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A Brief Guide to Florida’s Monuments and Memorials: A Window into the Past

People don’t think of Florida as a wellspring of historic attractions, but the Sunshine State percolates with history – 500 years’ worth. When St. Augustine was founded, Shakespeare was one year old. One of the best ways to see Florida’s storied past is to visit some of these monuments and memorials.

They are in the form of battlefields, parks, churches, statues, marble and granite boulders, murals, museums, etc. They pay tribute to pioneers, inventors, soldiers, barons, educators, politicians, conquistadors, astronauts, celebrities, sports heroes, circus legends, U. S. Presidents, slaves, etc., and they memorialize key historical events and can evoke multiple emotions. There's also more than a little trivia associated with many of these monuments and memorial as well.

The Circus Ring of Fame, the John Ringling memorial statue and the Circus Museum on the grounds of Ringling’s Sarasota estate, may bring happy childhood memories of seeing The Greatest Show on Earth, while the Camp Blanding Memorial Park in Starke, where Infantry regiments, divisions, tank destroyer battalions and artillery brigades trained during World War II, may elicit pride in the bravery and sacrifices of the American soldiers and paratroopers who trained here. There's humor at offbeat Monument of States in Kissimmee, a 30-ton, 40-foot-high, pyramid-shaped absurdity built from stones gathered from forty-eight states and twenty foreign countries. It was the idea of a local physician who wanted a monument in Kissimmee that would attract tourists.

It’s the small revelations that provide insight into people memorialized: how Robinson gracefully dealt with bigotry from baseball fans and his teammates; the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry (depicted in the movie Glory) fighting at Olustee while shouting, Three cheers for Massachusetts and seven dollars a month! (the difference in pay between colored and white Union Infantry); the ruthlessness and greed of conquistador Hernando de Soto.

Some of the most interesting and inspiring of these include

Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs, Hamilton County

The entire park is a memorial to perhaps the greatest of America’s folk composers. Within the park’s 880 acres, a 200-foot-high carillon tower continuously plays Foster’s music, and the Stephen Foster Museum exhibits colorful dioramas depicting his songs.

These include Oh! Susanna, Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair, Beautiful Dreamer, and Old Folks at Home, which made Florida’s Suwannee River famous. (Foster removed the “u” from Suwannee and wrote it as Swannee.)

Foster was twenty-two in 1848, when he scored a hit with Oh! Susanna. It became the theme song for people following the Gold Rush in California. The composer wrote hundreds of songs, but copyright laws were lax and he earned much less than he should have. He fell heavily in debt and sold the copyrights to much of his work, but he couldn’t recoup his losses. His drinking and his failed marriage were further burdens.

In 1864, Foster was sick and alone in a hotel room. He fell and fatally hit his head on a washbasin. He was 37 years old. He had 38 cents in his pocket. There is sadness in the story of Stephen Foster, but there is joy in visiting the park that is named for him. The bells ring, the music plays and, led by a costumed docent, visitors understand why Foster’s life is ingrained in American musical history.

Fort Caroline National Memorial in Jacksonville, Duval County

It pays tribute to the valiant, but failed attempt to create the first permanent French settlement in America. In 1564, French Huguenots established a colony in Jacksonville. They built a fort, erected a monument to their French king and assumed that farming would sustain them in the New World.

The initially-friendly Native Americans became increasingly hostile, the crops failed and the Huguenots were near starvation. Worse, they were trespassing on land that Ponce de Leon had, fifty-one years earlier, claimed for Spain. They realized this when, in 1565, Spain sent a Spanish fleet to eradicate the Huguenots. The attack was merciless, and most of the French settlers were butchered.

A French carpenter who escaped the attack, later recalled, The Spaniards made a horrible tragic slaughter of our forces, so great was the anger and hatred they had for our nation. They vied with one another to see who could best cut the throats of our people.

The Cee Cee Ross Lyles Memorial in Fort Pierce, St. Lucie County.

This memorial honors a female flight attendant who was aboard United Flight 93 on September 11, 2001. A terrible irony is that Cee Cee had given up her job as a Fort Pierce police officer in order to become a flight attendant because she wanted a job with less stress.

In her final moments, she used her cell phone to speak to her husband, Lorne. She told him how much she loved him and the children and that she hoped she would see them again. Cee Cee was thirty-three years old.

In the days afterward, Lorne told reporters that hearing his wife tell him, through all the chaos on the plane, that she loved him, would forever be embedded in his heart. That’s my baby. She’s my heart…my soul…my everything, he said.

The bronze memorial statue captures Cee Cee in her flight attendant’s uniform. Next to it is a pedestal with a black granite plaque appropriately reflecting the clouds. It is inscribed, Our American Hero... We will never forget you.

The Mariana Pingrow Bonifay Monument in Pensacola, Escambia County.

Mariana Pingrow Bonifay was a free-thinking entrepreneur who was way ahead of her time. She was born in France in 1760. She gathered her children, left her plantation-owner husband in Santo Domingo, and moved to Pensacola. There, she formed a business and extra-marital partnership with Carlos Lavalle, a carpenter twelve years her junior. She had several children with him.

Mariana and Carlos built and sold homes. (Lavalle’s home is extant in Historic Pensacola Village.) She raised cattle, owned farmland and purchased a brickyard to build streets for the fast-growing city. Successful and influential, she entertained Rachel and Andrew Jackson in her home after he became Governor of Florida. By the end of the Civil War, a third of Pensacola’s population was descended from Mariana Bonifay.

A copy of Mariana’s will provides fascinating details that explain her instructions and wishes in dividing her slaves, property, businesses and money among her ten children. Have a comment to share? Like us on Facebook - OffbeatTravelCom and post your comment.


Roberta Sandler’s articles have appeared in hundreds of newspapers and magazines. She has won several media awards. She frequently lectures about Florida’s historic destinations and attractions. She is the author of A Brief Guide to Florida’s Monuments and Memorials from which this article was adapted. It is available from Amazon.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Updated: August 7, 2016



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