Who Was Orlando, Anyway?

By: Stuart J. Fischer, MD

And other fascinating facts about “The City Beautiful”

Orlando, Fla., may be one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States, but no one is really sure how the city got its name. Originally, the town was known as Jernigan. Aaron Jernigan was a local homesteader who came from Georgia in the 1840s and apparently was something of a colorful character. He served as the area’s first postmaster, but was later arrested on murder charges, escaped from jail, and fled to Texas.

The Florida region was populated by Spanish settlers in the 1500s. The indigenous population shrank after the Spanish settlement, but the Seminole formed through mergers of various Native American groups that migrated into Florida during the 18th century. When the Spanish ceded Florida to the United States in 1819, the federal government had to contend with local Seminole uprisings, resulting in the construction of several forts, including Fort Gatlin during the Second Seminole War.

According to one legend, a soldier named Orlando Reeves was defending Fort Gatlin during a Seminole attack near Lake Eola in 1835 and was killed, and the city was named in his honor. There is no hard evidence of Mr. Reeves’ existence, but there was a local plantation owner named Orlando Rees who lived outside of town, and he may have fought the Seminoles.

Another tale is that the name was proposed by Judge James Speer in 1857. Speer loved Shakespeare and legend states that he named the town after the character Orlando from the play “As You Like It.”

The truth may be lost to history, but in 1885, the town of Orlando was officially incorporated. At that time there were 85 residents.

Disney arrives
The area around present-day Orange County was originally called Mosquito County. The name was changed when Florida became a state in 1845, to reflect the county’s large orange-growing industry. Orlando was the center of Florida’s citrus farming until the Great Freeze of 1894–1895, when the industry shifted south to Lake Wales and an area called “Frostproof.”

Then came Walt Disney. Mr. Disney had successfully created Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., in 1955, but was looking to develop a larger park with a different design that would incorporate an experimental planned community. When Mr. Disney died prior to construction of the new park, plans shifted to building an expanded version of Disneyland. The 1971 opening of Walt Disney World would transform Orlando from a small town to a major destination.

Mr. Disney had also considered coastal regions around Miami and Tampa, but he settled on central Florida because it was less likely to be damaged by hurricanes.

Mr. Disney bought the 43 square miles that is now Walt Disney World for $185 an acre in 1965. The centerpiece of the Magic Kingdom, Cinderella’s Castle, was to have an apartment for him. The apartment is still in place, but it is now the Cinderella Castle Suite where visitors can spend a night only if they win a sweepstakes. On the floor is a mosaic of a pumpkin made up of 30,000 Italian tiles and, on the shelf, a glass slipper. The castle itself is made of fiberglass, not stone.

Walt Disney World isn’t in Orlando but is actually in the nearby town of Lake Buena Vista. In fact, Walt Disney World is in a special taxation area, the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which maintains its own infrastructure, building codes, and tax assessments. Taxes are also paid to nearby Orange and Osceola Counties.

The centerpiece of the resort—the Magic Kingdom—is actually constructed above grade. The ground level consists of a system of utility corridors—“utilidors” in Disney parlance—that allow cast members to move unseen from one area of the park to another. It also provides space for costume areas, maintenance, and computer facilities.

It was necessary to build above ground because of the high water table in central Florida. The landfill used to create the different levels was excavated from the area that would become Seven Seas Lagoon.

A beautiful city
Orlando has 16 theme parks including Walt Disney World, Sea World, and the Universal Studios complex. It has been ranked the largest single tourist destination in the United States, drawing 62 million visitors in 2014. Orlando has 124,000 hotel rooms—second in the United States only to Las Vegas, and the most hotels, 450. Disney’s All-Star Resort complex itself ranks as the fourth largest hotel in the world.

Orlando is the largest meeting destination in the country, and the Orange County Convention Center with 2.1 million square feet is the second largest convention space behind Chicago’s McCormick Place.

The 2016 AAOS Annual Meeting will be the third held in Orlando. The first was in 1995 during the presidency of Bernard F. Morrey, MD. The second was in 2000, under the leadership of Robert D. D’Ambrosia, MD.

Orlando is also the home of the University of Central Florida. With about 60,000 students, it has one of the largest enrollments of any university in the country.

Before 1908, Orlando was known as “the Phenomenal City,” but city leaders soon began calling it “the City Beautiful,” as it is still known today. In 1933, the city of Coral Gables, Fla., began using the same slogan. A dispute broke out when Coral Gables applied for a federal trademark and exclusive rights to call itself “the City Beautiful.” The issue was settled when both sides agreed not to seek trademark rights and to use the slogan only in their own marketing areas.

Surrounded by wildlife
There are more than 100 lakes in and around Orlando. The largest is Lake Apopka, but the most well-known is Lake Eola, which is located inside the city limits. Lake Eola is actually a sinkhole, 80 feet deep in the center. The land was donated to the city by Jacob Summerlin in 1883 on the condition that the land be used as a park. The Linton E. Allen Memorial Fountain within the lake is often considered a symbol of the city.

Lake Eola may be famous for its black swans, but other wildlife abounds in the Orlando area as well. Lake Jesup, north of the city, has the densest population of alligators of any lake in the state. Many are “nuisance” alligators brought by trappers. The “gator” population in Florida waters is estimated to be between 1 and 2 million.

More exotic is the population of rhesus monkeys along the Silver River. Legend has it that monkeys were brought in for the filming of the movie “Tarzan Finds a Son” in 1939, but a more likely story is that a river cruise operator named Colonel Tooey imported the monkeys to enhance his jungle river cruise. The current population is estimated to be about 200.

Oviedo, north of Orlando, doesn’t have monkeys, but it does have chickens roaming the downtown streets. The chickens often stop traffic; they are protected because the whole town is a bird sanctuary.

Blue Spring State Park is a habitat for Florida manatees during the winter months. Manatees can die of hypothermia if the water around them goes below 65 degrees. They come to the springs because of the warmer temperature, a constant 73 degrees.

Sports and politics
How did the Orlando Magic National Basketball Association team get its name? Even before the city was awarded a franchise, the potential owners and the Orlando Sentinel sponsored a naming contest. Popular choices were the “Heat,” the “Juice,” the “Tropics,” and the “Magic.” The name “Magic” was chosen to reflect the area’s many tourist attractions including the Magic Kingdom. Orlando was formally awarded the franchise in 1987, and soon after the new Miami expansion team took the name “Heat.”

Orlando is not a state capital and has only been a major population center for a short time, but it was the site of one of the most famous political statements in recent American history. In November 1973, as the Watergate scandal was engulfing his presidency, Richard Nixon addressed a group of Associated Press managing editors at Disney’s Contemporary Resort and declared “people have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I am not a crook.”

For many it was a seminal moment in Nixon’s downward slide toward resignation. Ironically, Nixon had a long-standing connection to Disney: In 1959, he and his two daughters, along with Walt Disney, led the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Disneyland monorail.                

Stuart J. Fischer, MD, is editor-in-chief for OrthoInfo.org and a member of the AAOS Now editorial board.