Jim Abbott on Travel
Postcards from Florida
December 6, 2009
It's not inaccurate to say that Kissimmee is best known for its T-shirt shops and souvenir stops on congested U.S. Highway 192. But there's also at least one historic attraction that's kitschy in the very best way.
Venture off the busy highway into Kissimmee's charming, old-fashioned business district and turn off Broadway toward Lake Tohopekaliga on Monument Avenue. A couple blocks on the right, within view of the Amtrak station, is the Monument of States, a legitimate landmark with a story tied to local history.
Although the colorful 40-foot tower adorned with stones from all 50 states and 20 foreign countries is hard to miss, it qualifies as an obscure attraction. My informal poll of longtime colleagues and Central Florida residents drew plenty of blank stares.
Staring, as it turns out, is pretty much the only thing to do at the monument, which doesn't come equipped with any fancy interactive displays. Even a plastic box with a flier about its history would be a good idea.
Especially since the history involves local history and one of Kissimmee's most colorful characters.
Dedicated by Sen. Claude Pepper in 1943, the tower was the brainchild of Dr. Charles Bressler-Pettis, president of Kissimmee's All States Tourist Club. Though he went to medical school at his parents' urging, Bressler-Pettis never stopped following his artistic heart.
In his heyday, he was an active member of the Kissimmee chapter of Lion's International and drove a gold Cadillac adorned with a life-sized lion sculpture on the roof. Emblazoned on the doors was his preferred name for the city he loved — KissMe — an idea that never gained traction.
The monument, however, was a success.
The result is a tower showcasing 1,500 stones collected over 22 years, a trove that includes meteorites, fossils, stalagmites, pieces of old buildings, petrified wood, teeth and bone. The rocks are embedded in concrete slabs inscribed with the donor's name and location.
It's not a destination attraction. But if you're in the neighborhood, combine a look at one man's quirky vision with a pleasant downtown stroll or a sidewalk lunch at nearby Chef John's Dockside.
It beats a T-shirt shop.
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