Naturally Spooky

How might a nature-loving Floridian celebrate Halloween?  With a naturally spooky visit to Dead Lakes Recreation Area, of course!

Dead Lakes, 1955.

Located slightly northwest of Wewahitchka and straddling the Calhoun-Gulf County line is Dead Lakes–a 6,700-acre body of water composed of swampland, lakes, the Chipola River and pristine wilderness. This unique environment was formed long ago when the Apalachicola River shaped a sandbar that partially impeded flow from the mouth of the Chipola River and flooded 12,000 acres of river swamp. The overflow killed thousands of trees and left behind an eerie stretch of cypress stumps amidst serene tannic waters, giving the area its creepy character and name. But don’t let the name fool you. Dead Lakes is quite biodiverse and has hosted a variety of Florida’s commercial industries over the years. The area was once utilized as a fish hatchery by the Game Commission; a harvest zone for turpentine, cedar shake and moss; and an apiary for tupelo honey–which is still a big business throughout the river valley.

Fishermen at Dead Lakes, 1947.

In addition to its commercial appeal, Dead Lakes holds a long tradition of catering to nature lovers and pleasure seekers alike. In the late 1890s, vacationers traveled by steamer down the Apalachicola River then disembarked at the now unincorporated ghost town of Iola to journey by carriage to Dead Lakes.

Detail of Iola and Dead Lakes from Rand McNally’s Florida, 1892.

The State Library’s Florida Collection holds a pamphlet called In Paradise which promotes all the amenities for steamer trips to Dead Lakes accompanied by lodging at the Lake View Hotel.$002f$002fSD_ILS$002f0$002fSD_ILS:178609/ada?qu=%221892%22&qu=TITLE%3Din+paradise

Cover of the pamphlet In Paradise by J.T. Gilbert, 1892. State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.$002f$002fSD_ILS$002f0$002fSD_ILS:178609/ada?qu=%221892%22&qu=TITLE%3Din+paradise

Page one of In Paradise by J.T. Gilbert, 1892. State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.

Travelers could begin their voyage in Columbus, Georgia, and journey down the Chattahoochee River while stopping in various towns in Georgia and Alabama. As the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers converged, steamers would continue down the Apalachicola River into Florida. Notable Florida destinations along the route included Neal’s Landing, Chattahoochee, Ochesee, Blountstown, Bristol and Rico’s Bluff. In addition to bountiful fishing, pine forests and orange groves, visitors were enticed by area attractions such as Florida syrup making, a duo of oaks that presided over several acres of land and the state asylum.$002f$002fSD_ILS$002f0$002fSD_ILS:178609/ada?qu=%221892%22&qu=TITLE%3Din+paradise

Pages two and three of In Paradise by J.T. Gilbert, 1892. State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.

In Iola, passengers would disembark and proceed one and half miles on horseback to the hotel. Once at the Lake View, all needs were furnished–including ammunition and tobacco–at the lowest market prices. A two-week stay at the modest resort also included a trip to Apalachicola Bay. From the bay, tourists could view international ships, oyster and fish packing houses, and great lumber mills. One could relax, enjoy a variety of natural diversions and still investigate future investments in Florida’s resources.$002f$002fSD_ILS$002f0$002fSD_ILS:178609/ada?qu=%221892%22&qu=TITLE%3Din+paradise

Pages four and five of In Paradise by J.T. Gilbert, 1892. State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.

Dock and lake, Wewahitchka.

In addition to providing an eloquently quaint description of the trip agenda and locales, In Paradise also offers the testimonies of satisfied vacationers from previous excursions. Accounts from a doctor, a Civil War veteran and other ailing tourists afford a glimpse into the turn-of-the-century “cure-all” reputation of Old Florida. Dr. E. D. Pitman of LaGrange noted the cleanliness of the resort and recommended a Dead Lakes vacation to all the invalids he knew:$002f$002fSD_ILS$002f0$002fSD_ILS:178609/ada?qu=%221892%22&qu=TITLE%3Din+paradise

Testimony of Dr. E. D. Pitman regarding his stay at Lake Chipola, December 7, 1891. In Paradise, pages 5-6, State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.

Chipola River from porch, 1880s.

Satisfied sojourner and possible patient of Dr. Pitman, farmer George W. Truitt, remarked that he first journeyed to Dead Lakes for his health but returned for pleasure:$002f$002fSD_ILS$002f0$002fSD_ILS:178609/ada?qu=%221892%22&qu=TITLE%3Din+paradise

Testimony of George W. Truitt regarding his stay at Lake Chipola, December 7, 1891. In Paradise, page 6, State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.

Civil War veteran W. W. Turner traveled to the Dead Lakes for relief from lung illnesses he had suffered since his time in the service:$002f$002fSD_ILS$002f0$002fSD_ILS:178609/ada?qu=%221892%22&qu=TITLE%3Din+paradise

Testimony of W. W. Turner regarding his stay at Lake Chipola, December 12, 1891. In Paradise, page 8, State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.

Bass fishing at Dead Lakes, 1960.

