The past couple of weeks while we’ve been waiting on our library director Mr. Jeff Thompson to finish editing the footage of our oral history with Bob Gross, I’ve been helping with another project at the Historical Commission. (To read more about my original oral history project, check out this post!)
This ongoing project is scanning, editing, and archiving the photo collection of Weona Cleveland. Weona Cleveland is a local journalist and historian whose articles about Brevard County history first appeared in the Melbourne Times in the 1970s and later in the Florida Today newspaper. She first came to Brevard from Atlanta, Georgia in 1961 and has spent over 40 years writing articles and researching local history.
Some of Weona’s accomplishments include:
Writing for the Indian River Journal (A publication of the Brevard County Historical Commission)
Authoring several books including: Melbourne: A Century of Memories (1980), Crossroad Towns Remembered: A Look Back at Brevard and Indian River Pioneer Communities (1994), A Historical Tour of Melbourne (1999), and Mosquito Soup (2014)
Researching and writing the text for historical markers in Melbourne and Eau Gallie
Receiving the Julius Montgomery Pioneer Award from Florida Technical Institute for her research on Brevard County’s African American community
(To find out more about Weona Cleveland, including about her most recent work Mosquito Soup, please refer to this article on the website of the Florida Historical Society.)
The photos in her collection are now in the archives of the Brevard County Historical Commission. They span a wide range of time periods and subjects and are currently being stored in a series of photo binders.
My task has been to scan these images and edit them for resolution, contrast, and brightness. Since many of these photos are old while some are copies of originals, they have varying editing needs. Thankfully, most are able to produce high quality, digital images using the computer and scanner at the library.
The next task is organizing the photos into digital files with appropriate names to identify the subject of the image and any other pertinent information (such as dates and locations provided on the back of the photo).
While I’ve enjoyed working with the oral history video footage, I’ve found working with these old photographs to also be rewarding. I enjoy finding the right balance of contrast and brighting to create the best looking image. At some point in the near future, the Historical Commission will begin using a digital archiving software called “Past Perfect” to inventory and make the photo collections housed at the library available online. (Once again, the future is digital!)
Thus, the scanning and digital editing of these photos, especially the valuable photos in the Weona Cleveland collection, is a really important task!
I’m glad to change things up and get exposure to a new type of project at the Historical Commission while I wait to finish editing Bob Gross’s oral history.
Now, without further ado, please enjoy a selection of some of my favorite photos from the Weona Cleveland collection:
The last couple of weeks at the Historical Commission have been very exciting for me. Why? Because I was finally able to take part in the filming of a brand new oral history! I can’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment that I was able to actively shape an oral history that will become a permanent part of the Historical Commission’s collection.
In this post I will give you a more detailed look at Bob and the interview topics, as well as what the interview process was like for me.
Bob Gross is:
A past and present member of the Indian River Anthropological Society
A lifetime member of the Florida Anthropological Society, Board of Directors member, and Chair of an archive committee
A lifetime member of the Southeastern Archaeological Conference
Founding director and lifetime member of the South Brevard Historical Society
Past Chairperson of the Brevard County Historical Commission
Bob was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and moved to the Melbourne, Florida neighborhood known as the “Bluff” in 1958, when he was 7 years old.
The theme of this interview centers on the rich history of archaeology in Brevard and his lifelong involvement with the field.
Bob’s interest in archaeology began when his boyhood neighbor, Frances Arnold Shave, told him stories about her life growing up in a cabin on a Native American mound near Malabar. These stories inspired Bob as a kid to investigate the mound. His enthusiasm was rewarded when he unearthed his first artifacts, an old, hand-wrought hinge and a pottery sherd.
Luckily, Bob still has the hinge in his possession and was able to bring it for the interview! Check it out:
Bob went on to participate in many archaeological groups and events during his youth. This included competing in an international science fair competition while attending Melbourne High School, apprenticing with archaeologist A.T. Anderson, and going on to study archaeology at the University of Florida, which he graduated from in 1973.
