Category Archives: History

Bon Voyage 2010: Going on a Disney Cruise because 2+3+3+7=50

For New Year’s my family is taking a Disney Cruise to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.  So, we’ve come up with a slogan: 2+3+3+7=50

2=My parents

Married on December 19, 1960 in All Saints Episcopal Church,  my parents have figured out the key to success.

My parents at the Lazy 3 Ranch in Winter Park

+3=My two brothers and me

I had a magical childhood growing up in Winter Park on a “ranch” which now sits in the middle of Aloma Ave. and 436. Go figure that the city would grow up so fast around us!

Top 5 editor Bess Auer with her brothers.

+3=Our spouses

Yep, our family grew by three more in just two years. I got married in All Saints Church (just like my parents as well as my grandparents!) and then my brothers followed suit by getting married less than two years later.

Top 5 editor Bess Auer getting married at All Saints Church in Winter Park

+7=Our children

While I only have one child, my brothers had three each. Our family has grown by quite a bit since my parents married in 1960!

The 7 grandchildren

So now you know where we got 2+3+3+7=50!

And, to celebrate that 50, my mother wanted to do something that my father and she could share and enjoy with all of us, including my niece with special needs. A cruise seemed like the perfect choice, but not only that, she chose a DISNEY Cruise!

Needless to say between the family time, playing and relaxing, as well as the spotty wi-fi on ship, the Top 5 will not be blogging, tweeting, or Facebooking while on the cruise. (I feel the withdrawal already setting in!)

I am signing off until 2011; however, some big changes will be in store for when I come back. Thanks to Seventh Degree, Inc., the Top 5 will have a brand new look! (Yay!)  Not only will there be a totally new design with some incredible features, I am also stoked about some new additions.

Meghann Anderson, blogger extraordinaire of Meals and Miles, has agreed to be my “Go to Fitness Girl” for exercising in Central Florida.  She’ll not only be reviewing the many racing and fitness events around town (she’s done most of them!), she’ll also be giving tips and advice about staying and living healthy in Central Florida. I am so honored she’s agreed to “come aboard” the Top 5! (Did you like my boat reference there? I’m so ready for the cruise! Ha!)

So, until the launch of our new blog design, have a wonderful New Year!

Note: I do have house guests taking care of the casa and pets while we’re cruising… can you imagine the kennel bill for 3 cats and 3 dogs?!  My special guest is a former student (believe it or not! Oh, am I getting old!) who is staying here with her family. I hope she enjoys Orlando and I hope the weather warms up for them!

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Filed under disney, family, History, Just for Me

Snow in Florida!

Twitter has been rife today with snow reports across North Florida. My son (ever hopeful) is praying that makes its way to Central Florida.  While it’s not really likely, it has happened. (In fact I clearly remember in college being able to scrape up enough of the white stuff to throw a snowball on Florida Field!)

So, it got us discussing how often it actually snows here, so we turned to the ever-trusty internet.  Here’s what we found on Wikipedia:


  • 1774: A snowstorm extends across much of the state. The effected residents speak of it as an “extraordinary white rain.”
  • 1797: Land surveyor Andrew Ellicott reports 8-inch (203mm) snowdrifts near the source of the St. Marys River in Baker County.
  • January 11, 1800: Over 5 inches (127mm) of snow is on the ground along the St. Marys River to the north of Jacksonville, the highest recorded snowfall total in Jacksonville history.
  • January 13, 1852: Several hours of snow accumulates to a total of 0.5 inch (13mm) in Jacksonville.
  • February 28, 1855: Light snow flurries are reported in Jacksonville.
  • January 29, 1868: Light sleet falls throughout the night in northeastern Florida.
  • February 28, 1869: During the morning hours, some snow flurries are reported in Jacksonville.
  • January 10, 1873: At 7:25 a.m., a few snowflakes fall near Jacksonville.
  • February 4 & 5, 1875: Light sleet occurs between midnight and sunrise on both dates.
  • January 4, 1879: For an hour and a half, sleet falls in Jacksonville before turning to rain. The rainfall covers grounds and trees with ice early on January 5, breaking the limbs of many orange trees.
  • January 5, 1887: An inch (25mm) of snow falls at Pensacola.
  • January 14, 1892: 0.4 inch (10mm) of snow is reported at Pensacola.
  • February 14, 1892: Pensacola reports 3 inches (76mm) of snow.
  • December 27, 1892: Light snow falls in various intervals in the northeastern portion of the state.
  • January 18, 1893: Falling sleet turns to snow before later changing to rain in Jacksonville.
  • February 14, 1895: Two short durations of light snow are reported in Jacksonville.
  • February 12 & 13, 1899: Rain changes to sleet and later turns to snow during the Great Blizzard of 1899, with the snow falling for about 8 hours. With temperatures of about 10°F (−12°C), the snow accumulates to 2 inches (51mm) near Jacksonville and 4 inches (102mm) at Lake Butler. In some locations, the snow remains on the ground for several days.

