Saturday, January 15, 2011

Safety Harbor

Today was part one of my busy volunteering weekend. I met up with 4 other volunteers at the Safety Harbor museum in Clearwater. It was about a 45 minute drive to get there, but wow, what nice scenery driving to it! Beach views are the best, especially when the water is pretty and blue like it is in Florida.

After all 5 of us had all arrived at the museum, we met Jim the curator, who instructed us on what we would be doing that day. The grounds had dead leaves everywhere, and wood piles near the firepit that needed to be tidied up. There was dead undergrowth that also needed to be taken care of. We were given two rakes, one broom, and a leaf blower for our use, and we got right to work!

Just for a bit of back history on the place I was volunteering, (I learned all of this today too!) the Safety Harbor Museum is an archeological museum, which means it is chock full of arrow heads, mammoth teeth, and history. We were able to peruse the artifacts inside after our cleaning duties were over, but I'll get to the inside of the museum later. After all, outside is what I saw first!

There were a lot of interesting little areas outside the museum. There were sculptures throughout the grounds (one of them is in the picture above), and there was a 'sacred area' which we were not supposed to tread on. It was a fairly small roped off area that one of the volunteers told me was an Indian burial ground. According to a sign in the front of the museum, the town of Safety Harbor was actually the Native American town of 'Ucita' in the 1400's, which would explain the Indian Burial ground, but I was a bit confused by the size of it. It looked like it could have perhaps 2-3 graves max, unless they were all just piled on top of each other, which didn't seem right to me at all.

None of the other volunteers could explain to me why it was so small, but I made sure to ask Jim later in the day. He told me that it was actually an Indian REburial ground. About 3 years ago, someone left a shoebox full of human bones outside the museum. The caretakers of the museum sent them off to be identified, and they turned out to be Indian remains - though they never had them carbon dated to find out their age. I asked Jim if they ever found out who had left the shoebox, but he laughed and shook his head. "Most likely someone just found them on their property, and they didn't want the hassle that would come with finding human remains, so they just left them here for us."

The remains were reburied in a traditional ceremony by the ancestors of the Florida Native Americans. Jim said that it was actually this ceremony that had brought him to Safety Harbor, and he'd been there ever since! I searched a bit online to see if I could find the story of the shoebox Indian, and I did find an article from 2007:

While working outside, I came across another little sculpture that looked like a tombstone. However, this one was not roped off, and nothing was posted about not walking over the grave. I am not sure if you can see it, but at the bottom it also says something about the guy named being chief surgeon in Napoleon's army. I later asked Jim about this marker (and whether there was really a body buried there) but, as I think I suspected anyway, it was NOT a grave. It was more of a tribute to the man (who was actually named Odet Philippe - despite it being spelled Phillipi on the stone). Jim also told me that he was actually never in Napoleons army, that the dates would have been all wrong. (Again, I looked up this information online when I got home, and I found this site (
which states that while rumors say that he was a childhood friend of Napoleon and then grew to become his chief surgeon, this is highly unlikely as they were 20 years apart in age. What IS true about Odet Philippe was that he was the first person to cultivate grapefruit in Florida, which is a huge thing in itself! Why people would need to make up anything about Napoleon is beyond me!

The museum grounds outside had quite a few trees with a type of moss (which is also an airplant) growing all over them. I had seen this plant throughout Florida, and I loved the mysterious look it would give to whatever it was growing on. When I first moved to Florida, I had thought that these were specific types of trees (like weeping willows) that had leaves that drooped down towards the ground. I only learned the truth a few months ago. I mentioned to one of the other volunteers that I thought the look of that moss on the trees was beautiful, and asked her whether she knew what the name of the plant actually was. She told me that she didn't know the name, but that those plants were actually invasive and damaging to the trees. During the rainy season, they would weight down the tree with all the water the moss absorbed, and cause branches to break. So, I guess the moral of that is - things that are beautiful... can also be dangerous. Kinda like me. *cough*

OK, so after an hour and a half of raking and blowing leaves, hauling wood, and throwing out trash, the place looked fantastic. Jim congratulated us on our work, and asked if we wanted to take a look around the museum. Of course we did!

The museum was fairly small compared to other museums I had been to, but just because it was small did not mean it was any less interesting than some of the bigger ones. It had some really cool exibits... including one area that talked about a prehistoric armadillo that was as big as a volkswagon:

One of my favorite things to look at were the prehistoric masks:

The early Floridian (post-Native American era) sections was really fascinating to see too.

I can almost picture the kids that would have been playing with these toys... (which looked a lot more adorable in person than they do in these pictures by the way!)

"Jenny! Can you ring doctor Jones for me? Lassie bit the neighbor boy again."

We all got a kick out of this alcohol still. The card says: "The Moonshine Sting - This still was seized by the Florida Department of Alcohol and Tobacco in a sting operation in the early 1960's. It was reported that over 200 people became sick or blind, and that some even died because of contaminated moonshine. The cause of the contamination was attributed to lead used in welding the seams and dead animals added to the liquid to speed up fermentation!"

Mmmmm, dead animals added to the alcohol. Bottoms up!

There was lots more to look at in the museum, but I don't want to ruin it for anyone who might want to go for themselves! I highly recommend it, especially if you have an interest in history, or ancient artifacts. In a few months, they are going to have an exhibit on the Berlin Wall which I am certainly going to come to see! I know I am showing my age, but I do remember when that wall came down.

As we were getting ready to head out to our respective homes, I mentioned to Jim that I thought one of the areas in the front yard would look nice if it had stones around the sculpture. He thought about it, and said "Well, I think you are right, that would look nice. Why don't you guys do that the next time you come here?" Of course, I wasn't signed up for the next Safety Harbor at that time, but I signed up for the next one (not until a month from now) as soon as I got home. I definitely want to see my idea put into effect!

Just as I was about to get into my car, as an afterthought I turned back so I could ask Jim whether he knew what the mossy airplants on the trees were called. "Oh, you mean the Spanish Moss? Isn't it beautiful? It gives everything kind of the look of the deep south." Thank you Jim, for not focusing on the dangerous, but noticing the beautiful!


Dad said...

I loved your post Karen. Great job as usual. Keep them coming.

Lisa Sodan said...

you always write the best posts. you are, THE BLOG MASTER!! ;-)
looks like a cool museum! i love how you have been volunteering your time to help others. you are such a wonderful person (and sister).