Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Twist in the Road

Sometimes, when you are on your way to a destination you happen upon an unexpected  twist in the road  and suddenly, you find yourself in a surprisingly different  place.

Such was the case with the Dapper Dan Contest.

You may recall I posted a picture my son and I found in a big box of stamps, empty envelopes and pictures which had been passed down from my grandfather, Gustav Hartman (a/k/a G.R. Hartman) through several family members to my son. We had fun with the contest and three people took time to think up and post an entry. Thanks again to all of you and congrats once more to Tameri Etherton, who has a wonderful blog you should tour soon.

Thanks to the comments of eagle eye reader Bill Allen, I took a closer look at the picture and agreed with his theory that the object our Dapper Dan was holding was an icicle--a HUGE icicle. Kudos to you, Bill! So on our way to celebrating another contest, I decided to send the picture to the historical society in Glenn Ullin, North Dakota, where one branch of my family was from. I did this after realizing a picture of a man holding a huge icicle couldn’t possibly have been taken in South Florida (duh...). Now, I realize this was a total long shot. I mean, the picture was obviously old and could have been taken anywhere in the world where ice and snow come to visit.

Here’s the twist in the road.

Kathy Schirado of the Glenn Ullin Historical Society Archives decided to run the picture by an older resident to see if she might have an idea of who our Dapper Dan might be. She chose Anne Hartman Geitzen.

Getting goosebumps yet?

Anne HARTMAN Geitzen, who is now 87, took one look at the picture and said, “Well, of course I know who that is. It’s my Uncle Fred!”

Call me gobsmacked. There’s no other word for it.
Gus and Ione Hartman
My Grandparents

Anne’s father was Henry Hartman, my grandfather’s oldest brother. Fred was born in 1901, about a year ahead of my grandfather, and he’s squinting in the picture because he was shot near that eye in World War I.

Anne says there are only three of them left in her part of the family.  She and her sister, Martha, live very close to each other in Glen Ullin. Another relative, Viola, lives in DeKalb, Illinois. I had a wonderful telephone conversation with Anne the other evening and we promised to keep in touch. She told me Viola was the one with the computer and Anne had already mailed a letter to her with my information in it so that we could be in touch, too.

The world can seem so large. Over 313,000,000 people live in just the United States today. But every now and then, a series of seemingly insignificant events happen that make the world seem so much smaller. I value those twists in the road. They make me realize again that all kinds of exciting possibilities exist. One old picture brought several distant family members into the same intersection again.  What are the odds?

Somewhere, a man sporting a jaunty bowler and a leather jacket is smiling. Well played, sir. Well played.

(C) Copyright 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Back Roads to Cross Creek

     Just south of Gainesville, in a part of Florida I hadn't visited before, I found a piece of Florida that made my history-loving soul giddy. Most people, including myself, speed by on nearby Interstate 75 on their way to or from much bigger and seemingly more adventurous destinations. But this time, I had the great good fortune to be traveling with a loved one who indulges my inner history geek. We actually exited off of the interstate.

     It took twenty minutes or so of driving through North Florida countryside over two lane roads lined by trees with limbs dripping  spanish moss to arrive at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park in Cross Creek, Florida. The further we drove into the Florida wilderness, the further it felt we turned back the clock. By the time we arrived at the Park, we were in the 1930s.

     We parked the car on what one of the brochures said was originally Ms. Rawlings cow pasture. The brochure claimed that Rawlings said the cow "had an evil temper but gave the richest cream." (  On foot, we walked through the gate and headed through what was a citrus grove. Not too many trees are in the grove now, but there are enough to tell how it might have looked. We passed the barn, reconstructed to look as if it had been standing solidly there for a hundred years, and the chicken coop, complete with chickens, to arrive at the house.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Farm House
     When Rawlings moved to this area in 1928, the house was actually three separate buildings that had been assembled gradually over the past forty years and connected with porches. The same brochure said that it was an "old board and batten house...constructed mostly of heart pine in the Florida Cracker style, with its raised floor, high ceilings and many windows and doors for cross ventilation." It's been restored and the Friends of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Farms, Inc. are continually working on preservation.

