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History and Lore

A great big chunk of our history here has vanished before our very eyes. That says something painful about how we regard the past.

I don’t mean to blame our historical societies, established families or government poobahs. True, any and all of them could do more to preserve the history of this place, and we can too.

We live in a fast-growing part of the country. For all of the past century and more, most people hereabouts—these local histories we are losing—have depended on growth and development.

“Colonists.” That’s what we called “snowbirds” a century ago. They bought land, cleared and plowed fields, built houses, erected fences, planted gardens and groves (and hired us to help). They spent their money—much of it here—on cars and lumber and cattle feed, until successive waves of them had a patchwork of profit-driven agrarian factories and support industries clustered around a village of level streets, tidy yards, and most of all social opportunities. We called it Gardenia, and then Fruitland Park.

On March 6, 1917—a Tuesday evening—our colonist forebears and predecessors turned out for a masquerade ball at The Casino on Berckman Street.

The ladies in charge were most generous with their invitations, the whole Park being included. And the whole Park came clad in costumes that showed not only versatility and gray matter but a wondrous scope of geography.

And those costumes! In the words of an as yet unidentified reporter on the scene: four Japanese ladies, two Dutch girls, a Spanish girl, a Spanish maiden, and a Spanish lady, a Mexican girl, a country maiden, a Gypsy, a Greek lady not Xantippe, a Wild West girl, Moss Girl, a Red Cross nurse, a Bewitching lady, the Goddess of Liberty, the Queen of Hearts, Madam Butterfly, the American Beauty rose and the Indian maiden Silver Springs.

The men weren’t so imaginative, but still: a Buster Brown, a Rip Van Winkle, The Dog, The Cat, a Pirate King, Charlie Chaplin, a “colored boy,” a courtier, a Palm Beach classic, a farmer boy, a West Point cadet, and five clowns, one of whom “carried a big fan and fanned every clocked stocking he saw.”

So they had their fun too. I’ll publish the full text of Masquerade Ball in a later posting.

The report comes from the Leesburg Commercial—then a weekly newspaper of eight or ten pages, published Fridays.

The earliest edition of the Commercial you can read today is dated October 10, 1913.

What happened before that—what parts of it was recorded—has been lost to the ages. Poof, gone. That’s the painful part.

To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld’s famous mixspeak, you don’t march into the future with the history you wish you had, you go with the history you have.

Most issues of the Commercial include a page titled Affairs of Interest in Fruitland Park.

We’ll include excerpts from the Commercial in future History and Lore postings. They are sometimes charming, always revealing, occasionally ribald and once in a while thought-provoking.

Hope you enjoy them.