Sunday Favorites: Ill-Fated Journeys

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Published Sunday, March 23, 2014 12:05 am

by Merab-Michal Favorite and Drew Winchester

he bunk house was appropriatly decorated with a hog skull Photo: Merab-Michal Favorite
he bunk house was appropriately decorated with a hog skull
Photo: Merab-Michal Favorite

ZOLPHO SPINGS — Going camping is one of my favorite pastimes.  There is nothing quite like being disconnected from the everyday rat race.

Ringing cell phones, buzzing laptops and loud business meetings are easily forgotten and replaced with more soothing resonances like babbling brooks, crackling fires and the presence of wildlife.

While the wilderness can be enjoyable, a lot can go wrong in a short amount of time. Especially if you’re ill prepared for your trip.

That was the case for us last weekend. A day trip turned into an overnight debacle due to an auto failure. Drew had to cancel his plans to bring me jumper cables in the middle of nowhere. By the time he arrived, it was almost dark and we were forced to stay the night.

I had tried to get Drew out there earlier, but work and chores prevented him from accompanying me. I’d tried to persuade him to change his mind, telling him of the beauty of the Peace River, the quaintness of the camp and boasting the fishing opportunities, but to no avail.

When darkness fell, Drew and I weren’t snuggled in our warm bed as expected. Instead, we found ourselves lying on a wooden plank in a spider-infested bunkhouse, with no sleeping bag and only a light blanket as covering on a very cold night.

In December of 1885, a group of Scottish colonists left their homeland and headed to Sarasota. Photo: Sarasota Archives
In December of 1885, a group of Scottish colonists left their homeland and headed to Sarasota.
Photo: Sarasota Archives

We were miserable; beyond miserable. Our sleepless situation was amplified by the eerie sounds of wild animals: the hooting of an owl, croaking of alligators and … was that the howl of a coyote? These sounds seemed to haunt our dreams even when we happened to doze off, if only for a short time.

We couldn’t help but think of another ill fated journey: one that occurred about 172 years ago, not far from where we slept and involved a group of Scottish immigrants who had left their homeland in the hope of finding a new one in Sarasota.

The owl hooted again right outside the window of the bunkhouse. If we were those Scottish immigrants, we might have taken it as a malicious prophecy.

One of the colonists, Dan McKinley, wrote of the owl call in a diary he kept while living in Sarasota. The Jan. 27, 1886 entry reads, “It’s really very lonely. The eerie sound of the owl, the night is pitch dark and there are other queer sounds. I‘m going to turn in, have big washing to do in the morning.”

The owl was the least of his worries. McKinley’s entries get more concerning as time goes on. On Feb. 2, 1886, he wrote of prairie fires surrounding him and his camp. Two days later he wrote he following passage:

“Prospects here are so bad, in fact as far as we can see it means starvation if we stay… again see prairie fires some distance from us…high winds blowing and some rains….the colony seems to have completely broken up.” 

The land on the Peace River is reminiscent of the conditions a century ago.  Photo: Merab-Michal Favorite
The land on the Peace River is reminiscent of the conditions a century ago.
Photo: Merab-Michal Favorite

McKinley was just one of many immigrants who left their home for a promised land that unfortunately didn’t deliver what they had anticipated.

Nellie Lawrie was just a child when she came to Sarasota with her family from Scotland in 1885. She recalled a very sad departure on a dark and stormy night.

Lawrie said the passengers were overwhelmed with emotion as they left Scotland and began singing an old Scottish song called “Will ye not come back again? Better loved ye ne’er will be.”

There was not a dry eye as the song commenced, and the crowd kept singing Scottish hymns as the captain gave the signal to begin their long, transatlantic passage.

 It was not a straight shot to Florida. The ship first landed in New York; then the colonists had to travel by train to Cedar Key. At that time the station was the southernmost stop on the railway route. From there, they chartered a yacht landing where Marina Jack’s is today.

They were greeted by most of the families already established in the area; the Whitakers, Riggins, Abbes and Tuckers. It was a cold December morning and the surrounding terrain was unhindered; there was only one building in sight and their only prospects were before them down a dirt road that meandered out of sight and got lost in the dense palmetto underbrush.

Sarasota historian Jeff LaHurd wrote of the event in his book the Hidden History of Sarasota.

“Even from the ship railing they could see they had been duped. ‘Little Scotland,’ was a wilderness with which they were unprepared to deal.”

