The Walking Senator

In the parlance of American politics, when someone is up for election to a public office, we say that she or he is running for that office. In 1970, however, a young state senator from Lakeland named Lawton Chiles decided he’d rather walk.

Then-State Senator Lawton Mainor Chiles, Jr. walks along a Florida highway during his campaign for the U.S. Senate (1970).

Florida State Senator Lawton Mainor Chiles Jr. walks along a Florida highway during his campaign for the U.S. Senate (1970).

Lawton Mainor Chiles Jr. was a Florida native, born in Lakeland in 1930 and educated at the University of Florida (UF). He served in the United States Army as an artillery officer during the Korean War before returning to UF for law school. Chiles graduated with his law degree in 1955 and opened up a practice in his hometown. Just three years later, at the age of 29, Chiles won a seat in the Florida House of Representatives, where he served through 1966, when he was elected to the Florida Senate.

Representatives Don Fuqua (left) and Lawton Chiles (right) looking over a bill during the 1961 legislative session in Tallahassee.

Representatives Don Fuqua (left) and Lawton Chiles (right) looking over a bill during the 1961 legislative session in Tallahassee.

But Chiles had his sights set even higher. In 1969, he announced his decision to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by veteran statesman Spessard Holland the next year. Holland had been a fixture in Florida politics for decades, having served as a state senator in the 1930s and then governor during most of World War II (1941-1945). His U.S. Senate career had begun the very next year in 1946. After serving nearly 25 years in that capacity, he would certainly leave big shoes for his successor to fill.

Chiles believed he was up to the task, but he had some obstacles to overcome. Polls showed that only about four percent of Florida’s 2.7 million voters knew who he was. That problem would become even more pressing when former Governor C. Farris Bryant entered the race against Chiles for the Democratic nomination. Chiles needed voters to get to know him and his ideas if he was to have a shot at even making it to the general election. Moreover, he needed to get this publicity on a tight budget. As a younger, lesser-known candidate whose political career had mainly focused on one specific part of the state, Chiles lacked the far-reaching fundraising network that some of his opponents could draw from.

That’s where the idea for a statewide walking campaign came in. Rhea Chiles, Lawton’s wife, hatched the plan, according to later recollections from their son Bud. She suggested it at a strategy session at the couple’s home in Lakeland on March 12, 1970. A number of friends and political allies were skeptical and counseled against the idea. It took Chiles less than a day, however, to decide that a walking campaign was exactly what he would do. He explained that the concept dovetailed perfectly with the principles he laid out in announcing his decision to run for office–his determination to be a “working candidate” and talk with real everyday Floridians and learn about their desires, concerns and ideas.

Cover of a brochure published by Lawton Chiles' 1970 Senate campaign to explain Chiles' decision to

Cover of a brochure published by Lawton Chiles’ 1970 Senate campaign to explain Chiles’ decision to “walk” rather than “run” for office (State Library of Florida Campaign Literature Collection). Click or tap the image to view the complete brochure.

Chiles headed up to the Florida Panhandle and began looking for a logical spot to begin the walk. He and his supporters decided on Century, a small town in Escambia County, north of Pensacola on the Florida-Alabama line. The plan was to start in Century and end up all the way down in Key Largo, stopping for 60 days in Tallahassee for the 1970 spring legislative session. Chiles would walk the route six days per week and rest on the seventh. A camper would follow him with supplies and a place to rest, eat and sleep along the way.

Chiles waves to bystanders gathered to see him enter town during his 1970 walking campaign.

Chiles waves to bystanders gathered to see him enter town during his 1970 walking campaign.

The walk began on March 17, and it quickly became clear that Chiles had definitely gotten one thing correct: Floridians had a lot to talk about with this man who wanted to become their next U.S. Senator. Chiles reported having conversations with people on everything from the price of doing business as a small farmer to the war in Vietnam to school integration to the backlog of work remaining to be done on Interstate 10 through the Panhandle. And Chiles didn’t typically have to find people to talk to – they came to him. Campaign officials encouraged Floridians to walk alongside the candidate to share their ideas, and many did. Some even cooked meals for the campaign or hosted community events to welcome the Chiles caravan into town. The day-to-day events of Chiles’ journey are well-documented, both in newspaper articles and progress reports published by the campaign, copies of which are now in the State Library’s Campaign Literature Collection and available on Florida Memory. This map shows the route Chiles took from Century to Key Largo in pink, with some criss-crossing in the middle of the state. Click the map to zoom in on parts of the route.

A 1970 Official State Highway Map showing the route of Lawton Chiles' 1,003-mile walk between Century in the Panhandle to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park near Key Largo. Map courtesy of the Florida Department of Transportation.

