Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Is that an elephant on a bridge?

The start of the Dames Point Bridge

Dames Point Bridge: Jacksonville, FL. We had just entered Florida, the weather was beautiful, sunny and warm! I was in amazement because I couldn’t believe we were driving with the sunroof open and the windows down…and it was DECEMBER!

We decided to take a quick trip to Jacksonville to check out a beach. We were nearing the outskirts of the city, traveling south on 295, when Angie told me to take a look at this bridge. I looked but all I saw were tall metal poles about the size of power lines seen in Ohio, but shaped a bit different. This “power line” had two poles parallel to one another with a brace in between. There were, from what I could see, about two sets of these huge supported poles in a row.

What bridge? I thought to myself.

Then we got a bit closer.

Approaching the bridge. What fun! :-)
The view of the bridge seemed to get better and better as we approached it. I was awestruck at the sight my eyes were taking in. I had never seen any bridge like this in Ohio.

It was tall, like a 40 story, narrow building tall. I noticed it was supported by cables, and lots of them. These cables were lined in a diagonal fashion.

I happened to stumble across a fairly informative article about the bridge by Mike Strong. Not only did I discover some interesting facts and history surrounding the bridge, which was finished in 1988, but opened in 1989, in his article, Dames Point Bridge and Park, Strong describes the bridge best (in my opinion) by explaining the, “Dames Point’s graceful diagonal support cables look like the sails of a behemoth phantom clipper ship coming into harbor.”

What a beauty!

Crossing the bridge! What a view!!
These support cables have a huge weight to hold. Literally! They are the ones responsible for supporting the weight of the bridge’s concrete structure. According to Strong, there was “over 94,000 cubic yards of concrete used.” At 4,000 pounds per cubic yard, that’s A LOT of weight!

The Dames Point Bridge seemed to go on forever! At least it appeared that way to me as we crossed over water, land, water and back onto land. Truth is, the Dames Point is about 2 miles long, so says Strong.

As we neared the southern end of the bridge the road curved ever so slightly. Keith, who was sitting in the back, told me to turn for a quick view from that angle. I did as he said, gasped, grabbed my camera and shot a photo about as half-hazard as anyone could get. I had to twist around in my seat in an uncomfortable fashion - seatbelt choking me - and never really got a chance to look through the view finder.

My half-hazard photo. Not too shabby! 
The photo came out beautifully!

Quick little bit of information I found interesting in another fairly informative article I read by John A. Weeks, Dames Point Bridge, the curve in the road is there for a purpose. In the words of Weeks, “The sweeping curve in the highway allows for a view of the cable stayed span from a mile south of the structure.”

Yep. That’s about where we were at when I took my photo.

I could go on about the bridge and how it also goes by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte Broward Bridge (after a well-liked Jacksonville citizen who had served as Mayor and county sheriff).

And how it used to be the largest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere, but now holds second place. The Dames Point Bridge lost its title to the Ravenel Bridge in South Carolina (built in 2005).

I would rather like to relate an interesting tale about who first had the privilege of walking on the bridge.

As I was scanning the Internet for pieces of juicy information about the Dames Point Bridge I came across an article printed March 10, 2014 in the, Florida Times Union. Written by Teresa Stepzinski, the article marked the 25th anniversary of the bridge, and how it had united the city of Jacksonville, Florida.

Closer view of the bridge.
There was one line that caught my attention. Stepzinski was relating details of the bridge’s dedication ceremony, held in 1988, and wrote, “At the dedication, thousands of people plus an elephant walked across the bridge.”

Plus an elephant?

I was a bit confused after reading “plus an elephant.” I had no idea why an elephant would be needed. Thoughts came to my head like maybe the elephant was needed to test the strength of the bridge…make sure the bridge held strong, and was sturdy enough to handle the traffic that would cross it.

An AP article from The Gainesville Sun, printed September 24, 1988 provided me with enough details to fully understand why an elephant was needed. And it wasn’t to test the strength of the bridge.
Instead, an African elephant named Kimba had been elected to participate in a very important function: to lead a parade across the bridge.

Kimba’s trainers wanted to make certain she would feel comfortable walking across the bridge and so the day prior to the dedication festivities, trainers and elephant walked across, marking a moment in time when - by golly, by gosh - there really was an elephant on a bridge.

I did some further digging to see what else I could find about this elephant on a bridge and came across a great photo printed from the site. In it we see none other than Kimba herself, along with her Jacksonville Zoo trainers, Dennis Glaze and Bruce Holmes. In the background we behold the majestic towers and strung cables that make the Dames Point Bridge an architecture marvel in my eyes!

Want to check the photo? Click here.

Sources Cited

Elephant Will Help Dedicate New Bridge. The Gainesville Sun; Gainesville, Florida. September 24, 1988., Florida Times Union. March 9, 2014.

Strong, Mike. Dames Point Bridge and Park. Mike Strong (website). June 8, 1997.

Weeks, John A. Dames Point Bridge. John A. Weeks III (website).