A portion of Bob’s interview contains a synopsis of important archaeological events in Brevard’s history. This includes evidence of Native Americans themselves digging older sites, the destruction of shell mounds to pave local roads, the arrival of notable archaeologists to study important sites like the Melbourne Bone Beds, and even WPA projects designed to excavate local areas. I will encourage you to listen to Bob’s interview and reference his transcript once it is posted, as his explanation of Brevard’s archaeological timeline is much more detailed and compelling than I am able to write about here.
I will say that the Melbourne Bone Bed is particularly interesting because it is a paleolithic site that contains the fossilized remains of mammoth and other long extinct animals that lived in the area approximately 20,000 to 10,000 years before present day. Most interestingly, human remains were also discovered indicating that native inhabitants coexisted with Pleistocene animals towards the end of the period. This site even drew the attention of Frederick B. Loomis from Amherst College and James Gidley of the Smithsonian Institute, inspiring years of study.
Other topics discussed include the dangers facing sites today (such as looting, rising sea levels, and urbanization), Bob’s insight into the county’s responsibility regarding protecting local sites, and his impressive resume working with local and regional groups.
The interview itself was actually the easy part. In preparation for the actual filming, I had a lot of background work to do. Thankfully, Bob Gross is a regular volunteer with the Brevard County Historical Commission, and was even a former chairperson, so he was always around and ready to help with the preparation process. (Thank you, Bob!)
My tasks included doing a preliminary background interview, drafting interview questions, securing photographs from Bob to accompany the interview, and rehearsing my role as interviewer.
I’ve watched a lot of oral histories during my time working at this internship. Some have been really well researched and carefully filmed. Some interviews were done spontaneously and were less structured. It was important to me that I found a tone that struck a balance between informative and conversational.
When Jeff Thompson, the Director of Brevard County Libraries, arrived to act as our camera man and producer, I was a little nervous. It was hard not to be a little intimidated by the professional camera, lighting, and sound equipment. However, everyone was very friendly and excited to work on this project, which helped calm my nerves considerably!
The big surprise was when my supervisor and archivist, Michael Boonstra, encouraged me to go solo as the interviewer! I had expected to fulfill a co-interviewer role, but Mr. Boonstra assured me that my research and preparation would allow me to do fine on my own.
Thankfully, I think I was able to do a pretty good job! I was much less nervous than I anticipated once the camera started rolling. It seems that my preparation paid off!
The project is now in the hands of the talented Jeff Thompson, who will professionally edit the footage and prepare it to be sent for transcription. Once it’s at that step, I will take my normal steps to edit the transcript and post the video for everyone to utilize and enjoy!
I will post an update and link to the video on this blog once it is ready. I hope you will check it out!
I may be a little biased, but I think this video is the most interesting oral history I have had the pleasure to work with so far. I am very thankful to everyone involved in this process including Jeff Thompson, Michael Boonstra, and, of course, Bob Gross!
Before I forget, Juanita Wright’s oral history was uploaded to YouTube last week! Juanita is an older member of the Mims community in North Brevard. She discusses some interesting topics including her community’s reliance on midwives for childbirth, her personal mission to improve Mims’s infrastructure, and her hopes for the next generation living in Mims. In particular, she expresses her desire for the youth of Mims to understand the difficult events in Mims’s past, including the presence of the Ku Klux Klan and the murder of Civil Rights Activist Harry T. Moore (who you can find out more information about in this post).
In other news, I had the opportunity to work on a very interesting oral history known as “Firing the Groves” this week. The video features three gentlemen who have decades of experience working in the citrus industry in Brevard. These men are: Coleman Mitchell, Alfonso Wilson, and John Moorer. The video covers topics such as harsh working conditions, worker camps, types of citrus, typical wages, and growing techniques.
However, the most interesting part of this interview relates to its name, “Firing the Groves.” This actually refers to the technique of keeping citrus trees warm and protected during freezing weather. Believe it or not, Florida actually does get its share of cold weather from time to time. Unfortunately, when that happens, citrus crops and even the trees themselves can be lost causing significant losses in profit and time. This interview reveals that it can take 10 years for a citrus tree to produce a crop that is profitable! Wow, right?
What’s even cooler is that this interview actually showcases a couple of demonstrations. One shows how a citrus tree can be “budded,” which refers to to the process of grafting the plant. The other demonstration is of how an antique metal heater can be fueled and lit to keep groves warm during subfreezing weather.
Other issues such as immigrant migrant workers, a move towards land development over agriculture, and the pressures of sourcing water are also discussed.
I highly recommend checking out this interesting and candid interview to get a sense of what the citrus industry was really like in its heyday!
The second part of my week has been working on organization. The excel sheet we’ve been using to keep track of the oral histories in our collection is a print out, and things have gotten a little…messy. Lots of notations and messy check marks make it difficult to read clearly. This information really needed to be updated in a digital format that was easier to read and easier to edit. Let’s just say I’ve spent some solid hours squinting at an excel spreadsheet this week!
Another reason to keep these files updated digitally is to allow for easy access to information if something goes wrong. For instance, Brevard County’s website was recently overhauled, resulting in some of our oral histories and their links to go missing from the page. Thankfully, I was able to source the needed information and get them back online with our IT department. However, if I had all the YouTube links and other information in a central place, it would have been a much easier task.
Along a similar line of thinking, I have also been working on getting all of the edited oral history video files, transcript PDF’s, and YouTube description documents put together. Thankfully, I’ve kept all the files I’ve been working on organized in folders and subfolders on the computer. However, previous oral history files that were worked on before I arrived are scattered across several user accounts and aren’t cohesively organized. So my task is to get all these pieces together and backed up in a secure location. I’ll definitely be continuing this process next week.
As of this week I’ve finished up the requirements for my internship program! It’s been such an amazing experience to work with the Brevard County Historical Commission learning about history, technology, and my own community! I definitely feel a sense of accomplishment. During this internship I have worked on over 26 oral history videos and learned many new research and technological skills. I’ve gained experience working with Adobe video editing, proofreading techniques, used new research databases like Ancestry.com, utilized microfilm and archived materials, and interacted with patrons and volunteers at the library.
While I have met the original requirements for the internship, I have been invited to remain working with the Brevard County Historical Commission on continuing projects. (That includes an original oral history that I began working on last week!)
So far, I have drafted potential interview questions, conducted a pre-interview background meeting, and began organizing an outline for the structure of the interview. The interview subject we are planning on is a gentleman named Bob Gross. He is a very interesting individual who has an extensive background in the historical and archaeological societies and organizations in Brevard County. I first met Bob at the Florida Historical Society when I was completing my undergraduate internship in 2015. He is a volunteer there and also volunteers at the Brevard County Historical Commission. He grew up in Melbourne, Florida after moving here as a young boy. One of his main interests is archaeology, and he was involved in the field from a young age.
Bob was a founding member of many archaeological societies in the region and still actively participates in site excavations and recording. Thus, this interview will focus mainly on his involvement with archaeology in Brevard County.
I will have lots more information on Bob as the interview draws nearer!
In other news, the oral history panel for the Mosquito Beaters is officially up online! Check it out by clicking here, and take a look at last week’s post to get more information about its contents and importance!
I also was able to update and publish about a dozen playlists to the Brevard County Historical Commission’s YouTube page. This organizes the videos into categories which include location based playlists (Melbourne, Cocoa, etc.) and topic playlists (NASA, Black History, etc.) Check them out here!
This week I worked on two new oral histories from the Mims area. They are Lena Stokes and Juanita Wright. They are both very short interviews, less than 20 minutes each, however they have some interesting things to say about life in rural Mims.
The first is with Lena Curry-Stokes, and it is already available on YouTube here!
Lena Stokes was born in 1944 in Mims along State Road 46. She was born to a family working at the turpentine camp in the area. She describes the raised wooden house she lived in, the lack of electricity, and the lack of paved roads. Interestingly, she describes her best friend as a little white girl, and mentions how the camp was integrated with whites and blacks.
Harvesting turpentine was hard and dirty work, but it was very prevalent in Florida. It involved collecting resin from pine trees to be processed in such a way that it could be used by industries like the Navy.
Once again, Ancestry.com came in handy supplying information via draft cards and other documents for identifying family names.
What I found particularly interesting about this brief interview is the discussion of folk medicine and home remedies. Several Oral histories have mentioned using spider webs to stop bleeding. At first I was skeptical, but after hearing it in so many oral histories and doing a quick Google search, it indeed does work as a way to stop bleeding and clot wounds! While that’s definitely a fun fact to file away, I don’t think I’ll be trying it anytime soon…
Finally, the interview with Juanita Wright will be posted next week and discusses some interesting information about how Mims has changed throughout the years. Juanita was born in 1922 and has seen many physical and cultural changes in her lifetime. Check back on my blog for more information and a link to YouTube!
Thank you for reading! I will continue to post updates to this blog as I finish up projects initiated by my internship with the Brevard County Historical Commission.
Sorry that there’s been a little delay with my updates! I haven’t been at work due to a major storm that hit our area. Brevard County just weathered Hurricane Irma, which made quite a mess of things in Florida, including knocking out power at the Central Brevard Library in Cocoa, where I work.
Thankfully, things are returning back to normal, and my internship requirements are almost completely satisfied! I’m still learning a lot about history and technology as I work here, so I plan to continue contributing for as long as I am able!
On that note, I have been working on the two panels I mentioned in my last post. The first is the Mosquito Beater Panel. This great group of longtime, often lifetime, Brevard County residents are known for their annual meetings held to discuss the old days in Brevard County. It was great to work on this panel because it contained the founding member, George Harrell, known as “Speedy.” (If you are interested in the Mosquito Beaters, I suggest checking out my last blog post: Historic Homes and Panels: Week of August 28th).
In addition, there is also a lot of discussion of baseball in this panel. Baseball was an extremely popular sport in Brevard County and the area attracted many people who were interested in playing the sport. The interview talks about how businesses in Cocoa even shut down to let employees see local games! One of the more interesting mentions is of a ballplayer named Felipe Alou. He was a black player who came to Cocoa before he made it big in the Major League. Mr. Boonstra and I had to do a little searching to find information on his time on Cocoa, but here is a small passage from a larger article we found on the website for the Society for American Baseball Research:
Alou began his professional career in Lake Charles, Louisiana, helping to integrate the Evangeline League. Soon after he arrived, the league voted to expel Lake Charles and Lafayette (the two clubs that had black players).8 Instead, the blacks were shifted to other teams in other leagues; Alou, having just arrived in the United States, rode a bus to Cocoa, Florida to play in the Florida State League. Desperately homesick, and stung by racism for the first time in his life, he pulled it together enough to hit a league-leading .380 with 21 home runs. [source]
I think this interview will be a popular one on our YouTube channel, check it out by clicking here!
The other panel I’ve been working on is of four gentlemen from Mims, Florida, which is in the north part of Brevard County. They are: Samuel Hendrix, Joseph Ricard, P.W. Robert, and Ralph Sharpe.
The panel is quite lengthy, with a 42 page printed transcript, but it contains some great information on the people and places that made the Mims community unique. What’s even better is that the four gentlemen are good friends and grew up knowing one another. Thus, there’s a lot of funny personal stories from their boyhood that are both entertaining and informative about what it was like growing up in the 1920s and 30s in rural Brevard.
As always, Ancestry.com has been a huge help in my research efforts. I was able to verify correct spellings, locate extended family members, and confirm occupation information for many of the individuals contained in this panel. Using Ancestry has been a great experience in learning how databases work, as I’m frequently challenged to find alternative means of looking up information. For instance, I am frequently conducting multiple searches based on location, last name, or occupation. Family members are best found when using census documents, but military draft cards can also supply next of kin information. Also, by expanding the parameters of the search, such as being flexible in the spelling of names, can yield more successful results.
Here is an instance of finding an individual through Ancestry under the draft card option. In this instance I did not have the correct spelling of “McLemore,” but took a guess with the flexible spelling option enabled, and was able to locate his information and confirm his identity with his place of residence (Mims, Florida).
