Pasco Nudists Reality TV Bait, Again

kendra-on-top Word is that Pasco County — “nudist capital of America” or “world,” depending on who you ask — is coming under the spotlight of reality TV once again. The blog 2paragraphs reports that in the latest episode of We TV’s Kendra on Top, star Kendra Wilkinson of Playboy fame tracks down her real father in Land O’ Lakes, Fla. where he apparently lives in a nudist community. Show airs Friday, October 31 at 9 pm eastern.

Florida is where reality TV often bares its tabloid heart and it’s not the first time Pasco County nudists have been featured because, hey, the promise of naked bodies is sure to draw viewers.  In 2013 the TLC’s “Buying Naked” featured Pasco’s clothing-optional communities and lots of fuzzed out body parts. Pasco nudists would like to forget Paris Hilton’s “Simple Life” foray at Caliente Resorts Tampa, or at least her later comments about it.

Author Talks of UFOs and Florida Ghosts

hoaxmobile 1Fringe Florida author Lynn Waddell shares tales from her research on the Gulf Breeze UFO sightings and the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp on Hallow’s Eve, Oct. 30, 2014. Held in the funky bohemian town of Gulfport the Halloween event will feature weird Florida images and outtakes from the author’s popular book. Don’t be late. The show sponsored by Circle of Friends of Gulfport Library and the Florida Humanities Council begins at 7 pm at the Catherine Hickman Theater.

The Battle to Go Bare Continues

Bob's Burgers Gets Florida

Bob’s Burgers Gets Florida

The ongoing battle over an ordinance to outlaw public nudity in Clay County highlights just how bi-polar Florida is when it comes to community standards. While Pasco County near Tampa is America’s nudist capital, Clay County, securely in north Florida’s Bible Belt, is preparing to shield its “wholesome character” from potential libertines.

Though building the fortress is not going smoothly. Following public outcry at Tuesday night’s commission meeting, commissioners kicked a decision on a trio of decency ordinances ahead six months.

Ostensibly aimed at regulating adult businesses, which don’t currently exist in Clay County, the proposed ordinance would make public nudity illegal. Perhaps realizing that could make a doctor’s exam particularly awkward, the county included a list of places where nudity would be allowed:

…single sex public restroom, an enclosed single sex functional shower, a single sex locker and/or dressing room facility, an enclosed motel room and hotel room designed and intended for sleeping accommodations, a doctor’s office, any portion of a hospital, the yard areas of a private residence

Watch out, low-riding pants wearers. This is also one of the rare occasions where you’ll find “anal cleft,” and “anal cleavage” explicitly prohibited in a proposed county ordinance. Squatting to pick up a quarter may cost you many more. The misdemeanor would carry up to a $500 fine.

Nudists/Naturists are naturally outraged by the proposal. The Young Naturists of America, for one, is rallying members to voice opposition. Not only would the ordinance limit their ability to hang out together in the buff, but it also associates nudism with prostitution, violence, and venereal disease.

…the Board believes that public nudity and sexual conduct begets undesirable behavior, and that adverse secondary effects such as, but not limited to, prostitution, attempted sexual battery, sexual battery, assault and the spread of social communicable and sexually transmittable diseases and may occur and have the potential for occurring where nude and sexual conduct is permitted;


AMC’s Freakshow Comes to Ground Zero Weird: Gibsonton, Florida


AMC’s realtiy show “Freakshow” finally comes to Gibsonton where real freaks still live and many more haunt the memories of the remaining sideshow greats. Tonight’s Episode 5 at 10 pm Eastern features legendary showman Ward Hall, his partner Chris Crist, the world record-holding sword swallower Red Stuart along with other World of Wonders cast.

Gibsonton, or “Gibtown,” as locals call it, was once home to about 100 sideshow performers – the Monkey Girl, the Half-Woman, Alligator Man and more.

Ward Hall and Chris Crist continue to operate one of the only remaining 10-in-One sideshows, that’s 10 acts for one price at the door.  Their World of Wonders cast teamed up with the reality show crew last November for the filming of tonight’s episode.

Be sure to stick around for the following episode featuring Grady Stiles III who still lives under the shadow of the sensational 1992 murder of his father, “Lobster Boy,” Grady Stiles, Jr. Grady Stiles, III suffers the same congenital deformity, ectrodactyly, as his father which gives his appendages the shape of lobster claws.

Be sure to follow up your viewing with a copy of Fringe Florida to learn more about Gibtown and the freaks who still call it home.