20th century (23 Reported Snow Events)

Major Snow Events

(≥2″ for Florida) are in bold
1900’s (2 Snow Events)

  • December 16, 1901: Light snow is reported in Jacksonville.
  • February 7, 1907: Downtown Jacksonville receives light snow flurries in the early afternoon.

1910’s (1 Snow Event)

  • November 27, 1912: An overnight period of snow covers the ground and trees with a 0.5-inch (13mm) layer in northern Florida.

1930’s (2 Snow Events)

  • December 1934: Traces of snow were recorded in Tampa.
  • January 22, 1935: Snow falls until the next morning, with Pensacola recording 1 inch (25mm).

1940’s (2 Snow Events)

  • January 1940: Traces of snow were recorded in Tampa.
  • January 1948: Traces of snow were recorded in Tampa (again).

1950’s (6 Snow Events, 3 Major Snow Events)

  • February 2, 1951: Snowfall begins and ends the following day, accumulating to about 2 inches (51mm) in Saint Augustine and Crescent City.
  • December 14, 1952: Sleet and snow falls across the northern portion of the state, though there is very little accumulation.
  • December 14, 1953: Light sleet occurs in the morning in Marianna.
  • March 6, 1954: Four inches of snow accumulates at Milton Experimental Station, Santa Rosa County within a 24 hour period; the highest such total for Florida according to official modern records.
  • March 28, 1955: Snowfall accumulates to about an inch in Marianna along the Florida Panhandle.
  • February 13, 1958: An overnight rainfall changes to snowfall in Jacksonville and accumulates to about 1.5 inches (38mm). Additionally,Tallahassee reports a record 2.8 inches (71mm).

1960’s (1 or 2 Snow Events)

  • 1962 or 1963 A couple snowflakes fell at Disston Junior High School in Gulfport (by St. Petersburg)

1970’s (3 Snow Events, 1 Major Snow Event)

  • February 9, 1973: Snow falls over the northern portion of the state, including a total of two inches (51mm) in Pensacola, with unofficial reports of up to 8 inches (203mm).
  • January 17, 1977: The pressure gradient between a strong ridge over the Mississippi Valley and a Nor’easter over Atlantic Canada sends very cold temperatures southward into the state. Areas around Pensacola are the first to receive the snow. Then the rest of The Panhandle. Followed by record accumulations for The Nature Coast, the I-4 corridor (both Orlando and Tampa receive light accumulations of about 1-2″ with a few isolated spots reportedly receiving 3-6″), and finally South Florida. By early on January 19, West Palm Beach reported snow for the first time on record, with snow flurries reaching as far south as Homestead. The snow causes little impact as it was of the dry variety, though the accompanying cold air results in hundreds of millions of dollars in damage(Orlando tied the 1899 record of over six consecutive nights well-below freezing). On January 20, the Miami Herald reports the event as the front page story, with a headline of a size usually reserved for the declaration of war.
  • Late January, 1977: Pensacola receives snowfall.

