25 Sun-Soaked Facts About Florida
Ah, Florida. The land of palm trees, sunshine, and … a carnivorous pink cloud? Read on to learn more about the home of Disney World and the world's worst superhero.
1. The full title of the official Florida state song is “Swanee River (Old Folks at Home).” The choice makes sense when you consider that the retirement industry is the state's second-biggest economic driver [PDF], and that by 2030, one out of every four Florida residents will be older than 65.
2. Florida is 15,409 square miles bigger than England … although a lot of that is swampland.
3. The 3500-year-old cypress tree named “Senator” was the pride of Longwood, Florida (and the fifth oldest tree in the world). Then in 2012, a meth addict climbed inside the trunk and lit up. Senator was reduced to ashes. “I can’t believe I burned down a tree older than Jesus,” she later said.
4. People really, really, really love Walt Disney World—so much so that some of them never want to leave. It’s not legal to scatter human ashes in the park, but that doesn’t stop people from doing it on the sly. The Haunted Mansion is an especially popular choice. But that effort probably isn't worth it: staff members who find suspicious piles of dust call code “HEPA cleanup,” after the special vacuum the custodians use to suck up what’s left of Grandma.
6. Miami banks were losing business in the mid-'90s because rollerbladers didn’t feel like taking off their skates to go inside. To accommodate banking on the go, one Citibank installed a custom-built rollerblade ATM, complete with a flashy pink ramp. “Hey, that's a great thing for skaters,'' one waiter on wheels told the Orlando Sentinel. ''I'll be using that baby all the time.''
7. A 1998 Florida law requires all state-funded daycare centers and preschools to play classical music for the children. “I want all the kids in the state of Florida to be the best and brightest,” state senator Bill Turner said. The so-called Mozart effect has since been debunked, but the law holds.
8. Florida’s nasty mosquitoes have inspired some creative pest-control efforts. In 1929, the owner of a Florida Keys fishing lodge spent $10,000 of his own money to build a 30-foot wooden tower in the hopes of attracting bats. Equipped with “all the conveniences any little bat heart could possibly desire” and smeared with pheromone-rich bat poop, the tower would have been a big hit—if any bats ever showed up.
9. As cuddly as they might look, keep your distance from the state's beloved (and endangered) manatees. The Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act makes it illegal to disturb the creatures in any way; violators may face fines up to $500 and be sentenced to up to 60 days in jail. (In 2013, one Florida resident was arrested for posting Facebook photos of his daughters riding a manatee calf.)
10. The very first meeting of the Homestead, Florida, Crime Watch group was interrupted when a 75-pound bale of cocaine fell out of the sky and into the meeting. The fugitives flying overhead had dropped another parcel of cocaine nearby—onto a church.
11. In 1982, the Florida Keys seceded from the United States and declared themselves the Conch Republic, in order to protest the placement of a Border Patrol-run road block in Florida City. Key West Mayor-turned-Prime Minister Dennis Wardlow declared war against the United States. The campaign was short-lived; within two minutes, Wardlow had surrendered and requested $1 million in foreign aid.
12. Florida has its own Bigfoot: the eight-foot tall, hairy, smelly monster known as the Skunk Ape. Sightings were so frequent in the '70s that legislators feared it was just a matter of time before the Skunk Ape was caught or killed. They tried to make it a misdemeanor to “take, possess, harm or molest anthropoid or humanoid animals.”
13. The South Florida Museum houses the world’s largest collection of fossilized poop.
14. Florida’s lush climate makes it a haven for escaped or introduced non-native plants and animals. The Everglades teem with invasive species, including eight-inch-long giant snails, boa constrictors, two types of pythons, and crocodile-like reptiles called caimans.
15. Travelers in the 1950s and '60s reported being chased through the woods near Daytona by a strange pink cloud. Citizens told of a carnivorous cloud that would absorb people whole and spit out their bones.
16. Sarasota, Florida, is home to what may be the only Amish beach resort in the world.
17. In 2013, a Florida woman named Linda Ducharme renewed her vows to a Ferris wheel named Bruce. After a short ceremony, the bride fed the groom a slice of pizza.
18. Florida was Spanish territory for 280 years, which is longer than the U.S. has officially existed.
19. NASA built a rocket test facility in Homestead, Florida, in the 1960s. When the project ended, the government left the site intact—and there’s still a rocket there today.
20. The minimum-security prison at Eglin Air Force Base was once so cushy that it was known as “Club Fed.” White-collar inmates enjoyed rounds of golf and lobster bakes before the party ended in 2006.
21. Participants in the annual Interstate Mullet Toss throw dead fish over the state line from Florida into Alabama.
22. Florida once boasted the dubious distinction of "lightning capital of the world," until NASA discovered that Rwanda actually deserves the title. Still, approximately nine people are killed by lightning strikes in Florida each year.
23. The state got its name from explorer Ponce de Leon, who called it La Florida, or “the flowery place.”
24. In the 1950s, Miami’s Opa-locka Airport served as the CIA’s base of covert operations against Guatemala and Cuba.
25. For anyone who still insists on hating on Florida, consider this: Wherever you are within the state, you're never more than 60 miles from the nearest body of salt water [PDF].