"Freakshow" Cast pose by monument honoring Al and Jeanie Tomaini, billed "the world's strangest couple." Al was a giant, and Jeanie, "the half girl."

“Freakshow” Cast pose by monument honoring Al and Jeanie Tomaini, billed “the world’s strangest couple.” Al was a giant, and Jeanie, “the half girl.”



Joe Redner: Strip Club King and Cigar City Beer Backer

Most Tampa Bay residents know Joe Redner as the fiery owner of Mons Venus, a world-famous nude strip club. Being supremely fringe, Joe was prime fodder for my book. I interviewed him for a chapter called “The King of Trampa.”

Since my book went to press, Joe’s battled lung cancer and watched his son’s craft beer business, Cigar City Brewing, which Joe funded, flourish nationally. (The New York Times rated Guava Grove Farmhouse Ale the best value in sour, craft beer).

In fact, Cigar City Brewing is in such demand that Virginia friends begged me to haul them a case on my flight up as if I were a bootlegger. I opted for a change of clothes rather than gratitude that would have lasted about as long as it took them to down a six-pack of Cigar City’s Florida Cracker. Their disappointment was nothing compared to that of the brew lovers’ who were left thirsty at Hunahpu’s Day, Cigar City’s annual special release party, when they discovered their tickets were counterfeit.

As you can see from his interview below with WFLA Channel 8 News Anchor Gayle Sierens, Joe’s clearly proud of Joey and happy with the return on his investment.

Sierens interviewed Joe for a two-part story this week ostensibly because he’s closing in on his 74th birthday. But hey, it’s ratings week and everyone knows that hints of nude women draw more views than a scandal about the Mayor’s sweet, taxpayer-funded ride.

Joe admittedly enjoys weed and credits it for helping him deal with cancer. Ever passionate and prone to pursuing the forbidden, Joe pursues his Gaunga-love through another business endeavor – a marijuana grow house.

Joe, always provocative, forever fringe.

WFLA News Channel 8

WFLA News Channel 8

Easter in FLA: Fabio Jesus and Furries

Source: Florida Keys News Bureau

Source: Florida Keys News Bureau

Although all the hardcore fetish porn news stories of late might give outsiders the impression that Florida is a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah, for the most part Floridians are as religious as people anywhere else. The Pensacola area even claims to be the site of the first Christian service in America on Aug. 15, 1559. (A nerdy piece of trivia: Pensacola actually predated St. Augustine  by about six years, but it didn’t endure due to Floridian’s biggest foe, the hurricane.)

Like most events in Florida, Easter celebrations often take a surreal twist. Hordes of Christians crowd the Holy Land Experience theme park in Orlando to watch a Disneyfied reenactment of Jesus’ resurrection. The Jesus actor who looks a lot like Fabio is mounted to a cross while Mary and his posse dance and sing to a recorded orchestra. The faux resurrection is performed daily, but Easter is the most popular performance for obvious reasons. Get the details in the book Fringe Florida.


The crowd seizes the photo op as Jesus' body is carried away by the Roman soldiers.

The crowd seizes the photo op as Jesus’ body is carried away by the Roman soldiers.

Then you have Easter egg hunts, Florida-style. Not that the traditional association of bunnies and brightly colored eggs and the resurrection of Christ isn’t strange in itself. (Supposedly, Easter eggs represent the empty tomb of Jesus and they were originally dyed red to represent the blood of Christ. Pretty gruesome when you think about it, which may be why that isn’t shared with the kiddies.)

Here in the land of furries – that is, people who are into anthropomorphic characters, -Easter egg hunts offer an excuse to dress up like a giant puppy or the Energizer Bunny. One group of Florida fursuiters hopped around hunting eggs at a Palm Bay park. 

Of course, not every Floridian who dressed like a bunny this Easter was a “furry.” Every year dive Capt. Spencer Slate dons a bunny suit complete with long bunny ears and hides hard-boiled eggs on the sandy ocean bottom in the Florida Keys. This year, about 60 people – divers and snorkelers – paid $20-$65 to hunt the eggs. 

Matt Pehrson, manager of Captain Slate’s Scuba Adventures on Key Largo, says diving in a furry suit isn’t as difficult as it might seem. “Once you’re in the water it doesn’t weigh you down,” Pehrson said. “It’s not like a full-on mascot suit. The worst thing is keeping the ears straight.”






Everything I Wanted to Know about Santa I Learned in Florida


Santa finally gets to model his swimwear. Photo by James Williams.

Santa finally gets to model his swimwear. Photo by James Williams.