Furthermore, tourist A. P. Jones praised the climate and people of Florida in his testimony:$002f$002fSD_ILS$002f0$002fSD_ILS:178609/ada?qu=%221892%22&qu=TITLE%3Din+paradise

Testimony of A. P. Jones regarding his stay at the Lake View Hotel, December 18, 1891. In Paradise, page 9, State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.

Like Truitt, Jones and Turner, folks still traverse the Dead Lakes for rejuvenation and merriment.  Whether you enjoy fishing, kayaking or just imagining the steam punk mystique of Florida’s past, their ghostly beauty holds both outdoor adventure and creepy curiosity for any daring explorer. This Halloween, if haunted houses and costume parties aren’t your thing, perhaps a trip to the mysterious Dead Lakes will quell both your nature-loving side and your desire for some uncanny fun.

A Visit from the Past

Every October, archives across the United States celebrate Archives Month. This year, the State Archives of Florida is focusing on how archives change lives. Join us throughout the month as we share stories about the impact the Archives has had on staff and patrons like you!

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

As archivists working with the Florida Photographic Collection, we often receive phone calls and emails from patrons looking for specific images. Sometimes photos are acquired for news articles or academic publications, but other times pure curiosity fuels their inquiries. Whatever the case, we archivists become detectives for the public. The research process can be tedious and frustrating, but it can also be quite exciting and rewarding—especially when we are able to uncover surprising material for our patrons.

A few months ago, we received a question from patron Katie Godwin. Her family has an old portrait from 1951 of her late grandmother Mary Lou Bisplingoff. At the time, Bisplingoff, who had not yet married, was on the edge of twenty and a student at Florida State University. While Katie was replacing the broken glass of the framed picture of her “Nana,” she discovered something interesting about the photo: “When I took the frame apart to install the new glass, I found two surprises: one was a baby picture of my mother. The other was that the picture we had admired for so long was actually an ‘unfinished proof.’ A stamp on the back said the picture had been made at L’Avant Studios.”

With a sense of mystery, Katie began her quest. This is her story:

“You don’t get new pictures of people once they’re gone.”

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

While the new glass was being cut for the frame, I searched online and found that L’Avant had been a prominent studio in Tallahassee for decades. The studio closed in the 1980s and donated their inventory to the State Archives of Florida. I began to get excited. I hoped that I could find the original version of this beloved picture and get a clearer, brighter copy to share with my family.
The next morning I called the Archives and asked about the photograph. I was referred to Photographic Archivist Adam Watson, who knew the collection well. At his request, I sent a copy of the image and the stamp on the back, as well as an approximate date for the photograph. As promised, I heard back within just a few days; however, I was only partially prepared for the response. The image I was searching for was not there, but Adam found eight other pictures of Nana. Upon seeing the photos, I recognized only one of them. The rest were entirely new to me and my family. Nana has been gone for two years now. You don’t get new pictures of people once they’re gone. It was surreal. These pictures were taken just before she turned twenty, over sixty years ago!

“Seeing and holding the photos felt like having a visit from Nana.”

Initially I thought I would print all of the pictures and surprise my mother with them for her birthday, but I couldn’t keep something this big to myself. Instead, I immediately told her over the phone and then sent the proofs to her. I also texted the photos to my sisters. It was all so out of the blue and unexpected. As for my grandfather, who struggles the most with losing Nana, we decided to wait to tell him until we had the prints. I worked with Jackie Attaway to purchase high resolution digital scans of all eight images and then had them printed at a local print shop.

Mary Lou Bisplighoff, 1951

Mary Lou Bisplighoff, 1951

“…they gave us a glimpse of who she was before we knew her.”

Seeing and holding the photos felt like having a visit from Nana. My Mom noticed that in one picture you could see Nana’s resemblance to her father’s side of the family. Another was my favorite because I thought you could see the glint in her eye and the sparkle she was trying to contain. In one of the photos, we noticed that her shoes were almost the same as the shoes my sister wears now; and in some you could see the shadow of a huge lamp that made the whole scene look like something from the movies. All of the photos were glamorous, and they gave us a glimpse of who she was before we knew her. My grandfather could hardly speak when he saw them.  They were bittersweet for him, but he has told me several times how much he loves the pictures and how he took them around to his friends in town, showing her off. I had no idea that the State Archives could hold such a treasure for our family. Working with Adam and Jackie was pleasant, easy, and more rewarding than I could have imagined.

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

At the State Archives we use our institutional knowledge, tenderness, and care when assisting patrons like Katie. Each day we have the privilege of being the custodians of a vast and wonderful collection of historic treasures. Katie’s story is an example of how a little archival research can allow patrons to connect with history on a personal level. As archivists, those are the most rewarding days for us.

What will you find in the Archives? This October, join us in celebrating Archives Month by exploring the Archives yourself. You can search for pictures of your family members on the Florida Photographic Collection, then further your research in person at the State Archives. In addition, the Photographic Collection provides high resolution scans and prints to the public for a nominal fee. Did Katie’s story inspire your own family research? Let us know in the comments section below!