Wednesday, December 5, 2012

West Palm Beach Does It Again!

     Well, once again, the story is out of the Palm Beaches--West Palm Beach to be specific.

     This time, however, the story is not about a flubbed election, hanging chads, butterfly ballot, or squabbling candidates. This time, the story is holiday history. Palm Beach County, in addition to the odd election snafu, has a history of unusual Christmas trees. Here's a picture of this year's contender:

     Constructed in downtown West Palm Beach along Flagler Drive, this 35 foot Christmas tree is breathtaking. The day I was there, camera in hand, people were walking around it in awe. How did they do that? Built by Team Sandtastic, a professional sand sculpture company, the tree took 400 tons of sand. And on December 6, they're even going to light it up in a tree lighting ceremony. How's that for ringing in the holiday season?

     Part of Sand and Sea-son's Greetings holiday celebration sponsored by the City of West Palm Beach, the big tree is only part of the story. Spread out around downtown are several smaller sculptures. Maps are available on the fencing surrounding the tree. There's also an "aqua trolley" available to help people get around to see everything, including a sand Santa's workshop in front of City Hall.

     The Sand and Sea-son display is running through the month of December.

     Of course, this is only the latest in local Christmas tree lore. 

     Still going strong is the 100 foot tree constructed on Old School Square along Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach. This behemoth has been going up every November for twenty years. While it's man made, it's still impressive. The tree literally towers over the school and every building nearby. It's hollow and for a small donation, one can walk inside to see holiday displays.

     The Delray Beach Downtown Development Authority has added a holiday carousel and an ice skating rink to the fun. Ice skating! In Florida!

     You can enjoy this tree until the beginning of 2013.

     Neither of these two fantastic trees were the first in Palm Beach County holiday history, though.

     In 1971, Generoso Pope, founder of the National Enquirer, along with his wife, Lois, erected a huge living (or recently living) tree on the property of the newspaper for the employees. When Pope noticed that people were slowing down as they drove by the newspaper's headquarters on Federal Highway in Lantana, a tradition was born.

     The tree always came by rail from the northwest and every year a larger tree was chosen. 

     It entered the Guiness Book of World Records in 1979 as the "World's Largest Decorated Christmas Tree" when it hit 117 feet. The Christmas displays gradually took over the grounds of the newspaper and grew to include toy trains, faux gingerbread houses and traditional holiday displays. It became THE display that just couldn't be missed and became a highlight of the holiday season for thousands of residents and tourists alike. 

     By 1987, the tree was 126 feet tall, and over 1 and a half million people toured the grounds that year alone. The last tree was erected in 1988. Pope passed away that year and the paper was later sold.

     If you get a chance this December, head over and take a look at the two fantastic trees still standing in the Florida sun. Make sure you get your picture taken next to the tree or trees of your choice. We thought the National Enquirer tree would always pop up every December and never bothered to have our picture taken by it. The Delray Beach tree has a good start, but who knows how long these two will be around?

    UPDATE: Wellington's own Cassadee Pope, now a contestant on The Voice, performed at the tree lightning held at Clematis by Night December 6. All reports are that she was fantastic, as usual. Congrats to Cassadee on her continuing success on The Voice and good luck heading into the finals! 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Who Slept at Seminole Inn?

      On a recent trip to Indiantown, I drove past a building I remember passing several times over the years.  As my Dad usually wouldn't stop unless it was a dire personal emergency requiring a restroom, I was never able to get more than a glimpse of the hotel as we rolled past on our way to the west coast.

      This time, I stopped for a couple of pictures and a closer look. (It's so nice being the driver instead of the passenger sometimes.) 

     The Seminole Inn is one of the hotels built back in those glorious days of the Florida real estate boom of the early 1920s. I've wanted to stay the night there since I was a child, but it always seemed to be on the way to another destination. But one of these days, I'm going to make it my destination. I'm adding it to my Florida Bucket List.

     It was 1926 when the Inn was built on the side of Beeline Highway at Warfield Boulevard in Indiantown, Florida.  The brainchild of S. Davies Warfield, President of the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad in the 1920's, it was intended as a luxurious stop for railway visitors as they made their way through Florida. Warfield had big plans for little Indiantown and since Warfield had the say-so, he said the railway would make a stop at Indiantown, and so it did.

     Warfield was actually the uncle of Wallis Warfield Simpson. You may have heard of her. A king of England abdicated his throne rather than give up Wallis. Rumor had it that Wallis and her princely husband, the former King Edward VIII, honeymooned at the hotel, but Palm Beach Post columnist Eliot Kleinberg tracked down the truth. The couple honeymooned in Australia.

     S. Davies Warfield died in 1927 shortly before the hurricane of 1928 wreaked havoc on the railway line and the stock market crash of 1929 took the wind out of the tourism industry in Florida for a while. The railroad continued to stop in Indiantown until 1971 and the depo was demolished sometime later. 

    Personally, it's ok with me if royalty didn't trod the wood floors and gaze upon the pecky cypress ceilings at the Inn. I'd still like to stay there and let my imagination run wild. Anyone up for a road trip?

