Category Archives: Convention Center

Greenwood Cemetery: Orlando’s Most Exclusive Gated Community

With all the terrifyingly thrilling buzz about Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights XX and Sea World/Busch Garden’s Howl-O-Scream, the Top 5 is embracing the spooky season… we’ve dusted off our collection of Edgar Allan Poe tales, along with Washington Irving‘s ghost stories. (Yep, we’re kind of geeks!)

So, when Don Price, the sexton of the Greenwood Cemetery–the City of Orlando‘s only cemetery–invited us for a Moonlight Walking Tour, we jumped at the chance to stroll among the headstones and crypts, and ponder the souls that dwell there.  So, into the car we went and bravely made our way to the Greenwood Street entrance, where a set of intimidating wrought iron gates lit by flickering lamps awaited us.

With a sardonic smile, Don greeted us, along with a few other unfortunate souls from the Orange County Convention Visitors Bureau and the Orlando Arts Magazine, and so our small pack followed our fearless leader armed with a single flashlight into the night.  Dark clouds masked the eye of the moon and from time to time helicopters cryptically flew overhead as if searching desperately for someone or something. Other than that, the grounds were quiet as we were followed by our own footsteps. Silent owls swooped and the whisk of bats’ wings could be heard. I, of course, shivered despite the heat and humidity, and was fully prepared for a shadowy figure to be stalking us.

What I found instead, was a truly refreshing new look at the city I call home.

The first grave we happened upon was that of July Perry, a black man who in 1920 was stabbed, shot, and then hanged on the property of Orlando judge  John Cheney as a dire warning.  (I had no idea the namesake of Old Cheney Highway had played such a large part in the racial tensions that historically plagued the South!) During the time of the Jim Crow Laws, Perry had been denied the right to vote, and Judge Cheney was attempting to aid Perry, by sending him back to the voting precinct to get the names of the men denying him.

Perry made the ill-choice to return with a friend and a shotgun for support. In Ocoee later that night, retired sheriff Sam Salisbury would be shot in the right arm as he was attempting to serve a warrant on Perry, and things quickly spiraled out of control resulting in a lynch mob, as well as 25 black homes, 2 churches, and a masonic lodge burned to the ground.

Perry was laid to rest in the “black part” of the cemetery, and ironically enough, I discovered the cemetery was segregated in many more ways:  “Union” vs. “Yankee” soldiers,  the “in” crowd and the “out” crowd, the “English” colony vs. the “Americans.”

I had studied Florida’s past, hadn’t I?  Why was all this missing from the history books!

It should be noted we later crossed near the grave of Sam Salisbury, the retired sheriff who got shot while serving a warrant on the tragic July Perry. Karma apparently has a way of finding itself and its unknowing victims…Sam’s right arm was left paralyzed as a result of the gunshot wound on election night in 1920.  However, 54 years later, Sam tripped down the stairs, and the gun he had tucked in his belt went off, killing him with a bullet to the head!

Continuing to meander through the stones, Orlando’s streets came to life as we were told stories about their namesakes.  We met Samuel Robinson, think Robinson Street, who served as county surveyor for 16 years. In his travels across Central Florida, he gathered a large collection of gold and silver ornaments from Native American mounds, a collection that now belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. And, it should be noted that Sam Robinson chose the highest point in Central Florida for his gravesite.

Samuel Robinson's "terrazo stone" marker.

We also heard about Aaron Jernigan, Orlando’s first settler and the city’s original namesake. It would be called Jernigan until the name was changed to Orlando by Judge J.D. Spear. Spear was a great fan of Shakespeare, and relished the performances of Shakespeare among others at the Orlando Opera House, and so it is rumored that he chose to name the city after one of Shakespeare’s characters from As You Like It.  (This would make sense with Rosalind Street, Orlando’s love interest.) However, other rumors of the city’s naming center around an unconfirmed account of a heroic soldier named Orlando Reeves.

