Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Dairy Belle

First posted on Facebook, "I Love Lake Park, Florida" Facebook page.
On a Sunday evening after dinner, when we ate at home and not at my grandparent's house in Delray Beach, occasionally, the talk would turn to dessert.

"Let's go to the Dairy Belle for some ice cream," my dad would say.

"But I made some jello," Mom protested half-heartedly.

"Let the jello wait. Let's go get ice cream." He'd turn to me, all of three, to enlist my opinion which of course, was always, "Ice cream!"

We'd head out of the house to my father's convertible MG Midget and wait patiently while he put the top down. Big hands picked me up and deposited me in the carpeted well behind the only two seats in the vehicle. No car seats or seat belts in those days. As we drove off, I spent the fifteen minutes to the Dairy Belle with my face poking out beside the passenger seat. If I'd have been a dog, my ears would have been flapping in the wind. No flapping ears, but no dog ever had a grin as big as mine as the wind hit my face and messed with my hair.

The Dairy Belle (never just "Dairy Belle") was in Riviera Beach near the intersection of Federal Highway and Blue Heron Boulevard. Just a little building, it was covered with square tile in bright colors. We'd mosey up to the window and order our cones. I almost always got a vanilla soft serve and pleaded for a chocolate, cherry or butterscotch dip.

Cones in hand, we headed for the concrete picnic tables where we sat and dueled with the balmy summer evening. It was always a race to see if we were able to get more ice cream in our mouths than down our arms as the cones melted.

I was always washed down after finishing in those days and was placed back in the carpeted well for the trip home. I can still remember lying down in the well, slightly sticky despite the vigorous washing in the restroom. I could listen to the sound of my parents' voices and could feel the car as my dad put it through the gears to drive us home. It's odd the things that stick in your mind. The feel of that carpet is just as vivid today as it was then.

Good news for you, my faithful readers, for once I'm not telling you about a place that's disappeared. The Dairy Bell is still there and still serving ice cream. The concrete tables have been replaced, but there are still places to sit and enjoy your dessert. I can't guarantee that the cones taste as yummy as they did in 1962, but I'm sure they're just as cold and just as nice on a warm evening, which Florida has plenty of even in the winter.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas in Dixie

Picture Courtesy of David Joyce
           Although versions of the Christmas in Dixie parade were happening as far back as the 1920s, the parade became an institution in northern Palm Beach County during its run from 1954 until the early 1990s. Spectators had to get to the parade route an hour before it started to claim space on the curb.
          My family settled in for the long wait along the parade route reeking of sunscreen because in Florida, despite the calendar saying December, it’s often hot and sunny.  When cars trickled to a stop, my brother would dash into the four-lane street along with twenty other little boys looking for the start of the parade.
When we could hear faint music, everyone would stand up and elbowing each other, crane our necks around and over each other in order to see the very beginning of the parade. The American flag appeared down the street first in the hands of the color guard, the local R.O.T.C. or the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Everyone lining the parade route would stand quietly, hand over heart in respect. The dad hand would be attempting to reach and smack anyone under age ten who wouldn’t stand still or dared to speak.
          The first modern Christmas in Dixie parade was organized in 1954 in Riviera Beach by Jerry Kelly. By 1969, the Palm Beach Post was calling the Christmas in Dixie Parade the “Biggest Florida parade outside of the Orange Bowl spectacle.” That year, the Christmas in Dixie parade included “clowns, twirlers, motorcycles, floats, fire engines, horses, dogs, six bands and a lion.” Also on board was the “Miami Mummer’s Band.” It may not have been televised like the Orange Bowl which went out over the airwaves to TV sets all over the country live from the streets of Miami, but we sat in awe on the curbs and danced in excitement anyway.
          We did our part as spectators, waving at the kids on the floats and anyone in the parade who glanced our way. We danced when the marching bands came by and we ooed and ah’d where expected. We bought souvenirs from the vendors who walked up and down the street selling cotton candy and other things we tried to convince our parents were necessary to life.
          The Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts marched in uniform, waving at the crowd. Local gymnastics schools had participants flipping down the street. Hordes of baton twirlers twirled as they marched. The local fire departments had their oldest trucks decorated and in the parade. Local celebrities and a Grand Marshall sat with sashes and flowers in the backs of convertibles. All the high school bands performed. They would march by with sweat beading on their faces, proudly playing “Jingle Bells” or their school fight song.
          The luckiest participants were those that rode on floats. Church groups would spend weeks building elaborate nativities and holiday displays on flat bed trailers covered with chicken wire. The children of the church would ride clinging on for dear life while singing Christmas carols at the top of their lungs in order to be heard. For some unknown reason, they were usually put right in front or behind one of the high school bands.
There was a Miss Christmas in Dixie and she and her court had a float all to themselves. The queen and her court were required to wave regally when they weren’t tossing candy to the kids along the route. By the time they reached the end, arms were aching and Christmas cheer was in short supply.
          The very last entry in the parade was always Santa Clause. When kids saw his flat bed trailer decked out with a huge gold throne and eight tiny reindeer mysteriously hovering in the air coming down the street, sheer ecstasy and pandemonium would erupt. It meant that it was finally, officially, Christmas season. We only had a few more weeks to keep trying to be good.
Behind Santa’s float, the real world came back and people who had finished watching the parade at the beginning had lined up in their cars and patiently followed Santa’s float across town. More than one kid riding in the back of their parent’s station wagon would wave at the spectators like they were a big shot in the parade themselves.
          In the early 1990s the much loved Christmas in Dixie parade met its sad end when, in a fit of jealousy over a boy, a teenage girl near the end of the parade route threw a bottle at her rival who was marching in the parade. During the riot that followed, it was estimated that 750 to 1,000 people were arrested. That, along with rising costs, led to the demise of the best small-town spectacle I can remember.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Watch This Space!