     I could go on and on about the house and the surrounding property, but I have to tell you that as a writer, I was drawn to the screened porch on the east side of the house. This was where Rawlings did most of her writing at a cypress table with chairs made from palmetto palm posts and deer hide. The group has even outfitted the table with a typewriter from the period, an ashtray and a box of Ms. Rawlings' favorite cigarettes. To sit at that table and ponder how to write a particular scene while looking out at the little road and trees draped with spanish moss while the scent of orange blossoms wafts gently through the screen seemed to me to be a writer's idea of heaven.

     Possibly best known for The Yearling (1938), Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings published books from 1933 until 2002, despite having passed away in 1953. Several books have been written about her and Cross Creek and there have been been no less than three movies based on her writing. She knew how to convey the feeling of her little town and the difficult times of her era arguably better than most.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
     Ms. Rawlings perhaps described how she felt about her farm in Cross Creek best when she said, "It is necessary to leave the impersonal highway, to step inside the rusty gate and close it behind. One is now inside the orange grove, out of one world and in the mysterious heart of another, and after long years of spiritual homelessness, of nostalgia, here is that mystic loveliness of childhood again. Here is home."

     May you find your own little corner of the world that surrounds you with this same feeling.

Copyright 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge

Double Roads

Double Roads. Juno Beach.
View to North. 2012
             For most children growing up in Palm Beach County, the beach is a constant source of entertainment and enjoyment. As I was growing up in North Palm Beach, we had to travel south to Singer Island or north to Juno Beach and Jupiter to get to the ocean, but the destination was always worth the drive.

            In the 1960s and seventies, we had to jump and slide down big sand dunes to get to the sea in Juno Beach. It was an art to avoid the roots of seagrapes and random rocks to keep from falling head over heels.  Once on the beach, walking to the surf usually involved a lot of mincing steps in a futile attempt to run over the steaming sand, superheated by the glaring sun. My personal favorite was jumping from towel to towel until I reached the cooler wet sand. I still see people doing the towel dance.

            One of our favorite destinations was Double Roads. Literally, a double road for a block or two along A1A just north of Marcinski Road in Juno Beach, Double Roads was a dirt road to the east of two lane A1A. Rumor has it that beach erosion gradually required the dirt road be paved. I couldn’t tell you, but its certainly paved now and sturdy wooden stairways from the street level to the sand have been installed. No more tumbling down a dune.

            In those days, someone was always holding a bonfire on the beach in the evenings. Then, as now, teenagers liked to socialize without parents and parties around bonfires were frequent.  From the stories my Facebook friends have shared with me, some were much more exciting than most of the parties I attended. “Submarine races” were as popular then as they are now and spending the night cuddled in blankets under the open stars pure romance.

            Opposite Double Roads, where condominiums are now, boys used to practice their “Dukes of Hazzard” moves in the sand, driving in wild, wide circles over the scrub in their souped-up cars. Once, a van even went off the road, over the dune and onto the beach several feet below. No one seems to remember if it was occupied at the time.

            Crab walks were another evening delight. Crabs would leave the beach in huge numbers and attempt to cross Double Roads and A1A by the light of the moon. All those white bodies scrabbling over the road was enough to give anyone nightmares.  Unfortunately, cars kept driving and the trip became deadly for the crabs. Innocent travelers with their windows down to enjoy the salty seabreeze were treated to the crunch of crabs as pale bodies became easy prey to car tires. The smell of crab parts in the undercarriage the next few days was an unwelcome souvenir of the evening drive.

            When I was camping with the Girl Scouts at Camp Welaka, one of the best field trips was to the beach. The Camp would load campers into vans and drop us off at the beach to walk silently in the dark looking for nesting sea turtles. Once a turtle started laying her eggs, we could turn on flashlights and watch. As the cool, salty breeze blew stiffly off of the ocean, we’d stand mute and watch as nature provided the show both on the beach and in the starry sky.

Double Roads Looking South.
            Double Roads is right where it’s always been, on A1A just north of Marcinski Road. Still open to the public and a great place for a walk on a clear night, but I wouldn’t suggest a bonfire. I’m pretty sure you need a permit for that now.

(This column first appeared in in The Florida You Don't Know.)

