I’ve never been able to fathom why Fernandina Beach pays homage to two of the most notoriously corrupt, dishonest and inept figures in the history of Florida — David Yulee (aka David Levy) and Duncan Lamont Clinch.
Not only is a nearby town named after Yulee, but a statue of the dishonest and treasonous politician sits in front of the town’s recently restored train station and welcome center, while the impressive 18th century fort on north Amelia Island is named after the bungling, cowardly and corrupt military commander Clinch, as tributes to revisionist history on steroids.
Based on a couple of recent books about Florida, local townsfolk might as well have erected a composite town square monument of these two phonies comparable to that of Jubilation T. Cornpone in Al Capp’s fictional Dog Patch.
Carved on the statue memorializing Dog Patch’s most famous son, are Cornpone’s most impressive accomplishments: “Cornpone’s Retreat,” “Cornpone’s Disaster” and “Cornpone’s Rout.” A rousing song with lyrics by Savannah’s Johnny Mercer from the 1956 “Li’l Abner Broadway musical summarizes Cornpone with the following verses:
“When we fought the Yankees and their annihilation was near, who was there to lead the charge that took us safe to the rear? Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone, old toot-your-own-horn pone. Jubilation T. Cornpone, a man who knew no fear.
“Stonewall Jackson got his name by standing firm in the fray. Who was known to all his men as good ol’ “Paper Mache?” Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone; Jubilation T. Cornpone, he really saved the day!”
In his 2013 book “Finding Florida – The true History of the Sunshine State”, native Floridian T.D. Allman and Miami Herald Reporter, obliterates the local Yulee myth and crucifies Clinch, while in his new book, “Oh, Florida!”, author Craig Pittman adds fuel to that fire, taking particular aim at Yulee, calling him “one of the rogues and rascals who ran the state for his own profit.” Apparently the only folks that admire these two scoundrels are ones hereabouts who honor them with statues, forts, etc. for reasons I can’t grasp.
Allman traces slaveholder Yulee’s path from his urging of Florida to join the Union to advocating its secession while a sitting U.S. Senator, an act that earned him a prison term in Fort Pulaski, GA for treason following the civil war. I’ve read elsewhere that Yulee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis were the only two key Confederates imprisoned following the civil war.
Yulee’s one single accomplishment, says Pittman in his book, was “building Florida’s first cross-state railroad using federal and state money that lined his own pockets.” If First Lady Michelle Obama can proclaim: “I wake up each morning in a house that was built by slaves” then I assume we can declare that “we wake up each morning in a town whose railroad was built by slaves.” For all his dubious achievements Yulee has a town and a Gulf Coast County (Levy) named after him as well as a Fernandina Beach statue honoring him.
A pure embodiment of Cornpone is Clinch, who is credited with two national military disasters that took place in Florida — the Dade Massacre and Negro Fort Massacre. While leading the 1816 Fort Negro assault, considered one of the worst slaughters of innocent civilians in American military history, Clinch actually admitted that the great majority of those his forces killed were “more than 200 women and children.” During the Seminole War’s 1836 Dade Massacre, one of the nastiest defeats ever suffered by the U.S. military, Clinch first used U.S. troops to protect his own property and when he finally did decide to act his military ineptitude cost hundreds of American lives before he fled, abandoning his men on the battlefield. After that debacle he successfully billed the federal government $70,000 (an astounding sum at that time) for letting its horses graze on his grass. Despite leaving behind a legacy of corruption, violence, fraud, military ineptitude and injustice, Clinch has somehow been honored by having a Georgia county named after him as well as Fort Clinch, one of our most popular tourist attractions other than the beach.
As much as I enjoy the debunking of these two scallywags, there is lots more in these books. Pittman, who is also a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, has written a fascinating compendium of Florida’s history, weirdness and wacky characters and I suggest that any resident or visitor grab a copy. You’ll be thoroughly entertained as you read bizarre historical and political Florida stories and facts while wiping away tears of laughter.
Following are just a few of the other fascinating factoids, observations and questions I found inside Pittman’s “Oh, Florida!” but there are many, many more:
- Florida has the second-fewest natives of any state with Nevada being the first.
- A Floridian tried to hire a hit man by giving him a ride in his pizza delivery van and saying: “Have fun!”
- A Gainesville man trying to steal a car accidently locked himself inside it.
- Why do mullet suddenly leap from the water?
- With almost 20 million residents Florida is the country’s third most populous state and experts say that by next year (2017) tourism will probably exceed 100 million folks.
- A man in Deerfield Beach died while winning a pet store’s roach-eating contest where first prize was a python.
- Florida receives more federal dollars than any other state, both in total dollars and per capita.
