Tag Archives: Florida history

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: Geodesica

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Here, Charles died in Drew’s arms. Here in the rotunda, at the bottom of the ocean, though Santa Monica demolished this amusement park the year I was born, it thrives. Gilbert Spindel drew up his “Roundhouse” blueprints and promoted them in newspapers across the country in 1956. This particular Geodesica served as “exhibit house” three years later. All the rest comes forward like tides, historical patterns, ghosts. “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio…”

Story #509: Riverdale Inn / Brazile House / Kelly House

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Walter Brazile founded B & B Exterminating Co. in his rambling old boarding house. He nurtured the business and nurtured people, including Rufus King, Jr., brother of Virginia, author of that 8,448-page book about Jax. William Kelly, turpentine magnate, built the house 115 years ago. Albert O’Neall, though a Quaker, took a job here building bombing ranges. Now the former HQ of B & B has been restored as a bed-and-breakfast. One of my favorite writers stayed here just last week.

El Modelo: Sensational Murder Trials, Cuban Revolutionaries

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At El Modelo Cigar Factory, Cuban revolutionaries fomented insurrection. Marie Gato, daughter of El Modelo’s owner, died, bullets to her breast, subject of Jacksonville’s most sensational trial of the 19th century. El Modelo still stands. A practitioner of the law firm that calls the building home claims to have seen Marie’s ghost. Either way, this building’s story shifted history. Click below for the first story in a three-part series.

The Adams Building: from the Vice Wars to “Rehumanizing the Broken Man”

New Story: The Park Lane Apartment Building

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When Hurricane Irma assailed the building, all they could see from the 10th floor was the water. It had been a long time since Tim first decided, at 10 years old, he’d one day call the Park Lane home. It had been a long time since the president of Barnett Bank petitioned the church to “unclaim” his “daughter” so he could marry her, since the future author of “A Wrinkle in Time,” Madeleine L’Engle called the Park Lane home. Not so long since Ivey jetted to Newport with Brownie to meet Foxy and Mary. Nor since Evelyn Nehl, who called the penthouse suite home, brought the AIDS Quilt to Jacksonville.

New Story: Sin City (the Urban Legends / the True Story)

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Actor Darrell Zwerling hadn’t yet starred in Polanski’s Chinatown, when he stayed at Fox Meadows, saying, “This is the life. Swimming & Sunning all day and acting at night.” The apartments advertised, “Luxury Living at Reasonable Rates,” but “No Children” soon became “Adults Only.” By the time Fox Meadows became the Rivermont in the 1970s, drugs and prostitution branded the apartments “Sin City,” a moniker that soon spread to the surrounding neighborhood. The urban legends are legion; here’s the true story.