Tom Gaskins: Ol’ Barefoot

Tom Gaskins (1909 – 1998) spent most of his life trudging through the swamps of Fisheating Creek near Palmdale, Florida. He was a man of ideas and regarded as a salt-of-the-earth character. Gaskins owned the Cypress Knee Museum in Palmdale where he collected and sold cypress knees as decorations, furniture, and other useful items. His knowledge of cypress knees and swamp life was legendary. His friends referred to him as “Ol’ Barefoot,” as he never wore shoes except when paying his respects at a funeral.

Tom Gaskins at his Cypress Knee Museum, Palmdale, 1987

Tom Gaskins at his Cypress Knee Museum, Palmdale, 1987

The Cypress Knee Museum opened in the 1930s when Gaskins fashioned an extra-large cypress knee into a roadside sign to lure tourists to his collection. The museum remained open until 2000 (2 years after Gaskins’ death) when the property was burglarized and most of the collection stolen.

Cypress knee decorated by Tom Gaskins, Palmdale, 1987

Cypress knee decorated by Tom Gaskins, Palmdale, 1987

Gaskins was also an inventor. He held over a dozen patents, including the Tom Gaskin’s Turkey Call that is still manufactured and sold today.

Turkey call invented by Tom Gaskins, Palmdale, 1987

Turkey call invented by Tom Gaskins, Palmdale, 1987

The State Archives of Florida is not the only organization that has taken an interest in Mr. Gaskins. Over the years he was featured in stories by the LA Times, Sun Sentinel, Mechanix Illustrated, Popular Science, Chicago Tribune, and was even a guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Gaskins received the Florida Folk Heritage Award in 1988. His fascinating work and personality piqued the interest of those lucky enough to cross his path; just like travelers going down US 27 in South Florida who stopped by to see “Ol’ Barefoot.”

In 1987, Tom Gaskins was interviewed by the Florida Folklife Program. Below are two excerpts:

Excerpt 1: Tom Gaskins explains the origins of hollow cypress knees[audio:http://fpc.dos.state.fl.us/memory/collections/folklife/blog/gaskins_01.mp3|titles=Tom Gaskins Excert 1|artists=State Archives of Florida]Download: MP3

Excerpt 2: Tom Gaskins talks about the turkey call he invented
[audio:http://fpc.dos.state.fl.us/memory/collections/folklife/blog/gaskins_02.mp3|titles=Tom Gaskins Excert 1|artists=State Archives of Florida]Download: MP3

More Information: Catalog Record