Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections, 1937-1942


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A Florida Treasure Hunt

Our Heroes

Florida has its full share of folk heroes, all cut from the same heroic cloth as Paul Bunyan, the lumberjack who got so lost up around the Great Lakes, and John Henry, "the steel-driving man, who died with his hammer in his hand."

The roster of legendary characters (many of them real) whose legacy of tall tales we recorded included:

Big John the Conquer,
the slave who could outwit Ole Massa every time. (When Ole Massa went off to Philamayork and left Big John in charge, he moved into the Big House and told the slaves to "kill hogs 'til they could walk on them." And then what a barbecue they had!)
Snow James,
"was a man of might, fought everybody, both day and night," who was wont to say, "I'm so bad I don't want to be good; wouldn't go to Heaven even if I could."
Daddy Mention,
the chaingang escape-artist "who could outrun the longest shotgun."
Ole Pete,
the Tampa Bay stevedore "who stopped a runaway freight train with his bare hands."
Uncle Monday,
who lived as a bull-gator in Eatonville's Blue Sink, except on Mondays, when he came ashore as a man to check up on the folks in town.
(born Francisco Gomez de Quevedo, in 1580 near Madrid) who quit his job as royal secretary to King Felipe II to spend his life chasing women.
Kerosene Charlie,
the travellin' man "who started on a trip around the world with 25 cents in his pocket, and when he got back still had 10 cents left."
Father Abraham,
the root doctor of Lawtey, "who healed others, but could not heal himself."
Charlie Coker,
captain of the schooner Heron, whose favorite drink was a bottle of Tabasco, chased with awgydent (aguadiente, fiery water, first squeezings from rum disstillation).
Roy Tyle,
Maitland's ace mechanic, who built himself a winged automobile and looped-the-loop all over God's heaven. A lot of angels bought one, and never flew another lick with their own wings after that. God Hisself got the original.
Uncle Bud,
that "man-in-full," whose exploits with women are sung by Zora herself in person: "Uncle Bud's gotta gal, long and tall, sleeps in the kitchen with her feet in the hall."

Florida had its folk heroines too. We recorded songs singing the praises of:

"sweetest gal I know, made me walk from Chicago, to the Gulf of Mexico."
The Johnson Gals,
"who is mighty fine gals, great big legs, and teenincey feet."
long-haired babe "who runs a ho-house on the water, in Birmingham."
"went to Mobile, great God I told her not to go; now she got to sleep on that cold icy snow."