Kimba’s Photo

Kimba the elephant on the Dames Point Bridge., Florida Times Union. September 23, 1988.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Uncovering the Mysteries of Spanish Moss Part 2: The Supernatural Side

As a lover of stories, legends, and lore, I was happy to stumble on a few renditions about Spanish moss that add nicely to its mysteriousness.

There are actually five different versions of the legend of Spanish moss. Three deal with love, one with lust, and the other with wickedness. All five tales are similar in that each involve entanglement of hair in the branches of hardwood trees in the south, and death. Except one, there could be a debate over whether or not it ended in death.

I will make an attempt to quickly cover each one, giving them my own personal flare.

Let’s dig in!

Gorez Goz and the Runaway Bride

This is perhaps the most told story. I found it in several locations; the Beaufort County Library, at the site of Voice of North Carolina, and in an article written by Miss Cellania. Some of these sources call the man, Gorez Goz, while others don’t even give him a name.

Here is the gist of the tale …

Apparently a big, burly, bearded fellow named Gorez Goz had set his eyes on a lovely Indian maiden. He bought her for some rope and a bar of soap. When she set eyes on him she wanted no part of him and ran for the woods. Of course Goz chased her, after all he spent his hard earned rope and soap for her. The Indian maiden outsmarted him, though, by climbing a large oak tree. She knew that his big, burly body and long, bushy beard would entangle in the tree’s branches and slow him down.

It did more than slow down ole Gorez Goz. His beard became so entangled in the branches that he was unable to free himself. Goz died right where he got stuck. As the story goes, his beard not only continued to grow, but spread to other trees as well.

But Daddy, I love him!

This version is told several times, as well. I found it in the Voice of North Carolina, in an article by Mike Miller, and the Beaufort County Library. Many times the story of Goz and this one were told together.

Evidently, a bearded Spaniard fell in love with an Indian chief’s daughter. A huge no, no. Once the chief caught wind of their love he was furious. The chief gave the love-struck gent an ultimatum: leave my daughter alone or be tied to an oak tree until you either die or denounce your love. The gent chose the tree and of course, as the ending goes, he never did denounce his love. Instead, before taking his last breath he vowed that his love would never die. Apparently he was right because even after his death his beard continued to grow…and still does. It too spread from tree to tree.

Ambushed Newlyweds

I happened to stumble on this legend of Spanish moss by accident. I found it in Mike Miller’s article. It’s an interesting, yet sad tale.

This story is about a young couple who were murdered on their wedding day. Never even had the chance to consummate the marriage. Instead, as they were on their way to a special love nest the groom had prepared earlier, they were ambushed by an enemy.

Both struck down. Both dead. A lot of people mourned. So a custom went that the hair of the bride must be cut and placed, with love, in a hardwood tree. It happened that the hair of this bride had a mind of its own. Eventually, over the years, the hair turned grey and began to grow and spread from tree to tree.

A Grieving Lover

Shortly after finding the tale of the newlyweds I came across another rendition by Vicki Blackwell (The Legend of Spanish Moss PDF).

A love-struck man was grieving over the loss of his beloved. Heartbroken and in despair he cut her hair before he laid her in her final resting place. He placed her hair on a branch of an old oak tree near her gravesite. As I am sure you know by now how the story goes, the hair eventually turned grey and spread from tree to tree.

A Wicked Man Plants a Wicked Surprise

This is by far the most interesting story of the origins of the chigger; the parasite that calls Spanish moss home. This little red bugger will attach itself to your skin and call you home! They bite and are absolutely unpleasant little things. They remind me too much of spiders and ticks. Ick!

I found this one at the site of The Moonlit Road.

The story goes that there was a nasty, wicked man. The kind of wickedness who knocks down old ladies, kicks puppies, and steals candy from a babies.

This guy was so wicked the Devil was at his wits to get to him, make him his right-hand man. Of course the wicked man wanted nothing to do with the Devil so he outsmarted him. He told the Devil he wanted to keep being wicked on Earth for as long as he could. Once he had had his due time on this planet the Devil could come collect him. Just one thing the man asked the Devil to do: make noise, give the man a sign the Devil was present.

Little did the Devil know, the wicked man was going deaf and blind! That wicked ole man wouldn’t be able to hear or see a thing the Devil did.

So the story goes that the Devil did finally come to collect the wicked man. He made all sorts of commotion, but the wicked man took no notice. The Devil tried and he tried to grab that man’s attention and all for nothing. Eventually the Devil gave up.

Meanwhile, that wicked old man went on roaming the Earth, mainly the southern United States. He seemed to roam for years and as he did his hair would catch in the hardwood trees. In the hair left behind he placed a little surprise for those foolish enough to pick it. There are whispers that his hair continues to grow to this day, spreading from tree to tree, and spreading something else as well.

No one really knows what happened to the wicked man. Some say he just disappeared. Others are not so quick to believe. They still see him around. Feel his presence. His wickedness. They say it’s in the Spanish moss; the remnants of a wicked man’s hair. They are small, little red things that bite and make you itch. He left Chiggers! Be wary!

