This is not the first column about Florida history and culture to appear in Florida Today. Many longtime residents of east central Florida remember fondly the articles of Weona Cleveland. For more than forty years, Weona Cleveland has written about the people, places, events, and even the plants that make our area unique and have brought us to where we are today.
Weona Cleveland’s articles first appeared in the Melbourne Times in the 1970s, and later in this newspaper. Her reflections on local history as told through the eyes of everyday people earned her a dedicated following of readers.
Some of Weona Cleveland’s best newspaper articles from the past three decades are collected in the new bookMosquito Soup, published by the Florida Historical Society Press. Publication of the book was made possible by the Kellsberger Fund of the South Brevard Historical Society.
Weona Cleveland will be signing copies of her new book Mosquito Soup, Saturday, March 29, from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm, at the Historic Rossetter House Museum and Gardens, 1320 Highland Avenue, in Eau Gallie.
Like most Floridians, Weona Cleveland came here from somewhere else. Born in 1925, she moved to Melbourne, Florida, from Atlanta, Georgia, in 1961. The following decade she started writing for local newspapers. Her previous books and booklets include Melbourne: A Century of Memories (1980), Crossroad Towns Remembered: A Look Back at Brevard and Indian River Pioneer Communities (1994), and A Historical Tour of Melbourne (1999).
In addition to her numerous articles and other writing projects, Cleveland researched and wrote the text for most of the historical markers located throughout Melbourne and Eau Gallie. She says that her proudest personal accomplishment is the walking tours of old Eau Gallie and Melbourne that she gave for many years.
In 2006, the Brevard County Commissioners named Cleveland the first Honorary Brevard County Historian. In 2009, Cleveland received the Julius Montgomery Pioneer Award from Florida Technical Institute for her research on the local African American community. In 2011, the South Brevard Historical Society recognized her accomplishments with an Honorary Lifetime Membership.
The book Mosquito Soup is a collection of Cleveland’s articles about pioneer life in Brevard, Osceola, Orange, and Indian River counties, including stories from Haulover Canal, Cape Canaveral, Bovine, and Rockledge. She takes the reader to cemeteries and individual graves that provide clues to the history of Merritt Island. We hear personal accounts of the 1919 fire that destroyed downtown Melbourne. We meet people like Archie Phillip, who began working as a gardener for Carrie and Ella Rossetter in 1966, and later became their chauffeur. We learn about a tragic airplane wreck in the waters off of Melbourne Beach in 1928, which draws comparisons to the Challenger disaster fifty-eight years later. There are hundreds of other fascinating stories in the book.
Although she is in her eighty-ninth year, the new book Mosquito Soup is not the final achievement of Weona Cleveland’s long and distinguished career. Even in retirement Cleveland continues to write about the local history and culture that she loves. She still frequently writes articles for the Indian River Journal, published by the Brevard County Historical Commission.
In the most recent edition of the Indian River Journal, Weona Cleveland writes about traditional folk remedies passed down for generations in Melbourne’s African American community. By interviewing longtime residents, Cleveland discovered that if someone stepped on a nail; bacon fat was placed on the foot because it “drew the poison out.” She discovered that cobwebs were used as makeshift bandages to help speed the healing of cuts. To reduce a fever, castor bean leaves were put on the head.
The work of Weona Cleveland continues to inform and enlighten readers.
Dr. Ben Brotemarkle is executive director of the Florida Historical Society and host of the radio program “Florida Frontiers." The show can also be heard online at myfloridahistory.org