Copyright 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Winners and Milestones

The Dapper Dan Contest has closed and it's time to reveal the winner of our little contest. But first, I'd like you to know that the picture has been sent to North Dakota where I've deduced it was likely taken. The historical society in Glen Ullin, North Dakota is looking into a possible identification of our mystery man. You'll be the first to know if they manage to pull off the impossible and find out who he is.

Now, on to the fun stuff... I placed all of the entries into a hat and sight unseen, drew the name of the winner:

Congratuations TAMERI ETHERTON!

Please e-mail me at with your e-mail address so that I can tell where to send your $10 gift certificate.


When I started this little blog in July, 2011, I thought it would be a place where I'd post a little story once a month and hopefully, get some feedback from fellow history buffs like me.

Instead, it's been that and a whole lot more. First, I added it to Networked Blogs and found some wonderful new followers there. Then I joined one of Rachel Harrie's Network Platform Building Campaigns and found some new followers AND found some fantastic blogs to follow myself.

So here it is only eight months after my first blog post and I'm approaching a couple of milestones. First, there are now 130 followers and several more who are following by e-mail and RSS feed. I am grateful to each and every one of you who spend a few minutes of your time every week to read my stories.

Second, I'm only a few hits away from reaching 3,000 hits! It may be only a little milestone compared to the blogs with huge followings out there, but I'm thrilled that almost 3,000 times, someone has clicked on this blog and found something interesting to read.
Microsoft Corporation

You can help me hit that mark this week. How? E-mail just one of your one of your friends and ask them to come and check out my stories. Whether or not they choose to sign up as a follower on Google Friends or Networked Blogs, or even by e-mail, is up to them.  In return, I promise to keep working on the little bits of history, memories and travel destinations in Florida that seem to bring us all back to a happier time.

What do you say? Can you help me on my way to dance among the stars?

Copyright 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge

Friday, March 16, 2012

Last Chance to Dance

Time is running out!

The last chance to dance in the Dapper Dan contest is rapidly approaching. As I write this, there are only a few entries. Now, these people have really good odds of winning the $10.00 Amazon gift card and probably won't like me posting a reminder, but what's a contest without scads of entries?

So take this weekend and post your entry. The details are on the Dapper Dan Contest blog post which you can either scroll down to or just click HERE.

What are you waiting for? The luck of the Irish be with you!

Copyright 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Dapper Dan Contest

My son just inherited the family albatross. A huge box of empty envelopes, a few letters and pictures and tons of stamps that my grandfather, Gustav Hartman, collected all of his adult years.

The big plastic container has been through several relatives who sifted endlessly through the contents looking for that one little piece of flotsam that would cause them to jump to their feet and scream "Eureka! We're rich!!"

Alas and alack, not one of them, including my son, got to experience that moment. We did, however, get lost in the postmarks, pictures and pages of stamps. My grandfather had been Assistant Postmaster and Superintendent of the Mails for Delray Beach back when Delray was so small the mail was sorted in his back room.

There were sheets of once newly issued stamps, now crisp and yellow with age. We excitedly opened every envelope hoping to find correspondence between him and my grandmother. They had courted and become engaged, by mail in 1928. I would have loved to have been able to write that story.

There was nothing. Nada. Zip and zilch.

BUT!! Among the pictures of people we didn't know in front of landscape that doesn't exist in Delray Beach anymore, we found the picture of Dapper Dan.

We actually have no idea who this dapper gentleman is, what he's holding, what he's standing in front of or why he posed for this picture. We certainly don't even know if his name is "Dan." It just seemed to go with the bowler. Which led me right to....

Another contest!!

We had so much fun with our Jones Creek contest last year, that I've been looking for another opportunity. Well, here it is. Let's try to figure out who this man is and what it is he's doing. As with the Jones Creek contest, your entry can be serious or funny, researched and based on something you've found, or it can be created out of your imagination. It's possible someone out there even knows who this man really is - wouldn't that be a kick?

Winners will be picked at random again from all entries because if your entries are anything like the last time, there's no way I can judge.

This time, the prize is a $10.00 gift card to for you to use for anything your little heart desires.

So, take a good look at the picture of our mysterious Dapper Dan and serious or silly, post your best guess as to who he is and what he's doing. I can't wait to read your entries!

Copyright 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge