25 Things You Should Know About Jacksonville, Florida

Benedek/iStock
Benedek/iStock

Nicknamed the First Coast by some and Jax by others, Jacksonville is Florida’s largest city—and, at 875 square miles, the largest city by area in the continental United States. With its entrepreneurial spirit, this sunny, historical community in northeastern Florida has left a sizable mark on multiple industries, from fast food to the motion picture business. It’s also the home of a giant owl, a misleadingly named tree, and the world’s foremost dinosaur poop collector.

1) Friendship Fountain on the Southbank Riverwalk is one of the city's most recognizable landmarks. The massive self-contained fountain can blast 3500 to 6500 gallons of water 100 feet in the air every minute, while 265 multicolored lights turn the mist into a rainbow-hued spectacle. Completed in 1965, the magnificent water feature is considered one of the largest on earth.

2) Civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph grew up in Jacksonville. Randolph created the first African-American labor union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, in 1925. He also pushed President Franklin D. Roosevelt to end discrimination in hiring practices on the basis of race, color, creed, or national origin in the federal government and defense industries. Randolph was among the key organizers of the March on Washington in 1963, where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his iconic “I have a dream” speech.

3) Merian C. Cooper, a screenwriter, film producer, and director best known for creating King Kong, was born here on October 23, 1893.

4) The southernmost battle of the Revolutionary War took place within Jacksonville’s current boundary. Forces from British-held Florida surprised a group of about 100 American troops on May 17, 1777, killing or capturing 47. Another 24 American militiamen were killed by Creek Indians allied with the British. The fight known today as the Battle of Thomas Creek took place three miles north of where the Jacksonville International Airport now stands.

5) The Jacksonville farmers market, founded in 1938, is Florida’s oldest. More than 20,000 people visit the daily market each week.

6) It probably won’t surprise you to learn that this city was named in honor of our seventh U.S. president—before he assumed that office. Jacksonville started out as an intersection between the St. Johns River and a British road that extended from St. Augustine to Georgia. Known originally as Cow Ford, the crossing was renamed Jacksonville in 1822, after General Andrew Jackson had served as Florida's military commissioner the previous year.

7) During World War II, the now-defunct Jax Brewing Company might have invented the six-pack. Because it couldn't afford to keep selling beer in expensive aluminum cans (steel had been requisitioned for the war effort), it began bottling its brews in glass longnecks and selling them in sacks of six.

8) Perched outside the main branch of the Jacksonville Public Library is a 25-foot-tall bronze owl. It was cast by sculptor Larry Kirkland as an homage to Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, knowledge, and reason, whose symbol is an owl.

9) The Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) Tour has been headquartered in Ponte Vedra Beach, a suburb of Jacksonville, since 1979. Every May, the Players Championship tournament takes place at TPC at Sawgrass, a nearby golf course.

10) On May 3, 1901, the third-largest urban fire in U.S. history struck Jacksonville. At 12:30 a.m., some chimney embers were blown onto flammable stuffing material at a local mattress factory, igniting an inferno that raged on for eight hours and destroyed 2368 buildings. After the smoke finally cleared, nearly 10,000 people were homeless.

11) In 1953, a restaurant called Insta-Burger opened at 7146 Beach Boulevard. Inside, a special oven called the Insta-Broiler could cook 400 patties an hour. Despite its supercharged output, business dwindled until new owners brought the restaurant and renamed it Burger King.

12) Jacksonville covers an incredible amount of real estate. How did this place get to be so expansive? In 1967, voters decided to consolidate Jacksonville with the rest of its surrounding county to increase its tax base. The resulting footprint was 20 times larger than the city's original size.

13) According to a report published by the U.S. Census Bureau in May 2016, Jacksonville is the 12th fastest-growing city in America.

14) The longest-serving mayor in Jacksonville’s history was one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Democrat John T. Alsop Jr. held the city’s highest office from 1923 to 1937 and from 1941 to 1945.

15) The Jacksonville Jaguars joined the National Football League as an expansion team in the 1995 season. Since then, the team has won only five postseason games, but hope springs eternal. Their home stadium, EverBank Field, is located on the St. Johns River in downtown Jacksonville.