Orlando Opera House

We also heard about other city founders and pioneers, including Holden, Delaney, Gore, Leu, and Beacham.  (I remember my mother telling me stories about the old Beacham Theater.) Apparently, Beacham teamed with J.F. Ange of the Angebuilt Hotel across the street. It turns out, there is a tunnel running under Orange Avenue connecting the two, so Beacham’s actors could make their way to and from the theater in secret. (Yes, the tunnel is still there, although bricked up on either side.)

We ran across other names, fixtures in Orlando’s history, albeit not quite as famous as those with streets named after them. We saw the grave of Ruth Pounds, of Edgewater Drive’s Pounds Dance Studio, where generations of teens have been sent for ballroom dance and etiquette lessons. (Your Top 5 editor is included in this! I spent every Monday night during 7th grade at her dance studio…)  We saw the headstone of Chauncey Boyle, at one time the strongest man in the world.

Strongest man in the world, as shown by the barbell on his headstone

We also saw the grave of Delta Burke‘s father. Apparently she visits fairly often, casually chatting a while with Don and the other caretakers at the cemetery.  (My hubby liked hearing about this as Delta was a companion of his mother, when they both were in their pageant days!)

And then we saw the grave marker of Francis Eppes… who is he?  He is Thomas Jefferson’s grandson (he was even born at Monticello) before making his way to Florida. Want to know why else he’s important? He founded the Florida State College for Women… now known as Florida State University! (Hmmm…shouldn’t we ship him back to the panhandle or something?)

Francis Eppes, Founder of FSU

We also saw large crypts, straight out of H.P. Lovecraft‘s “The Outsider.” (By the way, if you’ve never read this tale, it is my all-time favorite!) The Wilmott family, who owned the Tremont Hotel, has a crypt with a curious window of orange glass in the back, and on certain days of the year, when the sun is just right, the entire crypt is aglow with the eerie orange color.

On certain days, this glows orange

Another crypt, hand-built by its owner, mysteriously has no death date. It simply reads “1836  – 19–”  This leads many a mischief-maker to light candles on the doorstep, in hopes the still-living undead might make an appearance. (Apparently the owner died with no heirs to pay for the remaining numbers, thus it is not quite as mysterious as it appears!)

So as we made our way around in the dark listening to Don spin his sinister stories of Orlando magic, I found myself reflecting on this wonderful city of ours.  It is thrilling to now understand that we have an actual history–one that is great and turbulent and full of true characters that forged us into “The City Beautiful.” (Yes, we also saw the grave of Jessie Branch, the lady responsible for giving Orlando this motto.)

I believe we should all come to understand the factors that led us to today, we should embrace both the warts and the beauty marks. If we don’t, how can we truly appreciate all that Orlando has overcome to be “The City Beautiful” it is today?

Mrs. R. Greer - Orlando's first professional painter

Don retold history in such a respectful yet intriguing manner, that he rivals any professional story-teller. So, in between your trips to the theme parks this Halloween season, make your way to the 100 plus rolling acres near downtown where Orlando’s most exclusive and famous residents now call home. You will be glad you did!

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Filed under Celebrity, Convention Center, Education, Fun, General Info, History, Just Plain Weird, Seasonal, TV Fame, Uniquely Florida, Universal

The Star Wars Celebration V (The “Big Bad Rebel”Version)

Julie Deily did such an awesome write-up on the “Top 5 Things to See at Star Wars Celebration V,” I had no idea what to share in my guest post about the event.

But then it dawned on me: Growing up, I was always a little rebel so why not do a post of some of the “big, bad rebellious” things you can do at the convention? Growing up, my rebellion was very innocent by the way. It fell more along the lines of refusing to wear dresses, rejecting the color pink in favor of the color blue and ditching Barbie for Han Solo – that kind of rebellion.

So when I heard Star Wars Celebration V was coming to Orlando, of course I had to go. It was an easy decision, really. Like my childhood days, I had no problem going against the grain and choosing Star Wars over, say, a weekend of shopping or a mani/pedicure. And also like my early years growing up, I found myself once again playing with the boys as none of my girlfriends showed any interest in attending. So with my own entourage of five fabulous guy friends (including fellow Orlando blogger Mr. Tasty Chomps), I set out to relive my Star Wars memories, allowing the rebel/nerd in me to shine through.

