Silver Springs, located just east of Ocala in north-central Florida, is internationally known for its crystalline waters teeming with fish. As American Tourism contributor and Silver Springs historian Tom Berson demonstrates, visionary leaders, transportation innovations, and depictions in popular culture spread the attraction’s name far and wide. Apart from the famed theme park where glass-bottom boats glide atop the shimmering natural pool, the springs afforded ideal conditions for underwater filming. Silver Springs has served as a stand-in for the Everglades, the Amazon River, the Bahamas, and even Africa. Several early Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weissmuller were filmed at Silver Springs in the 1930s, and the popular late ’50s TV show Sea Hunt featured numerous underwater sequences shot at the Florida attraction. A fish-gilled monster man abducted actress Julie Adams in Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and even British Secret Service agent 007 made three forays into its clear depths between 1965 and 1983.

As much as these and a dozen or so other notable films cast Silver Springs, probably few moviegoers and TV viewers knew that they were seeing Silver Springs. Far more influential, it turns out, were the many tourism promotion photos for Silver Springs created by Bruce Mozert, the father of underwater photography. Hailing from Newark, Ohio, Mozert arrived in Silver Springs in 1938 as a diversion from an assignment in Miami Beach to watch the filming of a Tarzan movie. He never left.

Bruce Mozert in an underwater filming session. Florida Library & Archives. PR10428

Visitors aboard the "Chief Coahajo" glass-bottom tour boat at Silver Springs. State Library & Archives of Florida. COM03015

In the middle years of the 20th century, Mozert’s playful images and short films of staged underwater picnicking, boxing, golfing, grilling, lawn mowing, and other sports and everyday activities created the perfect showcase for the clarity of Silver Springs’ water. And the tourists came in droves in the pre-Disney World years.

Silver Springs has had its ups and downs amid stiffer competition for tourists and growing environmental threats in recent decades, leaving its future somewhat murky. Possibly more than any other destination featured in American Tourism, Silver Springs’s continued success depends on an endangered natural resource over which the attraction itself has little control – water clear enough to stage future scenes like those Mozert pioneered.

Advertisements