16) Completed in 1953, the distinctive Mathews Bridge was originally painted silver. Then, in 1983, it was repainted maroon to match the primary jersey color of the Jacksonville Bulls, a United States Football League club. The Bulls folded in 1985, but the bridge is still maroon.

17) Every Thanksgiving weekend, thousands of people watch the festive Jacksonville Light Boat Parade. For this holiday spectacle, a procession of boats covered in Christmas lights makes its way through the downtown area on the St. Johns River. A huge display of fireworks follows the parade.

18) New York City was the nexus of the film industry in the early 20th century, but snowy winters forced some movie studios to open outposts in Florida so they could keep shooting year-round. From 1908 to 1918, more than 30 film studios popped up in Jacksonville, earning it the nickname “The World’s Winter Film Capital.” Most had closed or relocated to California by 1920, but Jacksonville remained a popular filming location. Scenes from Cool Hand Luke (1967) and G.I. Jane (1997) were shot here.

19) You could go to EverBank Field and watch the NFL Jaguars play, or you could check out some real ones at the Jacksonville Zoo & Botanical Gardens. The most famous among the zoo's collection was a black male named Zorro. Brought to the zoo in 1967, he fathered 12 cubs, and almost all of the captive black jaguars in North America are Zorro's descendants.

20) Engraved onto the Veterans Memorial Wall in downtown Jacksonville are the names of more than 1500 veterans from all six service branches (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine) who lost their lives in the line of duty. Sixty-five feet long, the wall commemorates veterans from every American war since WWI.

21) In 1986, Floridians Will Fadeley Jr. and Eugene Hajtovik traveled all the way from Jacksonville to New York City on an airboat. Their 13-day, 1100-mile trip is the longest recorded voyage to be completed by such a vessel. The duo arrived in New York harbor on July 3, just in time to attend the Statue of Liberty’s centennial celebration.

22) In 1979, Dr. Frances Barnett Kinne became the first woman to serve as president of a Floridian university. She led Jacksonville University as president for 10 years and then served as its chancellor from 1989 to 1994. In 2017, she celebrated her 100th birthday.

23) Credited with pioneering the southern rock genre, the Allman Brothers Band was formed in this city in 1969. The hugely influential group put on its first live performance at the Jacksonville Armory on March 30 of that year.

24) Bad journalism rescued Jacksonville’s favorite tree, a sprawling live oak in Jessie Ball DuPont Park. Roughly 250 years old, it stands more than 60 feet tall with a trunk measuring 25 feet in circumference. In the 1930s, when developers hinted at chopping it down, local reporter Pat Moran fabricated a story about an important peace treaty between Native Americans and European settlers being signed under its branches. The story had the desired effect, and the tree, now (erroneously) called the Treaty Oak, was spared.

25) Jacksonville resident George Frandsen owns the world’s largest collection of fossilized poop. A committed coprolite enthusiast, Frandsen spent 18 years gathering 1,277 prehistoric stool samples from 15 states and eight countries. Information about the collection appears on his online museum, the Poozeum.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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22 Creepy Cryptids From Around the World

Belgian painter Pieter Dirkx's interpretation of the Mongolian death worm.
Belgian painter Pieter Dirkx's interpretation of the Mongolian death worm.

According to Merriam-Webster, a cryptid is an animal "that has been claimed to exist but never proven to exist." But as Bigfoot believers and Loch Ness Monster enthusiasts are often quick to point out, it’s pretty difficult to prove that something doesn’t exist. Plus, it’s much more fun to indulge in the idea that giant sea monsters and hairy humanoids are roaming the uncharted corners of the planet.

On this episode of The List Show, Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy is taking viewers across time and space to unearth legends about lesser-known monsters that, again, haven’t been proven to not exist. Take the Mongolian death worm, a lamprey-like nightmare that supposedly lives in the Gobi Desert and radiates a poison so strong that you could die just by standing near it. If you’re an ill-behaved child or a Catholic who scarfs down steak every Friday during Lent, watch out for the Rougarou, a Louisiana-based werewolf that sniffs out those two demographics.

Learn about more fearsome, fascinating cryptids of all kinds in the video below, and subscribe to the Mental Floss YouTube channel for future episodes of The List Show.