     Okay, I don't mean literally. I think your eyes would get awful tired. But I do have some exciting news and am going to have a fantastic 2012. The booklet I wrote for the Historic Hartman House has been selling hand over foot and has had some great reviews - even from family members who would actually know if I've flubbed something or not and would not hesitate to let me know! So, I've moved on to finalize the next project on my list... "Betty Tales."

     My cat Betty, is a wild bundle of black fur and green eyes who happens to be disabled. I join a friend for walks several times a week and after a year of me sharing stories about the latest crazy thing Ms. Betty did, the friend suggested I write a children's book about the antics of the little princess. My friend teaches writing to third graders and thought it would be a great way to teach children about disabilities. Never one to turn down a creative idea if it's jumping up and down and waving in front of my face, I wrote the story.

     My part of the book was finished in draft about a month ago and received a detailed critique from the members of The Magnificent Mensa Scribes. It's now been polished up to a nice shine. The next step was to find an illustrator.

     The same friend who got me into this mess, umm.... suggested I write this book, happened to know a young woman with tremendous talent whose fingers were itching to illustrate a project just like this! We met. We clicked. She's working on drawings as I type and I'm looking forward to seeing the preliminary sketches in a week or so.

     Bottom line is that the book is expected to be finished by the end of the year. We're planning to self-publish it in e-book and hard copy in January, 2012.

     Next week, I'll go back to my little history geek niche and write something about Florida, but I had to share this news and I hope that you, my friends and faithful readers, will celebrate with me at the end of January.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The President and Peanut Island

            On a sunny Florida day in 1961, my parents and I headed to the Southern Boulevard Bridge that connects Palm Beach to the mainland. They were there to catch a glimpse of President John F. Kennedy as his procession traveled from the airport to the Kennedy beachfront mansion where the Kennedys spent their winters.

            As the convertible crossed the bridge, Kennedy turned from side to side waving at onlookers. When his car pulled in front of my parents, Kennedy turned in their direction and waved. My Mom decided that Kennedy was one of the best-looking men she had ever seen. The little black and white televisions of 1961 simply didn’t do him justice. The procession drove on and my Mom has always remembered the day she saw those blue eyes for herself.

            With the Cuban Missile Crisis less than a year away, there was a heightened awareness of the president’s vulnerability to nuclear warfare while in town. After all, Cuba is only 284 nautical miles away from Worth Avenue, main street of the winter home for the rich and the wannabes since Flagler started developing it in the late 1800s. 

            So the government decided it would be prudent to build Kennedy a bomb shelter. If you’ve ever tried to dig a moat around a sand castle on the beach, you know that digging down into the soil in Florida to create one wouldn’t be particularly easy.

The site chosen was on an undeveloped island in the middle of Lake Worth the locals called “Peanut Island.”  With a Coast Guard facility there since 1936, security was already in place that would enable a “hush hush” building project and Operation Hotel commenced.

Former Coast Guard Facility on Peanut Island
Originally just a convenient location to dump dredged mud from Lake Worth to clear the inlet, the island over time had become populated with Australian pines. Named “Peanut Island” by the locals for the peanut farm and factory that never quite got going, boaters stopped on its beaches to swim, cookout and camp after a day of fishing. 

 The bomb shelter was built behind the Coast Guard Station in a huge mound of dirt. Covered with concrete and rebar, sandbags originally hid it from view. Fortunately for all of us, Kennedy only had to visit the shelter twice--once when it was being built and one more time after it was completed. In a practice run, the Secret Service got him to the shelter from Palm Beach in five minutes.

I remember exploring the island in the early 1970s when the sandbags over the shelter were hidden by trees and a thick mat of pine needles. The tour guides with the Palm Beach Maritime Museum will tell you that the bomb shelter was rediscovered about that time by some boys wandering through the woods. They stumbled upon the escape hatch and being curious, climbed down for a look. A couple of bunk beds and not much else were all that was left of the once well-stocked shelter.  By the time I was playing Starsky and Hutch in the woods a few years later, the door had been cleared of debris, but it was always shut and locked. We know because we tried it every time.

Boat House Used by the Secret
Service as the Bunker was Built
            In those days, Peanut Island was a rustic little island enjoyed only by those fortunate to have a boat.  Peanut Island has finally been developed. With the restored Coast Guard station as a museum on the south side, picnic facilities, campsites, a snorkeling and swimming area manned by lifeguards and even restrooms, it’s a far cry from the Peanut Island I remember and can still see in my mind’s eye. I’d hazard a guess that most of us who grew up with the paradise Florida was would have preferred that Peanut Island remain rustic and we’ll always miss the Australian pines swaying and whistling in the ocean breeze, but I went to see it for myself, just to be fair.

A friend and I hailed a water taxi, piloted by a wonderfully accommodating Captain Joe (561-339-2504) and sailed over one Saturday morning. We bought tickets to tour the Coast Guard Station and the Kennedy Bunker from the Palm Beach Maritime Museum (561-832-7248).

While Peanut Island is nothing like I remember, I just can’t say the development was a bad idea.  I think it’s beautiful albeit different and the people working there are friendly and very knowledgeable. As my friend and I sat on the big porch at the Coast Guard Boathouse, we decided that it felt like a mini-vacation somewhere other than fifteen minutes away from home.

The Author After Touring the Kennedy
Bunker - FINALLY
If you enjoy a bit of history, go take the Palm Beach Maritime Museum tour. As you stand in front of that door waiting your turn to walk into history, try to picture the door surrounded by gently whispering pine trees and buried under pine needles. Next to you, a small, skinny blonde girl with big blue eyes whose eyebrows are knitted in concentration tries to imagine what’s behind that big heavy door. Tell her she’ll be able to see for herself in about forty years.

This column appeared in the November issue of Southern Exposure published by Seabreeze Publications, Inc.

Inside the Bunker. The Museum Added the
Presidential Seal. Looks like it belongs there, doesn't it?
(This article was updated from its original posting. I have removed a reference to attempts to dig a sand tunnel from Palm Beach to Singer Island because I have been unable to locate where I got that information in my notes. When, and if, I come across that research, I will add it back in.)

Monday, November 14, 2011

For Harry

    Most of you who follow my blog, know that I generally stick to history and personal memories of the Palm Beach County and Florida area.  Those of you who know me well, know that I strongly believe in helping out where possible.  Thanks to my participation in Rachael Harrie's Campaign Challenges, I've had a opportunity to both plopped in my lap.

    My flash fiction piece on The Chillingworth Murders, called "Birth of an Imago," placed ninth out of almost 200 stories in the Second Campaigner Challenge. While I greatly enjoyed placing in the top ten and received some wonderful prices, I also got the chance to contribute to an incredibly worthwhile charity.

    Katharina Gerlach describes it best in her blog: 
                     I “stumbled over” an eleven year old boy who taught me how much can be achieved by doing small steps every day persistently. His name was Harry Moseley, and he passed away peacefully in his mother’s arms on Saturday 8 October 2011 at 11.10 pm. The most amazing thing about Harry (in case you haven’t heard yet) is that he single handedly raised over £85,000 (that’s roughly 137,000 USD) for brain cancer research by fund-raising and selling hand-made bracelets. Awed by this boy who looked death in the eye but who was determined to enjoy every day, I decided to raise funds for people in need too.

                   During Rachael Harrie’s Campaign, I had read many really great flash fiction stories, so I came up with the idea to collect them into an anthology. Rachael and I issued the call, and lo and behold, many participants answered. It was a lot of work to sort the stories, streamline the layout, insert the links to the author’s blogs, and create as well as publish the eBook, but I finished today. We can now proudly present to you “Campaigner Challenges 2011″.

     I have three stories published in this e-book and am very happy that something I did just for fun and experience is going to be put to use for a greater good. It is truly amazing to see how totally differently all those writers treated the same prompts.

     You can purchase the e-book either on Smashwords or If you would like some interesting reading while donating to a great cause, click over and order a copy. All proceeds go to "Help Harry Help Others" to continue to fund research on brain cancer.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Night at the Theatre

Lake Worth Playhouse circa 1924
     Last Saturday, I was invited to see a  staged reading at the Lake Worth Playhouse. Since I'd never been there and my friend highly recommended the event, I headed down to Lake Avenue in Lake Worth.

     I parked a couple of streets away and walked to the Playhouse. I didn't know anything about the venue, but sat fascinated with the woodwork and stucco as I waited for the event to start. The Lake Worth Playhouse was built in 1924 by Lucien and Clarence Oakley, brothers who moved to Florida from Illinois and wanted to build a movie and vaudeville venue.

    The Lake Worth Playhouse website says that the Playhouse was built at a cost of $150,000, an astounding amount in those days. It was considered opulent for the time and included a $10,000 Wurlitzer pipe organ with a built-in piano.

     Destroyed in the 1928 hurricane that wreaked havoc on all of South Florida, it was rebuilt just in time for the Depression. It went through several owners and forms of entertainment before winding down and shutting its doors.  In 1953, it was reopened by a group of Lake Worth citizens but it wasn't until 1975 that it was renovated and re-opened with a "never-be-dark" policy that led to a steady stream of events.

Lake Worth Playhouse Interior
     The staged reading I saw was "Broken Angels," based on the true story of Carrie Buck (who died in the 1983) and the infamous Buck v. Bell case which went all the way to the Supreme Court. Written by Tod Castor (who also participated on the stage), it tells the story of a young pregnant woman who is sent to the Lynchburg Colony for the Feebleminded for the unfortunate sin of being unwed and pregnant. It was a powerful piece and made even more powerful by the narrative at the end. 

     Sadly, just this week, I saw a headline about the state of North Carolina looking to compensate individuals who, until 1974, were sterilized without their consent. North Carolina was only one of thirty-one states who participated in a eugenics program and Virginia sterilized 8,000 people before the program was stopped. The combined thirty-one programs resulted in tens of thousands of sterilizations. Tens of thousands.

     Sitting in the old theatre watching  actors in period clothing act the powerful lines Tim Caster wrote, it was easy to forget that this is 2011. The heartache and injustice suffered by Carrie Buck, labeled feebleminded when she was not and denied the opportunity to bear children forever, followed by the news story out of North Carolina, is a grim reminder that evil is never left behind. It silently sits and waits for the right opportunity, the right time, to rear its ugly head again. 
Carrie Buck in 1924 Photo, Click for full size
Carrie Buck in 1924
by A.E. Estabrook

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


My grandmother and my daughter around 1996.
     This year, for Halloween, the kids danced between raindrops while they held on to their costumes, hats, masks and goody bags. It was another windy Halloween in Florida. As far back as I can remember, Halloween was always windy and spooky.

     When I was a child, we usually put together our own costumes out of our parents castaways and added a couple of store-bought touches like vampire teeth, a scary mask or a tiara. We’d knock politely on a door and yell "trick or treat" as loudly as we could. The resident who was forced to answer lucky enough to be answering the door would lean out with a big bowl of candy. Oohing and aahing over the costumes, they’d drop candy in our bags. We’d yell our thanks and run to the next house.

     The year I was seven, my mother was pregnant with my brother who was born on November 3. She’d answer the door and the little eyes of the trick-or-treaters would grow huge at her gigantic belly. My brother always did know how to steal the show.

     When I moved to St. Louis with my ex-husband and our son, I found out that different areas of the country do things slightly differently for Halloween.

     Our first Halloween in the mid-west, we dressed up my son as Batman, and took him trick-or-treating with his young cousins. I learned that in St. Louis, when you knock on a door, you have to have a riddle ready. The riddle is asked, an answer attempted, and THEN the candy is dropped in your treat bag.

     At the first door the kids approached, the unsuspecting homeowner opened the door, and our young son marched right in the house. He marched down the hall and disappeared. All of us stood there with mouths gaping watching him go. Then we started calling him, but apparently whatever he found in the room at the end of the hall was much more interesting than we were at the moment. Finally, our niece was invited in to collect him and found him sitting next to the man of the house watching a football game.

     After I moved back to Florida, I used to take my two around a nearby neighborhood–one with a large number of homes and kids running all over the place, hysterical on candy highs from smuggled sweets crammed in their mouths between houses. As crazy as it got, even when we could no longer feel our feet, it was still fun.

     When my kids were still little enough to enjoy going trick-or-treating with Mom, we’d always end up at my grandmother and aunt’s house. By then, the children were exhausted, make-up was slipping off faces and costumes were askew, but my grandmother and aunt always made a fuss. My kids were always proud that they had "scared" or impressed their relatives with their costumes.

     My grandmother and aunt have been gone several years now and my children are now adults. Funny. I used to think it would be the big things I’d miss when my two little ones were grown. I never thought it could be the mad scramble for the right costume, the numb feet, the arguments over candy, or the laughing at the can of Coca-cola someone gave out as a treat one year.

     I have to admit I missed it all when I sat quietly reading a book alone on Halloween as I waited for one more little trick-or-treater to find their way to my door.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Football and Memories

Chief Osceola and
     Is it ever possible to go home again? I gave it a shot last weekend. Not home, home, but I went back to my alma mater, Florida State University.

     At 6:00 a.m. last Friday, bleary-eyed and hair askew, I met up with two sorority sisters for a trip back to 1978. It was still a seven hour car trip up the State of Florida from Palm Beach County to Tallahassee (anyone who grew up here can tell you it takes almost forever to get out of this state), where we were once twenty year olds with big dreams.

     After lurching out of the car and walking in circles to loosen stiff limbs, we did all of the typical alumnae stuff. First stop was our old sorority house. Now rented by a fraternity, we stood in the large median of Park Avenue and snapped pictures, commiserating that the pecan tree and swing that stood in the front yard was gone and there were no Sigma Kappas in sight. There were a few guys milling around on the front porch who kept looking over at us. I think they must be used to middle-aged women with cameras stopping by to take pictures because one of the guys ventured out to us and asked, "Are you all Sigma Kappas?"

     "Well, yes, we are. Did the cameras give us away?"

     He laughed. "We get some visitors on game days. Would you like to see the inside of the house?"

     We decided to take the nickel tour. Sigh. It has indeed changed. There was no carpet (would be hard to keep clean after fraternity parties); no kitchen (the guys eat out. We had a wonderful cook named Lucy and formal dinners); none of our composite pictures up on the wall (theirs were there instead) and our chapter room was just a basement. It was a bittersweet tour, but the guys were friendly and we appreciated the time they spent escorting us around as we shared our memories of how the house once looked.

     After piling back in the car, we took off down the street and spent several minutes playing the "what happened to Bill’s Bookstore?" and "remember when that was there?" and gasp! "What happened to Sherrods?" as we headed over to the football stadium. A new impressive statue of Chief Osceola and Renegade, a tradition since 1978, stands in front of what is now a huge stadium. I remember the first time I saw them ride out on the field. The horse galloped to center field and the Chief speared the indian head painted at the fifty yard line. It was the first time I ever heard sound go over my threshold to hear as the crowd screamed so loud all I heard was a buzz. It went very well with the goosebumps.

     The new stadium actually encases the old like a ski cap. You can see bits and pieces of the original under the new. We headed for the gift shop (of course) to stock up on new t-shirts followed by a visit to the Hall of Fame. Pictures of athletes line the halls along with brief biographies of their athletic endeavors during their years at FSU. In the several story high main room, conference and Heismann trophies are displayed under glass as the prized possessions of each generation.
Jennell, Kelly, Joy and Kim
Sigma Kappa Sisters

     It was soon time to meet more sorority sisters at Ken’s, a local dive and hangout since 1966. No, we were NOT there in ‘66. We spent most of our time inspecting the walls and ceiling to see if we could find the names of anyone we knew but had no luck. There must be thousands of names and dates scribbled everywhere. Ken’s has a tradition involving a wall of beer mugs. You pay a flat fee for the mug and it hangs on the wall throughout your years as a student. My friend, Joy, was thrilled to find out that Ken’s gives stickers for every five years a mug belongs to the holder. Her mug quickly earned a stripe of stickers as the bartender caught her up with the missing years.

     The next afternoon, after shopping for some tailgate supplies, we trekked over to the stadium and met up with still more sorority sisters and friends, a couple of brave husbands, and one very delightful soccer playing girl who really liked grape soda. Burgers were grilled, salads opened up, beer bottles popped as we sat around relaxing and visiting and then it was game time!

     We sat in I think row 80. It was definitely near the top of the stadium and it felt like we were climbing Mount Everest. Joy and I decided that we weren’t going to go back down until the game was over as we’d never be able to get back up to our seats. The view from the clouds was incredible–not a blind spot and we could see the tops of Tallahassee trees beyond the edge of the stadium. Kelly chose those seats and did a great job.

eshots, Inc. copywrited photo
courtesy of Hyundai
"Show Your Loyalty" Experience
     As the game rolled on, we yelled the fight song, did the tomahawk chop, and bounced up and down screaming when required. In front of us were three brave and very funny young men about my son’s age (twenty-two) with terrific senses of humor. They cautiously looked back at us and we commiserated with them that out of all the seats they could have had in the stadium, they were stuck in front of three very loud women. By the end of the game, however, they were tomahawk chopping along with us and on one touch down, there were high fives all around. They told us that we were going to be the topic of water cooler conversation when they went back to work on Monday. I’m not quite sure if that’s a good thing or not.

     The game ended gloriously for the Seminoles of Florida State with a 41 to 10 victory over Maryland and the crowd danced out of the stadium. We headed back to the continuation of the tailgate party for grilled hotdogs and leftovers. Sitting in lawn chairs as the sun slowly set, we started bundling up in jackets as the Tallahassee night turned cooler. I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. The voices of my sorority sisters floated around me and the conversation flowed just as easily as it had all those years ago. It was good to be home, if only for a little while.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Third and Final Campaign Challenge Story

     Pepper yawns, bored with book she’s been reading. A fly skittering by on an ocean breeze is blown off course and frantically tries to backpedal as he sails into the cavern of her mouth. Pepper’s moment of contentment ceases as she jerks up, hacking, tears streaming down her cheeks as she tries to spit the fly into the next county.

     Just then, Eddie, the cabana boy Pepper’s had the hots for all summer hears hacking and looks up from his surfing magazine. He drops his magazine and prances over the hot sand like a prima ballerina, racing to Pepper’s aid.

     "Pepper!" he yells, pounding on her back. "Pepper! Are you okay?"
     Pepper’s eyes roll around as she keeps trying to inhale and spit at the same time. She wheezes just like she did the time she was five and fell off the bed and landed on the floor, flat on her back.

     Meanwhile, the fly, having battled tongue, teeth and saliva, crawls his way toward the light. One more hack and Pepper and the fly finally part ways. The fly flies crookedly away, convinced he’s been saved for a higher purpose.

     "Pepper!" Eddie yells into Pepper’s ear again.

     A long, drawn-out breath and Pepper realizes she can breath again. She shoves Eddie.

     "Did ya have to beat my back, Eddie? I’m gonna be all bruised."

     "Aww, Pepper. You shouldn’t sit so close to those smelly trash cans. Can’t you smell ‘em? Those flies tacise all around here."

     "What? Tacise?"

     "Yeah. They love the wastopaneer at the hot dog stand. I see tons of flies there all the time." Pepper, crinkles her nose as she finally smells the trash and smiles at Eddie. "You saved me!"

     Eddie looks at Pepper as if he’d never seen her before, "Uh huh. Totally synbatec!"

     End of the story! Hope you liked it! It needed to be 300 words or less and have the following: It's morning; the man/woman or both are at the beach; the main character is bored; something smells behind her; and something surprising happens. It also could contain the totally made up words of "tacise," "wastopaneer," and "synbatec." If you'd like to vote for the story (and anyone can vote!) please follow this LINK and vote for number 75. Thanks!!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Murder on the Beach

     What? Another murder story? Is this woman obsessed or something!  Well, no. Murder on the Beach is actually a little bookstore located in Delray Beach, Florida. Yes, Virginia, there IS an actual book store left (to slightly re-write the famous 1897 editorial to the New York Sun). Murder on the Beach, a little storefront a couple of blocks north of Atlantic Avenue, hosts the most wonderful book readings, talks, writers workshops and has shelf after shelf stocked with mysteries, thrillers, horror stories, histories and books about writing. I could spend an hour in there at least and have to admit that I have on more than one occasion.
     The last occasion was October 12  when I dragged myself into my car and pointed it in the direction of Delray after a long day of work. The event was a talk called "Delray Beach Then and Now." As a self-described history geek and the unofficial keeper of my family's archives, I knew I had to be there.
The Last Egret by Harvey E. Oyer, III
     Historian Harvey Oyer spoke first. A fifth-generation Floridian (these are as rare as snowfall in South Florida) his ancestor, Colonel Benjamin Kendrick Pierce, brother of President Franklin Pierce, came to Florida during the Second Seminole War in 1835. His relatives moved further south over the years and one ancestor became the first Barefoot Mailman. Hannibal D. Pierce and his family ran the Orange Grove House of Refuge in 1876.  Harvey has a fascinating book out called The Last Egret. It's become required reading for all fourth graders in the State of Florida. It tells the story of several of his ancestors and Jim Bradley, who all went hunting for heron feathers to make a little extra money. The trip so affected Jim Bradley that he spent his life as a Wildlife Officer in the Everglades and was the first wildlife officer murdered in the line of duty. His murder started the conservationist movement in the United States. I've seen Jim Bradley's statue in Florida City at the far southern reaches of the Everglades and never knew the whole story. I no longer have little children at home, but I had to buy the book to read myself.
Delray Beach by
Dorothy Patterson and
Janet DeVries
     Historian Dorothy Patterson has worked with the Delray Beach Historical Society for twenty-seven years. She spoke with several of the older residents and had some very interesting information about the area and the people who originally populated the area. She, and Janet DeVries, have a great book out, too, full of postcards and stories, it's a must have for anyone who enjoys Palm Beach County history. Dorothy brought enlarged photos of the first settlors and the town. One of the pictures was of the first marshall of Delray Beach and I have to admit I just stared at it. He was marshall when my Great-grandfather and two of his sons, including my Grandfather, lived in the area. He had to have known them. It was a small town then. History weaves and connects in such interesting ways.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Haunted House of North Palm Beach

"Winter Club" posted on Looking Back blog.
Estimated taken in the late 1970s.
            The mansion appears to sit alone on the top of the hill, shrouded by huge banyan trees. Saplings fight their way up between cracks in the foundation. Vines grow up the once proud stucco walls and the broken windows gape at the street like the vacant eyes of someone who has seen too much of the harsh side of life. Two young girls cautiously make their way up the north staircase. They hear skittering sounds coming from the second floor and grab each other’s hands in fear, but they still slowly ascend the stairs. Reaching the second floor landing, they jump in fright as thunder booms and lightning flashes through what’s left of the windows creating jagged shadows and illuminating a huge stain on the floor.
            “This is where it happened,” one girl solemnly says. “This is where Sir Harry Oakes was murdered!” And the lightning flashes again.

Sir Harry Oakes

            This scenario was one played out in the minds of children growing up in North Palm Beach in the 60s and 70s. I can say that most of the children I knew were convinced the “Oakes Mansion” was haunted. Older children made sure the younger ones had heard. Trips to the North Palm Beach Country Club involved lots of peering at the second floor of the mansion just east of the pool to see if one could get a glimpse of the famous terrifying ghost of Sir Harry Oakes.
            The truth is that Sir Harry Oakes was in The Bahamas when he was brutally murdered in July, 1943, not in North Palm Beach. His son-in-law, Alfred de Marigny, was tried for the crime, but found innocent and the murder remains unsolved to this day. Speculation continues among mystery buffs and suspects include a reputed gangster as a possible culprit.
            As for the “Oakes Mansion,” its real name was “The Palm Beach Winter Club” and it wasn’t built by Oakes. Harry Kelsey started construction in 1925 at the instigation of Paris Singer who wanted a golf course for patrons of the hotel he was building on Singer Island. Kelsey hired Louis DePuyseger, a world-renowned French architect, to design a club house for the golf course he was building north of Kelsey City (Lake Park). DePuyseger didn’t disappoint. He designed a beautiful, Mediterranean-style club house of three stories with “gay orange and green awnings and old Cuban tile on the roof.” Palm Beach Post 03/06/1926.
Articles from the Palm Beach Post archives describe an incredibly elegant and sophisticated club complete with dining room. The basement held locker rooms and the first floor included lounges.  As the tale goes, Al Jolson once performed an impromptu concert in the men’s lounge which made him late for a scheduled performance further south. The third story had three bedrooms, although one article in the Palm Beach Post claimed it was twelve.
The grand opening of the Winter Club was on January 5, 1927. Celebrating went on for three days and used not less than three boatloads of smuggled liquor. The social elite of the day gathered, and names such as Vanderbilt, Phipps, Harriman, Woolworths and Basche were in attendance. The club opened to the public for the first time on January 9, 1927.
            After initial success, the 1928 hurricane season rolled in. The clubhouse suffered extensive damage in the devastating hurricane that year and had to be temporarily closed. About this time, Harry Kelsey had some financial difficulties of his own which were compounded by the hurricane and began selling off property. One of the properties sold was The Palm Beach Winter Club and the buyer was Sir Harry Oakes.
Oakes was an American who became a Canadian citizen, struck it rich in the gold mines of Canada and then, in an attempt to avoid Canadian taxes, became a British citizen. He was knighted by King George IV in 1939 after he donated a half million dollars to St. George’s Hospital in London.  Sir Harry stayed in the clubhouse sporadically and moved the western fairways of the golf course to the south side to accommodate his children’s horses and stables--a move some said seriously impacted the beauty of the course.
            After Sir Oakes’ murder, the property was sold by his Tesdam Corporation and eventually made its way to John D. MacArthur and then the Village of North Palm.  The library was located there in the 1960s and generations of children attended dance, gymnastics, art, pottery, and summer camp in its aging rooms.
            Unfortunately, you can’t drive by The Palm Beach Winter Club or “The Oakes Mansion” as it will always be known to the natives. Despite being named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, it was demolished in 1984, after huge controversy and bitter public debate.  It had deteriorated to the point where repairs were deemed “too expensive” to undertake and an empty hill now sits at 951 U.S. Highway One.
            You can, however, sit on the stone steps that once led to the clubhouse from the east. On a calm night lit only by a full moon, if you turn and look at the grassy plateau where the mansion once stood, perhaps you’ll see the ghost of Sir Harry Oakes. Or maybe just hear spectral ice tinkling in ghostly glasses as men who played a good game of golf in 1927 relax in the lounge

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Chillingworth Murders

Marjorie McKnight Chillingworth
(This story has been revised to remove the link to the Historic Hartman House Bed & Breakfast. Two reasons. First and foremost, someone replaced my link with an X-rated link. Second, the Historic Hartman House is no longer open as a bed and breakfast and is not open to the public. To the reader who reported the hacked link to me, thank you.)
         On September 22, I posted a little historical fiction piece in response to Rachel Harrie’s Second Campaign Challenge. If you haven’t seen it, or would like to re-read it before you go on, this LINK will take you right to it.  Several of the comments to my story asked for more information. Since the challenge ended on October 3, I felt it was now okay post the “rest of the story” as Paul Harvey says without defeating the 200 word limit. 
The disappearance and presumed murder of Judge Curtis E. Chillingworth and his wife, Marjorie McKnight Chillingworth was the most shocking event of its time in Palm Beach County, both for who the victims were and why they were murdered. The Birth of an Imago was based on what is known about the true last moments of Marjorie Chillingworth’s life.
            One of my dad’s favorite routes north from Delray Beach to North Palm Beach after a Sunday afternoon at my grandparents, was to travel north next to the ocean along A1A as far as possible. There was no super highway I-95 through Palm Beach County in those days and although the drive was slow-going, the ocean was always to our right and it was beautiful to smell and see as we meandered home.
            At one point in Manalapan, a small town tucked up next to the ocean south of Palm Beach, A1A takes a hard left turn away from the beach. As we approached the curve, a big house sat directly in front of us facing south.  Even before I knew whose house it had been, the house and the beach beside it always felt surrounded by a feeling of melancholy even to me as a child.  A beach is a hard thing to infuse with such a sad feeling, but there it was, dampening the sunshine. I don’t remember exactly when Dad told me about the Chillingworth murders, but I can tell you that from the moment he did, I understood that this place had earned its sadness.
When we approached the house, I’d stop my mindless chattering from the back seat and look out the window solemnly as we passed. I’d even go so far as to kneel silently on the back seat and stare out the back windshield as the car moved around the next curve and the house disappeared from sight.

Judge Curtis E. Chillingworth
Florida Archives Photo

            Around 10:00 p.m. on June 14, 1955, Judge Chillingworth and his wife, Marjorie, left a friend’s house for their “beach cottage” on the shoreline in Manalapan, Florida. The weather on the fourteenth was slightly rainy and it was a typical steamy summer Florida evening. The Chillingworths disappeared into the balmy night sometime after returning home and never reappeared.
            On June 15, a carpenter showed up at the house to build some playground equipment for the Chillingworth grandchildren. He found the door open and realized the house was empty.
            At 10:00 a.m., Court was ready to start in West Palm Beach, but Judge Chillingworth, habitually punctual, was nowhere in sight. No one answered the telephone at the Chillingworth home and his staff grew alarmed. The police were alerted and drove over to the house to investigate.
            The was no sign of the Chillingworths but the beds had been slept in and it appeared that only pajamas and slippers were missing. Concerns heightened when two rolls of tape were found-one in the house and one on the beach. When drops of blood were spotted on the walkway from the house to the beach, the investigation accelerated.
            At first, it was thought to be a kidnapping but no ransom note was ever found and the case grew cold.
PBC Sheriff's
Office Photo
            The crime was still unsolved when in November, 1958, a bootlegger named Lew Gene Harvey vanished overnight. His wife remembered that her husband had left the house that night with “John Lynch.”  Lynch was an alias used by a man named Floyd Albert “Lucky” Holzapfel. Floyd had a criminal past and had been arrested one time along with Joseph A. Peel, Jr.  At the time, Peel was a local attorney and West Palm Beach’s only municipal judge. Peel hired Floyd to beat Peel’s law partner to death for the proceeds of an insurance policy. The partner survived and fingered both men.

PBC Sheriff's
Office Photo
            The police started digging and found that Peel had been reprimanded by Chillingworth, his supervisor, for representing both sides in a divorce. Peel had been told that one more breach of ethics like that and he’d face disbarment.  This terrified Peel as he had a nice little side income generated by alerting bootleggers and other criminals to impending search warrants and subpoenas. When police left his office with important documents in hand, Peel would be on the phone calling in a warning to the crooks. He was well paid for the inside information and by jeopardizing his secret stream of income, Chillingworth had unwittingly stepped into the gun sights.

The police set up a sting and pretending to be good ol' boy friends of his, got Holzapfel drunk one night, and encouraged him to confess to the Chillingworth murders. Of course, his “friends” taped the whole confession and the ugly truth about the Chillingworths’ mysterious disappearance finally emerged.

PBC Sheriff's
Office Photo
            We have only the words of the murderers as to what happened that night and no one but the two of them ever knew the whole story. According to them, Holzapfel and his friend George David “Bobby” Lincoln rowed their little skiff about four miles off of the coast and proceeded to wrap Mrs. Chillingworth in chains.  The Judge told Mrs. Chillingworth, “Remember, I love you.” And she replied, “I love you, too.” Holzapfel turned to Mrs. Chillingworth and saying, “Ladies first,” shoved her out of the boat and into the water.

            Some versions of the story say that Judge Chillingworth jumped in after her to attempt to save her, but she sank from sight. The Judge, having grown up on and in the ocean in Palm Beach County, was an excellent swimmer and almost escaped, even with his hands taped and lead weights on his feet. But one of the men hit him on the head with a gun. The two dragged him back on the boat, tied an anchor around his neck and pushed him overboard to drown also.

            The 200 word story I entered in the Challenge was actually the third story I wrote. The first two just didn’t speak to me the way the last moments of Marjorie Chillingworth did. By all accounts, she was an educated, gracious, loving wife and mother, active in the Garden Club and well respected and loved by all who knew her. She was the very model of a 1950s socialite wife. The majority of the story always seems to focus on the Judge and not much seems to be in the public domain about Marjorie and her life. In writing about the last moments of Mrs. Chillingworth, I put myself in that boat and tried to imagine what she was feeling–the confusion,  fear, anger, and the sadness.

          It’s no wonder that the house and beach beside it still resonate with the echoes. God rest their souls.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Heading Through the Kelsey City Gates

The Collie Family Poses in Front of the Kelsey City Gates
(Picture from the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)
         From Northlake Boulevard,Old Dixie Highway ran south along the railroad tracks.  When I was little, the road was two-lane and still had the feel of a country road. About a half block or so south of Northlake Boulevard, we’d pass two columns, one on either side of the road. These were the remnants of the Kelsey City Gates, or the Kelsey City Arch as it was also known.
       The story of Kelsey City started out the story of Harry Kelsey. A visionary from Boston, he visited the area in 1919 as he recovered from pneumonia, and saw tremendous potential to plan and build a city like no other. He enlisted the assistance of the Olmstead Brothers, land planners whose biggest claim to fame was arguably the design of Central Park in New York City, and Dr. John Nolan and they designed what was the first zoned community south of Washington, DC. A large part of their planning is still in place today although the name of the town was changed to Lake Park in 1939.
       The little two lane road the remnants of the gate were on was the original U.S. Highway One and the gates marked the entry to the city.  Built in 1923, the gates were twenty feet high and thirty feet wide.  Constructed of mortar, coquina (limestone made of broken shells), stucco and tile wrapped around metal bars, the arch displayed a metal banner that read, “Welcome to the World’s Winter Playground.” Unfortunately, the sign disappeared in the 1928 hurricane, along with a lot of the hopes and dreams of Kelsey as well as those of many of the Kelsey City residents. That hurricane helped changed the course of the city’s development when Kelsey was forced to sell his holdings in Florida and retreated north in 1931.
        When U.S. Highway One was re-routed to the eastern location where it sits today, the two lane road next to the railroad tracks became known as Old Dixie Highway. In 1981, that portion of Old Dixie Highway was scheduled to be enlarged to a four lane road. The plan was to gently take the remnants of the gates down and re-assemble them at another location. It didn’t work out that way.  When the crane touched what was left of the gates, they crumbled.  Only two pieces were salvaged and they both sit forlornly in front of the Lake Park Fire/Rescue Station on Park Avenue in Lake Park next to the Town Hall. In recent years, the bronze plaques that identified what the two pieces of rock are and why they were important have been removed or perhaps stolen.  Those rocks are, however, what’s left of the beautiful Kelsey City Gates.
        Luckily, the Town Hall, built in 1927 and one of sixty-three buildings that still stand from the initial settling of the town, remains in one piece as no one has apparently figured out how to hook it up to a trailer and cart it away, too. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and is definitely worth a look. I’ve attended a musical in the beautiful second floor ballroom and even though the show was great, I spent more time eyeing the woodwork and floors than watching the performance. With a history geeks's imagination, I could just see what it must have been like when it was new.

        If you're in the area, keep an eye out for events scheduled at the Town Hall for your chance to enjoy a glimpse into life in the 1930s at the Town Hall at 535 Park Avenue, Lake Park, Florida.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Birth of an Imago

         Once again, it's Campaign Challenge Time!  The second challenge is a doozy. "Write a blog post in 200 words or less, excluding the title. It can be in any format, whether flash fiction, non-fiction, humorous blog musings, poem, etc. The blog post should include the following: 
               - The word "imago" in the title.
               - Include the following four random words:
                 "miasma," "lacuna," "oscitate," and synchronicity. (I had to look them up, too!)
          The last optional challenge was to include a reference to a mirror in the post. I elected not to do this one.
          My Palm Beach County history buffs will recognize the murder of Judge Curtis Chillingworth and his wife in June, 1955. For the rest of you, I don't want to give too much front story, but check back on this post in a couple of weeks and I'll answer any questions and give more detail if you'd like.
         I'm number 44 in the challenge. If you like this, please go vote for it HERE. So, without further delay, here's my 200 words....

Picture by Kelly Craig. Added to website.

         She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. The warm Florida wind was blowing as the little boat rocked on the ocean. She could feel the dampness of the sea spray on her face. Opening her eyes, she saw the fading lights of her home in Manalapan as the boat pulled further away from shore.  Marjorie looked at the men in the boat with her and her husband, Curtis. The miasma of failure and desperation clung to them along with evil. She prayed for a lacuna in this nightmare—a chance to change what was happening.
            She looked at Curtis who said sadly, “Remember, I love you.”
            From behind her came the sound of a man stifling the urge to oscitate. Hands bound, she turned awkwardly toward him, then looked at the sky and wondered what awful sychronicity led to this time, this place, these men.  Were her children safe? Would her grandchildren remember her?
            One of the men politely said, “Ladies first,” and shoved her into the dark ocean. As she slowly sunk beneath the waves, she saw Curtis jump in after her.  He faded from view in the murky water as she gasped for breath and found none.