In the pines of Florida, Christmas everlasting

The perpetual peace garden at Christmas, December 2013.

The perpetual peace garden at Christmas, December 2013.

Way back during the Seminole Wars, a peaceful place in the Central Florida pines became Christmas, every day. Long-ago soldiers named it in 1837, but we owe its role as a North Pole of the South to the history and work of the Tucker family.

We know the story’s beginning thanks to Capt. Nathan S. Jarvis, a U.S. Army surgeon who kept a journal about his war adventures.

Capt. Jarvis arrived at St. Augustine by steamboat in June 1837 and, by mid-December, was with troops deep in the interior of Florida. They trudged past a deserted Seminole town, crossed the Econlockhatchee River, and on Dec. 25, reached a pine barren on what’s now Christmas Creek in east Orange County.

Fort Christmas Historical Park in east Orange County, Florida, includes a re-creation of the original 1837 structure.

Fort Christmas Historical Park in east Orange County, Florida, includes a re-creation of the original 1837 structure.

The soldiers built a stockade made of upright 18-foot pine logs, sharpened at the top, and named the place Fort Christmas. In just a few days, most of the troops were ordered to move deeper into Florida, leaving the fort and the area largely deserted until about 1860, when John R.A. Tucker and his family settled nearby.

The only means of travel was by oxcart or on horseback, and the Tucker home became a stopping-place for travelers. After the community gained a post office in 1892, a member of the Tucker family was in charge for much of the next century.

In 1916, Lizzie Tucker got the job, taking over from her husband, Drew. In 1932, the mantel passed to their daughter-in-law Juanita, who stayed on the job for more than 40 years. Juanita Tucker was 101 when she died in 2008, then the oldest resident of Christmas and the one who had done the most to put it on the map.

Juanita Tucker at the Christmas, Florida, post office in the 1940s. (Florida State Archives)

Juanita Tucker at the Christmas, Florida, post office in the 1940s. (Florida State Archives)

“She got the community together. She was good at that,” her son Cecil A. Tucker II said after her death. “Anytime that people had a need, she would find some way or someone to help out.”

The old Christmas post office (the same building shown in the picture of Juanita Tucker at the window).

The old Christmas post office (the same building shown in the picture of Juanita Tucker at the window).

“The post office was always the one place people could count on to get information and help,” Juanita Tucker once said. “That’s what made it such a wonderful job. There were so many ways I was able to help people that had nothing to do with the post-office business.”

About 1937, the Tuckers moved postal headquarters to a one-story white-frame building with a small porch. When the highway through Christmas was widened to four lanes, that 1937 post office was moved from the south side of the road to the north side, where it still resides in a peace garden at Colonial Drive (S.R. 50) and Fort Christmas Road.

A mosaic at the peace garden in Christmas, Florida.

A mosaic at the peace garden in Christmas, Florida. It’s on State Road 50, about 20 miles east of Orlando.

Asked what he would most like folks to know about the community of Christmas, Cecil Tucker didn’t mention his family, often called “legendary” in Florida ranching lore. In a state where people consider themselves old-timers if they’ve been here since 1960, the Tuckers have a hundred years on them.

For him, his family’s legacy is all about the spirit of Christmas, in both global and local aspects.

“This community has a spirit of helping each other,” Tucker said. “If any place has the Christmas spirit, this is it.”

Christmas, and the Fort Christmas Historical Museum, is 20 miles east of Orlando, en route to Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, and Canaveral National Seashore in Titusville. See http://www.nbbd.com/godo/FortChristmas/

Orange and clove pomanders: Very vintage and aromatic

My 1940s directions call for covering fruit with cloves, but others suggest making patterns with the cloves.

My 1940s directions call for covering fruit with wholes cloves, but others suggest arranging the cloves in lines or patterns.

Years ago, our Florida family made pomander balls for holiday gifts: oranges studded en masse with cloves, rolled in spices, and hung from ribbons.

These fragrant fruit-and-spice pomander balls were a time-honored way to add a hint of fragrance to your home, long before companies attempted to manufacture good smells and put them in a spray can.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac says the practice went back as far as medieval times. (http://www.almanac.com/content/seasonal-crafts-how-make-orange-pomanders)

The ladies are discussing "that Oxydol sparkle" on the back of a recipe in Mom's old book of clippings.

