Celebrating the Fourth in Florida

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, and folks all over the state are preparing to celebrate. Every community has its own traditions for marking the occasion, often involving grand displays of fireworks. Floridians have found lots of unique ways to celebrate Independence Day over the years, and today’s blog explores a few examples found in the Florida Photographic Collection on Florida Memory.

Fun and games have always been popular ways to ring in the Fourth. A 1900 newspaper report from Miami, for example, encouraged local citizens to come out for a public Fourth of July celebration that included horse races, bicycle races, and “funny races.” There’s no telling what kind of races they came up with, but the theme of having games and contests on the Fourth hasn’t changed much since those days.

Watermelon eating contest on the Fourth of July (1968).

Watermelon eating contest on the Fourth of July (1968).

Children participating in a sack race at a Fourth of July celebration in White Springs (1990).

Children participating in a sack race at a Fourth of July celebration in White Springs (1990).

“Miss Firecracker” rides in the pace car during the Firecracker 400 at Daytona Beach on the Fourth of July (1963).

Parades are another old standby for celebrating the Fourth. Horses, cars, themed floats, and lots of red, white, and blue have all been popular ingredients for Independence Day processions.

Crowds gather for a Fourth of July celebration near the courthouse square in Ocala (1889).

Crowds gather for a Fourth of July celebration near the courthouse square in Ocala (1889).

Fourth of July parade in Delray (1914).

Fourth of July parade in Delray (1914).

Fourth of July parade in Orlando (circa 1885).

Fourth of July parade in Orlando (circa 1885).

Picnics are always a popular way to celebrate the Fourth as well. Funny hats are optional.

A family enjoys a Fourth of July picnic at the Silver Lake Recreational Area near Tallahassee (1957).

A family enjoys a Fourth of July picnic at the Silver Lake Recreational Area near Tallahassee (1957).

How is the Fourth of July celebrated in your Florida community? Leave us a comment below or on Facebook sharing your memories of Independence Day celebrations from years past.

Let’s Have An Air Party

Of all the kinds of parties you can have – toga parties, foam parties, hurricane parties – an air party might seem the silliest. But that’s exactly the sort of celebration many of Florida’s major communities were throwing in the 1930s, when commercial aviation and air tourism were still in their infancy.

Program from Orlando's Second Annual "Air Party," January 1935 - Box 1, folder 1, William C. Lazarus Papers (Collection M82-133), State Archives of Florida.

Program from Orlando’s Second Annual “Air Party,” January 1935 – Box 1, folder 1, William C. Lazarus Papers (Collection M82-133), State Archives of Florida.

Officials in both the private and public sectors had recognized by this time that aviation offered Florida a marvelous opportunity. Distance, as one observer put it, just didn’t mean as much anymore when a trip that had once taken days could now be accomplished in a few hours. To encourage Florida’s growth as a destination for air tourism, state and local governments teamed up with private businesses to host air races, air parties, and other events. These efforts had two objectives: to sell Florida as a tourist destination by air to the rest of the country, and to convince Floridians of the worthiness of investing in better aviation infrastructure.

Army planes fly over the timing stand at the Sixth Annual All-American Air Races (1934).

Army planes fly over the timing stand at the Sixth Annual All-American Air Races (1934).

Air cruises, usually sponsored by chambers of commerce, aeronautical clubs, and other civic groups, were some of the most unique events. These were typically open to any “sportsman pilots” or private aviators who wanted to attend. The pilots would fly their planes from airport to airport along a chain of host cities, enjoying receptions, races, and other activities along the way. Here’s an example itinerary from the Second Annual Florida State Air Cruise:

Itinerary for the Second Annual Florida State Air Cruise (1935) - Box 1, folder 1, William C. Lazarus Papers (Collection M82-133), State Archives of Florida.

Itinerary for the Second Annual Florida State Air Cruise (1935) – Box 1, folder 1, William C. Lazarus Papers (Collection M82-133), State Archives of Florida.

The towns along the route would often extend privileges to the visiting pilots at their local country clubs, hotels, and restaurants. In some cities – Orlando we know for sure – the pilots received fuel and oil at wholesale prices as an incentive. The local chambers of commerce often arranged ground transportation as well, and local groups provided opportunities for hunting, fishing, swimming, boating, and other favorite Florida pastimes.

Pilot Harold Neumann with

Pilot Harold Neumann with “Miss Chevrolet” in Miami (1936).

These groups were typically quite intimate, but their activities were highly visible and helped introduce a large number of people to the possibilities of aviation. A little more time, plus some help from World War II, saw Florida criss-crossed with busy commercial air routes and a whole new sector to its thriving tourist industry.

Interested in aviation or a related Florida industry? The State Library & Archives has a wide variety of books, ephemera, photographs, and manuscript collections touching on these subjects. The program and itinerary from this blog post, for example, came from a collection of papers belonging to William C. Lazarus, who once directed the Aviation Division of the State Road Department and helped organize a number of “air parties.” Search our catalogs to find out what we have on your favorite topic in Florida history!

Orlando in the ’70s

Actor Redd Foxx and actress LaWanda Page at the Stars Hall of Fame (June 1977)

Actor Redd Foxx and actress LaWanda Page at the Stars Hall of Fame (June 1977)

Sightseers on footbridge at the Gatorland Zoo swamp (1979)

Sightseers on footbridge at the Gatorland Zoo swamp (1979)

Couple at Rosie O'Grady's restaurant (1979)

Couple at Rosie O’Grady’s restaurant (1979)

Senator Bob Graham during work day as a bellhop (July 15, 1977)

Senator Bob Graham during work day as a bellhop (July 15, 1977)

Marcia Kernstein, Marlene Stone and Eva Ritt (December 10, 1975)

Marcia Kernstein, Marlene Stone and Eva Ritt (December 10, 1975)

Visitor meeting Eeyore at the Magic Kingdom (June 1977)

Visitor meeting Eeyore at the Magic Kingdom (June 1977)