1980’s (3 Snow Events, 1 Major Snow Event)

  • March 2, 1980: A quarter of an inch (6mm) of snow covers car tops and patio furniture in Jacksonville.
  • March 1, 1986: 0.5 inch (13mm) of snow accumulates overnight in Jacksonville before melting within 30 minutes due to the morning sun.
  • December 23, 1989: Light rain in Jacksonville turns to freezing rain as temperatures drop, and later changes to snow. The snow totals several inches in some locations, and results in the first White Christmas in the city’s history. Orlando was reported to receive wet snow that melted a week later due to a typical temperature rebound.

1990’s (3 Snow Events, 1 Major Snow Event)

  • March 12, 1993: The ’93 Superstorm produces up to 4 inches (102mm) of snow along the Florida Panhandle.
  • January 8, 1996: Snow flurries are reported from Crystal River to New Port Richey with no accumulation.
  • December 18, 1996: A plume of cold air causes snow to form in the northwestern portion of Escambia County.

21st century (11 Reported Events)

2000’s (6 Snow Events)

  • January 24, 2003: A plume of Arctic air produces widespread record low temperatures and light snow flurries along the eastern coastline. The snow is described as ocean effect snow, identical to lake effect snow in that it occurs due to very cold air passing over relatively warm water temperatures. The snow reaches as far south as Fort Pierce.
  • December 25, 2004: Locations along the Florida Panhandle receive a dusting of snow.
  • November 21, 2006: An eastward moving weather system produces a very light dusting and snowflakes in central Florida. It is the first snow in November in the state since 1912.
  • February 3, 2007: Very light snow flurries are reported in the northeastern panhandle, lasting less than an hour.
  • January 3, 2008: Light snow flurries are reported near Daytona Beach.
  • February 2008: Unofficial reports indicated a few snowflakes fell along the Nature Coast once or twice, due to advancing Arctic air quickly descending from the northwest over relatively warm Gulf waters (whether or not it was virga is debatable).

2010’s (6 Snow Events, 6 Snow Events in One Year)

  • January 8-9, 2010: Very light dusting of snow seen in the eastern Jacksonville area. Light snow also fell in parts of central Florida, which briefly accumulated slightly in parts of Marion County. Sleet was widespread and snow was isolated across the Orlando area, Tampa and also in Melbourne. Isolated flurries were even reported as from West Palm Beach to as far south as Kendall and sleet in a few spots in the South Florida metropolitan area for only the second time in record history and first time since 1977.
  • February 12, 2010: A possibility of up to 4-7 inches of snow were predicted in Northwestern Florida including Pensacola and Crestview. Actual totals ended up around 1 inch in many spots. 2010 is the first year since the mid 1950’s to have more than one accumulation of snow in a single year.
  • February 14, 2010: A half inch of snow fell across the northern halves of Escambia, Santa Rosa, Walton and Okaloosa Counties. Snowfall was associated with anAlberta clipper that sank southward due to Arctic air left by the cold front from the previous snow event.
  • December 8, 2010: Snow mixed with rain is reported in western parts of the panhandle, north of Pensacola. Snow flurries were reported across the North Escambia area this morning, incluing Atmore, Walnut Hill, Bratt, Flomaton, Byrneville, Century, Brewton, Lambeth, Little River, Poarch and Huxford.
  • December 15, 2010: Though possibly virga, a wintry mix of rain and snow was shown on radar around Century and Walnut Hill as well as southeast of Panama City, possibly remnants of a line of snow that moved through southern Alabama around 4-5 AM local time.
  • December 26, 2010, a mix of snow and sleet was reported in Jacksonville, FL by NWS

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Filed under History, Uniquely Florida

December 7: Never Forget

While no living American will ever forget 9-11, many do not have any particular images come to mind when December 7 is mentioned. Shame on us for forgetting. Shame on us for not remembering.

“A day that will live in infamy.”

December 7 is the day the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, dragging America into the second World War. Just as today’s War on Terror affects many Americans, you would be hard-pressed to find somebody who did not have a relative involved in WWII. I did.