The ladies are discussing “that Oxydol sparkle” on the back of a recipe in Mom’s old book of clippings.

The directions my mother used, clipped from an unidentified magazine, are still taped in the black ledger book where she began to collect recipes and household tips in the 1940s.

They note that the pomanders can also be made with apples, lemons, or limes. We usually used oranges.

The full directions suggest storing the pomander for three or four weeks to dry, but in Florida, the following steps for quick preparation seem best.

1. Spread lots and lots of whole cloves on waxed paper.

2. With a small nail or sturdy toothpick, pierce holes in the skin of the fruit, from one end to the other and as close together as possible without splitting the skin.

3. Now stick whole cloves in the holes. Make additional holes where needed; fill the holes with cloves, so that the fruit is covered with them (or feel free to use less, as picture at top).

Ribbon hangers for a pomander (from Mom's clipping book).

Ribbon hangers for a pomander (from Mom’s clipping book).

4. Combine equal amounts of ground cinnamon and powdered orrisroot, or use a mixture of spices with orissroot.

The recipe at Old Farmer’s Almanac  suggests 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 tablespoon ground nutmeg, 1 tablespoon allspice, and 1/4 cup powdered orrisroot.

5. Roll the clove-studded fruit in your spices until the fruit is coated. Our 1940s directions suggest using ground cloves with a lemon and ground nutmeg with a lime.

5. After fruit is rolled in the mixture, place in a shallow baking pan and bake at 300 degrees F for 4 hours. Cool.

6. To make a hanger, tie a long narrow ribbon securely around the fruit, making a knot at top. Leave about 4 inches of ribbon for a loop, and tie with ribbon ends with a bow. The 1940s directions suggest wrapping the ball in “metallic mesh or hat veiling, and it’s ready for Santa to deliver.”

I seem to be all out of hat veiling.

The Waterhouse Museum by artist and journalist Thomas Thorspecken. See http://www.analogartistdigitalworld.com/2011/01/maitland-historical-society.html

The Waterhouse Museum by artist and journalist Thomas Thorspecken. See http://www.analogartistdigitalworld.com/2011/01/maitland-historical-society.html

The orrisroot is the key ingredient, and acts as a fixative. Our directions say to get it from a drugstore, but, like the hat veiling, that’s no longer workable for most of us. A health-food store that sells bulk spices is a better bet.

A few years ago, during a holiday visit to the Waterhouse Museum — a lovely Victorian house in Maitland, Florida — I remembered the pomanders because some were on display, along with other natural crafts.

Even if we don’t make pomander balls, it’s fun to think about them and those rich, natural aromas of citrus and cloves. For more on the Waterhouse, visit http://artandhistory.org/waterhouse-museum/

Paging Florida Classics

Pratt-MailmanIf you’re searching for classic books about the Sunshine State, as a holiday gift or any time, the Florida Classics Library is a great place to start.

Now based in Port Salerno, this publisher and small-press distributor has been making fine Floridiana available for more than 50 years.

Offerings include paperback editions of titles by Theodore Pratt – The Barefoot Mailman, The Big Bubble, and The Flame Tree – and many other must-reads about old Florida, ranging from the lesser known (Florida Cow Hunter: The Life and Times of Bone Mizell by Jim Bob Tinsley) to the famous (The Everglades: River of Grass by Marjory Stoneman Douglas). See floridaclassicslibrary.com.

By the way, Florida cow hunter Bone Mizell (born 1863) was immortalized in 1895 by artist Frederick Remington in Harper’s magazine as the archetype of the “Cracker Cowboy.”

Bone Mizell as depicted by Remington

Bone Mizell as depicted by Remington

Bone was related to Orange County Sheriff David Mizell — the sheriff whose shooting death in 1870 inspired the bloody Barber-Mizell feud and is buried on the grounds of what’s now Harry P. Leu Gardens.

The sheriff’s colorful cousin inspired many moonshine-fueled legends on Florida’s wild frontier. Tinsley’s biography of him is excellent.

Another of my favorites on the Florida Classics list is The Other Florida – sketches from the Panhandle country by Gloria Jahoda, a superb writer who died long before her time.

Florida has inspired or been a “character” in so many great books; it will be great fun to think and write more about them in the future.

