Jim Abbott on Travel
Postcards from Florida
November 9, 2013
I always had been a guy who goes it alone, a lone wolf, a solitary wanderer on scenic Florida paths.
That all changed, at least temporarily, when I paid $5 above the general $20 admission for the guided tour of the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers (edisonfordwinterestates.org). Andrew, the chaperon for our group of roughly a dozen visitors, was a college history major in Fort Myers with an infectious enthusiasm for the past.
For a little more than an hour, Andrew offered facts, engaging tales, hands-on demonstrations and even a few jokes that combined to open my eyes anew to the charms of a relatively hidden gem that I'd covered on my own many times.
On the guided tour, for instance, visitors are serenaded by a screeching big-band march that blares from a 1913 Victrola, Edison's favorite invention. After donning white gloves, our guide explained how the contraption works as well as the reason that its cylinder never stops spinning on a typical day.
Outside, Andrew snapped open a leaf to reveal the gooey latex inside as he explained the experiments that the inventor conducted with automobile maker Henry Ford and industrialist Harvey Firestone to extract rubber from banyans and other trees on the property.
Across palm-tree-lined McGregor Street, our guide expressed genuine amazement at the opportunity to gaze at the sofa where Edison took naps or the dining table where he convened with family and famous visitors such as President Herbert Hoover. He humanized the legendary inventor with a tale about how Edison once slept on the porch as a fire brigade frantically bailed water from the Caloosahatchee River to extinguish a fire that was threatening the estate.
He pointed out that both Ford and Edison were men of relatively simple tastes. The founder of Ford Motors, for instance, kept only one car in a garage built to hold several more. Although he constructed one of the first swimming pools in Florida, Edison didn't like to swim.
The holidays are a good time to visit. The attraction is hosting evening guided tours Nov. 29-Dec. 4 as part of its annual Holiday Nights. Adorned with lights, the grounds will be more beautiful than ever.
And take it from a converted lone wolf, the guided tours enhance the experience.
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