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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Hollywood Meets Uganda

Because some of you inquired what happened with last week's truncated column, I'm going to return to the final sections about "Olivia's African Diary." You may remember that this is a journal of a 1932 trek from South Africa's Cape Town to Cairo, which many people think of as more the Middle East than Africa.  When we left off, they were in what then was termed French Equatorial Africa -- and to my surprise, film companies already in 1932 were using its locales for tropical scenes.  Author Olivia Stokes was accompanied by photographer Mary Marvin Breckinridge, who was called "Marvin" and who brought both still and moving cameras on the trip.  The book contains many of her photos.


So, because of Marvin's interest in film, Olivia spent ink on movies that were being made there.  I won't try to summarize this topic, but she remarked that one – a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie – "was banned in Uganda because of the fact that a Native carries a white girl."  It was a land of contrasts, as on the same day that she recorded this Hollywood presence, she also wrote:  "We passed a herd of about forty elephants going in single file up a hill."  Later, in Sudan, she said that natives told them elephants sometimes "committed suicide by curling their trunks into their mouths and blowing their brains out."


Uganda is home to pygmies, and she wrote of "the really saintly Apolo, a Native minster who works among them."  Although an African, Apolo was not a pygmy, and she said that because adults were not allowed to learn the language, he had some small boys go and live with them and learn it… Most of the Pygmies live in grass and leaf shelters on the ground, while some tribes still live in little leaf shelters in the trees.  If a Pygmy is hungry, he will cut a chunk off the leg of a passing elephant, while if he really wishes to kill an elephant, he sneaks between his legs and spears him in the stomach…. They steal grain and fruit from the Forest people, but always leave a piece of meat hanging outside the village in payment."

In contrast to pygmies, the people in Sudan were "very tall," with some estimated at seven feet.  They were "practically naked, and "all carry at least one spear and many also a bow and arrows."  Modern technology was being introduced, however, as they saw "a large Raleigh bicycle advertisement of a Native thumbing his nose at a pursuing lion."  The most surprising thing about Sudan, though, was that "there is no color bar."  Natives who could afford it sat in first class with them and Australians on the train to the White Nile branch of the huge Nile River. 




On the boat north, they met a Miss Wolf "who has charge of all the midwifery work in the Southern Sudan."  Again, they learned interesting things:  "This lady said that the Shilluks have an old custom which makes it necessary for their king to be speared – he cannot die in his bed.  The present one has managed to live fifteen years, but they tried to kill him a couple of months ago."  Stokes described the Shilluks as "very tall," but statistics were hard to come by because they refused to be measured – for valid reasons, from their point of view, as the only time they were measured was when their graves were dug.  Because many superstitions surrounded death, "They have to give a cow to the gravedigger and he cannot return to his home until he has passed through a purification ceremony…  The Presbyterians have not tried to clothe the Shilluks, so Dr. McLenahan said it was a wonderful sight to see the stark naked choirboys march up to their place in the church on Sundays!"


Khartoum, a city on the Nile about midway between modern Eritrea and Chad, was the only place where they spoke directly to Natives about slavery.  They asked "the Headman if there were any slaves in the town," and he replied, "No, but there were several Negro women, unveiled, walking about [who] were practically, though not technically, slaves.  He knew one man who had gained his freedom who was still paying ten piasters a month to his former owner. Theoretically, everyone can get his freedom through applying to an official, but inherited slaves are married off to other slaves and thus a sort of domestic slave class has arisen.  In Abyssinia there is supposed to be still actual slave raiding going on." 


Abyssinia was another term for Ethiopia -- and very soon, any practice of raiding enemy villages for war captives to sell as slaves would be abandoned, as in 1935, all Ethiopians faced bombs from Italian airplanes during the first incidents of World War II.  Just as an aside from the diary and for your information, historically most slaves were brought to the west coast of Africa after being captured by enemy tribes.  The biggest slave markets were in ports controlled by Portugal, especially Ghana and Senegal, which were closest to the Western Hemisphere.  The east coast had less slave trading, but the unfortunate point is that virtually all Africans initially were sold by other Africans.  The question of how much slavery still goes on, both there and on other continents, is worthy of more of our attention.


The last places that the diary details were in the lower regions of Egypt. At Luxor, known as "Tombs of Kings," she noted that "they still use the forked stick as a plow… The weird songs of the little boys who sit on the shafts of waterwheels to speed up the oxen in their circular route mingles with the braying of donkeys and grunting of camels…  In the evening, we drove to Karnak, and it was too beautiful by full moon, especially in the great hall."


Stokes had seen other aspects of the Nile Valley, including Cairo, earlier in her life and understandably found it less noteworthy.  Her December summary of two schools at Khartoum was the last to focus on women and girls.  With a big Muslim population, she said, "the teaching has to be largely in English as there are few books in modern Arabic… Miss Grove gets all shades and colors, and mixtures of French, Egyptian, Greek, English, Arab, and Negro, among others.  The girls receive a certificate…, but there seems to be little for them to do with their education, and they aren't often wanted as wives."




