Historic Photos of Florida Ghost Towns

Historic Photos of Florida Ghost Towns, new from Turner Publishing, pairs beautiful black and white archival photos with detailed commentary by Steve Rajtar to offer a counter-narrative to the traditional history of Florida. Florida’s history is often told in terms of exponential growth, focusing on the Sunshine State’s ecological bounty as a reason for immigration and tourism. Ghost Towns takes a look at the many historical sites in Florida that were destroyed, absorbed, or abandoned as the state bounded to modernity. Rajtar and his editors have organized the book around all the different ways that a town might become a ghost town, including economic (company closings, plantation declines, railroad expansion), sociopolitical (absorption, abandonment, government mandates), and natural (fires, floods, hurricanes).

Appropriate for its title, there’s something haunting about many of the images in the book. Like all images from the past, they speak for what no longer exists, but there’s something melancholy here too. Take for example this 1897 image of the Lamb family from the ironically-named plantation township of Hopewell. Their dour expressions communicate a sense of the difficulties of an agrarian life in Florida over a century ago — more Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings than Miami Vice. What happened to these people after their farms collapsed? Where are their descendants today?

Historic Photos of Florida Ghost Towns will be a welcome addition to any Florida history buff’s library, as well as a handsome book for any Floridian’s coffee table. It’s also a worthy document to testify to an an alternate and often overlooked element of Florida history. Florida has a rich, storied past, and Ghost Towns helps to honor that. As the state heads into an uncertain future, the book also might make some of us reappraise our own cities’ chances of withstanding the test of time. Recommended.

Historic Photos of the University of Florida

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Full disclosure: not only am I a proud University of Florida graduate, but so is my wife, both of my parents, and most of my good friends. So, clearly, I am predisposed to a certain amount of interest in Turner Publishing’s Historic Photos of the University of Florida. This large, hardback coffee table book collects 200 black and white archival photos, arranged chronologically with accompanying text and captions by Steve Rajtar. The book spans over 150 years of UF history including the first fifty years when what was to become the University of Florida was still just an unrelated collection of military academies and agricultural institutes. For me, these pre-Gainesville years were the most interesting–I actually didn’t know that much about my alma mater’s history it turns out.

The black and white photos in the collection range from fascinating (turn of the century images of the first Gator football teams; early gatherings of Tomato Clubs) to humdrum (buildings! More buildings!), but all serve to tell the story of the foundation of the Gator Nation. Rajtar’s commentary is both informative and insightful, explicating the background of the photographs presented in the collection. Having lived in lovely Gainesville, I would’ve liked some color photographs to show off both the beautiful campus and the lush terrain, but the black and white does lend an air of consistency–and perhaps austerity–to the book. Although the book ends with a few photos of the past thirty years, the majority of the volume concentrates on the University’s early history–so sorry, no Tebow folks. Still, Historic Photos of the University of Florida is a must for any self-respecting Bull Gator (starving grad students can skip on this one, though).

Semi-related post-script: While you may not have attended the University of Florida, the institution has a great record when it comes to fiction writing. Padgett Powell is the current writer-in-residence (I remember him giving a reading involving some space aliens; this was about a decade ago); Biblioklept faves Chris Adrian and Chirs Bachelder are both proud UF grads (caveat: we can only assume they’re proud (they’re intelligent, why wouldn’t they be proud?)); Harry Crews was writer-in-res pre-Powell–he’s also a grad (in English education, of all things! (sidebar: he also shares The Biblioklept’s birthday (along with Prince, Michael Cera, Paul Gaugin, Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, Damien Hirst, Bill Hader, and Allen Iverson))). So: plenty of great writers.

Historic Photos of the University of Florida is now available from Turner Publishing.