A third book about Florida that doesn’t delve deeply into the state’s history but is equally entertaining and hilarious, is Lynn Waddell’s 2013 “Fringe Florida”, a compilation of whacky tales about Florida’s wild side that includes strippers, swingers, mediums, female motorcycle gangs and much more.
These three books will provide an amazing amount of entertainment as well as enlightenment.
Speaking Of Books: Local resident Rob Hicks is a busy man. In addition to his fulltime job as a counselor at Fernandina Beach High School, Mr. Hicks has found time to write six books with a seventh soon be published by Arcadia Publishing and on store book shelves late next spring or early summer.
The official title of his new book is “Legendary Locals of Amelia Island” that will be published by Arcadia Publishing, which has handled some of his other books, and it is expected to be available at local outfits like the downtown Book Loft for around $20.
I don’t know for sure, but I’m betting that David Yulee and Duncan Clinch made the cut as Rob’s book will feature about 200 people who have called Amelia Island home going all the way back to the Timucuan Indians.
Commenting on his new tome Mr. Hicks said: “My other books focus on buildings and a little history about them while this one focuses on people” He explores the history and personalities of people who are long gone but he says: “….who made the rich history of this little island and looks at the people who set the stage through all of the 1900s to make this community what it is today.”
“Finally,” he claims ,”we’ll meet the people who color Fernandina now. This is not intended to be any sort of hall of fame, rather I want to provide a cross section of the town with notable people who bring different things to the table. I’ve had a lot of fun working on this project so far and can’t wait to get it out there.” It’ll be fun to see who did and who didn’t make the cut.
Rob has also authored the following books which can be found on Amazon.com or downtown’s Book Loft:
Images of America: Amelia Island explores the island through its photographic history. The book features old photographs to tell the history, particularly what is referred to as the “Golden Age” of Fernandina during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Amelia Island: Then and Now compares old pictures with new pictures of the same thing to also tell the history of the island. This book explores more of the history through the latter part of the 1900s and also explores more of the island away from downtown.
Images of America: Gainesville is another photographic history book. It covers the founding of the town of Gainesville through the coming of the University of Florida and early 1900s.
Amelia A to Z, Ancient City A to Z (St. Augustine), and Charleston A to Z combine unique rhymes, detailed text, and illustrations for children to explore the nature, history and life of these locales.
Proud Papa: Amelia Island resident Ed Weihenmayer is a very proud papa as Dunkin’ Donuts has selected his son for its “Brewed for the Bold” themed national coffee ad featuring Erik, the only blind man to ever climb Mt. Everest. It reminded me of the time I escorted Erick on a media tour around Atlanta for my client Novartis Opthalmics in 2001 and during a radio interview Erik was asked how he met his wife. “On a blind date,” he quipped. Erick lost his sight at age 13 from a genetic disorder called retinoschisis. In addition to scaling the world’s highest peaks he is also a long-distance cyclist, skydiver, marathon runner and skier, who has often appeared on NBC’s Today Show, World News Tonight, the Nightly News With Tom Brokaw, Inside Edition, and MSNBC. He has been featured in Sports Illustrated, Parade, Men’s Journal and more. Erick is one of the most interesting, humorous, accomplished and humble people I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet and his dad has every reason to be more than proud of this amazing young man.
Sad News: A good friend who recalled that I was once interviewed by Eastern Airlines President Phil Bakes for the VP of Public Relations job at Eastern Airlines, sent me the Miami Herald obituary of Bakes (70), who died August 5. Even though I didn’t get the job — losing out to a PR guy with airline experience that I lacked — the charming Mr. Bakes told me I came in a close second, somehow making me feel good about losing. The obituary said Bakes was many things, chief among them president of Eastern Airlines from 1986 to 1990 when it filed for bankruptcy, and president of Continental Airlines from 1984 to 1986, guiding the carrier through its successful Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding. He was a Harvard-trained attorney, a Watergate special prosecutor in the 1970s, general counsel to the Civil Aeronautics Board and counsel to the U.S. Senate Antitrust Subcommittee. Currently, the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award winner, was president of Snapper Creek Equity Management, a private equity and advisory firm in Coral Gables. He was also one of the most interesting and charismatic people I ever met and I would have enjoyed working for him despite the fact that it would have been short lived as , thanks to the unions, the airline disappeared from the skies just a couple years after I was interviewed.