    The Seminole Inn is located at 1585 S.W. Warfield Boulevard, Indiantown, Florida 34956. That's in Martin County. Telephone: 772-597-2777 and e-mail is


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Gratitudes

      I got in the habit of gratitude a couple of years ago. Before then, from time to time I'd think about how grateful I was for one blessing or another, but it wasn't a habit.

     These days, before my feet hit the floor every morning, I think of three--and only three--things for which I'm grateful. I call these "The Gratitudes." There's no rhyme or reason to what pops into my head on any given morning and just like the three below, they don't often go together. I have to tell you, sometimes I wonder why a particular gratitude shows up, but I take the first three and offer thanks for them and try not to question it too much.

      This week, in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday, I'm sharing today's three gratitudes with you.

     1.  I'm grateful that I was talked into participating in the World Wide Photo Walk by my friend, Karen Bain. (See photo above.) There's nothing like walking through one of the cities I love, cell phone in hand, snapping pictures. I'm STILL looking at things differently. I can't think of a better way for a writer, or anyone else, to start noticing things we usually race past.  

    2.  I'm grateful I've been able to speak to quite a few elementary school students about Betty Tales: The True Story of a Brave Bobblehead Cat and get them yelling "climb those stairs!" as they learn about my bobblehead cat, goals, obstacles, and determination. There were goosebumps on my arms and tears in my eyes when a teacher told me about one of her students who had faced what was, for him, a huge obstacle. He was in the middle of trying to learn a part for a school production when I showed up with videos of Miss Betty and her message of persistence. When he nailed his part in the production, he turned to his teacher and said, "I really climbed those stairs, didn't I?" 

     3.   I'm grateful Sir Harry Oakes bought the Winter Golf Club from Harry Kelsey in the early history of Palm Beach County thereby becoming part of my childhood memories and nightmares. I'm not sure what I would be writing about if I hadn't grown up studying the upstairs windows of the mansion for signs of his ghost. Talk about lighting up an imagination!

     I could go on naming gratitudes quite a while--my wonderful friends and family, for example--but my rules keep me at the first three that pop in my head on any given morning. It's hard to stop when I start counting blessings instead of disasters. I'd be willing to bet you'd have a hard time stopping, too.

      This Thanksgiving, I hope you and yours have a wonderful, peaceful holiday loaded with gratitudes. 

     And for those of you who follow my blog from foreign lands where this uniquely American holiday isn't celebrated, I'm grateful for you and your support of this blog and hope your week is a great one, too.

       Oops! Another gratitude! There's no stopping!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Elementary Echos

One windy day in October, I visited what had been my elementary school. As I walked through the halls I raced through as a child, my footsteps echoed and the wind pushed something around just out of sight.  I was surprised to find the school still standing.  North Palm Beach Elementary is scheduled to be demolished so that a new technologically advanced school can rise out of the ashes by 2014.

As I walked down halls and peered in windows, I tried to remember what it had been like. What I had been like before life accelerated way past worrying about who I would sit next to at lunch. I had spent several years of my life here. The graduates I know are doctors, lawyers, magistrates, homemakers, secretaries, policeman, teachers, parents, artists and writers.  

Cafetorium Extraordinarium
It was 1965. Toward the end of the summer, children all over North Palm Beach met in the combination cafeteria/auditorium known as a “cafetorium,” to buy large paper sacks of school supplies from the Parent Teacher Association. The PTA charged $5.00 per sack to provide everything we’d need and it was heavenly looking at all the interesting things I’d be using in the coming year.

My memories start at first grade—Mrs. Atherton was my teacher. We sat in wooden chairs at tables and wrote furiously in workbooks that told the story of Dick and Jane and their dog, Spot. We took their lives seriously as we labored over each letter. “Run, Spot, run. See Spot run. Dick and Jane see Spot run.

Physical Education was held on sprawling fields that stretched to the north and west of the school in the days before any of us knew about s.p.f. “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Tommy right over!” With aching arms, sweaty bodies, pink noses and shoulders, we trudged exhausted back to the classrooms with our bobby socks colored gray by Florida sand around stickers that we invariably picked up from the weeds in the fields.  

We had orchestra and I attempted to learn how to play the cello. I have no idea why I didn’t choose a flute or something small, but I was very grateful that my friend Chip helped haul the cello to the curb when I had to take it home to practice. We’d wait for our rides under the melaleuca trees that lined Anchorage Drive, peeling the papery bark of the trees as we talked.

When I was at North Palm Elementary, Spring Carnival was held on the front lawn where the library was later built. We wore colored poster board cut in the shape of tulips, roses or daisies on our heads like masks with holes cut for our faces and ribbons holding them in place. We sang songs about spring and danced. 

Portions of the hanging ceiling
removed showing the high ceilings of old.
North Palm Beach Elementary went up in stages from the late 1950s until the 1970s. Gradually, portable classrooms started taking up the play fields to the north and then the portables themselves were replaced with buildings.   The school is going to disappear much more quickly. Plans are to pull down almost all of the buildings and remodel the two that will remain standing.  They’re replacing the cafetorium with a better facility—nicer cafeteria, more impressive stage.  I remember it as a big room with high ceilings where suspiciously, cafeteria ladies always served spinach on days the lawn was mowed.

