Welcome to Florida, Mr. President!

Nobody lays out their welcome mat like Florida. The Sunshine State plays host to millions of visitors each year – 94.7 million in 2011 alone, according to official statistics. Every guest is important, but when the President of the United States comes to stay, you can imagine the press coverage goes up a few clicks.

The same holds true for the President-elect, as the 1921 visit of President-elect Warren Gamaliel Harding demonstrates. Harding, a Republican Senator from Ohio, had just defeated Governor James M. Cox, also of Ohio, in a landmark election fought mainly over the World War I policies of President Woodrow Wilson. With the November 1920 election ended and the weather turning colder, Harding decided to take a much-needed vacation in Florida.

Harding arrived in St. Augustine to a hearty welcome from the locals. Security measures were much more relaxed in those days, and the newspapers reported that Harding shook hands with people all the way through the train station before motoring off to the Ponce de Leon Hotel. There, he met with Senator Joseph Sherman Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, who planned to take Harding aboard his personal 90-foot houseboat, the Victoria, for a cruise down the Florida coast.

Senator Joseph S. Frelinghuysen's houseboat, the Victoria, near Rockledge (1921).

Senator Joseph S. Frelinghuysen’s houseboat, the Victoria, near Rockledge (1921).

The houseboat party included Frelinghuysen, Harding, and a number of close Harding confidants, including Senator Albert Fall of New Mexico, former Ambassador to Mexico Henry Fletcher, George Christian (Harding’s private secretary), and Harding’s campaign manager, Harry M. Daugherty.

For two weeks, Harding divided his time between relaxing and meeting some of his new Floridian constituents. While calling at Daytona, the President-elect attended a patriotic pageant given by the local citizens. He turned down an official reception at Miami, but invited officers from the local Masonic Lodges and the American Legion to meet him in front of his cottage at the Flamingo Hotel. The Miami News reported that Harding shook hands and greeted each person individually before making a brief address.

President-elect Warren G. Harding greets his new constituents in Miami (1921).

President-elect Warren G. Harding greets his new constituents in Miami (1921).

When he wasn’t meeting with the locals, President-elect Harding kept busy with two main amusements: fishing and golfing. The Victoria had been stocked with tackle well before he arrived, and Harding took advantage of the boat’s lazy cruise southward to fish for amber-jack, sail-fish, and even barracuda. When the Victoria was in port, Harding and his cohorts hit whatever golf links were closest.

President-elect Warren G. Harding playing golf at Miami Beach (1921).

President-elect Warren G. Harding playing golf at Miami Beach (1921).

Harding ended his Florida vacation in early February and began preparing for his inauguration and his program for bringing “normalcy,” as he called it, to the United States. Once President, the Ohioan would return to Florida several times. That should come as no surprise, of course. You know what they say about getting Florida sand in your shoes. Once it’s there, you can’t help but come back.

Warren G. Harding reeling in a fish off the Florida coast. The original photo is undated; it could have been from any of Harding's trips to Florida between 1921 and 1923.

Warren G. Harding reeling in a fish off the Florida coast. The original photo is undated; it could have been from any of Harding’s trips to Florida between 1921 and 1923.

Do you remember when someone famous came to your Florida community? Tell us about it by leaving a comment below or by posting on our Facebook page!

It’s National Barbecue Month!

Aside from a few showers here and there, the weather has been awfully pleasant lately, and that has us thinking about all sorts of outdoor activities, especially picnics and barbecues. May is National Barbecue Month, and we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than to review the role of these delicious social occasions in Florida’s past.

Barbecue at the home of J.D. Hysler in Jacksonville (circa 1950s).

Barbecue at the home of J.D. Hysler in Jacksonville (circa 1950s).

Barbecue is a treat for Floridians of all ages. Pictured here is 8-month-old Mary Odum enjoying a plate of food during a dedication ceremony for several new tobacco warehouses in Jasper (July 1947).

Barbecue is a treat for Floridians of all ages. Pictured here is a group of people enjoying plates of food during a dedication ceremony for new tobacco warehouses in Jasper (July 1947).

The concept of getting a large group of folks together for a good meal outdoors is timeless, and some of our earliest photographs in the Florida Photographic Collection are of Floridians enjoying picnics and barbecues with friends, family, churches, and communities.

Barbecuing meat at a picnic for the Masons in Kissimmee (June 24, 1886).

Barbecuing meat at a picnic for the Masons in Kissimmee (June 24, 1886).

A barbecue picnic, complete with oysters (circa 1870s).

A barbecue picnic, complete with oysters (circa 1870s).

Group portrait at a barbecue in Eustis. Seated in front to the right is Herbert John Webber, a horticulturist whose pioneering field work at a Eustis field lab helped stimulate the citrus industry in that area (October 12, 1903).

