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.