I really do understand that the old school is out-of-date. Technology has raced ahead and the old buildings were built way before computers became small enough to fit in a phone. The price to retrofit must be way more than the cost to just tear down and re-build. Part of me, though, regrets that one day soon, I won’t be able to drive by and see how it’s changed. Unlike my father, whose school still stands as part of Old School Square in Delray Beach, mine will disappear.

Bittersweet, to be sure.

If you’re a graduate of North Palm Beach Elementary, it might be too late for one last visit by the time you read this. Demolition and clearing was scheduled to start in October. I’d driven by one last time to say goodbye.  As I walked out of the school for the last time, the sun slowly set over what was left of the play fields and the shadows crept further and further down the halls. The sound of my footsteps echoed against those walls I last touched at eleven years of age. 

This column originally appeared in Seabreeze Publications, Inc. as "North Palm Beach Elementary Echoes" on November, 2012.

UPDATE: I was by the school on November 3, 2012, and it was still standing. You may still have a chance to say goodbye.

Copyright (c) 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Reddy Kilowat: A Bolt from the Past

Reddy Kilowatt

          Reddy Kilowatt was his name and appearing on everything FPL was his game.

      In 1965, my Girl Scout troop took a cooking class for children conducted by FPL in a building that's now part of Palm Beach Atlantic University in downtown West Palm Beach. Wearing little white aprons, we stirred and mixed and learned all about the fascinating world of electric appliances. Does anyone even have classes like that anymore?

          Reddy had arms and legs of lightning bolts, a huge bubble head with a light bulb for a nose and wall outlets for ears.   He was a cutie and he was all over the handouts we were given. He's nowhere around FPL these days and when I tried to call the company for some information, I didn't get a call back. My, how the mighty Reddy has fallen.
         So I did what any self-respecting obsessed curious person would do--I went internet surfing. I was surprised to find out Reddy wasn't unique to Florida Power and Light. Created by Ashton B. Collins in 1926, the figure was trademarked and licensed to "more than 150 investor-owned electric utilities in the United States and at least 12 foreign countries" according to the unofficial website

          Sadly, you won't find Reddy on company handouts in Florida these days. The company has gone to a circle with a lightning bolt across it with the letters "FPL" next to it. Not nearly as fun. Collectors can still find Reddy on e-bay and probably at the occasional garage sale.  As I write this, there are over 430 items up for bid.

           Um.... gotta run. I'm running out of time to bid on the "Vintage 1950's Reddy Kilowatt "Trudy Tenderfoot Meets Reddy Kilowatt" Cook Book. 


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Past

     When my children were little, I got to pick the Halloween costumes. That's how my son ended up in tights as Peter Pan at age four.  Could be why he still is fearless when it comes to outrageous costuming.... Unfortunately for me and my inner child, they grew up and started demanding costumes of their own design.

     This picture is from a few years ago when they decided to go as Vikings in a salute to their Norwegian heritage. Their Grandpa Berge would have really enjoyed the costumes. The picture still makes me smile - even though neither one of them are wearing tights. This picture became our Christmas card that year. With the Norwegian words for Merry Christmas and this shot, my relatives were reassured that I was still somewhat off kilter.

     One of my favorite costumes over the years was the one my daughter chose when she was six years old.  She wanted to be a "Scary Waitress." I have no idea where she got the idea, but we went with the creative muse and picked over the racks at Goodwill for costume pieces. She ended up looking like a miniature TGI Friday's waitress (remember when they wore red and white striped shirts?) with a tray of unsavory plastic tidbits from the Walmart body part bins. By the end of the evening, I was carrying the tray. Her pillowcase had become too heavy thanks to the homeowner who ran out of candy and began handing out cans of soda to the few straggling trick or treaters.

     One of my favorite Halloweens was the first year we lived in St. Louis. There, you don't just knock on the door and yell, "Trick or treat!" In St. Louis, you have to have a riddle. If the homeowner doesn't answer correctly, you get the treat. While my niece was asking her riddle, my fourteen-month-old son marched in the door and was moving quickly through the house. She had to go retrieve him from their family room.

     Growing up, every October 31 in North Palm Beach was windy. (At least that's the way I remember it and I'm sticking to it.) Sometimes cool, sometimes hot, sometimes balmy--but always windy. Our pillowcases would bump against our legs as we ran from house to house, masks on top of our heads because they were too hot and hard to see through. Costumes and hair wind-blown, make up running due to humidity or heat, we raced through the three dead end streets in my neighborhood.  My cousin, Jack, our escort in the dark, made sure we were safe and not bullied out of our candy by older children or run over by a car driven by a frantic parent heading out to get more candy. I promised to share my haul with Jack because half of those answering the doors we knocked on said he was too old to be trick-or-treating. They weren't too impressed with our "escort" title. The bodyguard explanation didn't go over too well, either.

     When we got home, however, my children followed the same ritual my cousin, brother and I did. Sit on the floor, empty the pillow cases, sort and trade. Unfortunately, I checked over their candy the same as my parents checked over mine. Even in the halcyon days of 1960s Palm Beach County, there were warnings about cruel people who would mess with kids' candy. 

     We don't get trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood now. I miss seeing the little princesses, ghosts and cowboys and yes, I'd even welcome a scary waitress.