In no particular order, here is the “rebel version” of the Top 5 Things to Do at Star Wars Celebration V:

5. Get a tattoo. I’m not talking about one of those wussy temporary tattoos. I mean the real needle and ink kind. One hard-core fan sharing a table with us showed off his new piece of art over lunch on Saturday. He wasn’t alone as quite a few fans donned some pretty elaborate pieces of Star Wars ink on their bodies. To get one of your own, all you had to do was follow the buzzing noise to a secluded area partitioned by large black draping and no, for the record, I did not go under the needle.

4. Become an action figure. What better way to stoke the ego than to pose as a real life Star Wars action figure, complete with childproof packaging? This great exhibit allowed fans to step into a gigantic plastic box which was offset by a huge background replicating action figure packaging. The key to pulling it off well? Not smiling because it makes you look “badder” – something that is harder to do than you might think!

Action Figure Jodi

3. Pose as one of Jabba the Hutt’s slaves. Perhaps one of the most disgusting but memorable characters of the trilogy is Jabba the Hutt who made his debut in The Return of the Jedi. The huge glob, which was described by film critic Roger Ebert as being a cross between a toad and the Cheshire Cat, was juxtaposed next to Princess Leia, who (in that particular scene of the movie), was enslaved by the grotesque creature and forced to don chains – and not much of anything else. Thanks to Star Wars Celebration V, willing fans could also be one of Jabba’s slaves (albeit fully clothed, thank God)! Those with a sense of humor could cozy up to a life-size version of the monster or pose with one of the “slave Leia” look-alikes. (According to one of my guy friends, one of the slave girls was on a season of America’s Next Top Model.)

Jabba and "slave Jodi"

2. Push Darth Vader’s buttons. Unfortunately my photo didn’t turn out well so you will have to take me for my word when I tell you I literally got to push Darth Vader’s buttons while at the convention. D.V. was roaming the halls when I stopped him for a photo op where he actually let me push a few of the lit up buttons on his chest. Unfortunately nothing happened when I pressed them, but now I can at least say I did it! (How many people can say that?)

1. Attend a panel session with Seth Green and the gang as they talk about their claymation series “Star Wars Robot Chicken.” For those unfamiliar with SWRC, the show has some hilarious adult humor…think more along the lines of South Park if you will. (Having said that, I was surprised at how many kids knew about SWRC and who were at the session asking Seth and his team some pretty specific questions about the series.)

Never heard of Star Wars Robot Chicken? Click here for a link to a video clip. (Even though there were shockingly lots of kids at the SWRC session, I’m marking this M for mature.)

Guest Blogger Extraordinaire: Jodi Kiely is an independent consultant specializing in public relations and corporate communications. She serves a broad spectrum of clients locally, nationally and internationally. Born in Seoul, Korea, Jodi is originally from Rochester, Minnesota, moving to Orlando in 2009. Jodi has a B.A. in Print Journalism and a Masters in East Asian Studies. She is also a former Peace Corps volunteer having served in the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan and currently sits on the Board of Directors of the Central Florida Asian American Chamber of Commerce. You can visit her blog, JodiKiely.com, or follow her on Twitter at @Jodi_Kiely.

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Filed under Convention Center, Fun, Guest Blogger Extraordinaire, Tourist

Top 5 Things to See at Star Wars Celebration V

I just got home tonight (Friday) from Star Wars Celebration V and we had a blast. My husband has been a fan since his dad took him to see The Empire Strikes Back thirty years ago. In fact, Celebration V is celebrating the 30th Anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back. Celebration V, as most of you know, is being held this weekend until Sunday evening at the Orange County Convention Center.

When my husband heard Celebration V was coming to Orlando, he was really excited. We bought our tickets in advance a few weeks ago and even though I’m not as huge a fan as he is, I was getting excited as it got closer.