One of the great joys of living in the fringe state of Florida is that the same attractions that bring 94 million flip flop-wearing tourists to our roadways every year also draw conventions of about every conceivable subculture to our backyard.

Being a fringe voyeur, I couldn’t resist dropping in on the recent annual convention of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas (not to be confused with the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas, now defunct due to a schism in the Santa ranks)

For three days, about 275 rotund, white-bearded St. Nick’s along with a posse of Mrs. Clauses and elves waddled around the DoubleTree by Hilton Tampa Bay sharing trade secrets and the latest in Santa gear.

Luring Santas from around the nation to sunny Florida wasn’t a tough sell for the host Florida chapter, the Palm Tree Santas. Many kicked off the annual rendezvous with a group excursion to Busch Gardens theme park or a swim with Mermaids. Hey, it’s Florida; fantasy worlds collide.

For the public and press, they held a sleigh show and an autograph session with celebrity Santa and retired World Wrestling Federation star Mike Foley.

This particular afternoon is more sedate. More than a dozen Santas sit around the hotel lobby conversing, reading their Ipads, or in the case of one, taking a nap. Although they aren’t wearing red furry Santa suits, there’s no accidently mistaking them for Jerry Garcia. They dress campy Santa casual – green shorts, red shorts, red and white-striped shirts, sleigh-riding Santa Hawaiian shirts, red and white polka dot socks, and on and on. One particularly round Santa in an old-fashioned, red and white-striped bathing suit wanders around holding an inflated parrot swim ring as if searching for the pool.

Many Santas are in seminars learning how to whiten their eyebrows or tell a good a story, while others vend fake Santa IDs and essentials on the tradeshow floor. A relaxed bunch, they are more than happy to share their love of all things Santa.

Burly Jim Chason, with a part down the middle of his curly white locks, sells raffle tickets for a free course at the International University of Santa Claus in California. “There’s a lot to being a Santa that people don’t realize,” the Santa from High Springs, Fla. says as he pulls out his master’s degree certificate. “I have this and my bachelor’s degree.” A Kriss Kringle clamors at the table for details.

Santa Steve, the most cunning of Santas. Photo by Lynn Waddell

Santa Steve, the most cunning of Santas. Photo by Lynn Waddell

At another booth, Santa Steve Gillham from Chapel Hill, N.C. shows off his inventions. His fluffy white beard and mustache sparkle with glitter. Although he’s not lean, by comparison to other Santas, he’s an Olympian. Red, yellow, blue and green glass balls encased in leather are clipped to the side of his belt like Santa hand grenades.

“What are those?” I ask.

“That’s the fairy dust.”

“Fairies? I didn’t know Santa dealt with fairies.”

“How do you think I get down the chimney?” he says, his blue eyes twinkling over the rims of his wire-framed glasses.

He breaks from character to explain.”Children are real smart and they’ve seen all the movies. They know there are a lot of fake Santas out there, but they are always hoping that they meet the real one. So, I never go out without an earbud.”

An earbud?

Turns out, he employs a little Santa subterfuge to keep the Father Christmas dream alive. His wife, dressed not as Mrs. Claus even though she sometimes plays that role, works the kids at his appearances. She finds out names, ages and then the clincher — their favorite present from the previous Christmas. She relays all this to Santa’s Steve’s ear piece. “When I ask them how they liked the red bicycle I left them the year before, they think, ‘I have found the real Santa!'”

Santa Steve also doesn’t skimp on his costume. The oversized leather boots with swollen toes and belt like he’s wearing are on special at the adjoining table for $875. The most basic Santa suit without embroidery runs $995 on sale. Santa Steve has clearly surpassed entry level Santa accoutrements.

“When I go out I’m wearing about $4,500,” Santa Steve says. Not surprisingly, you won’t find Santa Steve working shopping malls. “No, I’m a premier Santa,” he says. “I do appearances at special events and homes.” That’s for $175 an hour and an extra $75 an hour for his assistant.

Despite some high paying gigs like the North Pole Experience in Arizona or television work, Santa wages aren’t something that most can live on given that there’s only work about two months out of the year. “Nobody does it for the money,” says Santa Steve, who’s also a Remax Realtor. “Nobody wakes up one day and says I wanna be a Santa.”

Rather like many Santas I and other reporters speak with, Santa Steve “got the calling.” Ten years ago his wife, a pediatric nurse, urged him to fill in after regular hospital Santa dropped dead. (“There’s a high death rate in the world of Santas because most are so fat,” he adds.)