     Happy Halloween to you and yours, may all your treats be safe and yummy. And here's hoping your tights don't cut off your circulation by the end of the night.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sunshine and Dark Shadows

            I was thrilled in early 2012 when I heard Hollywood was making a movie out of the classic television series Dark Shadows. I was less than thrilled when I heard it was more of a spoof. Did they not understand what that show was?

           First hitting the airways in 1966, it became an after school obsession of my neighborhood buddies a few years later. I’d come home from school, hurry through homework and snacks and race down the street. We'd gather in the Florida room at Randy’s house (up north, it would be called a “den”). Lounging on pillows on the floor in front of the black and white television with curtains drawn to make the room as dark as possible, we’d sit riveted to the television as the show was broadcast. It was color by the time we were watching, but it aired in black and white until August of 1967.

Jonathan Frid, the original
Barnabas Collins
           Dark Shadows was a half hour series situated in a fictional northeast town. It had vampires, witches, you name it.  If the character or situation was anything approaching paranormal, eventually it showed up in the story line. The show was eerie and odd, with shadows (natch) and dramatic music. The characters were always creeping about threatening one another. Barnabas Collins was the big cheese. A two hundred year old vampire, he escaped a chained coffin to return home pretending to be a long-lost cousin. He came onto the scene about six months after the show started airing

The plot was as tangled as a European death knot, but once upon a time, I could actually explain events. The writers grabbed literally anything and threw it in the mix. The resulting stew bubbled in our imaginations causing us all to go to bed at night wide-eyed in the dark.

           I couldn’t tell you why we gathered at Randy’s house to watch it, but I know we never met anywhere else.  Every day when the show ended, Randy's mom would push us outside into the bright Florida sun, where we'd blink like we were denizens of the night ourselves. It's surprising we didn't screech when the light hit our skin. After debating that day's plot corkscrews, we slowly settled into kickball or tag, as if we were normal children, not the Dark Shadows addicts we were.

           The show ran until 1971. Shot live, mike booms occasionally appeared at the top of the screen and lines were often flubbed. We absolutely did not care. (I didn’t get this attached to another show until college when my sorority sisters and I would almost come to blows as we argued over General Hospital versus One Life to Live. We scheduled classes around that hour. The wedding of Luke and Laura meant a full house in the tv room that afternoon, but I digress...)

          If you have never seen the original Dark Shadows, I can promise you that it’ll appear hokey if you pick up the DVD collection to watch now. Special effects have moved so far beyond what they were in the sixties that what once appeared terrifying appears laughable. As for the movie, I suppose I'll have to see it eventually.

But for now, let me wallow in the remembered terror of the original creepy series watched in a dark room in the middle of the sunny Florida afternoons of my childhood. Nothing will ever feel quite the same. 

Perhaps it would make good watching this Halloween season if for nothing else but old time’s sake. Wonder if I can round up my old North Palm Beach gang for a Dark Shadows reunion. 

Randy? Is your Florida room still available?

Copyright (c) 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge
Photo at the beginning of this article from ctucenter.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Walking in West Palm

           Saturday, October 13, 2012, I took part in the Worldwide Photowalk. I’d never heard of it before, but my friend, Karen Bain, suggested I meet her and give it a try. We signed up for the West Palm Beach Downtown walk which took us east on Clematis Street from the West Palm Beach Library toward Flagler Avenue. Then south to Royal Palm Bridge and over into Palm Beach where we circled around to the south coming back via Worth Avenue.

           I have to admit by the end I was no longer sure if my feet were attached to my legs. But, walking with about thirty other photographers—amateur to professional—and knowing that we were only a few out of 31,914 participants in 1,339 cities around the world made me want to see the pictures everyone took. There are also prizes for the best pictures. At end of the West Palm Beach Downtown walk, our walk leader, Mike Niles, ordered pizza for all our aching bodies after we crawled off the street and into Grimaldi's. Funny, didn't seem like there was enough ice water for the table no matter how many pitchers the waiter brought...

           If you are the least bit inclined, head over to the Worldwide Photowalk website and sign up to be notified of next year’s events.  I’m not going to write another word on it, but I’m going to leave you with some pictures of my West Palm Beach and Palm Beach. If my words haven’t convinced you how much I love the place I call home, the pictures might.

Once upon a time, this was Woolworth's. You could spend hours looking at the inexpensive toys, then dine on the world's best grilled hot dog in a booth by the front window.

On this grass once stood the West Palm Beach Public Library. We loved the building as kids--it was large and quiet. When we couldn't find the book we needed for a school report, this is where it was hidden. With the building gone (and the library moved further west on Clematis) you can see all the way to Lake Worth (the lake, not the city) from the eastern end of Clematis Street.

Sculpture at The Society of the Four Arts on Palm Beach. The gardens have been thriving since 1938. 

The Daily News Building at 204 Brazilian Avenue. Built in 1925, it served as the offices of the Palm Beach Daily News until 1974. Now on the National Register of Historic Places.

The West Palm Beach skyline from the Royal Palm Bridge. When West Palm was new, the cement sea walls you can barely see along the shore didn't exist.

