History hidden in a sock drawer

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Like many men, acknowledges Roger Crawford (’67), he has a habit of tucking away sentimental treasures in his sock drawer. That’s where, back in 1971, he stashed an audiocassette of a boat tour he enjoyed, not knowing it would one day be an important piece of local history.

Crawford, president of Crawford Commercial real estate and president of the Wake Forest Club Tallahassee/Panama City, Fl., said his sociology major/economics minor prepared him to make his mark in a world of successful people — the kind he’d been surrounded by when his father ran the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. “My major helped me understand why people do what they do, how to motivate them and what they’re thinking,” he said.

As a freshman, he struggled with going from being a big fish in a high school pond to being just another fish. “Ed Wilson (’43) recognized I was troubled and he took me aside,” said Crawford. “What I learned from him and from Wake Forest was, ‘Don’t ever quit.’ ”

That knowledge and attitude helped him along the way when, not long out of college in 1968, he heard the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce was looking for someone to lead a project aimed at preserving that city as the state capital of Florida.

It seemed that down in Orlando, plans were underway for a huge theme park that promised to attract millions of visitors. “In those days Florida was ruled by a group of good ol’ boys known as the “pork chop gang,” said Crawford, and the gang wanted to move the state capital to Orlando. He took the job and moved to Tallahassee sight-unseen.

“My job was to raise money to save the capital and figure out what was unique about the city,” said Crawford. As it turned out, that didn’t take long. He soon discovered it was home to many cultural and natural treasures including Wakulla Springs State Park, where abundant plant and animal life had provided the set for two of his favorite Tarzan films and “Creature from the Black Lagoon.”

Wakulla Springs boat tour

Enthralled by Wakulla Springs, he hatched an idea to showcase Tallahassee by hosting a national writers conference there. The park and its glass bottom boat tours were key to positioning the Panhandle city on the national tourism scene.

When the conference came to town in 1971, said Crawford, “There was a new toy out called a cassette recorder so I got one.” On the boat tour he set his recorder up alongside those belonging to writers from the likes of Good Housekeeping and NPR. He was mesmerized by the storytelling style of the boat captain, the late Luke Smith Sr., who majestically drawled “This is the la-a-a-argest spring in the world, it flows over six hundred thousand gallo-n-n-n-ns of wah-tahhhhh a minute … .” (Link to the original audiotape here on the Florida Folklife Program’s Facebook page.)

That tape made such an impact that it earned a place in his sock drawer, where it stayed until about a year and a half ago when Crawford took the tour again with friends, among them Florida park services official Jeff Hugo. After noting that the tour storytellers lacked a bit of Luke Smith’s style, Crawford mentioned he had that 1971 tape and Hugo, sensing a historical gem, asked to hear it. Crawford was relieved to find it still played. After four decades, Smith’s voice remained clear, and a piece of Tallahassee history was unearthed.

Through the efforts of several, including Crawford, Hugo and Crawford’s music teacher, Peter Hoesing, the recording was converted to compact disc and last fall Crawford handed over a copy of it to Luke Smith, the elder Smith’s grandson who has carried on the family tradition as a boat captain at Wakulla Springs. The recording brought tears to his eyes.

The tape has helped revitalized boat tours at the park, with guides incorporating some of Smith’s language and storytelling style into their presentations. For history buffs there’s a renewed interest in the area’s storytelling legacy. “The state people are interested in researching Florida’s oral history,” said Crawford, adding the magical recording might soon be available online.

As for the original audiocassette, it’s back in his sock drawer.

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