Group portrait at a barbecue in Eustis. Seated in front to the right is Herbert John Webber, a horticulturist whose pioneering field work at a Eustis field lab helped stimulate the citrus industry in that area (October 12, 1903).

A mid-winter barbecue at Oldsmar (circa 1920s).

A mid-winter barbecue at Oldsmar (circa 1920s).

Anytime can be the right time for a barbecue, but special occasions make a particularly good excuse to fire up the grill. Florida communities have often celebrated groundbreaking ceremonies, anniversaries of momentous events, and dedications of new buildings and structures with large barbecues and picnics.

Barbecue is ready to serve at this Tin Can Tourist convention at Arcadia in DeSoto County (circa 1920s).

Barbecue is ready to serve at this Tin Can Tourist convention at Arcadia in DeSoto County (circa 1920s).

Harold Colee, longtime vice-president of the Florida State Chamber of Commerce, accepting a plate of barbecue at a Tree Farm event in Taylor County (April 3, 1947).

Harold Colee, longtime vice-president of the Florida State Chamber of Commerce, accepting a plate of barbecue at a Tree Farm event in Taylor County (April 3, 1947).

Men cutting ribs in preparation for a barbecue celebrating the opening of the John E. Mathews Bridge over the St. Johns River in Jacksonville. In the center is Lou Bono, founder of the original Bono's Barbecue in Jacksonville (March 1953).

Men cutting ribs in preparation for a barbecue celebrating the opening of the John E. Mathews Bridge over the St. Johns River in Jacksonville. In the center is Lou Bono, founder of the original Bono’s Barbecue in Jacksonville (March 1953).

Preparing racks of ribs for a barbecue celebrating the opening of the John E. Mathews Bridge over the St. Johns River in Jacksonville (March 1953).

Preparing racks of ribs for a barbecue celebrating the opening of the John E. Mathews Bridge over the St. Johns River in Jacksonville (March 1953).

 

Preparations for a barbecue celebrating the dedication of the Jim Woodruff Dam at Chattahoochee (1957).

Preparations for a barbecue celebrating the dedication of the Jim Woodruff Dam at Chattahoochee (1957).

Barbecues have also had a close connection with Florida politics. Candidates have long used them as a way to rub shoulders with their constituents during campaigns, to celebrate victories, and sometimes even to celebrate Election Day itself. Politics being what they are, these occasions were at times marked with a little roughhousing between the partisans for each candidate. Ellen Call Long described one such Election Day incident in her book Florida Breezes:

“Around the square, people gathered in knots; candidates or their friends made speeches, and all was good humor and sociability, but these culminated with the barbecue, and as whiskey circulated, many a proud-stepping sovereign of the morning yielded his sceptre to King Barleycorn; and there were uproarious haranguers of what American citizens can’t and won’t submit to; and there were fist fights, and consequent bruised heads, with blacked eyes; and oh, those “sons of the soil” that were so gallant, so solemn in that early day – we must spare them, for I dare say there was at home many a ‘sullen dame, gathering her brows like gathering storm, nursing her wrath to keep it warm.’”

Thankfully, in more recent times the barbecues associated with Florida politics have been much tamer, as these photos demonstrate.

Governor Fuller Warren checking a slab of meat as it roasts on a barbecue pit during the festivities celebrating his inauguration as Florida's 30th governor (January 4, 1949).

Governor Fuller Warren checking a slab of meat as it roasts on a barbecue pit during the festivities celebrating his inauguration as Florida’s 30th governor (January 4, 1949).

A crowd of 35,000-40,000 people in line for barbecue at festivities celebrating the inauguration of Florida's 30th governor, Fuller Warren (January 4, 1949).

A crowd of 35,000-40,000 people in line for barbecue at festivities celebrating the inauguration of Florida’s 30th governor, Fuller Warren (January 4, 1949).

Governor Charley E. Johns (center, in dark coat and hat) shakes hands during a campaign barbecue event. Johns had become governor upon the death of Governor Dan McCarty, but the state Supreme Court ruled he would have to win a special election to continue in the office. LeRoy Collins would eventually win this election (1954).

Governor Charley E. Johns (center, in dark coat and hat) shakes hands during a campaign barbecue event. Johns had become governor upon the death of Governor Dan McCarty, but the state Supreme Court ruled he would have to win a special election to continue in the office. LeRoy Collins would eventually win this election (1954).

So what are you waiting for? Celebrate National Barbecue Month by planning your own barbecue with friends or family. If you’re looking for a great place to do it, check out the Florida State Parks website to find out more about the 161 park facilities operated by the State of Florida.

Also, have a look at the Florida Park Service photograph collection.