Florida: a guide to the southernmost state

Selected content from Florida, part 2: Diamond ball and the etymology of ‘cracker’

Part two in a series of selected highlights from the Work Project Administration’s Florida guidebook, Florida: a guide to the southernmost state, 1940 (c1939). All content is quoted directly from the Florida guidebook. Any comments in brackets are mine.

[These selected excerpts are from the sections on Florida’s folklore history and its sports and recreation activities. The WPA’s take on the history of the word ‘cracker’ is particularly interesting]:

On Florida’s Folklore

The folklore of Florida is in great measure a heritage from the ‘cracker,’ the Negro, the Latin-American, and the Seminole. From these four strains has been woven a pattern of beliefs and superstitions that dictate many of the ways of Florida life.

The cracker, a pioneer backwoods settler of Georgia and Florida, has come to be known as a gaunt, shiftless person, but originally the term meant simply a native, regardless of his circumstances. Belief that the name may have been shortened from ‘corn cracker’ is given credence in Georgia, but in Florida it derives from the cracking of a whip. It is a name honorably earned by those who made bold talk with their lengthy, rawhide bullwhips in the days when timber and turpentine were the State’s chief industries. Those enterprises involved heavy-haul jobs, with oxen the motive power, bullwhips to keep them moving, and the pistol-shot crack of these whips to signal the wearisome progress of the haul through the woods. Cracking the whip became, in fact, an art and a means of communication–an art of making a noise without permitting the whip to touch the animals, and a signal system by which conversations were held across miles of timber barrens (Florida, p. 128).

On Florida’s Sports and Recreation

Florida offers many exciting spectator sports: horse and dog races, air and auto races, boxing and wrestling, basketball, baseball, football, diamond ball, polo, and jai alai […] Florida claims to have originated diamond ball, now known as softball, played by more than 3,000 teams throughout the State (p. 118)

[Softball? Well, you’re welcome, rest of the United States.]


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