A 1970 Official State Highway Map showing the route of Lawton Chiles’ 1,003-mile walk between Century in the Panhandle to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park near Key Largo. Map courtesy of the Florida Department of Transportation.

Naturally, this method of campaigning had some pitfalls. Pop-up rain showers often forced Chiles to stop and change clothes throughout the day, and motorists didn’t always keep a safe distance as they passed him on the highway. The walking itself was taxing, and Chiles reported getting “stove up” like an old racehorse after just a few days on the road. His legs and feet gradually became more accustomed to the demanding task at hand, but that didn’t stop Floridians from showing their concern. People constantly asked him about his feet, and they sometimes brought out home remedies for blisters or underwear or other “helpful” gifts. One person gave Chiles a giant ball of twine for him to unwind as he went along so he would be able to find his way home.

Lawton Chiles walking in the Springtime Tallahassee parade (1970).

Lawton Chiles walking in the Springtime Tallahassee parade (1970).

Chiles’ journey across the state came to an end on August 19, 1970, when he walked into the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. He had walked 1,003 miles in 91 days, going through five pairs of boots and losing twelve pounds and three inches from his waistline. He told a Miami Herald reporter who joined him for the last mile or so that he could hardly believe it was really over. “I wonder what I’m going to do tomorrow,” he said.

As it turned out, Chiles was about to have plenty to do. He qualified for a runoff with fellow Democratic candidate Farris Bryant, and clinched the Democratic nomination two weeks later on September 29. President Richard Nixon himself came to Florida to campaign for the Republican challenger, William Cramer, but ultimately Chiles came out ahead on Election Day and won a seat in the U.S. Senate. He would serve for three terms as senator (1971-1989) before returning to state government for two terms as governor (1991-1998).

Governor Lawton Chiles and First Lady Rhea Chiles in Tallahassee (1991).

Governor Lawton Chiles and First Lady Rhea Chiles in Tallahassee (1991).

Lawton Chiles died December 12, 1998, just three weeks before the end of his final term as governor. In a homage to the unique campaign that had introduced him to so many Floridians in 1970, Chiles’ funeral procession retraced part of the route of his walking tour, starting in Century and ending in Tallahassee, where his casket lay in state in the Old Capitol prior to his funeral. The Florida Legislature further honored Chiles’ memory by designating the entire route of Chiles’ 1970 walking campaign as the “Lawton Chiles Trail.” The route is now marked with signs depicting one of the most iconic artifacts of that journey–a well-worn pair of walking boots. Those boots, by the way, are on display at the Florida Historic Capitol Museum as part of the museum’s permanent collection.

One of many signs marking the "Lawton Chiles Trail" designated by the 1999 Florida Legislature. This one appears on State Highway 100 just outside of Lake Butler (Photo courtesy of the author).

One of many signs marking the “Lawton Chiles Trail” designated by the 1999 Florida Legislature. This one appears on State Highway 100 just outside of Lake Butler (Photo courtesy of the author).

Search the Florida Photographic Collection for more pictures illustrating Florida’s colorful political history, and check out the State Library’s Florida Governors bibliography to find related books and other resources.

Governor for a Day

What would you do if you were Governor of Florida for a day? Attend a Cabinet meeting, check in on some state agencies, have a brainstorming session with a few state officials? One Fort Lauderdale youth had the opportunity to do just that back in 1962 during the administration of Governor Farris Bryant. It all started when Rita Mae Brown wrote to the Governor asking if she could shadow him as part of a “Senior Work Day,” in which she and her classmates were to be “hired” by local businesses for a day to learn about various careers.

Governor Farris Bryant at his desk (circa 1960s).

Governor Farris Bryant at his desk (circa 1960s).

Governor Bryant wrote back and said that this would be impossible, not because he didn’t like the idea, but because he would be in Japan at the time Rita proposed to come. Bryant suggested she come to Tallahassee anyway and serve as his stand-in.

And so she did. Rita Brown, 17, packed her bags and took her first airplane ride to Tallahassee that April to take her place as Governor for a day.  She met with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Thomas D. Bailey, who took her to the Executive Office of the Governor for a chance to sit at Farris Bryant’s desk and be photographed by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Frank Noel of the Associated Press.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Thomas D. Bailey and high school student Rita Brown in the office of Governor Farris Bryant (1962).

Superintendent of Public Instruction Thomas D. Bailey and high school student Rita Brown in the office of Governor Farris Bryant (1962).

Bailey then escorted young Rita to a Cabinet meeting, where she caught up on the latest discussions on stone crab conservation and the fate of Forman Field down in Fort Lauderdale. She toured the Florida Development Commission and the State Road Department, including its “vast array of IBM machines,” as Rita later put it.