My grandfather served in the war. He was a Lieutenant Colonel who at one time had a whole unit under his command. He wasn’t a soldier; he was an attorney, one that served in Orlando for over 50 years.  I’ve often heard the story of how his men were sitting around drinking one night and began to question my grandfather’s command.  He pulled out his gun and shot a bottle some thirty yards off (by sheer dumb luck!) and that put an end to their questioning.  After the war he dutifully worked the Nuremberg Trials. My mother still tells of how she and her mother were the first shipload of dependents to go over to Europe after the war’s end. But I never heard my grandfather speak of the war.

Top 5 editor's Bess Auer's grandfather, Lieutenant Colonel Kohloss

In addition to my grandfather, my uncle served in World War II.  In fact he died during the war. He was a bombardier and his plane was shot down over enemy territory. We have pictures of his gravestone in France.

It’s a strange world in which we live; a world where so many young men (and women) lost their lives in a war that so few now pay attention to, so few now remember.

Fortunately there are people like Harry Meisel, who just recently passed away. Harry fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was a true local legend, having taught three generations of Central Floridians to swim. Harry was also instrumental in establishing a World War II memorial right here in Orlando, now located on the northeast corner of Lake Eola.  Harry strongly believed Central Floridians should understand the sacrifice Central Floridians made for the cause. I agree.

I am thankful for people like Harry and my grandfather and my uncle.  I am thankful for those willing to fight not only for my rights and freedoms, but for the rights and freedoms of others.

So, if you are one of those who did not recognize December 7 as a day of infamy, please take a moment to now be thankful for those who served in World War II. They are indeed the Greatest Generation.


Filed under family, History, Just for Me, Out of Orlando, Resident done good

The Search for the Mount Dora Catacombs

For those who asked questions about our first post on the Mount Dora Catacombs, here’s what else we dug up. It’s an excerpt from an Orlando Sentinel Article by Ramsey Campbell, December 22, 1991:

“It is a monument to horror, madness and the will to survive.

And it is a secret this small Lake County community has kept buried for 30 years.

It is an elaborate subterranean bomb shelter, designed as an end-of-the-world hideaway to protect a select group of 100 Mount Dora residents during a nuclear war.

‘About all it’s good for now is growing mushrooms,’ said Dr. James Basil Hall, the 86-year-old former Lake County health director who helped plan the shelter. ‘But for a long time, it provided us with a lot of peace of mind. We knew where we would go if the bombs dropped.’

The fortress has 5,000 square feet of living space, not including storage areas. It was built to house 25 families. Each was assigned a private room large enough to accommodate four people. There was enough food and fuel to allow 100 people to live for more than half a year without ever having to poke their heads out of the ground.

The families – including those of the town’s mayor, the superintendent of schools, a local bank president, several doctors and a minister – planned to hunker down in relative comfort while a nuclear firestorm consumed those left above.

Then, when the smoke from World War III cleared and the radiation levels fell, they planned to emerge from their cocoon and start rebuilding civilization…

It took six months, a crew of 15 workers and a lot of heavy equipment to build the Catacombs. Keeping a lid on the project was difficult.

‘People would come up to me and ask to get in on the shelter,’ said J.G. Ray, 82, a Mount Dora contractor who built and designed it. ‘But I’d say I didn’t know what they were talking about.’

Ray told everyone who asked that he was using all that heavy machinery and all those truckloads of cement to build a croquet court. To keep up the facade, he did build a grass croquet court on top of the shelter.”


And here are photos that are claimed to be from inside the Catacombs, with full photo credits going to Last Leaf Productions, a company which we could find no information about:

We’d still love to go an fact-finding expedition to see it for ourselves… creepy yet fascinating at the same time!


Filed under History, Just Plain Weird, Literary, Mount Dora

A 16th Century iPod? Say what?!

Have you listened to your iPod lately?  If so, you can thank craftsmen from centuries ago for first coming up with the idea of mechanical, portable music.  Yes, I’m talking about a music box, the earliest of which date back to the 16th century. And, for those who love the charm of a music box, the Orlando Science Center has a special exhibition just for you.

