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13 things you should know about Orlando history

Dr. Phillips wasn’t really a doctor, theme parks that didn’t make it and more

Photo: Photos courtesy Jim Clark, License: N/A

Photos courtesy Jim Clark

Orange Avenue in Downtown Orlando in the 1930s



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7. How Lake Eola got its swans: The Brits have been coming to Orlando en masse since this city was in its infancy. In 1895, one of them, Charles Lord, had four swans shipped to Orlando – the city covered the $95 fee – because he fondly recalled the way the swans looked on the Thames River back home. Those swans’ descendants are still swimming in Lake Eola.

8. Orlando’s first Miss America winner didn’t actually win: Actually, Margaret Ekdahl won on a technicality. She won the Miss Florida pageant in 1928, but that year, facing financial problems, the Miss America pageant called off its Atlantic City contest. Instead, the state winners went to Miami Beach for the Miami National Beauty Contest, which everyone referred to as Miss America anyway. Ekdahl came in third. However, a family friend and local businessman alleged that the winner was not actually from California, but rather Oklahoma, and the runner-up, Miss Texas, was married – an automatic disqualification. Miss Texas refused to return her crown or prize money, but Ekdahl was officially declared the winner. She died in 1932 of peritonitis at the age of 20.

9. Dr. Phillips wasn’t a doctor: There’s no denying Dr. Phillip Phillips, the man whose name adorns our soon-to-be-finished performing arts center, was many things – citrus innovator, philanthropist, benefactor to African-Americans in the age of segregation – but there’s no record that he was ever a doctor, even though that’s what he insisted on being called throughout his life. He might have been a veterinarian, but that’s unclear, too.

10. Orlando was the country’s testing ground for DDT in 1945: Toward the end of World War II, the U.S. government wanted to see if DDT could be used against agricultural pests. Over 10 days researchers sprayed more than 14,000 cows. Not only did DDT kill the hated horn fly, but also roaches by the bushel. Orlando officials, figuring DDT might also work against mosquitoes and other bugs, asked the government for a supply of the pesticide to spray in restaurants. Soon, trucks were driving along Orlando streets spraying the toxic chemical far and wide. DDT did help control mosquitoes, however, which made it easier to attract tourists.

11. How Orlando International Airport got its designation, MCO: What is now Orlando International Airport began as a training airstrip for British pilots during World War II. After the war, the army turned over the property to the city. Its designation, MCO, is in honor of Col. Mike McCoy, a pilot whose plane imploded and crashed while flying over Orlando.

12. The University of Central Florida’s first mascot was the Citronaut: The Citronaut was a cross between an orange and an astronaut, designed to reflect the region’s citrus past and Space Age future. It was mercifully short-lived.

13. Theme parks that weren’t (or didn’t make it): With the success of Disney (and later Universal) came many imitators. Most of them failed. Theme parks that never launched or crashed soon after include: Circus World, Boardwalk and Baseball, Six Flags Stars Hall of Fame Wax Museum, Little England, Splendid China, Roy Rogers’ unnamed western dude ranch; Veda Land (which combined magic and transcendental meditation), Winter Wonderlando, Hurricane World and Bible World.

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