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Chloe Effron

25 Sun-Soaked Facts About Florida

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Chloe Effron

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.


5.
South Florida is the only place on earth where alligators and crocodiles coexist in the wild.

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.)

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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.

South Florida Museum


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]. 

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Land Cover CCI, ESA
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Afternoon Map
European Space Agency Releases First High-Res Land Cover Map of Africa
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Land Cover CCI, ESA

This isn’t just any image of Africa. It represents the first of its kind: a high-resolution map of the different types of land cover that are found on the continent, released by The European Space Agency, as Travel + Leisure reports.

Land cover maps depict the different physical materials that cover the Earth, whether that material is vegetation, wetlands, concrete, or sand. They can be used to track the growth of cities, assess flooding, keep tabs on environmental issues like deforestation or desertification, and more.

The newly released land cover map of Africa shows the continent at an extremely detailed resolution. Each pixel represents just 65.6 feet (20 meters) on the ground. It’s designed to help researchers model the extent of climate change across Africa, study biodiversity and natural resources, and see how land use is changing, among other applications.

Developed as part of the Climate Change Initiative (CCI) Land Cover project, the space agency gathered a full year’s worth of data from its Sentinel-2A satellite to create the map. In total, the image is made from 90 terabytes of data—180,000 images—taken between December 2015 and December 2016.

The map is so large and detailed that the space agency created its own online viewer for it. You can dive further into the image here.

And keep watch: A better map might be close at hand. In March, the ESA launched the Sentinal-2B satellite, which it says will make a global map at a 32.8 feet-per-pixel (10 meters) resolution possible.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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10 Pirate Landmarks You Can Visit
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Hungering for a scurvy-ridden romp across the seven seas? We’ve mapped out an international journey that will take you through 10 historic places with maritime yarns to unravel. From a rediscovered wreck to the site of real buried treasure, these locales will set your timbers a-shivering.

1. THE QUEDAGH MERCHANT, CATALINA ISLAND, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1695, Scottish privateer William Kidd was hired by an English governor to fight pirates in the Indian Ocean. But he made one critical mistake. On January 30, 1698, he captured the Quedagh Merchant, a treasure-laden ship flying a French flag. Since England was at war with France, Kidd believed he had a legal right to seize this ship. However, a nobleman who stood to lose his riches on board complained to the British East India Company, which put out a call for Kidd’s arrest. Unable to prove his innocence, Kidd was convicted and hung by an English court in 1701.

As for the Quedagh Merchant, Kidd had abandoned the vessel and its final resting place remained unknown for centuries. Marine archaeologists discovered the wreck off the coast of Catalina Island in 2007. The site is now a protected marine area where divers can read about its history on underwater plaques.

2. FOX POINT, ST. GEORGE ISLAND, FLORIDA

Kristenlea71 via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Born in Maryland, William Augustus Bowles was a British loyalist during the Revolutionary War. While stationed in Pensacola, Florida, he married into the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and, later, fought on behalf of both nations against Spain in the Gulf of Mexico. Bowles would later establish himself as a pirate and self-appointed representative of the Muscogee Nation, and secured Great Britain's support for establishing an independent Muscogee Republic. In those roles, he attacked numerous Spanish ships and was arrested by the Spanish authorities. He escaped from prison and was on his way back to Florida in the British schooner HMS Fox when it went aground on St. George Island at a site now called Fox Point. A historical marker commemorates the Fox’s wreck.

3. A REAL BURIED TREASURE SITE, GARDINER’S ISLAND, NEW YORK

Howard Pyle, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Contrary to popular belief, most pirates did not bury treasure. (People who steal loot generally want to spend it right away.) In fact, the only pirate known to have stored booty underground was William Kidd. Prior his arrest by the British authorities in 1699, Kidd paid a visit to Gardiner’s Island, a spot between the forks of Long Island. Its owner, John Gardiner, agreed to let Kidd bury some valuables there. Accounts differ about what happened next. Some sources say that Gardiner decided to come clean and tell the colonial governor, Lord Bellomont, about the treasure. Others say that Bellomont learned of its whereabouts directly from Kidd. Either way, the loot was exhumed and taken to Boston. The gold, silver, and other valuable items were worth more than $1 million in today's U.S. dollars. Today, a stone plaque marks the spot.

4. DUNGEON ROCK, LYNN, MASSACHUSETTS

Ejkastning, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

In 1658, a group of buccaneers landed in Lynn, Massachusetts. Most were arrested, but a pirate named Thomas Veal escaped into the forest. Legend has it that a huge geologic formation now called Dungeon Rock became his hideout. Once a spacious cave, it was reduced to a pile of boulders by an earthquake, entombing Veal and his treasure within.

Almost a century later, a spiritualist named Hiram Marble, who believed Veal's ghost had contacted him from the afterlife, bought Dungeon Rock. He and his son, Edwin, spent their lives digging for the treasure but found nothing. Since then, the site has been incorporated into the Lynn Woods Reservation. A door bars the entryway to the rock's interior, which is open to visitors during certain times of the year. Nearby, you can pay your respects to Edwin Marble at his modestly marked grave.

