History of Christmas & Herman the mastedon: Tallahassee’s little-known past

History of Christmas Tallahassee

Tallahassee holds an improtant place in the history of Christmas, boasting the first North American celebration. (photo: Iricka Berlinger/Tallahasee Democrat)

DealChicken has uncovered his share of little-known facts as he’s hunted and pecked around Tallahassee for the best deals. From Tallahassee’s role in the history of Christmas to its oldest resident—Herman the mastadon—there’s a lot of fun history, science and facts to be found in Florida’s capital.

Before Christmas trees and string lights found their way into homes and businesses across the United States, a much smaller celebration was found in Tallahassee. The first North American Christmas was celebrated in the Hernando De Soto encampment after the Spanish explorer first landed in 1539, bringing with him not only Spanish influence but also a helping of Christmas cheer. If only he knew what a big role he played in the American history of Christmas!

Tallahassee has attracted many residents and businesses, but one has a little more “pull” than the others. Tallahassee is home to the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, one of the highest-powered magnet laboratories in the world. The facility, located on the Florida State University Campus, is capable of producing a magnetic field one million times stronger than that of the Earth itself.

One of the oldest residents of the Tallahassee area is Herman, a mastodon estimated to be between 12,000 and 18,000 years old. Herman, who is estimated to have weighed more than five tons in his prime time, had his skeletal remains discovered in Wakulla Springs, one of the world’s oldest and deepest freshwater springs. Herman was the most recent bone find in the Wakulla Springs and now watches over the other exhibits at the Museum of Florida History.

Tallahassee’s Goodwood Estate has had multiple owners throughout its history, many with interesting stories. The first owners of the estate never even got to live in it, and when it passed through the family in an inheritance, the home ended up in a legal battle spanning over a decade. Afterward, the home was sold several times. One of the most significant buyers, Senator William C. Hodges, purchased the estate solely so that his wife, Margaret, could own one of the beds located within the building.

One Tallahassee resident, Dr. Laura Pauline Jepsen, brought the idea of natural preservation to a new level. Jepsen bought the land around a specific tree to not only build her home but also to protect the tree. A fee of 25 acorns per year is paid to the Live Oak Foundation to keep the tree registered and protected. The large and ancient oak is now known as the Lichgate Oak, while Jepsen’s home is known as Lichgate House.

Florida State University, one of Tallahassee’s most well-known educational institutions, doesn’t just offer the traditional undergraduate and graduate degrees in history, law and the like amongst their 300-plus degree options. They also offer “the greatest Collegiate Show on Earth” through the Flying High Circus, a student-led circus that tours the world and teaches the various arts involved with circus performance.

Tallahassee was chosen as the Florida state capital not as a first choice but as a compromise. Pensacola and St. Augustine were in a heated competition to become the capital city. To appease tempers and the contending cities, a midway point between the two options was sought instead. Tallahassee, positioned between St. Augustine and Pensacola, fit the bill.

The city of Tallahassee has a long history of battles, from the Spanish and Native Americans to British attacks and beyond. Still, the city is well known for resilience: Tallahassee was the only Confederate city east of the Mississippi to withstand Union troops, even defending themselves in one battle with only local men.

History makes its mark in Tallahassee with a plethora of historical markers and buildings, but modern style and music also pay homage to the city. Rapper and hip hop sensation T-Pain pays his dues to his hometown with his stage name. The T in “T-Pain” is an abbreviation for Tallahassee, a constant reminder of the performer’s roots.

The Tallahassee St. Marks railroad used to help transport goods and more throughout the state, but now the railroad facilitates another form of transportation. Rather than transporting cargo on tracks, the Tallahassee St. Marks railroad is now a nature trail with numerous biking and hiking options for those inclined to partake in a little outdoor exercise and fun.

Mastered the history of Christmas and other Tallahassee tidbits? Find out some fun Jacksonville facts.