I went to the southernmost city with my family when I was a kid. Key West seemed so remote and desolate back in '50's, a million miles from Miami. I recall seeing "House of Wax" on the theater marquee and expected to see Vincent Price stalking the place.
There were shrimp boats, faded buildings and few people to occupy them. We saw all that again in Apalachicola last week.
What a great place to walk. Many of the buildings date from the mid-1800's when cotton was king.
Now they're selling seafood, art, and a lovely, lazy lifestyle.
and on the sidewalks too.
Let's not forget the oysters. While the slimy creatures have no appeal to me, they're what most people talk about. I'm told that Apalachicola's are "the best". Fishermen pluck them off the bay bottom with fifteen-foot tweezers. To keep them fresh, you've got to put them on ice.
DR. JOHN THE ICE TRIPPER
Dr. John Gorrie, inventor of refrigeration, was one of my boyhood heroes. In the 1850's he was fighting a yellow fever epidemic. Dr. John noticed that the incidence rate decreased every fall and winter. He reasoned, " If I could 'change the seasons' (in essence, make a warm room cool) I might defeat this terrible disease".
So, he invented a machine that created cool air.
It did little to cure the epidemic but it made possible for us to have cold beer, slurpies, and artificial snow.
I learned about the inventor in fifth grade Florida history and he stuck in my mind.
When we saw a sign on Main Street pointing towards the "John Gorrie Museum", I got excited.
It was small but tastefully done. I learned that early refrigerators leaked a lot (like many of mine in my funky refrigerator days). Apalachicola could be the only place revved up about ice machines.
We stopped to get directions from an old salt. Friendly-as-could-be, he pointed the way and said, "It's wonderful here. I stopped by thirty years ago and never left". As endless marsh grass waved slowly behind him he added, "You couldn't pry me outta this place!".
Schedules to keep, we pried ourselves (not unlike like oysters) out of Apalachicola and began the long trip home.
Twenty minutes later, passing Carabelle Beach, I spied a "World War II Museum" sign. I pulled a quick U'y and told Francesca, "We gotta check this out. We may never be in Carabelle again". She's so sweet to put up with stuff like that.
We rumbled into the tiny town until we came to an abandoned middle school. Its parking lot was festooned with the garbage that surrounded the town's public dumpsters. Everyone dumps their trash there by day and at night, bears empty it.
It was a unfortunate welcome to The Funky WWII Museum.
When old soldiers die, what do you do with their faded uniforms, bayonets, and letters home? The Smithsonian has too much already so they end up filling the rooms of abandoned middle schools in places like Carabelle.
The free museum had its charm, like the vet volunteers who sort of ran the place by ignoring visitors and talking to each other. We were okay with that. The place explained itself.
Let me say it was clean, most of the artifacts were showcased, and you could touch the rest.
You can't pick up the hand grenades at the Smithsonian. Francesca was an angel to put up with me to pretending to toss them at assorted imaginary enemies.
We learned that all around us, 73 years ago, 150,000 soldiers had trained for the D-Day invasion of Europe. Carabelle Beach had stood in for the shores of Normandy.
That infamous day in our country's history would have gone so much better if our brave boys had only oyster-men and garbage-eating bears to contend with.
Remembering we had jobs to get home to, we drove out of The Forgotten Coast. We headed east and scanned the map for one more spring to dive into.