Here’s my “Top 5” list of things to see or do:

#5 Collecting Panels – Attend any of them and receive a limited edition cereal box designed especially for Celebration V. There are a total of 16 the entire weekend and a total of 16 different cereal boxes to collect. We went to the International Collecting panel, and although I’m not an avid collector (like my husband), it was pretty enjoyable because some of the panelists were pretty funny.

Special edition for Celebration V.


#4 Droid Builders – Really cool R2-D2 droids built by every day people like you and me. There was a bunch of people controlling their own R2s throughout the exhibit halls but there is a room dedicated to showing you the parts and pieces that go into building your own. There is a club of people who help each other and they have even published a manual. Pretty cool stuff! My husband seems interested in doing this and I can’t say I’m against this; it would be so cool to have a real-live working R2-D2 around the house! 🙂

R2-D2 ready for Disney!

#3 The Art of Ralph McQuarrie – The originial designer for the original Star Wars movies. There is a gallery of his original concept drawings and it’s pretty amazing how he was given direction by George Lucas and came up with some pretty awesome stuff. The image below is a picture of McQuarrie’s drawing for the original concept for Chewbacca and Han Solo.

Amazing conceptual artwork.

#2 Taking pictures with the many costumed characters, many of whom are attendees. It’s not uncommon for someone, including me, to ask to take a picture of someone’s costume or take pictures with them. It’s fun, a lot of the costumes are very well made and they are always happy to stop for pictures.

Posing with some Clonetroopers.

#1 The exhibit hall is where you can buy all of the Star Wars exclusives as well as tons of other Star Wars merchandise and even other kinds of merchandise. Also, in the exhibit hall are some great displays that you can take pictures of or have your picture taken with, such as a huge tie fighter and a speeder bike inside an Endor background. There is also this mystery Lego mural that you can help build. We participated and it was fun. If you put your piece together correctly, you get a free Lego version of concept Boba Fett (white version). That’s a picture of my finished piece below.

Large Lego background.

My contribution to the Lego mural.

We had tons of fun and I wish I had one more day to spend there. If you went to Celebration V, what were you favorite things to see?

Guest Blogger Extraordinaire: Julie Deily is a software engineer and is pretty close to being a Central Florida native, she has lived in the area since she moved to Florida at seven years old. She blogs about cooking and baking at the little kitchen and also at whatever julie where she blogs about her pets as well as her participation in the Susan G. Komen Tampa 3-Day for the Cure this October as one of fifteen Energizer “Keep Going” Bloggers.

Check out whateverjulie.com for more posts and pictures from Celebration V in the next week or so.

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Filed under Convention Center, family, Fun, General Info, Guest Blogger Extraordinaire, Tourist

Which Celebrities Do You Want to See?

So, which celebrity do you hope to get a glimpse of this weekend? Starting today at the Star Wars Celebration V at the Orange County Convention Center and around town, you can see any number of famous people, including George Lucas, Jon Stewart, Seth Green, Warwick Davis, Ashley Eckstein, or even Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill.

For a full listing of special guests, visit the show’s main website.

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Welcome to the Land of Lando

Most people in Central Florida have caught wind that something dealing with Star Wars is coming to town this month, not truly realizing this Star Wars Celebration V, officially sponsored by Lucasfilm, may well be one of the biggest events of the year for Orlando. (For some people, it is the biggest event of the foreseeable future, especially if they already have their Stormtrooper costumes ready to go!)

There will be lots of incredible things to do, including seeing celebrities like George Lucas, Carrie Fisher, and Ashley Eckstein.  And, it’s all happening this weekend…Yep, Orlando is being invaded by the Force… can you already feel it?

© Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

But, some Star Wars fans are hoping visitors will not be visiting Orlando, but rather Lando, in honor of Billy Dee Williams’ Star Wars character. 

In fact, a petition at http://www.welcometolando.com/ was started by Scott Moon, a fan since he first saw the movie at a drive-in with his father long, long ago, in a galaxy not so far away.  

At this pont, over 600 people–including the Top 5— have signed the petition, requesting a name change for the duration of the convention. (Heck, if a city in Kansas can change their name to Google to try and get that company’s attention, then we can certainly handle an abbreviated change for a few days in support of one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time!)

