Florida Museum of Natural History

Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904)

Heade's Florida Interests

In 1883, Heade married for the first time in Southampton, Long Island, and, having wintered in Florida, the seasoned traveler convinced his young bride, Elizabeth Smith, to move to St. Augustine.52 In 1884, the Heades set up house at 105 San Marco Street. By June of the next year, they owned a nearby tract with five dwellings. An investment group was building a narrow-gauge railroad between Jacksonville and St. Augustine, and Heade hoped to make a killing. "Everything," he wrote, "now is nicely arranged to make St. Augustine by far the most attractive winter resort, except-the lack of wisdom of her rulers."53 As a visiting "snowbird," Didymus had frequently praised prospects for hunting and fishing in Florida. Now a resident, he reexamined the options: "to get a shot at a deer or turkey one must go to an uncivilized region and live on 'hog and hominy' with dirt ad libitum."54 He also lamented the lack of newspapers on Sunday and poor hotels.55

Things were about to change in St. Augustine, and Heade, in his mid sixties, was Johnny-on-the spot. As part of the planned Florida East Coast Railway, Standard Oil millionaire and partner of John D. Rockefeller, Flagler opened the luxurious 450-room Hotel Ponce de Leon to the public in 1886.56 Louis Comfort Tiffany designed the elaborate interior decorations, which included seventy-nine colored glass windows and two large landscape murals by Heade.57 These commissioned works, at the price of $2000 each, forced Heade to work on a large scale. Furthermore, by December 1887, Flagler had established Heade and other artists in a studio complex in the hotel.

While the male guests were hunting and fishing, traffic at the hotel ateliers was hardly dull. The artists taught students, mostly female, exhibited pictures, and entertained tourists before and after lunch. The company was fun. According to the local newspaper, the News Herald, one of the artists, Marie a Becket, was a close friend of Bertha von Hillern, a famous walking athlete.58 The artists also held receptions on Friday evenings.

This hotel crowd also witnessed the advent of a new literature. In articles for Harper's New Monthly Magazine, popular writers joined the debate about Darwin's theory of evolution in Florida terms. In 1871, a four-part article "Along the Florida Reef" picked an easy target for jest, the hermit crab. "The 'developmentalists' can take comfort, for here is," the unnamed author bantered, "a species trying very to establish itself by 'natural selection.' Can we not imagine the hermit eventually stuck to his stolen shell... in accordance with the theory of Darwin?"59 The accompanying illustration, a clever cartoon really, shows a hermit crab "after the hunt" having selected for "his" home on the sea floor a pipe bowl instead of a seashell.60 So much for natural selection.

Harper's had not yet maximized the growing audience of homeowners in Florida, but women tourists were gaining their own voice of experience. Already famous for her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, Mrs. Stowe and her husband, "the Professor," moved to Mandarin, Florida, where she enjoyed touring the wilds by rowboat, sloop, and steamer. In 1873, Stowe published her observations of Florida as a series of outspoken travel vignettes called Palmetto-Leaves. The book, "in this day of woman's rights," was an early guide to northern Florida for female tourists, and rare is the page without some "speculations on Nature."61 Along the St. Johns River, just north of St. Augustine, Stowe mused upon the "general similarity in plant and animal growths in these regions."62 These were beastly bouquets: the plants looked like animals; the animals looked like plants. As she warned other new householders from the Northeast about mail-order seed scams, she pondered the artificial selection of plants "proved suited to the climate and soil of Florida."63 While other members of her boating party fished and picnicked, she became philosophical: "These fish, out marketing on their own account, darted at our hook, expecting to catch another fish. We catch them; and, instead of eating, they are eaten."64 Counting fishes in her prow with her French coffeepot between her knees, Stowe was imitating Agassiz's widely publicized Thayer expedition.

As the nation planned for a centennial celebration, Florida's landscapes were becoming destinations for displaced Southerners seeking the benefits of warm weather without the painful baggage of the Confederacy. Railroad companies were eager to promote the healthfulness of the state's springs and hotels, and in 1875, the Great Atlantic Coastline Railroad Company hired Sidney Lanier (1842-1881) for $125 to write a travel guide of Florida: Its Scenery, Climate, and History.65 Lanier, beloved poet and composer of the antebellum South, had attended Oglethorpe University in Midway, Georgia, where, in 1859, he met Professor James Woodrow, a student of Agassiz at Harvard. Having sent natural history specimens to the MCZ, Woodrow, like every other biologist, was reexamining ideas about species, but the Civil War interrupted plans for Lanier to follow Woodrow to Heidelberg, Germany, to study.66

Traveling by rail for three months, Lanier filled his Florida guide with closely observed details of natural history and, towards the end of his book, offered innocent advice to a targeted audience, consumptives: "Be brave with your consumption; do not discuss it with bated breath." His suggestions for healthful occupations included contacting "some of the numerous colleges in the country to supply their cabinets [museums] with stuffed birds, or fish, or botanical specimens, from Florida."67 Lanier recognized an opportunity for natural history collections in Florida, which Heade, too, could have exploited, especially after the St. Augustine Institute of Science began meeting every other Tuesday to discuss natural history.68

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Footnotes

52. Novak and Eaton (2001), p. 60.

53. Schlageter (1992), p. 11.

54. Didymus, "Notes of Floridian Experience," Forest and Stream, 24 May 1883, p. 324.

55. Ibid.

56. Flagler (1830-1913) first visited the city with his wife in 1885 and recognized the potential for development. The hotel building now houses Flagler College.

57. Florida did not include works by Tiffany (1848-1933) and Heade in the disappointing state exhibits for the Columbian Exposition; see Stephen Kerber, "Florida and the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893," Florida Historical Quarterly LXVI (July 1987): pp. 25-49.

58.58. See the handout prepared by Mary S. Ross for the Heade Art Exhibit, February 1945, and other inserts in the Heade Biographical File, St. Augustine Historical Society.

59. Part three of an unsigned four-part article, "Along the Florida Reef," Harper's New Monthly Magazine 1871, p. 297, in Frank Oppel and Tony Meisel, eds., Tales of Old Florida (Secaucus: Castle, 1987).

60. Ibid.

61. Stowe (1968), p. 249.

62. Ibid., p. 73.

63. Ibid., p.182.

64. Ibid., p. 76.

65. See Jerrell H. Shofner's excellent "Introduction and Index," xii-xiii, to Sidney Lanier, Florida: Its Scenery, Climate, and History (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1973). This is a facsimile of the 1875 edition.

66. Ibid., xv.

67. Lanier (1973), pp. 216-217.

68. Thomas Graham, "St. Augustine Historical Society, 1883-1983," Florida Historical Quarterly LXIV (July 1985): 1-4.

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