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Historic Society kicks off season with Florida Folklore

November 6, 2018
By JESSE MEADOWS , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Have you ever heard of the Barefoot Mailman? Dr. Caren Neile wants to tell you about him.

"There are several Barefoot Mailman stories," the storyteller says. "I like the Acrefoot Johnson one that took place on the west coast. That's the one I'm going to be telling."

On Nov. 19. at 7 p.m., The Estero Island Historic Society will host A Grab Bag of Old Florida Stories, where Neile will share folk tales she has collected for her book, Florida Lore.

Article Photos

Dr. Caren Neile


"I did the book for my college students to learn about Florida, about the legends, myths and folk tales circulating around Florida, but also I did it because beyond the university, these stories are still getting lost," she said.

Neile teaches storytelling studies at Florida Atlantic University, and she currently co-hosts The Public Storyteller on Miami public radio.

With a background in teaching, public speaking, and acting, she discovered professional storytelling when she saw a show by the actor Spalding Gray.

"I saw him perform a number of times.. and then I found out that there is a whole world of professional storytellers out there."

"We are performers, but we're not actors. We don't generally memorize a script. We know the story, like you would know the story of, heaven forbid, if you had a car accident, and you had to tell a cop the story, you would tell what happened.

"But then the next time you told it to your mother, you'd have told it already, so it would be a little different, and then the next time you told it in court, it's a different audience, and also you've told it and you've had time to think about what is most effective.

"So every time we tell a story, we are working on that story, whether we realize it or not. We are improving upon it, making it more persuasive, making it more meaningful, and a professional storyteller just does that a little more consciously, and with an eye to the art of it."

Storytelling for Neile isn't just a way to entertain, but also a method of educating outside the rigid structure of a classroom.

"(It's) taking what I've learned as an academic and sharing it with the public in a way that makes sense," she says. "So the public is educated.. and can feel a little bit more connected to this knowledge in a more interesting way perhaps than if they'd taken a college class."

This event, sponsored by the Florida Humanities Council, kicks off a season of presentations by the Historic Society. From the lighthouses of Florida to the foods that define the state, the Society will host academics and writers to talk on a variety of topics every month until April.

All are welcome to join for an open house and bake sale on Dec. 8 from 2-4 p.m. at the Historic Cottage and Annex on Bay Road.

This season's talks will include:

- The Lighthouses of Florida

A special presentation by Dr. Kevin McCarthy

Jan. 14, 7 p.m.

- The Ten Foods that Define Florida

Gary Mormino

Jan. 25, 10:30 a.m.

- "Oh, Florida!" To some people, it's a paradise. To others, it's a punchline.

Craig Pittman

Feb. 11, 7 p.m.

- The History and Significance of Florida's Springs

Dr. Tom Berson

March 11, 7 p.m.

- Florida in the Civil War? Believe it!

Eliot Kleinberg

April 8, 7 p.m.

All talks will be held in the Community Room on the third floor of the Fort Myers Beach Public Library at 2755 Estero Blvd. Meetings are free and open to the public, and donations are welcome.



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