That Sinking Feeling: Olympic swimming gold medalist and University of Florida graduate Ryan Lochte is drowning in controversy as his outrageous lies about being held up by Brazilian police have washed up in media outlets worldwide. The 32-year-old-going-on-12, 2007 Gator grad, who is second only to Michael Phelps in swimming medals won, earned $2.3 million in endorsements following his medal harvest in London in 2012 (two gold, two silver and a bronze) but after his Brazilian caper (one gold, one drunken night out with the guys) those endorsements dried up fast, with all of his sponsors abandoning Lochte’s sinking ship. This guy not only lied to every media outlet that stuck a camera or microphone in his face, but lied to his mother too. Come on, you don’t lie to mom! In fact, I can’t imagine this guy even finding a company that would risk hiring him to sweep the floors. Oh, but wait, I can think of one organization that would relish hiring a jerk like this who, without blinking, can look directly into the cameras of national TV outlets and spout a steady stream of absurd falsehoods and nonsense. I’m betting the Hillary Clinton campaign is salivating over bringing this guy on board as their media spokesman, where he can be tutored by a woman the late New York Times columnist William Safire labeled “a congenital liar.”
Speaking Of Sports: Good friend and head of Georgia’s Public Policy Foundation Benita Dodd tells me she’s just been alerted to a great opportunity for a sports fan: “A friend of mine has two tickets for the 2017 Super bowl. They are box seats plus airfare and hotel accommodations. He didn’t realize when he bought them that this is the same day as his wedding – so he can’t go. “If you’re interested and want to go instead of him, it’s at St Peter’s Church in New York City at 5 p.m. Her name is Donna. She’ll be the one in the white dress.”
Maybe She’s Just A Good Listener: U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that she and former President Bill Clinton only talked “about grandkids and golf” during their 30 minute meeting at the Phoenix Airport June 30 just prior to the FBI decision not to indict Mrs. Clinton over her email fiasco. However, Ms. Lynch doesn’t play golf or have any grandchildren so she must have just listened, right?
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: A Jacksonville-based restaurant group called TacoLu will soon occupy the space next to Barbara Jeans, that in the past has been home to Spanky’s and Red Snapper, just north of the island side of Shave Bridge. Just what we need….. more red, green, brown and orange stuff that comprises the Mexican food pyramid. You can look at their menu and photos of their Jacksonville joint at www.tacolu.com. After only about a month, Marshall Ziehm, who was recruited from Chicago to run the kitchen at the Amelia Tavern is already gone but I understand that Carol Prescot, is still handling the front of the house duties and I hear that Dr. Robert Hogan’s tavern team is still searching for a brew meister while they continue to await the federal government’s official stamp of approval to brew their eight different beers in the glass-enclosed areas set up in house. Very reliable sources tell me that the building next to the Amelia Tavern, which includes Alley Cat, has been purchased by Dr. Hogan, who wants to turns it into a restaurant and that the retail shop, Hunt’s Art & Artifacts, there will be gone before year’s end along with Alley Cat. Someone needs to grab popular icon piano man John Springer from Alley Cat if they want to attract a local and tourist crowd looking for a fun evening to pack their place. Local’s, the inspiration of Eric Deady and Bill Childers is now open to the public and I am convinced that folks will find this cozy and plush cocktail emporium at the corner of Sadler and North 14th Street, with its one-of-a-kind outside patio and bar, as attractive and fun as I do. The inside and outside add a cocktail bar approach never seen before on the island or anywhere near it, and I anticipate the bar’s 12-foot cast aluminum rooster will soon be dominating a number of Facebook pages. The Childers-Deady duo is now working on the second phase of their cocktail bar cluster, the country-western themed Sadler Ranch, and Deady is staffing up his South 8th Street Halftime Bar & Grill for the anticipated football season crowds. On August 13 the glitzy WSJ Magazine featured France’s Cannes restaurant, Tetou, with an article headlined “The Bouillabaisse King” describing how the modest 100-seat pricey cash only eatery has attracted worldwide celebrities from Sharon Stone to Pablo Picasso to slurp on its legendary fish soup that consists of scorpion fish, red gurnard and sea bream, potato chunks, croutons, optional lobster and more. We have right here in Fernandina Beach our own “King of the Bouillabaisse” as interestingly named Ricky Pigg, owner and chef of Joe’s 2nd Street Bistro, in my opinion, makes one of the best bowls of this legendary French seafood stew I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve eaten it up and down the Cote de Azure, Paris, its birthplace of Marseille, but never Tetou. If you want a genuine bouillabaisse experience at a reasonable price then pig out with the Piggs at Joe’s. Call ’em at 904/321-2558 but not on Tuesdays when they are closed. By the way, bouillabaisse translates as “boil then simmer.” And speaking of meals in a bowl, if you want terrific chowder, stop by Timoti’s on North 3rd Street and try one of the best I’ve eaten with the modestly priced large bowl being a meal in itself. Someone told me the Jazz Festival planned for much later this year will be held on downtown’s 4th Street, but offered no additional details if anyone wants to chime in. The Recreation & Parks Department Jay Robertson has notified certain folks via email that if the city of Fernandina goes through with its forensic accounting investigation of his department’s activities he’ll turn in his resignation as he says he’s had enough of this aggravation.