Dozens of American flags line both sides of US 19, leading north out of the nearest big town, Crystal River. The flags fade away long before the highway reaches the bridge spanning the ass-end of Florida's most shameful eco-disaster, the Cross-Florida Barge Canal. Inglis starts halfway across the next bridge, in the middle of the Withlacoochee River.
There's a wide spot in the road where Inglis' one traffic light slows down enough cars to keep two gas stations and a citrus stand in business. A left at that light leads to a big, official-looking brown sign of the type identifying state parks and wildlife refuges. Some 40 years ago, says the sign, Elvis Presley made a movie in Inglis. The town's main drag was renamed Follow That Dream Parkway in honor of that event -- the most significant thing to ever happen in Inglis.
That is, until last November, when the town's mayor decided to outlaw Satan.
When I turned down Follow That Dream Parkway, I already knew about the town's Elvis connection. I had called the Inglis town hall a few days before my visit to set up a meeting with the Satan-banning mayor, Carolyn Risher. When I explained I wanted to profile the town, Risher had excitedly told me all about Elvis' visit.
My first contact in Inglis, however, was town clerk Sally McCranie. Mayor Risher was busy when I called. "She's being interviewed by television news from New York," McCranie said. She was happy to tell me all about the Satan ban, however.
The mayor and town clerk had attended a Halloween weenie roast at their church, the Yankeetown Church of God. At the party, Pastor Rick Moore brought up the idea of banning Satan from town. "The mayor felt impelled by God," said McCranie, to participate in the ban; the next day, she drafted a proclamation on city letterhead.
The proclamation began, "Be it known from this day forward that Satan, ruler of darkness, giver of evil, destroyer of what is good and just, is not now, nor ever again will be, a part of this town of Inglis. Satan is hereby declared powerless, no longer ruling over, nor influencing, our citizens."
"She felt inspired to put the words on the paper, but God directed it," said McCranie. "She did the proclamation and signed it, and I signed it along with her."
Risher, McCranie, and Moore then performed a ceremony more appropriate to a voodoo ritual than to an act of government. They made four photocopies of the proclamation, rolled them up and inserted them into holes drilled into the centers of 4-by-4 fence posts. The determined Christian soldiers then marched the posts onward to the main roads through town and planted the posts at the city limits.
"Then we prayed over them," said McCranie. "And that was it."
The action kicked off a media circus unlike anything seen in Inglis since Elvis. Area newspapers carried the story, which was picked up on the wire services and repeated by newspapers, radio and television stations across the country.
The media had been friendly, McCranie said. I wondered what New York news show would take enough interest in the little town to send a correspondent to Florida. "Some daily news show," she said. The interviewer, she said, was "Steve something." She found his card. "Steve Correll -- that's the guy she's talking to now."
Mayor Risher was facing cameras from Comedy Central's The Daily Show and had no clue they were in town to make fun of her.
A few hours after Correll had finished skewering Risher, she verified the story and explained her motive for exiling Satan from Inglis.
"Satan is everywhere. We've had ungodly acts in town," said Risher, citing child abuse, drunkenness, and other generally despicable behavior as examples of Satan's busy hand in her small town.
"Kids have even taken hit lists to school," she said. "And we tried holding a teen dance, but we had fights on the very first night." After hearing Moore's plan, Risher said, "I was directed by the Holy Spirit to reclaim our town back for God, so I wrote and signed the proclamation."
She did not consider the political ramifications of the proclamation and didn't approach the town commission beforehand.
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