Rita’s “term” as Governor of Florida was short, but she made a full report to Governor Farris Bryant after she returned home. We recently found it in Bryant’s administrative correspondence (Series 756), which is held by the State Archives of Florida. Here’s an excerpt (check out that signature line!):

Excerpt from a letter to Governor Farris Bryant by Rita Mae Brown, April 25, 1962, in Box 52, folder 6, Farris Bryant Administrative Correspondence (Series 756, State Archives of Florida).

Excerpt from a letter to Governor Farris Bryant by Rita Mae Brown, April 25, 1962, in Box 52, folder 6, Farris Bryant Administrative Correspondence (Series 756, State Archives of Florida).

Rita took her brief time as Florida’s chief executive quite seriously. In her report, she proposed a program to help keep bright young Floridians in their own state instead of going to look for work and education elsewhere. In his reply, Governor Bryant suggested she contact Superintendent Bailey with her ideas. This she did, outlining what she called her “Sell Florida” campaign:

Excerpts from a letter by Rita Mae Brown to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Thomas D. Bailey, July 7, 1962, in Box 4, Thomas D. Bailey Subject Files (Series 1127, State Archives of Florida).

Excerpts from a letter by Rita Mae Brown to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Thomas D. Bailey, July 7, 1962, in Box 4, Thomas D. Bailey Subject Files (Series 1127, State Archives of Florida).

Bailey liked the idea, and distributed it to the presidents of Florida’s institutions of higher learning, the Florida Development Commission, and other state agencies. Rita herself went on to become a prominent civil rights activist and later an accomplished Emmy-nominated writer. In a way, you could say that both the State of Florida and Rita herself got a lot out of that one day governorship. Makes you wonder what a little mentoring might do for an eager young person in your own life, doesn’t it?

The State Library & Archives holds the keys to many interesting stories like that of young Rita Mae Brown. We encourage you to explore Florida Memory and browse our catalogs at info.florida.gov to learn more.

 

Happy Father’s Day!

You taught us how to bait our hooks and land the big catch.  You showed us how to throw and how to hit the ball just right. You picked us up and swung us around and cheered us up when we needed it most. Thank you to all the wonderful dads out there. Happy Father’s Day!

3 year old Bruce Carlton shows his father, Pet Carlton, his first fish - Saint Petersburg, Florida

3 year old Bruce Carlton shows his father, Pet Carlton, his first fish – Saint Petersburg, Florida (1948)

 

Commercial seine net fisherman with his son in Naples, Florida.

Commercial seine net fisherman with his son in Naples, Florida (June 1949)

 

Edwin Perry having breakfast with his daughters on Father's Day in Tallahassee.

Edwin Perry having breakfast with his daughters on Father’s Day in Tallahassee (1962)

 

Leigh M. Pearsall and daughter Edna with alligator on dock - Melrose, Florida

Leigh M. Pearsall and daughter Edna with alligator on dock – Melrose, Florida (ca. 1905)

 

Governor Farris Bryant playing ping pong with his daughters on Father's Day in Tallahassee (1962)

Governor Farris Bryant playing ping pong with his daughters on Father’s Day in Tallahassee (1962)

 

Gubernatorial candidate Fred B. Karl with his daughter (1964)

Gubernatorial candidate Fred B. Karl with his daughter (1964)

 

Eddie Oxendine and son with hoop nets - Georgetown, Florida

Eddie Oxendine and son with hoop nets – Georgetown, Florida (1985)

 

Daughter wields gavel at legislative session - Tallahassee, Florida

Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives Peter Rudy Wallace prepares to conduct business while his daughter wields gavel at legislative session – Tallahassee, Florida (1995)

 

John Cypress holding his daughter Julia at a temporary camp in Immokalee, Florida.

John Cypress holding his daughter Julia at a temporary camp in Immokalee, Florida

Surviving the Blast: Fallout Shelters in Tallahassee

The 1950s were in many ways a prosperous time for the United States. The population was booming, the national economy was on the upswing, and more consumers were gaining access to goods and services that enriched their families’ lives. Just under the surface, however, lay growing concerns about the possibility of nuclear war between the highly polarized eastern and western blocs in the Cold War. When the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic device in 1949, U.S. policymakers and concerned citizens alike pressed for more preparedness for a potential nuclear blast within U.S. territory. The national Office of Civilian (Civil) Defense in Washington took on the primary role in developing programs to educate the public about the potential nuclear threat and coordinate local, state, and national efforts to prepare for it. In Florida, state government was highly involved as well.

Logo of the Florida Civil Defense Council, adopted from its national counterpart, used in the 1950s and 1960s.

