Thursday, January 15, 2009

Edison Part I: Caloosahatchee Nights

When Thomas Edison visited Fort Myers on his honeymoon with Mina in 1895, he was so taken by the natural beauty of south Florida that he commented "There is only one Fort Myers and 90 million people are going to find it out." He established a winter home here along the banks of the Caloosahatchee River (pictured below) in 1897 and spent many winters tinkering in his lab and exploring the outdoors. Today the Edison/Ford Estates is a historical museum and botanical garden on the property once owned by friends Edison and Henry Ford. I volunteered here a few nights ago during Edison Holiday Nights where guests can enjoy the grounds and buildings lit up and decorated for the holidays. I enjoyed it enough that I came back the next night with a camera for the last night of the season.
My Great Aunt Hilda lived a mile up the road from here when I was a kid and we would visit the museum during our visits from Venice. The largest Banyan tree in North America stretches across an acre of land behind Ma-Le and Margie - (posing here with the equally gigantic Edison. He was 8 feet tall.)Edison's lab was used primarily for research into alternative derivations of rubber and napping. His failure to efficiently harvest latex from goldenrod was one of the few failures in relation to his many successful inventions and patents. So let's not dwell on it. I assume this was originally a 3-horse garage? In 1916, Edison's good friend Henry Ford moved in next door with dreams of ubiquitous motorized carriages, streets with no horse poop and something south Florida had never seen....traffic.As Edison grew older his visits to the "Seminole Lodge" became less and his winter visit in 1931 would be his last. He passed away at age 84 on October 18th of that year. One of the signature tree species found not only on Edison's property but lining the avenues and parking lots all across south Florida is the Royal Palm. The trees famously line McGregor Boulevard which runs the length of the Caloosahatchee River southwest towards Sanibel.
What looks like a black and white is actually a color photo with long exposure. if you look closely you can pick out some of the reds. In the background is Henry Ford's historic home.
I still enjoy walking the grounds and peering into his home and lab. That sounds creepy. But I do so with a sense of logging for a day when things seemed more genuine and less commercialized. As Edison conceived, designed, developed and evolved so much of his eras technology with the full intention of making life better and easier I wonder how he would look at the world we live in today.
"90 million people are going to find it out" echos in my head as I stand along the shore of the Caloosahatchee River. I've seen the quote in several places. Some sources suggesting Edison said it with sorrow. Other saying he said it with an enthusiastic vision of the future.
I think back to 1909. There was no hum of traffic. There were sparingly few bulbs to light up the night. This small plot of land - this piece of history remains relatively unchanged compared to what is out there....It is ironic that Edison and Ford's winter homes have become an oasis of simplicity.


  1. Oooh, do they still have the night parade for the festival?

  2. The Grand Parade is on February 21st, 2009.

  3. You forgot the endless xylophone music, which was 30% of the Christmas experience. Is there a way to add music in the blog? I loved also the games they displayed, specially the paper dolls.

  4. I think it was glockenspiels. And the paper dolls didn't have the same impact on me for some reason ;)

  5. It sounded as if the Edison home is closed during the winter, is that true? Are there other sights like that to visit?

  6. oh no - the Estate is open year round. For three weeks during the holiday they decorate and play holiday music and keep the estate open until 9 pm. Lots of things to do down here. I'm gratful that beaches is considered #1, Everglades is #2 and Shopping has dropped to #3 for things that tourists do.

    The Estate is hugely popular. The Koreshan State Historic Site is great too. I'll post about that again soon.

  7. So...what is the other 70% ofthe experience?

  8. I've never toured the whole facility, but definitely have to put it on my list after reading. Thanks for sharing.