Billy Dee Williams as Lando.

As Scott pointed out, and we whole-heartedly agree, the coolest things about this Star Wars convention is that it just goes to show Lando (or Orlando for you party poopers) is the place that dreams and fantasies come true on a daily basis… is there really any other city like ours? So, whether you consider yourself a true Star Wars fan or not, and regardless of whether you even know who Hans Solo or Jaba the Hut are, perhaps add your name to the petition…why? Because where else can you have some good-natured fun in today’s world besides in Lando?

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‘Her Universe’ Is Pretty Darn Cool! Interview with Ashley Eckstein

So, the Top 5 took time out from our vacation in the Florida Keys to speak with Hollywood actress Ashley Eckstein. (Well, actually, I was ankle-deep in green-blue water on the shores of Bahia Honda State Park while we were talking. I wonder if she’s ever been interviewed by somebody at the beach before… well, she is the famous Ashley Eckstein, so maybe she has!)

Ashley is coming back to Orlando this month for the upcoming Star Wars Celebration V.  This is the mother of all fan conventions and is officially supported by LucasFilm.  In fact, George Lucas himself will be in attendance, and maybe you will be lucky enough to catch his interview on center stage with the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart.  (Hmmmph!  I bet Jon’s never interviewed somebody while leisurely tanning at Bahia Honda’s beach!)

At any rate, Ashley is the voice of Ashoka Tano, one of the stars of LucasFilm’s animated spin-off, The Clone Wars.

Ashley posing next to her character, Ahsako Tano. Photo by Sue Schneider_Moonglow Photos

Ashley also has her own clothes line, Her Universe, inspired by the Star Wars films.  She started the line after finding there were very few sci-fi clothiers catering to the female fan.  As it turns out, nearly 50% of Star Wars fans are females, so a clothing line was born. (FYI: The shirts are totally awesome, and I have ordered one for my trip to the Star Wars Celebration, since I don’t have a Stormtrooper outfit handy!)

Ashley modeling merchandise from Her Universe website.

Both Ashley and her husband, David Eckstein of the San Diego Padres, are Central Florida natives.  Ashley grew up performing local theater and graduating from Dr. Philips, while David has roots in Sanford.  So, when the Top 5 caught up with them, we decided to ask just what it was they love about the Central Florida area.

Ashley Eckstein’s Top 5 Things to do in Central Florida:

1.  Go to Disney World!

Ashley’s father worked for Disney and it was also her first job in high school, as soon as she turned 16. She shared with me, “I was a cheerleader in the Hercules parade!”

Disney also played a part in her life when she got older: David asked her to marry him at the Grand Floridian and they had their wedding reception at the Yacht and Beach Club.

2.  Eat at Cafe Positano’s.

The couple eat at Cafe Positano’s “probably two to three times a week” during David’s off-season. She laughed, “I am obsessed with their pizza!”

3. Check out Orlando Theater’s Scene

Ashley got her start performing in shows at the Orlando Rep, so she enjoys going back to see the shows now being performed. She also loves when she can visit the SAK Comedy Theater, Orlando Shakespeare Theater, as well as trying to catch parts of the Orlando Fringe Festival if she’s in town.

4. Shop

She mentioned the Millenia Mall, but also gushed about Rocks Fine Jewelry on Park Avenue in Winter Park, where David got her engagement ring. She recalls how David Hernandez was just fantastic and how great their custom jewelry is.

5. Satisfy her Sweet Tooth

Although she’s a gorgeous actress, she is human after all, and places like Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt call her name.  There she can pile the toppings as high as she wants, even qualifying her for the store’s “Professional Mixer” category.  She also fondly recalls Goofy’s Candy Company in Downtown Disney.

To see Ashley Eckstein and other Star Wars celebrities in person, attend the Star Wars Celebration V at the Orange County Convention Center, August 12- 15. Tickets are still available for this once-in-a-lifetime event!

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Surf Expo 09 at the Orange County Convention Center

This has to be a great expo when things like this can happen:

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