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?