The front page of last week's La Gaceta featured a picture of the Orange Grove Hotel, which was Tampa's most prestigious from its beginning just before the Civil War until New Yorkers Henry and Margaret Plant built the Tampa Bay Hotel just prior to the Spanish-American War.  And yes, much of his money came from her, his second wife.  She grew up on 5th Avenue, living next door to the Rockefeller family.  Her connections greatly enhanced the generosity that Congress showed to him and other railroad magnates.


There is a historical maker at the site of the Orange Grove Hotel, but it and other Tampa histories cite William B. Hooker as its head, which was true only briefly.  A closer reading of primary documents makes it clear that it actually was Hooker's daughter, Merobe (or Meroba) Hooker Crane, who ran the hotel during its best days.  Here's a version of the biography that I wrote for the Riverwalk statue in her honor.


Merobe's father, William Brinton Hooker, fought in the Second Seminole War of the 1830s and used the federal government's Armed Occupation Act of 1842 to acquire valuable land at no cost.  Hooker's Point on Tampa Bay is named for him, and he also owned as many as twenty slaves.  Merobe was born in Tampa in 1845, the sixth of an eventual eleven children; all but two were girls.  Her mother was Amanda Hair Hooker, a native of North Carolina, and she died leaving several still young children in 1863.  That was in the midst of the Civil War, in which her husband was an active participant, as he had been in warfare against the Seminoles thirty years earlier. 


Just like her mother, Merobe married a much older man.  She was 15 when she wed Simon Turman, Jr., an Indiana native and publisher of The Florida Peninsular.  He soon joined his father-in-law's Confederate unit and was killed in Georgia combat.  Meroba Hooker Turman thus lost three important figures in her life in less than a year:  her mother, Amanda Hair Hooker, in October 1863; her mother-in-law, Abija Cushman Turman, in January 1864; and her husband, Simon Turman, Jr. in May 1864.  At 19, she was a widow with a child. 


Her father did not mourn her mother for long, as Captain William B. Hooker married Nancy McCreight Cathcart in Marion County in March 1864.  She was a war widow with seven children; her first husband had died of disease at Camp Lee, Virginia in 1862.  The marriage did not work out, and they would separate in 1869.  By that time, William Hooker was "drinking heavily."  He died two years later, in 1871, and was buried in Oaklawn Cemetery.  Thus from age 19, Merobe's life revolved around the Orange Grove Hotel, which her father deeded to her in 1867. 




The hotel had been built less than a decade earlier, in 1859, and just before the war began.  With wide verandas on two floors, the mansion had upwards of 20 rooms, and in his prosperous days, William Hooker intended it as a family home.  The gracious building faced Madison Street, between Jefferson and East Streets, and according to historian (and mayor) D. B. McKay, Hooker owned "the entire block on which it stood."  The war, of course, much reduced the family's wealth, and with the death of Amanda Hooker, the home soon became a hotel.  Historian McKay, however, was an unrepentant Confederate and chose not to mention the devastating effects of the war when he said, "it was designed as a residence for the Hooker family…but was so large that its maintenance was burdensome."


The site is the current courthouse annex, which is not home to the county commission, but instead is the actual county courthouse in the sense that judicial trials are held there.  The historic marker on its grounds that commemorates the Orange Grove, however, does not mention the major role of the Hooker family in developing the site.   Instead, credit goes to Merobe Hooker's second husband, Henry Lafayette Crane, usually called "Judge Crane."  She married him in 1868, when she was 23.  He had been born in St. Augustine in 1838, but his parents were not native Southerners, and they moved back to New Jersey when the Civil War loomed.  His mother, Sophia Crane, thus had faced the emotional turmoil of going North with her husband while her son stayed and fought for the South.


The Orange Grove Hotel was the southernmost point of stagecoach lines, and it stayed in business when stagecoaches gave way to railroads -- and after the opulent Tampa Bay Hotel opened on the opposite side of the river.  Newspaper records show that "Mrs. Judge Crane" accepted an invitation from the Plants to attend their grand opening in 1891.  The Orange Grove structure was not razed until 1945, almost a century after it was built.  But in the romantic style of history – especially women's history – that was popular until recently, the most noted thing about the hotel was not that a woman ran it, but that Georgia poet Sidney Lanier wrote "Tampa Robins" when he stayed there in the winter of 1877.


Beyond her hotel, Merobe Hooker Crane played other important roles in Tampa during an era when women were discouraged from civic activism.  She led the preservation of Oaklawn Cemetery, where the first burial, in 1850, had been that of her older sister, Nancy Hooker Hagler.  Married to the Hillsborough County sheriff, Nancy died in childbirth at age 16.  Merobe Hooker Crane also was president of the first hospital on Florida's West Coast, the institutional ancestor of Tampa General.  She and other women created it to deal with an 1887 yellow fever epidemic that was so devastating it may have killed one in every ten residents.  She died in April, 1898, while Tampa was crowded with soldiers headed to Cuba and the Spanish-American War.



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