It’s time for bluegrass and barbecue in old Christmas

Bluegrass fills the air at Cracker Christmas

Bluegrass fills the air at Cracker Christmas

For many Central Floridians, December wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Cracker Christmas at Fort Christmas Historical Park in far-east Orange County. This two-day celebration of Florida pioneer life traditionally takes place the first weekend of the month (in 2013, that’s Dec. 7 and 8).

In search of seasonal feature stories, journalists from near and far often join the crowds at the annual festival, which typically draws more than 15,000 folks each year.

Named by Seminole-fighting soldiers on Dec. 25 in 1837, the community of Christmas, Florida, is about as venerable as it gets in the state’s pioneer past. The park itself, given to the county in 1931, is also one of Orange’s oldest.

CrackerChristmasFlier-2During one festival a few years ago, visitors listened to bluegrass tunes, took cards to the Christmas postal booth to be stamped with the town’s famous postmark, bought books by authors including Florida Artists Hall of Famer Patrick Smith, and consumed copious quantities of barbecue, fried potatoes, and roasted corn. They could also get a taste of life on the Florida frontier at the replica of the 1837 fort or the park’s original Cracker houses, where vendors and volunteers demonstrated old-time crafts.

Joe Gallelli of Geneva gets a `boondoggle' lesson from Aimee Nichols of St. Augustine at a Cracker Christmas festival.

Joe Gallelli of Geneva gets a `boondoggle’ lesson from Aimee Nichols of St. Augustine at a Cracker Christmas festival.

At a display near the Cracker cabins, Aimee Nichols of St. Augustine sat with a sizable sabal palm frond in her lap, weaving it into a “boondoggle” — a decoration she said was often used to welcome newcomers to a community in the pioneer South and served as a Christmas gift.

Neighbors would come to the cabin of a newly arrived family with a fresh-baked pie and the palm decoration, which the family hung on their front door so “others would know they had been welcomed,” Nichols said.

Elsewhere in the park, fans of a showpiece of 20th-century American design — the Airstream travel trailer — helped keep the event rolling smoothly.

airstream1If the silvery trailers’ aerodynamic design at first seemed incongruous at an event that celebrates the antique and roughhewn, the travel trailers do have a link to old Christmas in the pioneer spirit they embody — a mixture of adventurous exploration and lending a hand.

“Don’t stop. Keep right on going,” Airstream’s founder Wally Byam once wrote. “Go see what’s over the next hill, and the one after that, and the one after that.”

For details on Cracker Christmas, visit http://www.nbbd.com/godo/FortChristmas/ and go to events.

Hitting the sauce on Thanksgiving

CranberrySauceA family friend once gave my mother a real-Florida recipe for cranberry-orange relish that involved putting the ingredients through a meat grinder. In search of a replica, I’ve found tasty relishes online, including recipes laced with oranges, with mint, with liqueurs, and some with the general suggestion that it is SO uncool to like plain old jellied cran sauce, the kind that comes slurping out of the can.

My friend Martha notes that no other food sounds quite the same as it escapes its packaging. I still like it. So, with a nod to that vintage saucy cylinder on a plate, here too is a Florida recipe from the website of a citrus co-op, floridasnatural.com, that includes apples as well as oranges.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups cranberries, sorted and washed
  • 2 apples, cored, peeled, and sliced
  • 2 oranges, peeled and sliced
  • 1/3 cup Florida’s Natural® Premium Orange Juice
  • Up to 1 cup sugar (to taste)
  • 1 tbsp. orange zest

fresh-orange-and-cranberry-relishGrind cranberries, apples, and oranges using a food processor or blender, and stir until mixed evenly. Add orange juice and orange zest. Add sugar to taste: for a tart relish, use about 1/2 cup; for a sweet relish, use about a cup. Chill and serve.

Here’s the original link: http://www.floridasnatural.com/lifestyle/recipes/main-dishes-and-sides/fresh-orange-and-cranberry-relish

Pilgrims, schmilgrims

"The First Thanksgiving, 1621," by J.L.G. Ferris. Library of Congress

“The First Thanksgiving, 1621,” by J.L.G. Ferris. Library of Congress

I fret about this every year: As our commercial culture jumps from Halloween to Christmas, where is Thanksgiving? My favorite holiday seems in danger of disappearing.

