Weird Florida: Book Review of Craig Pittman’s Oh, Florida! (by Jack)

Why is it that so many jokes end with the punch line “FloriDUH?” In an attempt to answer this question I read the recently published book Oh, Florida! by Craig Pittman, a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and native Floridian. It won’t take but a few chapters of this humorous and fascinating book to convince you that Florida is the weirdest state in the union. Pittman documents Florida weirdness throughout its history, but the event that focused national attention on our state was the 2000 election, which ushered in a wave of Florida weirdness stories (and discouraged parents from naming their sons Chad).

Pittman’s argument largely consists of overwhelming the reader with stories of “Florida weird.” A modest sampling of those stories will capture the flavor of the author’s work:

  • In 1930 a Key West X-ray technician fell in love with a tuberculosis patient named Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos. After she died “Count Carl von Cosel” (as he became known) dug her up and slept with the corpse for nine years.
  • One of the first crimes committed in 2014 involved a Port Richey man who attacked his girlfriend with a banana. Assault with a banana with intent to …..?!
  • A Miami woman and Delray Beach man bought pistols, then went to Publix and bought 10 frozen turkeys. They thawed the turkeys, stuffed them with the guns, refroze them and tried to smuggle them into Haiti. Needless to say, they were caught.
  • In 1948 Clearwater residents reported the tracks of a strange three-toed bird that emerged from the water, walked around the beach for a while, and then returned to the water. An expert zoologist from New York was brought in to determine what it was. He declared that it could not be a hoax and that, in fact, he saw the large bird in flight. Forty years later an auto body repairman confessed to being the Clearwater Monster. He rowed out to the Gulf in a boat, strapped on leg irons in the shape of a three-toed bird, waded to shore, did his walk-about, and returned to the boat. It did increase tourism in Clearwater.
  • In 1996 a man sued a Clearwater strip joint claiming that he suffered a neck injury when the performer Tawny Peaks thrust her 69HH breasts in his face. (He lost the case).
  • A couple stole moon rocks from NASA and put them under their bed in an Orlando motel so they could have “sex on the moon.”
  • What other state has headlines like these: “Spring Hill Man Charged With Striking Wife With Turkey Neck,” “Florida Man, 36, Assaulted Teen Relative with Taco Bell Burrito,” “Gator Bites Off Hand of Everglades Airboat Captain,” “Clearwater Police Arrest Man Wielding Samurai Swords.”

But Pittman doesn’t only deal with the kind of stories that make you chuckle and scratch your head. About a third of the way into the book he develops a more serious tone and provides the reader with considerable background on aspects of Florida’s history that won’t appear in the books they use in Florida’s schools. He describes the corrupt nature of the political system (often emanating from the Tallahassee “Tower of Power”), the shady dealings of police departments throughout the state, Florida’s fascination with strip clubs, the control of bolita games by the mafia, the influx of slide ruler wielding nerds to develop the space program, and, of course, the thriving practice of plastic surgery.  These chapters are must reads for anyone who wants to get to know Florida. It is a seldom discussed and somewhat snarky history of the underbelly of the Sunshine State. Continue reading “Weird Florida: Book Review of Craig Pittman’s Oh, Florida! (by Jack)”