What do you say? Anyone interested in checking it out next year?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In Search of a Ghost Story

            It’s October. That means it’s time for ghosts and goblins and spooky stories told by flickering candlelight. I went searching the northern part of the County for one.
In the days before superhighways and turnpikes, when Palm Beach County residents wanted to head north, they used U.S. Highway One.
From our North Palm Beach home in the 1960s, there wasn’t much to see. There was an occasional business here or there. Through Juno Beach, gently rolling sand dunes covered with native Florida plants appeared on either side of the road, but that was about all there was.
Until we approached Jupiter.
At the intersection of U.S. Highway One and Indiantown Road there were a few businesses, but the most exciting sight was still farther north. As we approached the bridge that crossed over the Intracoastal by the Jupiter Inlet, we could see the lighthouse rising to our right. Sitting proudly on a rare hill, it towered over the surroundings. 
It still does. 
On a recent very hot and humid weekend, I drove over to the lighthouse to do something I never did before. I was determined to climb to the top.  I was also hoping I could pick up a good ghost story or two.  After all, the lighthouse started flashing out its beacon in 1860. Plenty of time for a ghost to take up residence. Luckily for me, the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum is operated by the Loxahatchee River Historical Society, whose volunteers and staff members brave the hot weather to lead tours through the grounds and yes, up to the top of the lighthouse.  
            The tour took us past the Tindall House, acknowledged as the oldest home in the area, which was moved to the grounds from its original location near Center Street. It also took us past the Pennock Bell which rang out in the 1800 and 1900s at Pennock Plantation where pineapples were plentiful.  To the north is an active Coast Guard Station because this is still a working lighthouse. Traipsing past native plants and well-tended lawn, our group moved to the star of the show—the Jupiter Lighthouse.
The lighthouse was designed by Lt. George G. Meade and supplemented by the addition of double walls, porthole windows and extra height courtesy of Lt. William Raynolds.  If Meade sounds familiar to history buffs, that’s because Lt. Meade later became General Meade who served in the army of the North in the Civil War. In an odd twist, The Loxahatchee River Historical Society believes a surveyor by the name of Robert E. Lee was one of the team of six surveyors who decided Jupiter Inlet would be a good spot. It’s that Robert E. Lee who later became the General of the Confederate Army.  Isn’t it amazing how fate works?
            There are thirty-four steps to get to the base of the lighthouse and another 105 to go up to the top. All I can say is thank heavens there are landings and open windows where the sea breeze pours in—that’s a rough climb! I can’t imagine how the early lighthouse keepers did it several times a day. The view from the top, though, was all I had thought it was.  Having poured over history books and pictures of the area, I could imagine how it must have looked when the lighthouse was brand new. It’s easy to picture where the inlet was originally located and what the area must have looked like before buildings and paved roads popped up like dandelions.
            The climb was worth it, and not only because of the catwalk and incredible views. At the top the original lenses made in France by Fresnel are still installed and shine out every night. During the Civil War, they were removed and hidden to keep them safe and it was June, 1866 when the light once again directed sailors home.
Situated on one of the few hills in Florida, the Jupiter Lighthouse is constructed on an Indian mound. Indians were in and around the Inlet area for thousands of years. As we walked through the grounds, the tour guide pointed out smaller mounds to the south of the walkway. South Florida generally doesn’t have much in the way of hills and it was the Indians who made all of these.
            Aha! My ghosts for October?
Sadly, no.
I hopefully asked Amanda Dixon, our guide, if she had ever seen or heard of any unusual occurrences on the grounds. She said no and added that the Loxahatchee River Historical Society prefers to emphasize the history of the location and lighthouse. But, she added, everything was built over land where Indian settlements existed long before the Lighthouse was built. If you are sensitive to that sort of thing, who knows?
So, no ghost story from me this week. But with or without a resident haunt, the Jupiter Lighthouse is worth the price of admission. There are friendly, knowledgeable tour guides, beautiful scenery, an interesting museum and a snack bar where you can buy a Gatorade and soothe your aching legs after your climb while you cool off in the air conditioning.
For more information on hours and prices, go to or call (561) 747-3830. The Lighthouse is located at 500 Captain Armours Way, Jupiter, Florida. 
If you are “one of those people” and manage to glimpse a ghost, let me know. I’ll write a whole new story.

This story first appeared in the October column of The Florida You Don't Know
in Seabreeze Publications, Inc.  
The incredibly cute animated ghost is from
Copyright (c) 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

History Geek Heaven

Lantana Public Library (
    Once upon a time, a little girl named Mary moved to Lantana, Florida. It was 1925. She grew up, became a teacher and then a librarian before "retiring" in 1976. But her idea of retirement did not involve shuffleboard and card games. She got involved with the Historical Society of Palm Beach County as it's first woman president.

     Mary also published two books on Florida history: "Early Lantana, Her Neighbors and More" in 1980 was followed by "Pioneer Days on the Shores of Lake Worth 1873-1893" which was co-authored with Marjorie Watts Nelson and published in 1994.  

     Mary still didn't totally retire, though. She kept involved and kept promoting local history until her death on July 19, 1998.

     And now, the photographs Mary Collar Linehan took as well as collected over her lifetime have been put together into a collection called the "Linehan Historic Lantana Photographs Collection." Even better, the collection is opening at the Lantana Public Library on October 3, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. I know this is late notice for the grand opening, but the collection will be on display for a while so if you don't make it there for the party on the 3rd, there's still plenty of time.

Myspace Photo
     Among some fascinating pictures of the area are some of the National Enquirer Christmas Tree. Area natives recall the first tree in 1971. It was 45 feet tall and became an attraction to the locals. As years went by, Generoso Pope, the owner of the National Enquirer, kept getting larger and larger trees. It was 1979 when he finally earned the "World's Largest Decorated Christmas Tree" designation in the Guiness World Book of Records when the tree was 117 feet. The last tree was installed and decorated in 1989. It was a 126 foot tall tree before it was cut down in Oregon for the Lantana display. By then, Pope was also decorating the grounds of the newspaper with Christmas displays. I remember walking through with my friends on a cool night. It helped make the season special and the snapshots in Ms. Linehan's collection bring back some wonderful memories.

     Mary Linehan's books and articles are well-researched, fascinating peeks at a world that no longer exists.  I found one book on e-bay (the bidding was over) and one on The price? $69.00 and worth every penny in my opinion. Her pictures span the time from that world to the Palm Beach County that existed at her death. 

     The library is located at 205 West Ocean Avenue, Lantana, Florida. Phone is 561-540-5740.

     I'm looking forward to looking back. Heaven awaits! See you there?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

We're Celebrating!

     If you had told me a year ago I'd be planning a book launch for a book about my disabled cat who has quite the attitude, I would have thought you were nuts. But the book is here and I'm ready to celebrate!

     Betty Tales The True Story of a Brave Bobblehead Cat is a little book with a big message and I've enjoyed speaking with children in schools in Martin and Palm Beach Counties (Florida). It's great to hear them shouting "Climb those stairs!" at the end of my talk. What better tribute could any author receive than to hear the enthusiasm of children as they "get" the message of the book?

So, where's the book launch?   
273 Pineapple Grove Way
Delray Beach, Florida
(561) 279-7790

What time?     1:00 p.m.

Door Prize is
A Betty Basket!
      If you're anywhere in the South Florida area and you have a child in your life, or you love animals, or if someone you care about is disabled, you need to be at the bookstore on September 30. I'd be delighted to meet you.

     I'm going to discuss the book, answer your questions, sign some books, eat some cookies, drink some lemonade, give away a door prize, and celebrate the existence of my very first book with my friends and fans. 

     Unfortunately, Betty can't make the celebration. She'll be home relaxing on her comfy cushion in the sun thinking up her next wild adventure.                                                         

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bibletown Camp

Campers with Anita Bryant (I'm the blonde).
Photo appeared first in Boca Raton News July 25, 1972
     In July, 1972, my parents sent me off to yet another summer camp. This one, however, was different. No tent in the woods. No canoeing. Campers stayed in the old Bibletown hotel rooms on the grounds of what was originally part of the Boca Raton US Army Air Field. We had meetings and meals in the former officers' club. Built of Dade County pine, it wasn't a fancy building and the hotel rooms were at least twenty years old.

     The jalousie windows were a clue to the age of the buildings. Popular in Florida in the fifties and sixties, the louvered panes of glass on a hand crank system were not used as much in buildings built in the seventies. The grounds were landscaped sparingly with tropical plants and the pool was nice and cool.
Jalousie Windows
Picture from Wikipedia

     Bibletown itself was the brainchild of Ira Lee Eshleman, a Christian radio commentator from Miami (originally from Detroit) who decided that paradise needed a "Winter Conference Bible Ground." It was a place for Christians to vacation and worship at the same time. Housed in buildings from the old air field, the site grew and expanded to eventually fill 320 acres.

Anita Bryant Early Years
     For one year only, Bibletown was the site of the Anita Bryant Summer Camp for Girls. Yep. Anita Bryant. Remember her? In the early seventies, she was known primarily as a singer and beauty queen. The campers were in awe of her. She was on television constantly as the spokeswoman for Florida Orange Juice. Anyone remember, "A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine?"

     Together with her then husband, Bob Green, a former Miami disc jockey, she ran the camp. Bob was always dressed in tennis whites, striding around the camp in a hurry. Days were filled with bible studies, swimming and crafts. Campers were surprised one day to meet astronaut Jim Irwin who brought a moon rock to show and tell. I was certainly impressed to meet him, but I don't remember a thing he said.

     The big event at the end of the camp session was a talent show. Back then, most of my friends thought we just needed to be discovered to be big stars like Anita. I wrote a song called "America," played the guitar and sang. I knew it was my big break. Anita would be totally impressed and I would soon be famous. I nervously sat on a stool in front of a room of parents, campers and Anita and sang:

"America, America, I love you with all my heart." 
(Knock on the guitar twice.)
"America, America, we two will never part."
(Knock on the guitar twice.)

     Four years after the camp, Bibletown suffered a huge fire which destroyed the cafeteria and conference center (former officers' club). Shortly after, houses were built on some of the property and most of the land was sold off. Bibletown, now Boca Raton Community Church, operates on the remaining twenty acres.