The World of Mechanical Music is presented by the Southeast Chapter of the Musical Box Society International (who knew there was such a society!?) and guests will discover the fine art of mechanical music through displays of antique and ornate music boxes.

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The exhibit opens this Saturday, November 13, and lasts through January 9.

However, on opening day only, MBSI member Bill Hall will be showcasing his massive European street organ, entitled “De Drie Kransen.” This mechanical musical instrument is so large, it can only be displayed outside the Science Center! We’ve got to see this!

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Filed under History, Just Plain Weird, Museum, Music

The Legendary Mount Dora Catacombs…Seriously!

In keeping with the NaNoWriMo theme I started earlier this month, Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank was unknowingly left off my list of Florida books.  Had I known then what I know now, this best seller would be right at the top!

During my recent foray to Mount Dora, I had the pleasure of sitting in the Mount Dora Coffee House reading a quarterly magazine called Pulse, which covers local events in Lake County. In an interesting article entitled “After the Apocalypse” by Mari Henninger, I read author Pat Frank was living in nearby Tangerine, Florida when he penned the classic novel in 1959. Apparently Alas, Babylon‘s quaint town of Fort Repose was actually based on Mount Dora.

Now, for those of you who haven’t read Alas, Babylon, this was the first important novel written in the nuclear age, speculating on a post-apocalyptic world.  FYI–author Pat Frank depicted the town leaders as bumbling fools, so the Mount Dora leaders, who knew full well the town was based on them, weren’t too pleased!

However, the novel’s effect was legendary, spawning a whole legion of post-apocalytpic books and shaping a generation of writers. It had quite an effect in town as well, and during this time of bomb-shelter building, Mount Dora was no exception. In fact, several families got together and built a huge underground fallout shelter called The Catacombs.

Here’s more from the Orlando Sentinel article on Mount Dora’s Catacombs:

“It is a 5,000-square-foot underground fortress complete with a kitchen, a recreation room, a medical facility, a sewage system and an air-conditioning and filtering system.

Dubbed ‘The Catacombs’ by the select group of families who had the secret shelter built, it was designed to allow as many as 100 people to dwell underground for more than half a year.

The families — including the city’s mayor, county superintendent of schools, a local bank president, a farmer, several doctors and a minister — planned to hunker down while a nuclear firestorm consumed those left outside.

Twenty-five families had private rooms in the complex, each large enough to shelter four people.

Each family paid about $2,000 — a sizable sum at the time — for the chance to survive.

The underground complex even included its own weapons arsenal to ward off jealous neighbors who might want to enter, as well as a huge collection of seeds to provide a food supply afterward.

When the threat of fallout was over and it was safe to come out, they would emerge from the underground cocoon and try to start civilization over.”

The owner of the land under which the Catacombs were built had claimed he was simply putting in a tennis court…yeah, keep that in mind next time your neighbors are doing some construction!

And apparently the location of the Catacombs is still kept secret… hmmm…. guess what I want to look for on the Top 5’s next visit to Mount Dora! Anybody wanna come?


Filed under History, Just Plain Weird, Literary, Mount Dora, Uniquely Florida

Rollins College: Founder’s Day is Here!

Long before Disney, Sea World, and certainly Universal Studios were a dream in someone’s head; way before I-4 or the Bank of America Building had been planned on paper, even before the Lake Eola Fountain was a wisp of an ideaRollins College was founded, 125 years ago today!

Founded in 1885, Rollins College opened its doors for the very first classes on November 4.  With just 66 students that first year, Rollins became known for its beautiful Florida landscape, including Lake Virginia, and top-rated faculty.


Old Knowles Hall, one of the earliest buildings at Rollins College.


With just under 3,000 students today, the college is consistently ranked as #1 in the South of “America’s Best Colleges.”  Rollins is celebrating 125 years with a very special line up of speakers, including Robert F. Kennedy tonight at 6 pm.

And, for those with some social media savvy, check out Jason Sadler from honoring Rollins today by wearing their shirt! (Yeah, we think that’s pretty cool!)


Filed under Education, History, Literary, Rollins College, Uniquely Florida, winter park