After seeing the children’s faces light up on his first Santa appearance, Steve let his short grey hair and beard grow long. He’s donned the red suit every Christmas since then. “If you put on the red suit, it’s a rare man who cannot continue to do it.”

Ho, ho, ho.

The Pitfalls of Living with a Lion – Fringe Florida

As I clean up a bag of flour scattered by my mischievous golden retriever (I swear she only had free roam of the house for 30 minutes), I think of Terine and realize it could be much worse, much, much worse.   Terine had a pet lion.

Lion Love, Terine and Mus. Photo by James Harvey. Rights Reserved.

Lion Love, Terine and Mus. Photo by James Harvey, rights reserved.

I met Terine at Everglades Outpost wildlife sanctuary during the research of my book, Fringe Florida. She volunteered at the rescue outside Homestead and was raising the 7-month-old lion cub for a breeder. At the time, Mus was about the size of full-grown golden retriever. He lived with her, slept in her bed, and shared a litter box with her domestic cat. This of course created quite of few challenges, not the least of which was the potential loss of digits.

Jokes aside, exotic cats belong only in the wild. Period.

I’ll talk about Terine and other unique Floridians from Fringe Florida tonight at the Vero Beach Book Center. Event begins at 6 pm. In the meantime, my pet goes into timeout, and I’ll be wiping flour off my skirt all the way to Vero Beach.

Fringe Begets Fringe Sideshow

Perhaps only in Florida would a book presentation at a library turn into a honest-to-god sideshow. I know I can be a little freaky, especially after too much coffee, but St. Pete native Daniel Funk made me look like a sleepy librarian Monday night at my “Fringe Florida” book talk.  It appeared that I had planned it; my talk ended with photos of sideshow performers.

I had met Daniel previously at my book release party. He’s friends with Angye Fox, a nudist, swinger and boob-painter (that’s painting with her ta-tas), who I wrote about in Fringe Florida. Some may recognize Daniel from Playgirl as I’m told he was on full display last year, but that’s another story.

I ran across Daniel again at Ward Hall’s Sideshow Arts Seminar earlier this month in Tampa. Daniel is a renaissance man of fringe.

He was sitting in the back during my presentation at Mirror Lake Library. He commented during the Q&A and I introduced him as a showman and half joked that he might perform for us. He did just that.

He pulled out a 3-inch nail. And that bulge in his white pants? Well, he wasn’t that excited to be there.  Out came a stubby hammer. He used it to pound the nail up his nose.

More than one audience member captured it via cell video. (I just have access to a vertical shot. Videographer wanted.) Many cringed in horror. One woman looked away while she held up her cell phone to record every millimeter of the nail disappearing up Daniel’s nose.

Bravo, Daniel! Bravo, Fringe!

Spirits, Fairies, and a Blow-Up Mary

Like most things in Florida, religion here can be a little different, fringy. The state is home to many unconventional faiths and even the more conventional often present themselves in unconventional ways. Take the Biblical-based Pentecostal faith. It has its own theme park in Orlando. The Holy Land Experience is a Disneyfication of the Bible complete with a reenactment of the crucifixion and cardboard cut-outs of Jesus for photo ops. One even has Jesus with wings sitting on a Harley. Maybe there’s a Bike Week in heaven that requires wings as well as a hog.

Me and JC

Me and JC

Despite the commercialization of the Holy Son, the park owned by the Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN) is exempt from property taxes. That is as long as it offers free admission one day a year. Normally it costs $45 because hey, a trip to the Holy Land doesn’t come cheap.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, this year on January 28, the Holy Land Experience attracted its largest audience on a free day since it was forced to offer it in 2006 in exchange for the tax exemption.


Meanwhile, another bastion of spiritual fringe that I wrote about in Fringe Florida, the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp, celebrates its 120th anniversary this year. The community of spiritual mediums — those who hold seances and see fairies and such — is a taste of old Florida tucked away in the live oaks and magnolias about 30 miles northeast of Orlando. Spiritualists believe in the continuity of life beyond the grave and dozens of mediums in Cassadaga will communicate with your dead mom or even passed pet, for a donation that is.

As part of the camp’s anniversary celebrations, on Monday, Feb. 17, the community will hold ‘A Circle of Life’ ceremony in memory of one the camp’s most prominent former mediums and teachers, June Mahoney. June was reportedly medium to several celebrities including race car driver Richard Petty.

The camp also regularly hosts weekend spirit walks where you purportedly may see floating orbs or fairies hanging out in the trees.  For more info on that and the Holy Land Experience, check out my Fringe Florida chapter: “Spirits, Fairies, and Blow-Up Mary.”