John Hamilton Gillespie is credited with building the first golf course in Sarasota in the backyard of his home (above). Photo: Sarasota Archives
John Hamilton Gillespie is credited with building the first golf course in Sarasota in the backyard of his home (above).
Photo: Sarasota Archives

The rest of 1885, and the beginning of 1886 was filled with freezing but favorable conditions (at one point it even snowed), but as the rainy season began to present itself, more and more problems also developed. Most of the colonists were staying in palm frond guest huts offered up by pioneers until they could build more permanent accommodations.

Anton Kleinosheg, one of the first and last remaining Scottish colonists, described the situation in a letter to a friend.

“The climate in winter (though we had a cold never experienced) is very pleasant and wholesome; but the summer!—100 degrees when it’s not raining and a terrible plague of mosquitos, enough to drive us mad! …. The sky consistently sends down water masses that stand in ponds and depressions and generate millions of these beasts. They have in fact killed two of my young dogs (a horrible end).”

Kleinosheg goes on to describe the living conditions inside the hut where he was staying, which belonged to the Abbes, a pioneer family. There were no screens, and he had to sleep, read and write under a mosquito net to avoid being “eaten to death.”

Kleinosheg eventually fell victim to the menacing creatures and contracted malaria. He had to be nursed back to health by the women of the Abbe family. He would later marry the daughter, Carrie Abbe, and they would move to Austria.

Most of the other Scottish colonists departed the area on March 11, 1886, only three months after they had arrived. However one of them, John Hamilton Gillespie, would later become Sarasota’s first mayor in 1902, and be credited for building the first golf course in his back yard.

In an interview with the Sarasota Herald in 1935, historian A.B Edwards told a reporter that the “distress and humiliation and hardships they encountered can scarcely be expressed in words.”

Lying there in the dark on my hard wooden plank, I felt pity for those settlers. After all, all I needed was some jumper cables to escape the breadth of my bad experience and I had a home, bed and pets waiting for me. Those settlers had sold everything they owned, traveled thousands of miles only to find that the land they bought was useless.

It was a bad deal with false hopes, peddled to them by a Scottish investment company. As they said their goodbyes to Sarasota, they probably couldn’t help but feel they’d been duped.

And as Drew lie awake beside me on our wooden plank in the middle of the woods, he probably had the same feeling. He felt he’d been duped into bringing me jumper cables on the promise of an amazing camping getaway only to be freezing his buns off in less than favorable conditions.

Sources: Hidden History of Sarasota by Jeff LaHurd, copywrite 2009, History Press, Charleston, S.C.

HBPD thwarts murder attempt

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By Merab-Michal Favorite

A man was arrested March 14 after he allegedly stabbed a woman multiple times after learning she had an intimate relationship with their roommate, according to the Holmes Beach Police Department.


Andrew Helderman, 23, of the 300 block of Clark Drive, faces charges of attempted second-degree murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after police found him covered in blood, straddling a woman in the bathtub. The victim was found with a “medium-sized pocket knife” protruding from her neck, according to a press release from Chief Bill Tokajer.

Around 11 p.m., officers arrived at Helderman’s home in response to a 911 call.  When they entered the home, they could hear a woman calling for help from the bathroom, the report said.

Officer Steve Ogline forced entry into the bathroom, allegedly finding Helderman straddling the 31-year-old woman.

The woman had suffered multiple stab wounds to her body.

Ogline ordered Helderman at gunpoint to stop and stand up. He complied and was led to the living room, where he was taken into custody, the report said.

The 39-year-old roommate, who called 911, told police the three of them reside together at the Clark Drive address.

Prior to the attack, the male roommate told police, all three of them had a discussion about the woman “hooking up” with them. He told police that everything seemed fine following their conversation, but then Helderman began attacking the woman.

The witness said he tried to intervene several times, at one point picking up the shower curtain rod from the floor and hitting Helderman in the head.

Tokajer said the male victim also told police that he videotaped the attack with his cell phone before calling 911.

All of the parties involved were treated by EMS. Both Helderman and the victim were transported to Blake Medical Center.

The female victim was in reported to be in serious but stable condition and was initially moved to an intensive care unit.

Helderman was cleared and taken to the Manatee County jail, where he is being held without bond.

The second victim suffered minor cuts from trying to stop Helderman during the attack.

Tokajer said the suspect and the victims have been the subject of numerous complaints prior to this incident.