5. LAFITTE’S BLACKSMITH SHOP, NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

Carol M. Highsmith, Library of Congress // Public Domain

Lafitte’s origins are shrouded in mystery, but he arrived in New Orleans around 1806 with his (alleged) brother, Pierre. They organized a fleet of smuggling vessels and conspired with potential business partners at a colleague's blacksmith shop on Bourbon Street. Now a popular bar, the building was recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1970.

During the War of 1812, Lafitte offered his ample supplies, experienced sailors, and local knowledge to the American forces under General Andrew Jackson, in exchange for the release of some of Lafitte's men then in prison. At the Battle of New Orleans in 1814-15, Jackson's and Lafitte's forces helped repel the British attack, and the two Lafitte brothers both received federal pardons.

6. LAFITTE’S FORMER STOMPING GROUNDS, GALVESTON, TEXAS

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Soon after the Battle of New Orleans, the city's elites grew tired of tolerating the Lafittes. In 1817, Jean Lafitte decamped to Galveston, Texas, with seven ships and a few dozen followers. They established a town called Campeche with its own boarding house, taverns, and courts, while continuing to prey on Spanish ships in the gulf and operating a large slave market. In 1821, the U.S. government ordered them to clear out. Nothing can be said with certainty about Lafitte's post-Galveston exploits. Just like his origins, Jean Lafitte’s fate remains the stuff of speculation.

A relic from his time in Galveston can be found at 1417 Avenue A, where Maison Rouge, Lafitte’s home and fortress, once stood. The grounds are protected by a chain-link fence, which also surrounds the remnants of a second building that was built on top of Maison Rouge’s foundation in 1870. Learn more at Pirates! Legends of the Gulf Coast, a local attraction which focuses on Lafitte’s life and deeds.

7. PLUM POINT, BATH, NORTH CAROLINA

m kasahara, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Blackbeard—whose real name was either Edward Teach, Edward Thatch, or some variant thereof—settled in Bath, North Carolina, for a brief period of quasi-retirement beginning in 1718. His place of residence was reportedly somewhere on Plum Point, an outcropping which cuts into Bath Creek. Despite his track record of plundering and theft, he was constantly getting dinner invitations from curious families. According to regional lore, he paid multiple visits to the Hammock House, an elegant white building thought to be the oldest surviving house in Beaufort, North Carolina. This city is also home to a gigantic Blackbeard statue on U.S. Highway 70. Beaufort’s branch of the North Carolina Maritime Museum contains numerous Blackbeard artifacts.

8. A PIRATE-FILLED CEMETERY, ILE SAINTE-MARIE, MADAGASCAR

JialiangGao, Wikimedia Commons // GFDL

In the Age of Sail, pirates operated in nearly all of the world's oceans. Île Sainte-Marie, near Madagascar, was a magnet for pirates back in the 17th and 18th centuries. The island had plentiful fresh fruit to prevent scurvy and convenient natural harbors for safe anchorages. So many crews visited the island regularly that trading posts run by and for pirates became a vital part of the local economy. In its heyday, more than 1000 pirates lived on the island. A great many now lay buried in a cemetery near Ambodifotatra, Île Sainte-Marie’s biggest city. The 30 on-site tombstones of pirates can be identified because they were given etched-in skulls, crossbones, or both.

9. BLACK BART’S MEMORIAL STONE, CASNEWYDD-BACH, WALES

Daniel Defoe, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Typically cited as the most successful pirate of all time, Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts was born in the Welsh village of Casnewydd-Bach in 1682. In 1719, the crew of the slave ship he worked on elected Roberts, an experienced navigator and seafarer, as their new captain. Roberts really seemed to like the name Royal Fortune, which he gave to multiple ships. He also authored a pirate’s code of conduct for his crew in 1721.

The dreaded “Black Bart” would seize more than 400 ships before he died in battle on February 10, 1722. His hometown acknowledges its native son with a memorial stone on the village green.

10. BLACKBEARD’S POINT, HAMPTON, VIRGINIA

Charles Ellms, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Our adventure ends with a visit to a place that once displayed Blackbeard’s severed head [PDF]. North Carolina's governor, Charles Eden, granted the pirate a pardon in exchange for a hefty share of his loot, which upset the colony's wealthy planters. The elites asked Virginia's governor, Alexander Spotswood, to get rid of Blackbeard permanently. Spotswood sent a naval force led by Lieutenant Robert Maynard to engage the pirate's crews in combat. Maynard caught Blackbeard by surprise in North Carolina's Ocracoke Inlet, and a great battle ensued, with Maynard coming out on top. Blackbeard was killed in the fight and Maynard mounted the pirate's head on the bowsprit of his ship on their way back to Virginia. Later it was suspended from a pole at Tindall’s Point, at the confluence of the James and Hampton rivers, where it served for several years as a warning to anyone else with piratical designs. Tindall Point is now called Blackbeard’s Point.

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