Just down the road from us, a guy was arrested for lewd and lascivious behavior plus indecent exposure.
In Seagrove Beach, Fla.
Seems he drove up to a couple of young women, called them over and asked where the nude beach was.
He apparently figured it was nearby because he was already undressed.
Now, I’m here to tell you that he wouldn’t have done that if ol’ C.H. McGee was still alive and in charge.
Back in the late 1940s when McGee started developing Seagrove, he drew up a covenant that promised folks who bought lots and built cottages that “no noxious activities, offensive noises or odors, nor any nuisance” would be allowed.
Our pant-less perpetrator violated at least two of McGee’s rules.
But let’s not go there.
On the other hand, let’s.
You see, my first thought on hearing of this incident was that the guy was a little late. Indeed, there once was a nude beach about 10 miles east of Seagrove, well outside the limits of McGee’s authority. But it’s gone. And has been for quite a while.
A little history here.
As the 1950s came to a close, the state of Florida opened a 20-mile beach route that linked Seagrove to other coastal communities. Alabamians who built cottages in the villages protested their loss of seclusion, but developers wanted it done, so it was.
It also meant that empty stretches of coastline were now accessible, and some of the first to access what was once inaccessible were people who liked to sun and swim naked.
Slowly, very slowly, word spread that there was this place east of Seagrove, just off the beach route, where folks could get tan all over. So folks went. Some to see. Some to be seen. Some to …
Now understand, I never. All of this was told to me by people who did, or said they did, but made me promise I would not use their names. So I won’t.
The 1960s evolved into the ’70s, and in the ’70s the nude beach began to attract a clientele that lived what was euphemistically described as an “alternate lifestyle.” The nude beach became a gay beach, and (according to my sources) gay sun worshipers from around the region descended on it. Local authorities surely knew but left them alone.
I find it interesting, and a tad ironic, that along the Gulf Coast, along the stretch of beach that was being called the “Redneck Riviera,” folks were really pretty tolerant. Yes, there were pockets of classical redneckery — racist and renegade — but mostly there were just good-ol’ boys and girls from the lower South out to have a good time doing what they could not do at home, which in this case was lay around on the beach in the buff.
However, by the time our lewd and lascivious visitor arrived, the nude beach had gone the way of so many Redneck Riviera institutions.
Developers, always on the lookout for something to develop, did not see the nude beach as a symbol of Southern diversity and toleration. Instead, they saw a piece of prime real estate that, in their considered opinion, was being wasted on people whose sense of fashion was not in keeping with the image they wanted the Gulf Coast to portray.
They envisioned resorts where the affluent and upscale were well dressed, not undressed. They wanted folks outfitted by Gap or Lands’ End, not those suited-up by nature.
So developers bought the land, expelled the nudists, and in their place built a resort community that attracted people who did not take their clothes off in public.
The nude beach was no more.
As I pondered how the Redneck Riviera has been taken over by the sort of folks who have taken it over, my mind wandered back to the guy who was arrested for trying to find what wasn’t there anymore.
Lots of folks do that, go to the Gulf Coast in search of serenity and solitude and end up surrounded by the active, organized and obsessed. I suppose that’s the price we pay for progress.
On the other hand, maybe it isn’t progress at all. Maybe the folks who crowded out the nudists are the spiritual heirs of C.H. McGee, direct descendents of the man who wanted a beach free from “noxious activities” and such.
Ol’ C.H. seems to have gotten what he wanted.
Meanwhile, our nudist-in-waiting is in a heap of trouble for not realizing that the past is long past, and we will have to wait to see what happens to the video company he owns.
Best View Productions.
Folks, you just can’t make up stuff like that.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.