Logo of the Florida Civil Defense Council, adopted from its national counterpart, used in the 1950s and 1960s.

A broadside alerting citizens to the need for having a plan in place in case of nuclear attack (1954).

A broadside alerting citizens to the need for having a plan in place in case of nuclear attack (1954).

A map of sites around the state for monitoring radiation levels in the event of a nuclear attack. This map was one of several included in the 1962 revision of the state's Civil Defense Plan.

A map of sites around the state for monitoring radiation levels in the event of a nuclear attack. This map was one of several included in the 1962 revision of the state’s Civil Defense Plan, which can be found in the State Documents Collection at the State Library of Florida.

One of the main concerns was how to ensure the survival of the largest number of citizens possible during the actual nuclear attack. Although the images and reports coming from witnesses to the earlier Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb sites were less than reassuring, scientists and officials held out hope that an atomic blast was survivable if citizens were properly prepared and adequate fallout shelters were available. Consequently, civil defense agencies at the local, state, and national level began identifying existing structures that could be designated as fallout shelters, and planned for more to be built. Private citizens also began building fallout shelters of their own. An entire industry developed around providing consumers with the materials necessary to construct and supply these structures.

Gilbert Chandler, Jr. emerges from a basement under the Tallahassee Motor Hotel on North Monroe Street. Civil Defense officials said 500 people could potentially take shelter in the space in the event of a nuclear attack (March 2, 1961).

Gilbert Chandler, Jr. emerges from a basement under the Tallahassee Motor Hotel on North Monroe Street. Civil Defense officials said 500 people could potentially take shelter in the space in the event of a nuclear attack (March 2, 1961).

Aside from sheltering the population, governments also had to think about maintaining order during a disaster. In the event of a nuclear attack, state officials would need to be able to communicate with law enforcement and local governments across the state to coordinate their efforts once the attack was over. To ensure that the state government would remain functional during a nuclear emergency, Florida’s civil defense authorities established fallout shelters under both the governor’s mansion and the capitol building, complete with supplies of drinking water, food, and other necessities.

Chlorine is added to water supplies at the fallout shelter in the basement of the old capitol building in Tallahassee. At left is Hal Miller, field operations officer of U.S. Civil Defense Region #3, based in Thomasville, Georgia. At right is Tallahassee city engineer Thomas P. Smith (February 15, 1962).

Chlorine is added to water supplies at the fallout shelter in the basement of the old capitol building in Tallahassee. At left is Hal Miller, field operations officer of U.S. Civil Defense Region #3, based in Thomasville, Georgia. At right is Tallahassee city engineer Thomas P. Smith (February 15, 1962).

Workers prepare to build thickened walls around the basement of the governor's mansion in Tallahassee so it could be used for a fallout shelter. The man at right is Charles P. Walker, who had served as the superintendent of the executive mansion for 20 years when this photo was taken (December 18, 1961).

Workers prepare to build thickened walls around the basement of the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee so it could be used for a fallout shelter. The man at right is Charles P. Walker, who had served as the superintendent of the executive mansion for 20 years when this photo was taken (December 18, 1961).

Governor C. Farris Bryant tests an emergency radio system located in the fallout shelter located in the basement of the governor's residence in Tallahassee. In the event of a nuclear attack, this shelter would have become Florida's seat of government, and the radio system would have enabled communication between the governor and the State Highway Patrol, the Road Department, and other state agencies. This photo was taken around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 1962).

Governor C. Farris Bryant tests an emergency radio system located in the fallout shelter located in the basement of the governor’s residence in Tallahassee. In the event of a nuclear attack, this shelter would have become Florida’s seat of government, and the radio system would have enabled communication between the governor and the State Highway Patrol, the Road Department, and other state agencies. This photo was taken around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 1962).

Some shelters, such as this one planned for the Collins Building on Gaines Street in Tallahassee, never made it past the blueprint stage.

A plan showing the basic concept of a fallout shelter to be built under the Collins Building on Gaines Street in Tallahassee. This shelter was never built (plan drawn up circa November 1962).

A plan showing the basic concept of a fallout shelter to be built under the Collins Building on Gaines Street in Tallahassee. This shelter was never built (plan drawn up circa November 1962).

Thankfully, aside from a few drills and the drama of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, these shelters were never needed for their intended purpose. Many were later remodeled for storage or other purposes. A few still remain, however, and they remind us of how seriously the danger of nuclear war commanded the attention of Floridians living during the Cold War.

Do you know of a former fallout shelter still in existence somewhere in Florida? Did you ever participate in a drill that involved going into one of these shelters? Tell us about your experience by leaving a comment.