HBPD: 2 rapes among 2013 crime statistics

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By Merab-Michal Favorite, Islander Reporter

Two cases of sexual battery were investigated in Holmes Beach in 2013 and, while no arrests have been made, the Holmes Beach Police Department is pursuing warrants for both suspects.

The incident reports were made available Feb. 20 from the HBPD, after being noted among the annual Crime in Florida report provided by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement based on data through Jan. 21, which was released Feb. 19 by Holmes Beach Chief of Police Bill Tokajer.

The first incident occurred July 5, 2013, at West Manatee Fire District Station No. 1, 6001 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach.

The second alleged rape took place Dec. 22, 2013, on the beach in the 5600 block of Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, according to HBPD reports, which were only made public Feb. 20.

Rape by co-worker

The first of two female victims in the reports told police that while on duty overnight at the fire station, her co-worker raped her.

The victim, an EMS medic, filed a report with the Manatee County Human Resources Department Aug. 14, 2013. She said the suspect entered her bunk while she was trying to sleep and raped her while choking her.

According to the report, she and the Bradenton man were running calls until around 1 a.m., when she tried to go to sleep and was sexually battered. The two had not previously worked together.

The victim told police that throughout the day they had been joking about things of a sexual nature. The victim told police she was not offended until the man began showing her nude pictures of himself on his cellphone.

In one of the pictures, she alleged, the man held a mouthwash bottle over his genitals.

She said she tried to ignore him, but he proceeded to show another more explicit photo.

The man allegedly made several other sexual advances and the woman told him sexual behavior “was not going to happen,” the report said.

The victim said she got very uncomfortable and tried to avoid the man the rest of the evening, hanging out on the opposite side of the fire station until it was time to sleep. She was in her bunk when he reportedly got up, closed the door and climbed in bed with her. That’s when he allegedly held her so she couldn’t move, started choking and sexually assaulted her.

The victim did not immediately report the incident, telling police “it was her word against his,” the report states, but after confiding in a friend, she filed a complaint.

According to Pat Labarr of the Manatee County Human Resources Department, the suspect was dismissed in September following the incident with a stipulation that he cannot be rehired for three years.

HBPD Chief Bill Tokajer said the department has submitted evidence to the state attorney’s office and is waiting for the approval of an arrest warrant for the suspect.

 Beach rape

The second account of sexual battery Dec. 22, 2013, involved a tourist and a man who worked at the time as a waiter for the Gulf Drive Cafe in Bradenton Beach, the report stated.

According to the report, the victim alleged that the man raped her on the beach after a night of barhopping with friends.

The victim told police she was out with her brother and another brother and sister they met that night. The foursome had been to several bars including two on Bridge Street and to D.Coy Ducks Tavern in Holmes Beach, the report said.

While at the tavern, the victim’s brother and the suspect’s sister were kissing, the report said. The victim said she had been getting along with the suspect, and they walked to the beach.

According to the victim’s sworn statement to HBPD officers, “before she knew what was happening, (the suspect) was allegedly on top of her trying to (have sex) with her.” She told police he held her hands down at her sides and forcibly had sex with her, the report said.

The victim reported the incident immediately, but did not know the suspect’s last name or exact location where the rape occurred, but she remembered him saying he was a waiter at a local restaurant, the report said.

The victim gave police officers a picture she had taken of the suspect on her cellphone and HBPD tracked the picture to a server at Gulf Drive Cafe, the report stated. He was questioned by police in the manager’s office.

The suspect allegedly stated that he and the victim had “really hit it off” and were making out on a bench outside D.Coy Ducks before deciding go have sex on the beach. He said the sex was mutual and afterward he walked her to her vacation home, but not all the way, the report stated.

The man said the woman did not have a local phone number so he told her to come by where he works, hoping to see her again.

HBPD found probable cause to arrest the suspect after it obtained a text from the victim on the suspect’s phone stating she made it home OK, but that she was not OK with what had happened.

The time of the text was 4:23 a.m.

Tokajer said the department submitted evidence to the state attorney’s office and is awaiting an arrest warrant, saying the long process follows standard protocol when dealing with sexual battery charges.

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SAO declines charges in EMS rape case

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By Merab-Michal Favorite

The 12th Judicial State Attorney’s Office has declined to file sexual battery charges against a 39-year-old EMS paramedic accused of raping his partner in December, due to a lack of evidence.

The incident allegedly occurred in Holmes Beach July 5, 2013, at the West Manatee Fire District Station, 6001 Marina Dr, where the coworkers were assigned as partners during an overnight shift.