     As for Anita Bryant,  she became embroiled in anti-gay rights legislation in Miami beginning in 1977. Her vehement opinions led to the end of her days promoting orange juice. Her divorce from Bob Green led to desertion by those who had supported her anti-gay stance and Anita gradually lost her sparkle. In 2011, she turned 71 and is now involved in youth charity organizations. She also runs Anita Bryant Ministries International. Her former husband died this past February (2012) in Miami Beach.

    While I don't share the beliefs that led to Anita Bryant's downfall, I regret that her beautiful singing voice was lost in the controversy. I don't remember the last time I heard her sing, although it was probably at that summer camp. Her voice was full and rich and I could have listened for hours.

     As for me, I know you'll be shocked to find out I wasn't discovered. I'm not famous. And you can all breathe a sigh of relief that the two lines of "America" recited above are the only two lines I remember. The rest are lost in time. (Thank heavens.)

Copyright (c) 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Good Sam

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

            In 1964, Good Samaritan Hospital had a really spiffy lobby.  It had Naugahyde benches with silver metal legs that lined the wall where I sat—patient and long-suffering—the only member of my family not able to ride the elevator to the newborn ward to see my new baby brother.

My grandparents took turns going up the elevator to see my brother in the newborn nursery.   Those were the rules. Kids had germs. Newborns had to be protected. It was several more days before I got a glimpse of the red-faced, dark-haired boy who would become my greatest irritant and one of my greatest loves.

            Good Samaritan Hospital had been there a few decades by the fall of 1964. The Palm Beach Medical Society says West Palm Beach originally had a five bedroom cottage called the “Emergency Hospital”.  Built in 1914, the cottage was on a lot donated by Henry Flagler. The building on Third Street quickly became overcrowded and a bigger building was constructed on the current site on Flagler Drive. It opened in 1920 as Good Samaritan Hospital and has been growing and expanding ever since.  

At first, travel to the hospital wasn’t always easy and, at least with an impending childbirth, challenging to impossible. Consequently, like many additions to the population in those days, my father and two of his siblings were born in a house in Boynton Beach. My youngest uncle was born in what is now the Blue Seas Suite of the Historic Hartman House in Delray Beach.

Good Samaritan Hospital 1950s
Photo Courtesy of
The Historical Society of Palm Beach County
The Historical Society of Palm Beach County has a series of pictures showing the hospital over the years. One of them is from the 1950s and that one comes closest to my earliest memories. I had a friend who worked in the laboratory there when I was in high school in the late 1970s.My memories were updated then since I was able to go behind the scenes to view the lab with all its test tubes and paraphernalia. I even rode the elevator a few times, just for old times’ sake. The hospital had changed.

There’s a great quote from Dr. William Ernest Van Landingham, who served as one of the early Superintendents of Good Samaritan Hospital. On the Palm Beach County Medical Society’s webpage Dr. Van Landingham, said, “Little does the doctor of today realize how fortunate he is to walk into a complete hospital with miracle drugs to aid him... Unless a doctor has been fortunate enough to have had a glimpse of country practice before moving into an urban area, it must be admitted that he really has lost some of the experiences that were commonplace to the doctor of yesteryear and he is also deprived of that nostalgic feeling that we now enjoy for having lived in that age of hardship, sharing with each family the joy of a new baby’s cry, the sadness and tears of the loss of loved ones, and the wishful thinking of what or what we might have accomplished had we not been born thirty years to soon.” That statement appears to have been made in the sixties.

Dr. Van Landingham would have a hard time imaging the Good Samaritan of today. A lobby with soaring ceilings greets visitors who are signed in by volunteers and security guards sign who direct them where to find loved ones in the sprawling complex. I am, however, relieved that the Naugahyde benches are no more.

Copyright (c) 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Walking in Time - St. Augustine

         Along the coast in the northern part of Florida lies one of the most fascinating places I have visited in the United States. It takes about four hours to get from Palm Beach County to the little nugget of history sitting on Matanzas Bay near an inlet. But there sit the remnants, lovingly and commercially restored and preserved, of old St. Augustine, occupied by people since before 1546.

        I have been there several times over my life. The first when I was about five. I remember my dad picking me up to look over a wooden fence at excavation work. My parents and I walked down St. George Street, filled to the brim with shops and restaurants, and enjoyed the tram ride as much for the breeze as the sights. We even rode in the horse-drawn carriages that line up along the Bayfront between the Castillo de San Marcos and the Bridge.

        In college, it was a day trip as my sorority sisters and I, tired of sitting on the beaches of nearby Jacksonville Beach, took the short drive to St. Augustine. We did several of the same things I did as a five year old with the added exception of dancing and drinking like the young adults we were.

        As a pregnant wife, my then husband and I took our unborn son on a tour of the city as our last get away before our son’s arrival. I was huge and people kept offering me seats or looking at me suspiciously as if I’d go into labor any second. One of the best parts of that trip was lying in some shade on the grass by the fort, recovering from the Florida heat and trying to catch an ocean breeze. He was born ahead of schedule two weeks later.