I’m talking about American folklore—pilgrims, Squanto, corn pudding, pie, family and friends, gratitude for survival and for the harvest.

But, according to the dean of Florida historians, Michael Gannon, the first North American Thanksgiving actually took place in Florida, and that’s even more forgotten.

Pilgrims, schmilgrims. Our shores were home to a thanksgiving celebration in 1565, decades before the doings at Plymouth Colony in 1621.

The Grinch who stole Thanksgiving

Prof. Michael Gannon. Courtesy Tampa Bay Times

Prof. Michael Gannon. Courtesy Tampa Bay Times

Gannon, now distinguished service professor emeritus of history at the University of Florida, wrote about Florida’s first thanksgiving in 1965, in his book “The Cross in the Sand.” He described the 1565 feast as “the first community act of religion and Thanksgiving in the first permanent European settlement in the land.”

Twenty years later, the good professor would be jokingly dubbed “the Grinch who stole Thanksgiving.”

A reporter called Gannon in search of a fresh angle for a holiday article, and the professor told him about Thanksgiving, Florida-style—how on Sept. 8, 1565, Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez de Aviles had joined in the celebration of a thanksgiving Mass in the St. Augustine area, followed by a meal at which the explorer’s men supped with local Indians.

On the menu: Garbanzos and seafood

Pedro Menendez de Aviles. Library of Congress

Pedro Menendez de Aviles. Library of Congress

The Spaniards probably served their shipboard staples: salt pork, garbanzo beans, ship’s bread (or hardtack) and red wine. The natives would have supplied the good eating: seafood from our coastal waters, Gannon said.

After the interview and an Associated Press story, Gannon found himself besieged by talk-show hosts. Reaction was strongest in Massachusetts.

“You’ve caused a firestorm up here,” one interviewer told him, reporting that Plymouth’s town leaders were meeting about the Florida insurgency.

Now, things have calmed down. When reporters asked a few years ago about other claims to the first Thanksgiving (Texans and Virginians have theirs, too), officials at Plimouth Plantation in Plymouth, Mass., adopted a conciliatory tone. When it comes to original feasts of “American” thanksgiving, they also noted, the best claims belong to Native Americans.

Giving thanks at St. Augustine, 1565

Giving thanks at St. Augustine, 1565

By the way, Michael Gannon’s book “Florida: A Short History” is an indispensable introduction to the state’s past, as is his “History of Florida in 40 Minutes” (University Press of Florida, 2007). For a great article about Gannon, see Jeff Klinkenberg’s profile at TampaBay.com, http://www.tampabay.com/features/humaninterest/the-remarkable-michael-gannon-his-history-is-floridas-history/1098373

All-American Bird

Franklin-Benjamin-LOC-headIf Ben Franklin had had his way, the turkey might be more than the centerpiece of America’s Thanksgiving menu – it might be our national bird as well.

Franklin thought the bald eagle was for the birds. At least that’s what he told his daughter Sarah.

“I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country,” Franklin wrote in a humorous letter in 1784. “He is a bird of bad moral character.”

Eagles were too lazy to fish for themselves.  They just loitered about on some dead tree until some hawk made a catch. “When that diligent bird has at length taken a fish . . . the bald eagle pursues him, and takes it from him,” Franklin wrote.

turkeyIn contrast, Franklin found the turkey “a much more respectable bird” and “a true original native of America.”

UnderwaterTurkey

Photo courtesy of the Florida State Archives, FloridaMemory.com

Thanks to historian Dana Ste.Claire of St. Augustine for telling me about Franklin’s view of turkeys several years ago.

Like Florida sometimes, turkeys don’t get much respect.

In a typical 1950s ad for a Florida attraction, Rainbow Springs, the noble bird even had to pose being carved underwater.

That’s a fine way to treat such a respectable piece of poultry, Franklin might say.

World’s Largest Pinup? Daytona’s Red Diving Girl

This Red Diving Girl incarnation is 1 of only 3 or so in the world, says Stamie Kypreos, owner of the shop. The most beautiful gal at Daytona doesn’t sport a bikini. And tattoos? Not for the Red Diving Girl, the nearly 20-foot icon that has adorned Stamie’s swimwear shop at 8 N. Ocean Ave. since the days when the Beatles were new.

A few years ago, I chatted with the shop’s founder, Stamie Kypreos, who grew up in Orlando, where her family moved from Greece when she was 7. (Mrs. Kypreos died in 2010 at the age of 97.) She had married her late husband, Theodore, also in Orlando in 1935. A dozen years later, wen Harry Truman was America’s president, Kypreos opened her shop on Ocean Avenue and began selling swimsuits to ladies and gents.

When I visited her a decade ago, Mrs. Kypreos was 89. She paused during our chat to ask a shopper how she was doing during a dressing-room session of trying on bathing suits. The suits were fine, the shopper replied; it was the body she was trying to fit into them that posed a problem.

How many thousands of times in more than 50 years must Kypreos have heard this kind of fretting. The pounds! The thighs! I’ll never look like . . . Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Twiggy, Cindy Crawford, Halle Berry. . . . The beauty icons have changed, but the quest for the perfect bathing suit remains.

Kypreos took these cellulite dramas in stride. “I love my little place,” Kypreos said.

Diving into history

Outside the shop, which looks the same but was closed on the Sunday when I recently stopped by, the big gal in the red suit just keeps diving, suspended in a perpetual, graceful swoop. This incarnation of her, owned by the Jantzen company of Portland, Ore., is one of only six ever made; few survive. One of the statue’s sisters was once suspended from the ceiling of the American Advertising Museum in Portland, which I’m sad to see closed in 2004. The Red Diving Girl symbol has been around for decades longer; she holds a high place in the history of both advertising and sport. In her day, she was considered a glamour gal as groovy as Grable.

The company that became Jantzen didn’t start out to make bathing suits. John A. Zehntbauer and Carl C. Jantzen founded it in 1910 as the Portland Knitting Co., a business that made sweaters and woolen hosiery. The enterprise sidestroked into the swimwear business when members of the Portland Rowing Club asked it to produce a wool rib-knit rowing suit about 1913. In 1918 its name was changed to the Jantzen Knitting Mills.

Early bathing suits at Daytona Beach

Early bathing suits at Daytona Beach

Around that time, the pastime of sea bathing — jumping into waves while holding on to a rope attached to an offshore buoy — was being replaced by the sport of swimming. Women needed swimwear that wouldn’t slow them down.

By the early 1920s, Jantzen was in the market, touting its product with the slogan “the Suit that Changed Bathing to Swimming.” Soon, the company was ready for a national sales push, and husband-and-wife artists Frank and Florenz Clark went after an image to use in ads, according to Jantzen archivists.

http://archivalclothing.com/2010/08/

The Jantzen swimsuit factory

Florenz Clark went to a Portland amateur athletic club, where she watched women divers training for the 1920 Olympics. Inspired by their grace, she and her husband came up with the image of a woman diver in a red Jantzen suit, soon christened the Red Diving Girl .

In a saucy suit resembling a long tank top, the Diving Girl became something of a craze. In 1922, Jantzen printed 10,000 Red Diving Girl stickers that were distributed in store displays, which people grabbed up to paste on the windshields of their cars. Massachu- setts banned the decals from auto windshields.

 Pinups and beach parties

George Petty's airbrushed version of the Jantzen Red Diving Girl became popular in the 1930s and 1940s. The `Petty Girl ' was a successor to the Gibson Girl , an ideal of American beautyBy the 1930s, billboards featuring the work of artist George Petty and others had transformed the Diving Girl into a long-legged, airbrushed dish. The “Petty Girl ” became a popular pinup in the 1930s and 1940s and is said to have been the first centerfold, in Esquire magazine. She didn’t have to worry about her weight, of course; she was an illustration.

In 1959, a mannequin company in Los Angeles transformed the Red Diving Girl , now in an elasticized strapless one-piece, into three dimensions and made six 191/2-foot fiberglass versions of her to be used on signs.

One of the six made its way to Miami and, in 1965, to a happy home at Stamie’s by the World’s Most Famous Beach. She has been there ever since, despite repairs from storm damage in 1980 and the day-to-day toll of humidity and salt air. Her once-white cap is now painted red to match her suit and dainty toenails. A girl must keep up with fashion, after all.

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