LOCAL COLOR/Summoning the past
With Mickey and Cinderella parading around, visitors to Disney World might be surprised to learn that Orlando, Fla., was once a wild west town, full of lawlessness and gunfights. To ensure that the area’s colorful past is not left in the dust, the Orange County Regional History Center is collecting the region’s best tales in its quarterly journal, “Reflections from Central Florida.” Through fiction, non-fiction and poetry, former and current residents are committing their memories of local events to paper.
“One of the missions of the journal is to show people that we’ve had an amazing history way prior to Disney World opening,” says Pat Birkhead, editor and volunteer coordinator. She became enamored with Central Florida’s history while conducting research at the history center for a book she was writing. At the time, the center published a newsletter that sometimes contained short stories about the past. Birkhead looked forward to the regional narratives and decided to compile them in a journal.
“The area’s history is very exciting,” Birkhead says. She points to the Native Americans that lived in the area and left many records of their lifestyle, history and culture. The area’s history also includes Spanish settlers who brought citrus and cattle, which remain two of the state’s main industries. Even the freezes Central Florida has sustained over the centuries have had a significant impact by pushing orange and citrus growth to the more southern parts of the state.
Originally titled “It’s About Time,” the journal began two-and-a-half years ago as a bi-annual publication. In April 2004, it assumed its current title and quarterly production cycle. About 2,000 copies of each 20- to 24-page issue are printed and sent to history center members and libraries. Non-members can pick up copies at the center.
Submissions come from published writers and professors, and people without writing experience. “Some are very beginning writers. Some didn’t know they were writers but have an idea. So we ask them to get their stuff down, and we have editors that help,” Birkhead says. “We’re trying to capture a lot of the stories that are going to be lost.”
The journal’s staff includes an assistant, photo archivist and a general operations and marketing employee. The staff reviews pieces sent in for consideration, then passes them along to an editorial board, which makes the final selections. Each board member is assigned to one or two writers and helps them edit their work. Submission guidelines, along with history center news, are included in each issue.
The January 2005 issue features “Hiking Old Florida,” detailing the writer’s adventures along area trails; “My Father and Johnny Weismuller,” an account of a native Floridian and the man who played the original Tarzan; “Tracks to Freedom: Central Florida and the Underground Railroad,” which explores the area’s involvement with the railroad, beginning with Spanish colonization; “Widen Your … Horizons,” a piece about desegregation in Florida schools; and the poem “I Remember When.” In the poem, Orlando native Terri Thill recalls when Orlando City Hall was imploded and featured in the film “Lethal Weapon III,” when a Publix grocery store was built on one of the last orange groves on South Orange Avenue and when she watched from her driveway as the space shuttle Challenger exploded.
The variety of stories in each issue captures the region’s colorful past and displays the talents of many of its residents. “We have a lot of history and a diverse group of people who live here,” Birkhead says. “We want to make sure we hear from them.”