"Let it be signified to me through any channel ... that the possession of the Floridas would be desirable to the United States, and in sixty days it will be accomplished.” -- General Andrew Jackson in a letter to President James Monroe
True to his words, Andrew Jackson seized La Florida from Spain and was sworn in as Florida’s first territorial governor in Plaza Ferdinand VII in Pensacola. On July 17,1821,Jackson declared Pensacola the capital of the territory and served as governor until he formed a working government later that year. A bust of Jackson remains in city’s historic Palafox district.
The Truman Little White House has welcomed six presidents to Key West. Harry S. Truman spent the most time, logging 11 trips and more than 175 days. President John F. Kennedy hosted British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in the 1960s. William Howard Taft and Dwight Eisenhower also used the Little White House for relaxation as later Presidents would use Camp David. Today, the Truman Little White House is a public, living museum as well as a retreat and place of government business for our nation’s leaders.
Seventy miles off Key West is Fort Jefferson, built in the mid-19th century to protect the vital shipping channel. The fort once imprisoned Dr. Samuel Mudd, who had set the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Mudd was convicted of conspiracy in the murder. Four years later, in 1869, President Andrew Johnson pardoned Mudd for working tirelessly to save lives during a yellow fever epidemic at the fort. In 1970, Fort Jefferson was listed on the National Historic Register and in 1992 was designated a national park.
Another tiny island off Florida’s Atlantic Coast near Palm Beach held a secret for years. The Navy’s Seabees in 1961 constructed a secret bunker on Peanut Island. It was an evacuation site for President Kennedy in the event of a nuclear attack during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Kennedy Bunker is now declassified and open to the public. Visitors pass down a long metal tunnel and through a radiation testing station before entering what would have been America’s command center during a nuclear attack.
All 44 Presidents bring history to life at Walt Disney Worlds’ Magic Kingdom. Barack Obama delivers the oath of office via animatronics at the Hall of Presidents. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush recorded their own dialogue for the attraction.
The Presidents Hall of Fame has a hands-on classroom where teachers and students can sit in a chair from the Oval Office or from Ford’s Theater as well as peek inside a 60- by 20-foot replica of the White House.
President Warren Harding’s wife’s childhood home is now a fine dining restaurant called The Cellar. Harding used the home as a wintering spot for his family to escape Ohio’s bitter weather.
On Florida’s west coast, inventor Thomas Edison and businessman Henry Ford, who lived side by side, welcomed several presidents, including Harding and Herbert Hoover, at their winter estates. The collection of historic homes including Edison’s Botanic Research Laboratory is open daily for tours.
The 2012 host city for the Republican National Convention welcomed then-Col. Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders in 1898 at the Tampa Bay Hotel. The magnificent building with turrets, domes and minarets was called Henry Plant’s “Palace” when it opened. The national historic landmark is now a museum on the University of Tampa campus filled with treasures and, oftentimes, Teddy Roosevelt regaling visitors with stories from his bygone era.
VISIT FLORIDA is available to work with producers, reporters, and writers to identify experts, venues and archival video and photos to support this project.
For more information call Pam Forrester (850) 205-3827 or email at: pforrester@VISITFLORIDA.org.