The woman, 23, filed a formal report to the Manatee County Human Resources Department Aug. 14, 2013, alleging that the suspect had entered her bunk while she was trying to sleep and choked and raped her. The two had not previously worked together.

Courtney Hollen, the assistant state attorney assigned to the case, said she decided to take no action because she believed the state would not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect had committed sexual battery. On Feb. 28, she issued an interdepartmental memorandum declining any further action.

“Even with the victim’s cooperation, there were no witnesses, no injuries, no excited utterances and no admission from the defendant. Therefore, the charge will be declined,” Hollen wrote in the memo.

Hollen also wrote that because the woman did not report the crime for over a month, there was no way to determine whether the intercourse was forced.

The man allegedly admitted to having sex with the woman, but said it was consensual. He also stated in the report that the woman became upset the next morning when he didn’t ask for her phone number.

Law enforcement officials interviewed the woman’s regular paramedic partner who had relieved her of duty so she could file the complaint Aug. 14. He stated that he believed the sex was consensual based on some of the statements the woman made, according to Hollen’s memo.

The male paramedic was dismissed from his EMS position in September with a stipulation that he could not be rehired for three years, according to the county human resources department. He had worked for the county for over five years.

He was first put on a six week unpaid suspension, then terminated on sexual harassment charges, according to officials.

The woman is still employed with Manatee County, according to Teresa Kersey, of the human resources department.

According to the police report, the woman alleged that while she and the man were on duty, he began making sexual comments to her and showing her nude pictures of himself. When she decided to go to sleep in the bunks provided for employees, he allegedly climbed into bed with her and began kissing her neck. When she pulled away, she said he choked her and forced her to have sexual intercourse with him.

After she reported the incident, law enforcement officials asked her to do a controlled phone call to the man, but she refused to participate. She later told the prosecutor she had declined the controlled phone call because she didn’t believe it would work.


The Forgotten Coast

Published Sunday, March 2, 2014 12:05 am _apalach2.jpg
A fishing boat is pulled up to the dock in downtown Apalachicola.

Arriving in Apalachicola is like stepping back in time. As part of Florida’s so-called “Forgotten Coast”, the town with a population of 2,300 still focuses on fishing, shrimping and oysters as its main source of industry, much like it has for nearly 200 years.

Of course, today the town has a nice tourist slant, one that draws people to discover a true version of the fabled “Old Florida.”

However, old Florida isn’t just a buzz word in Apalachicola, it’s not something used by realtors or a chamber of commerce to sell an era that doesn’t really exist anymore.

Apalachicola is old Florida, a quaint, southern town where, in a restaurant, you’re eating what just came off the boats as they pull in from the Apalachicola River and bay.

The town started as a trading post along the Gulf Coast called “Cottonton,” but was incorporated as West Point in 1827. Four years later, the town was named Apalachicola.

Before the advent of the railroad, Apalachicola was the third busiest port in the Gulf of Mexico, behind  New Orleans and Mobile, Ala. It thrived because of its location of course, but also because of the abundance of oysters and shrimp, an industry for which the town is still known today (In fact, 90 percent of all Florida’s oysters come from Apalachicola Bay).

But as the years ticked on, Apalachicola would find itself in the center of history in the making; one of the America’s most noted botanists, Dr. Alavan Wenthworth Chapman, settled in the town in 1847, where he practiced medicine and wrote his seminal work, “Flora of the Southern United States”, which was the first book dedicated solely to the plant life of the south. Chapman spent years researching the book in Georgia and other parts of Florida, and chose Apalachicola as the place to compile his work.
Boats of all kinds line the docks of a canal.

In 1849, another Apalachicola physician named Dr. John Gorrie created the first refrigeration process, and patented the first ice machine in 1850. At the time, Gorrie applied the technology in a medical setting, as a way to cool down patients that were experiencing extremely high fevers.

Of course, the same ideas would later be applied to modern refrigeration and air conditioning and Gorrie was an unknowing pioneer in those fields. Now, Gorrie’s work and legacy is enshrined in a state park in Apalachicola at the John Gorrie Museum, where a replica of his ice-making machine is on display along with exhibits chronicling the colorful history of Apalachicola.

Apalachicola came into the spotlight during the Civil War when the gunboat USS Sagamore and 186-foot steamer USS Mercedita captured the port, a massive victory for the union forces that were trying to gain a foothold in southern ports. Both ships were important members of the fleet, with the Sagamore sailing the Suwannee in 1864, while the Mercedita helped to capture Charleston Bay in 1863, but in 1862 both ships were crucial in helping to secure the port.

