Look!

Look!  Up in the sky!

It’s a bird!  It’s a plane!

No, it’s Tarzan and Jane!

… and Cheetah …

How many of you knew that some of those old Tarzan movies from the 1930s were filmed in Silver Springs, Florida? I think I knew it several times.  Then I forgot it.  Each time.  It’s one of those odd factoids that is fun when you hear it, but it doesn’t tend to stick.  At least not with me.

It is a widely held belief that wild rhesus monkeys were imported to Silver Springs for the Tarzan movies to help make everything look legit.  After filming was over, they stayed.  According to good old Wikipedia, though, the truth is a bit more forgettable (as is often the case).  A fellow who ran the Jungle Cruise boat ride bought the monkeys and put them on an island as a tourist attraction.  He didn’t know they could swim, however, and the monkeys escaped, spreading throughout the Silver River basin.  Hollywood was just an accidental beneficiary.

Speaking of monkeys, or chimps to be more exact and respectful, one of the original Cheetahs supposedly outlived both Tarzan and Jane, passing away in 2011 at the age of 80.  A number of chimps and one little boy played the role over the years, and controversy swirls around whether this particular chimp was really that old and, indeed, how many (if any) of the movies he actually appeared in.  I don’t know.  I’m kind of sick of controversy over this and controversy over that.  Let’s just accept it and move on.  Rest in peace, dear Cheetah.  Real deal or not, I hereby anoint you as the honorary representative of the entire hairy little Hollywood tribe known as Cheetah.  Thanks for all the laughs.

Why are we on this odd tangent?  Because Dawny and I spent some lovely days and nights at Silver Springs State Park this week.  While I try to be ever-vigilant on our walks so as not to miss out on local wildlife, this time I was especially hopeful that I would get to see a wild monkey up in a tree. I could easily lie and say I saw one.  How would you know?  But, alas, I cannot tell a lie.  No monkeys for me.

The campground is not near the main tourist entrance (where you will find the headspring of Silver Springs, the Silver River’s famed glass-bottom boats, beautiful gardens, and mysterious monkeys, etc.), but that is an easy drive away.  It is walking distance to a little museum, though, as well as Cracker Homestead, a replica village of Florida’s colonial-era settlers.  Lots of school groups come to the museum and village to absorb a bit of their rich local history.  The picture to the left is of one of the buildings in the Cracker Homestead exhibit, a replica of a one-room school house that doubled as church on Sundays.

I thought “Cracker” was an insulting name and was kind of surprised to see an educational village named as such.  Wikipedia notes that the term Cracker comes from Elizabethan England, and is a reference to someone full of boastfulness and entertaining tale-telling.  That doesn’t sound so bad.

It reminds me of Tennessee’s favorite son, Davy Crockett, famous for his tall tales, who bragged about his life and accomplishments in his 1834 autobiography.  Some say he wrote it to bolster his presidential ambitions.  Let’s not underestimate the man, though.  Crockett was a hard-working frontiersman, soldier, businessman, and politician who was elected to Tennessee’s state legislature and later to three terms in the US Congress.  After losing his congressional re-election bid in 1835 and with his presidential hopes evidently dashed, Crockett traveled to Texas, where he joined the fight for independence from Mexico.  He died at the Battle of the Alamo the following year.

As befitting any good hero, controversy has surrounded Davy Crockett, including differing accounts as to exactly how–or even if–he died at the Alamo (move over, Elvis).  As for little Davy killing a bear when he was only three, we can thank Hollywood for that tall tale.  And don’t even get started on the whole coonskin cap thing.  All I know for certain is that, according to the photographic evidence included in this post (photos don’t lie), his cap size was 1/4 cup.

Then consider George Washington and the story of his honesty and humility when, as a wee lad, he admitted to chopping down the cherry tree.  It never happened.  We cannot label our first president a Cracker, though.  That story was made up a few years after his death by his biographer, Mason Locke Weems, a minister-turned-book-agent, who wanted his book to inspire future generations (and to sell lots of copies, of course) by extolling Washington’s great virtues, even if he took us there by way of a few … what?  Lies?  Parables?  Alternative facts?

Well, I believe if you survived and thrived in such times and conditions, you likely had quite a collection of wondrous tales.  You had a right to boast a bit and perhaps embellish a point or two.  Haven’t we all?  And if Hollywood, politicians, teachers, preachers, commentators, and writers (now that’s a shifty bunch) shape your words and shade your portrait–usually to suit their own agenda and/or line their pockets–well that is the price and the glory of fame.  I suppose it is up to each of us to sift carefully through sources and motives to discover the truth on our own, such as it is.

That ends our circuitous side trip for today.  Thank you for coming.  Watch your step on the way out, enjoy a cracker or two, and have a truly memorable day.  🙂

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