Everyone loves a good story and there are five that go with Spanish moss. If you have stumbled across other versions, please feel free to share them!

Although I say I have uncovered the mystery of Spanish moss, no one has yet to solve its mystery.

Happy picking!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Uncovering the Mysteries of Spanish Moss Part 1: The Science Side

Somewhere in Georgia, along I-95 south, I took a photo of a bunch of trees that caught my attention. Well … it wasn’t exactly the trees that had caught my eye, it was what I can only describe as hair-like clumps of dark stuff which hung like garland from their branches that did it. To me, this stuff looked like clusters of grapes on zombie steroids; limp, lifeless, and greyish in color.

I was immediately smitten with the stuff. Fascinated by it, actually. I don’t think it’s limp and lifeless. I think it has a lot of character and personality. How it hangs from tress, cascading from limbs in a tangled mess of silvery strands, to me, projects a sense of mysteriousness onto the landscape and creates an ominous presence about it.
Spooky. I love it.

Our traveling buddies, John and Angie, told me it was Spanish moss. I had to learn more about this Spanish moss. Where does it grow? Does it grow on trees or from them? How does it grow? Why don’t I see any of this stuff in Ohio?

Once we came back from our Florida vacation, and got resettled in (sometimes you feel like you need a vacation from your vacation), the hunt to learn more about Spanish moss began. I turned to the trusty Internet and simplified my search by using the keywords: Spanish moss.

I was quite amazed with the amount of information available on the topic, and although a lot of the information, as I discovered, was repeat info it told me that Spanish moss is a hot topic…everyone seems to have some sort of interest in it. I can relate.

The first thing I learned: Spanish moss is not a moss at all, and not even of Spanish origin. It is, oddly, related to the pineapple.

I also learned that Spanish moss is not a parasite (although it does carry parasites such as chiggers, so be wary).

It does not depend on the tree to survive. It actually does no harm to the tree at all. Instead, Spanish moss uses it for real estate purposes.  To a degree it’s a real estate guru and as any real estate guru knows it’s all about location, location, location. The perfect location for the Spanish moss is a nice hardwood tree such as the likes of the gum, oak, bald cypress, elm, and pecan trees.

We Ohioans can boast about our fair share of trees. The buckeye is our state tree and has been since 1953. We even have the same trees that make ideal homes for Spanish moss (actually only two: the oak and elm), but Ohio lacks the satisfactory environment needed to sustain Spanish moss growth.

Found in the southern states, Spanish moss is a plant that feeds off the air. It doesn’t seem to care if the tree it finally attaches itself to, and calls home, is dead or alive. It feeds off what floats in the air using its leaves and stems and literally drinks in the atmospheric moisture.

It spreads itself, or propagates if you prefer to call it, in two different ways: via birds and wind. There are little flowers that grow on the Spanish moss and they produce a teeny, tiny seed that will eventually get swept away by the wind.

Birds are responsible for stealing the Spanish moss for their own homes (it does make a nice bedding and was once used to stuff furniture for our own homes). During transport the birds will often lose a chunk of the Spanish moss, thus giving it an opportunity to attach itself to a new home and continue to grow.
How it knows where to find the right tree is beyond me.

One of the things I found amusing were the different names given to this grey, hair-like plant. The term Spanish moss was evidently adopted over time. The first name given to it was by the Native Americans who called it tree hair.

The French explorers caught wind of the name tree hair and decided to change it for their own wicked purposes, and to spite their rivals the Spaniards, by calling it Spanish Beard.
Once the Spaniards caught wind of the name they took it upon themselves to change it to French Hair as a means to get back at their foes, the French.

Even back in the 1500’s they fought dirty.
Other names include, Greybeard, southern moss, and Florida moss.

Of all the research I gathered about Spanish moss there is something that intrigued me the most. Something that is so fascinating it makes you wonder if it could be true.
It is definitely spooky…

Although I did not directly cite any source in particular, I think in only fair to list those I did discover, and who were very instrumental in helping me write this article. I found them all interesting and each source helped to enhance my knowledge of Spanish moss. I provide them here with the hopes that they will help you too.

Happy reading!
Adams, Dennis. Spanish Moss: Its Nature, History and Uses. Beaufort County Library, SC.

Brown. Grey and Graceful Swags. Orlando Sentinel, April 2, 1988.

Cox, Lee May. Strange and Beautiful Spanish Moss. Orlando Sentinel, October 26, 1996.

Felsher, John. Spanish Moss Remains the Stuff of Legends throughout the Deep South. Voice of North Carolina (website).
Martinez, Raymond. The Story of Spanish Moss and Its Relatives. Home Publications, 1959.

Miss Cellania. 10 Things You Should Know About Spanish Moss. Mental_floss (website).
Veldman, Hank. Nature’sTreasure is Spanish Moss. Orlando Sentinel, May 28, 1997.