        My best friend and I have been back a couple of times, the last for the Florida Heritage Book Festival and its workshops. We stayed in The Pirate Haus, a little old bed and breakfast a block off of St. George Street. Sublime pancakes for breakfast. When we weren’t eating pancakes or doing writerly things, we were shopping, walking and site-seeing. I also managed to talk her into the Ghost Tour. We didn’t spot anything unusual ourselves, but did find out that John Wilkes Booth supposedly appeared on stage at what was once the theatre on St. George Street. 

        In all those years, old St. Augustine hasn’t changed that much. Oh, individual shops along St. George Street come and go, but the parts of St. Augustine that make it truly unique, haven’t.

        Try touring the Castillo de San Marcos. The Spaniards started building it in 1672 and it was 1695 before it was finished. From that time, four different flags have flown over its sturdy coquina (“little shells”) walls and pockmarks from cannon balls still dot the eastern wall. As you peer through battlements, try to imagine what it must have been like to be a Spaniard on guard duty in the incredible heat. 

        Try touring the Oldest Schoolhouse in America and imagine learning under those conditions. Try touring Flagler College. Housed in the 1887 Hotel Ponce de Leon, it was once one of Henry Flagler’s luxury hotels. Not only is the woodwork in the lobby astounding, but the cafeteria – the CAFETERIA—boasts seventy-nine Louis Tiffany Comfort stained glass windows.

          It’s no wonder I’ve found myself drawn to St. Augustine time and time again. It’s one of those places that have become a touchstone in my life—where things haven’t changed so much that nothing looks familiar. Whether I’ve been 5 years old, 20, 30 or 50 or anywhere in between, I can still stand on top of the Castillo, my hands on the coquina wall and look out toward the Inlet. 

           There’s something comforting about that. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hurricane Memories

Isabel Photo from Nasa.Gov

                As I drive through the remnants left in Palm Beach County by Isaac, I’ve been thinking  back over a lifetime of hurricane memories.  Yes, I am a life-long resident and no, I’m not going to subject you to every memory—just a few. Promise.

                During Hurricane Betsy (1965) I set up the wondrous Show and Tell to entertain my little brother with “shows.” (For those of you who have no clue what I’m talking about, here’s a LINK to the little television-looking box with a record player on top and a slot for the film. Basic, I know, but it was hot stuff back then.) With storm shutters installed, the house was as dark as any movie theatre I’ve ever been in.  An added bonus of our show was the sound of the scratchy records helped mask the eerie sound of the wind.

The Amyrillis in an advertisement for
Rutledge Inn. It actually was not quite as close.
                Betsy was also the year a freighter named Amyrillis ran aground on Singer Island.  The ship didn’t quite make the safety of the Port of Palm Beach. There were thirty souls on board and none were lost. For years (at least it seemed that way to me), the ship was wedged deep in the sand and became a tourist attraction for tourists and Florida natives alike. We swam right up to it and knocked on its sides. If anyone had ever knocked back, I think we would have fainted.  Amyrillis was not pulled back out to sea until 1968, when it became part of an artificial reef.

                Fast forward to 1979 and Hurricane David. By this time, I was a teenager and actively involved in hurricane preparations. I scrubbed bathtubs and filled them with water. Mom was in charge of dosing the water with Clorox to disinfect it. I helped Dad wrap the air conditioner wall unit with garbage bags and duct tape to keep the driving rain from seeping through. We threw the lawn furniture in the pool (not recommended anymore) and lowered awnings.  

                We hunkered down inside and stayed up as late as we could talking and listening to the radio, flashlights close at hand. Towels were jammed under the front door to keep the rain from pouring in.  The howling wind was constant until finally, blessedly, it just stopped. We were in the eye.  Dad opened the door and we peeked around him. He grabbed his car keys and headed toward the marina to re-tie his boat. We headed outside to walk the dog and play in the brief recess from the wind.

                Twenty minutes later, we noticed the far side of the eye wall moving toward us. A solid gray that looked like something was churning behind it, it slowly crept closer. Dad wasn’t back yet. My family knew Dad had been through hurricanes his entire life. Born in Boynton Beach and raised in Delray, he had loads of experience. That didn’t stop us from getting concerned, though. The wall slowly crept closer. No Dad. Mom made us come back in the house and start getting ready for the other side of the storm. No Dad.

                Just when we could see the eye wall practically at the end of our street, the screeching of tires heralded Dad’s return. The door had barely slammed shut behind him and he was still stuffing towels back into the door frame when the howling started. 

Katrina Eyewall
When a hurricane first arrives, there’s a build up to the action. First, clouds move in and then start zipping by faster and faster. Then, the rain starts. , Finally, the storm starts to build in intensity. With an eye wall, there’s no build up. It’s peaceful and calm and then- wham! Back in the thick of it.

                Isaac was only a tropical storm when it passed through South Florida. Even so, he managed to dump up to fifteen inches of rain, cause flooding, power outages and even appears to have spawned a tornado in Vero Beach. Unfortunately, Isaac is now pounding into New Orleans. A not so nice anniversary present for those who survived Hurricane Katrina.

                Floridians tend to take our hurricanes matter-of-factly. We watch the news, stock up, board up, burrow in and wait for it to pass. Anyone who grew up along a Florida or Gulf coast understands that while some of the memories are fun ones, there is nothing fun about the whine and hiss of the wind and driving rain as it searches for a way in. There is nothing fun about what hurricanes leave behind.