Today, Apalachiocola is a crucial hub of the so called “Forgotten Coast,” a relatively raw and undeveloped section of coastline along Highway 98, which stretches from Mexico Beach to Apalachee Bay.

Just minutes from Apalachicola, the Nature Coast continues to unfold, flowing east to St. George Island, where beach communities and state parks offer an abundance of recreational activity, and then west to Port St. Joe, where the old Florida commercial fishing industry also thrives.

Apalachicola remains the commercial hub of the western panhandle, a place where commerce and history collide.

Of course, its role in the fishing and shipping industries has changed, but in the era where history is manufactured, Apalachicola has reinvented itself by simply staying true to its roots.

Exploring Dune Lakes of the Panhandle

Published Sunday, February 23, in, 2014 12:05 am

SANTA ROSA BEACH — When I was around eight years old, we visited my cousins home in Santa Rosa Beach, a quiet beachfront town in the panhandle, near Panama City.

A walk down the shore with my brother revealed a large saltwater-fed pond produced by the Gulf tides via a saltwater stream, which meandered through the sand.

Not understanding the physics of that particular beach system, my brother and I took one look at it and like any reasonable kids, we decided the stream that ran to the gulf could be better if it was straighter.

The stream was only about five or six feet from the breaking waves; however it seemed to stretch for a long distance paralleling the shoreline before finally meeting it. My brother, Elan, and I took buckets and shovels and began digging.

It seemed to take hours, although time doesn’t mean the same when you are a child. It felt like the single greatest construction project of all time. As we finally constructed a foot-wide passage from the beginning of the stream to the shore, we hardly anticipated what would happen next.

The pressure from the lake widened our small passage instantaneously, caving in the sand and quickly tripling, then quadrupling our manmade canal.

We tried to stop the spillage, but to no avail; by then the current was too strong and we could only watch in horror as hundreds of lakefront homes lost their waterfront in a matter of minutes. Afloat boats that were tied to docks were suddenly aground and sea life that was previously underwater littered the beach.

Even my parents were horrified, telling us to get back to Aunt Barb’s before someone figured out that it was our family that had so effortlessly managed to decrease property values and destroy an entire ecosystem just because they wanted to build a small mote for their amusement.

“Don’t mention this to anyone,” they said, looking at each other with a sigh and saying simultaneously, “Only our kids could cause such destruction.”

That was over 20 years ago.

Last weekend, my boyfriend, Drew, and I revisited my Aunt Barb in Santa Rosa Beach. As we drove down Hwy 98, we passed several “dune lakes.” As we approached each one, I wondered if that had been one my brother I had drained as children.

When we got to Aunt Barb’s house I broke my decades-long silence on the topic and spilled the beans about the, well, “lake spillage.” Barbara said that the lakes naturally broke through the sand about once a year draining the lake and spilling tanic water into the azure-colored saltwater that made up the Emerald Coast.

Whew, I thought, what a relief. The event had only been weighing on my conscience for over twenty years.

I would later learn that the coastal dune lakes where I played as a child are rare. They occur in only two places in the United States: the Florida panhandle and the northern Pacific Coast. To make them even more exotic, they can be found at only three other places in the world – Madagascar, Australia and New Zealand.

According to the Walton County website, they are formed by streams, groundwater seepage and rain. However, a storm surge creates intermittent connections (the meandering streams) to the Gulf of Mexico, called outfalls. “This periodic connection empties lake water into the Gulf, and, depending on tides and weather, salt water and organisms from the Gulf flow back into the lakes,” according to the website.

People are allowed to fish, kayak, canoe and paddleboard in the lakes but motors are prohibited. Altering the natural outfalls of the lakes are also prohibited (whoops). The website also says that both freshwater and saltwater species of fish can be caught in the lake, which makes them uncommon but also an efficient asset to anglers.

When I visited this time, I didn’t feel the need to dig the sand or alter them in any way. Instead, I simply recounted the story to Drew, who jokingly said, “Well, I bet this was a nice place before you guys ruined it.”

We spent the day roaming the beach, checking out the dunes and the lakes, taking pictures and having fun. They were beautiful and again I was amazed at the geology of my home state, a place that offers just about any kind of beach you could imagine.

I look back on that day when my brother and I tried to connect the lake to the Gulf and it makes me laugh. It’s nice to know that sometimes you can revisit your past, even if it’s not quite the way you remember it.