by Tim Gilmore, 1/7/2021
In 1931, the Jacksonville Historical Society left a grossly inaccurate historical marker at one corner of this limestone, granite and marble building designed by the architectural firm of Marsh and Saxelbye. I hope they leave it for a thousand years. Not because I want the public deceived. Indeed “the public” hardly notices this small rectangular plaque with its green-blue patina just off the ground and peeking bashfully around landscapers’ grasses. The marker should stay because it memorializes something other than what it claims.
Was in 1931? The “1” looks blacked in after the lighter “193,” and the building rose in 1932 and ’33. In fact, I’d like to plant a marker here commemorating the placing of this marker, though its facts would need to be more accurate than those of the original.
For there was no Timucuan Indian town called “Ossachite.” Nor was there, in the marker’s spelling, such a “Timuquan” town. Since no such town throve, nor even barely existed, this corner of this magnificent municipal building marks not the site on which it stood.
The marker claims it stands on the site of Ossachite, four syllables, “from earliest times until about 1700.” Sneaking suspiciously into the shrubs that hide the marker, imagining federal agents pouncing at me as I find myself a cameo in my own imagining, and now I’ve dropped my fedora, a sideplot of Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49, I decide I stand on the site of the Garden of Eden, transposed from Mesopotamia, since no more accurate historical definition obtains for “earliest times.” (Maybe a whiskey established in Kentucky prior to 1860?)
Jerald T. Milanich, the leading living authority on the Timucua, told me in 2011, “There was never a Timucua town called Ossachite; that is a piece of bad historical research by T. Frederick Davis.” Indeed, the Jacksonville Historical Society of 193* stamps the historical imprimatur of Davis’s oft-problematic 1925 History of Jacksonville, Florida and Vicinity, 1513 to 1924.
The Timucua, Milanich told me, weren’t city-builders. Their largest settlements contained “a small number of huts and burial mounds.” All those sources referring to ancient indigenous metropolises were bogus. The Timucua, or various groups of different and intertwined ethnicities for whom we now use that umbrella term, lived and raised crops and loved and killed and built their civilizations here as far back as when the great pyramids rose in Egypt, but they built no mythical ur-city to provide an urban Book-of-Genesis or Tower-of-Babel root for present-day Jax.
Whatever “earliest times” might mean might be true, just not in the form of an Ancient North Floridian Urban Omphalos. It’s okay. I want to crouch behind the 90 year old marker and attest that every and any place you find yourself on earth is the germ and genius of all creation. So said all the poets of vision primeval.
We don’t need our own fake news, our own personal Pizzagate, conspiracy theory of Obama’s forged birth certificate, Zapruder film. Then again. If the Moon Landing were faked, surely “THEY” staged it right here in Ossachite. For perhaps the comet Hale-Bopp really did bring a “companion” in its wake when it appeared in the night sky in late 1996. Maybe the cult called Heaven’s Gate was right to believe The Companion, an Unidentified Flying Object, would raise them up into outer space and deliver them into the Next Level of personal evolution. And if so, they committed group suicide right here in Ossachite. Maybe Trump really did win reelection. Maybe secret Communists really rose up from submarines to steal his ballots and rig the results for Joseph R. Biden. And if so, they buried the ballots right here in Ossachite.
It’s ironic the later president of the Jacksonville Historical Society, Dena Snodgrass, never sought to remove the old Ossachite marker. Snodgrass kept a stamp on her desk that pressed the phrase Dena Ex Machina. Jacksonville history was her own private property. She snarled at “history buffs” as “history bluffs.”
Oh but the Ossachite marker belongs to us all! Its inaccuracy devolves upon all citizens. If you find it, don’t divulge its coordinates. Keep it hidden in the open. Make Ossachite everybody’s shared secret. The lie at the center of the city invokes truth and authority. The myth reifies itself via visual verification in the landscape. It’s true because it quotes itself as true. Don’t tell.
So come down and make your pilgrimage. Call it legend tripping. Pose beside false facts, then stand at the start of “earliest times.” That marker’s yours. Pull it up. Plant it in your garden. Bury yourself alive. Then place it at the head of your own resurrection.