White Springs, FL Monday March 31.
Let’s see. Population of Miami SMSA is about 5.5 million. Population of White Springs FL is about 775. Miami has the Atlantic Ocean, Intracoastal Waterway, and lots of beaches with jet skis and parasailing. White Springs has the Suwanee River which is currently flooded-no canoeing allowed. In the early 1900s, the town had over 2000 people and a thriving tourist trade revolving around sulphur springs. A 1911 fire destroyed most of the community. 400 miles brings us to a whole ‘nother world.
We are staying at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs, FL. There are five rental cabins here, we have cabin #1. It appears that two others are also rented. It is just a one night stand for us, most people stay a while. There is room for a family in the cabin and it is equipped with a fully equipped kitchen-but no washer/dryer. There is a long, screened-in, L-shaped porch. The screen is essential; even now the bees are out and flies are starting to be noticeable.
The state park was created to honor Stephen Foster (1826-1864). For young’uns and the forgetful, he was the composer of such songs as “Old Folks at Home (Way Down Upon the Swanee River)-Florida’s state song; “My Old Kentucky Home”-Kentucky’s state song; “Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair”; and “Beautiful Dreamer” (actually used in a Batman movie; “Camptown Races”. The movie “Gone with the Wind” has four of his songs in it. The correct spelling of the river is Suwanee; Foster abbreviated it for musical effect.
Foster never lived in Florida and may never have seen the river itself. However, the song became so connected with Florida that the state created a park just to honor Foster and his music. Foster lived most of his life in Pittsburgh where he was born. The park has a museum, a bell carillon, gift shop, and craft village with folk craft demonstrations and shops besides the normal camping, swimming, hiking, canoeing, etc.
Foster is described as a music pioneer. There was no real music business as there is today to make him a millionaire. He sold most of his songs to publishers; most songs were plagiarized with no fees received or acknowledgement as to the authorship. His songs became memorable descriptions of American life. He composed or collaborated on over 200 songs during his brief life and died at age 37 with 38 cents in his pocket. Foster sold many of his songs to Edwin Christy who ran a blackface performing group called the Christy Minstrels in the mid-1800s. The New Christy Minstrels, a folk group in the 1960s, tied in to that history.
We arrived in time to hear the carillon perform at 4 pm. It also sounds the quarter hours. The carillon is made of tubular bells, 97 of them. (Last November,we visited the School of the Ozarks which has a tubular bell carillon made by the same craftsmen, it is said to be larger although only 96 bells.) Supposedly tubular bells sound different from cast iron bells.
The carillon took more than a year to create, the tubular design was created by the company, the bell tower (campanile) is 200 feet high, and regular playing of Foster’s songs occur through live performances and through the use of an automatic electric player. (We heard the electric player.)
Tomorrow we will have to visit the crafts people since at this time of the year they are only here from 10-2. We were able to walk down to the river. Despite the signs, we did not see any alligators or poisonous snakes. The river is over its banks, but still short of the record flood that occurred here in 1973.
The song and the river were eloquently described many years ago by a New York editor as: “”The Real Suwanee River,” he wrote, “rises in the highest mountains of the human soul and is fed by the deepest springs in the human heart. It flows through the pleasant, sunny lands of memory; it empties into the glorious ocean of unfilled dreams..””
Ed and Chris March 31, 7:15 pm