Harry Crews’s Childhood Nightmare Northside

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The novelist Harry Crews chronicled how Jacksonville imported desperation from half the state of Georgia. It offered hope, but required human sacrifice. First coming to Jax when his stepfather-uncle aimed a rifle at his mother’s head, Harry lived in half a dozen houses across the Northside, all of which his family called “the Springfield Section.” When Harper Lee read Crews’s second novel, she said William Faulkner had come back to life.

The Independent Life Building / Wells Fargo Center

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From lightning strikes to the locomotive buried in its foundation, from loyalty to President Nixon to overtures to the National Football League, from the architectural sketches of Wah Yo Eng to the immigrant family of Bulgarians, Haitians and Jamaicans, the Independent Life Building (now the Wells Fargo Center) has reflected Jacksonville back to itself since 1974.

McCormick Apartments and Mythos at Jax Beach

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“There are enough concrete blocks in the McCormick Apartments to build a solid wall eight feet high from Jacksonville Beach to Downtown Jacksonville.” So bragged J.T. McCormick at the 1948 Open House, five years before he was elected mayor of Jacksonville Beach. The mythos contains stories of horsewhippings and murders and the family who built up the beach.

Walking the Vanished Old Panama Road

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The Old Panama Road disappeared beneath the Northside of the city 120 years ago. This story tracks it. It heads north from the murder of Marie Gato, past Club Steppin’ Out, through the diary of a black Civil War soldier reading Lord Byron, a Spanish American War camp teeming with Typhoid Fever and the burning of a sawmill the size of a small town. 

The Iron Lung at Shep’s

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The iron lung stands beside the old arcade video game. Did someone die in this machine? Artist Jeff Whipple took the Salk vaccine on the sugar cube. His English teacher conducted class from an iron lung. Shep’s Discount and Salvage sells rotten baby formula, this iron lung, and Trump Rambo flags, but what’s with the plastic pigs dressed as cowboys? 

Reposting the Story of the Plague Year

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Prissy’s Forgotten Arborteum

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I’d ask Prissy Bowers, were she still here. Jessie Lynn-Kerr wrote her obituary. On January 12, 2002, The Florida Times-Union headlined it, “Cheerful Clown Bowers Dies at 76.” She’d fought cancer for 16 years, one year fewer than she’d worked on her book. Dozens of clowns attended her funeral at Avondale United Methodist Church in full costume. The sign that once identified Wildling Arboretum has vanished, but these trees rise still. And a few of their broken markers.

New Story: Polio in Florida, Ann Adams, the Artist Who Painted with her Teeth

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The caption said, “This card was drawn by mouth by Ann Adams, a polio patient in Jacksonville, Florida.” Ann was paralyzed from the neck down. She slept in an iron lung. For most of her life, she never drew a breath on her own. “Through perseverance, she trained herself to draw by holding a pencil between her teeth. Each original drawing takes up to two months to complete.”

The Double Hauntings of Gateway Mall on Yellow Fever Burials at Sand Hills Hospital

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“We found so many bones. I had two bags full of them,” John says. Then Lorene wore her hula outfit for Montgomery Ward’s “Hawaiian Days” sale and Pat and Donna both played Easter Bunny. Where Smallpox and Yellow Fever victims died at Sand Hills Hospital, Gateway Shopping Center and Mall suffered cycles of suburban flight and decline. “We found a skull out there,” Linda says, “and took it to school.” 

New Story: St. Mary’s Liquors, Riverside Motel and the Boat Ramp Where They Pulled Nellie from the River

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Long abandoned, the Riverside Motel, by the Florida-Georgia state line at the St. Mary’s River, still takes lodgers. St. Mary’s Liquors serves up favors to legend trippers. Whether murder, whether suspicious prior divorce, Nellie and Knud lived most of their 60 year marriage here. Jill watched the car raised up from the river, six years after Nellie drowned. My sister and I find more than a dozen bird’s nests in motel rooms.