The Mims panel was particularly informative because it contained a lot of information about the Citrus Industry. This included information about the Blue Goose Packing House, in Mims. The panelists describe the process of picking, packing, and labeling the Indian Fruit before it went to market across the country. The families of these panelists were directly involved with this industry, including building the crates that were used to ship the fruit.
Here’s a vintage label from the Blue Goose Packing House:
There is also discussion of the Great Depression, WPA projects, World War II, pastimes like hunting and horseback riding, and other local interests. This panel is particularly rich with personal stories that feature entertaining stories about creating moonshine, schoolboy pranks, going camping, and family gossip.
That panel should be posted by next week! I will link it here when it becomes available.
Finally, I have an exciting piece of news to share, I may be able to work on a brand new oral history! It will be filmed here at the Central Library and I will be able to work on research, creating questions, and conducting the interview! I’m very excited about this possibility, but can’t share too much information yet. It’s often difficult to get all the pieces to fall into place for these projects to happen, including scheduling, execution, and editing. However, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this prospect will turn into reality!
This week I worked more on videos containing walk-throughs of historic buildings and homes. Finishing up from last week, I posted the Maytown video to YouTube. It can be found here.
Maytown is now an abandoned community in neighboring Volusia County, but some structures remain standing. These include an old post office and home seen here:
The most notable part of the town was the railroad lines that intersected it. The train engine was known as “Old Buck” and was a familiar sight for locals living there. This kept the community alive until the lines were pulled out and the area became a ghost town.
I was able to find out a little more information about Maytown by checking out a website called “Florida Backroads Travel.” They had the above images and some additional information on where Maytown was located. Check out the webpage here.
Another oral history I’ve been working on is for the Taylor Dunn house. This home was built in 1910 in Mims, Florida and lived in by the Dunn family until 1966. Arthur Dunn was a Brevard County Commissioner for 24 years and his wife, Mayme Louise Taylor, was a descendant of one of the earliest families to settle in Brevard County.
The oral history is with their son, Taylor Dunn, who talks about the structure of the home and the memories he has of growing up in Mims. Taylor served in the Army Air Corps during World War II in the Pacific Theater, but came back home after the war to his hometown of Mims. He discusses fond memories of leisure activities such as swimming and fishing as a boy, as well as about the ruralness of the area.
The interesting thing about this home is that after it fell into a state of disrepair, it was selected to be a part of a unique project designed by the Parrish Medical Center in nearby Titusville, Florida. The Parrish Medical Center selected several neglected historic homes in north Brevard to be moved to their property and renovated to create a “Health Village.” This village houses physicians and other modern medical offices in buildings that evoke a sense of the past.
This is what the house looked like prior to restoration:
And here is the house now:
What a transformation, right? I thought this was a really great idea to help the local community expand while still honoring its past!
Finally I started editing two panel interviews this week. The first is of three individuals from the organization known as the “Mosquito Beaters.” They are: George “Speedy” Harrell, Robert “Bob” Cowart, and Marion Paterson Jackson.
Here’s a little info from the YouTube description that I wrote:
The name “Mosquito Beater” comes from the palm frond switches used to swat away the many mosquitoes that plagued Brevard County prior to mosquito control. The Mosquito Beater organization was officially created in 1986 when George Harrell decided to organize an annual meeting for individuals who had lived in Brevard County prior to 1950. The idea was so popular, that each year in March over 1,000 people attend the event to discuss local history and catch up with family and friends in the area. Additionally, each year the group collects information and photographs to create the “Central Brevard Mosquito Beaters Memory Book,” which is an annual publication sold at their office in the Library of Florida History located at 435 Brevard Ave. in Cocoa, Florida.
This panel style interview allows for the interviewees and the audience to chat freely about personal memories and stories from Brevard County’s early days. Topics includes the trio’s earliest memories growing up in Brevard, the differences in everyday diets and routines, the arrival of important industries (such as the Banana River Air Station and the Space Center), and the all-important mosquito control program. The group also fields questions regarding the impact of World War II on the county, the progress made by important, local individuals, like County Commissioners, and the popularity of athletics, particularly baseball, in the Central Brevard region.
The interesting thing is that the Mosquito Beaters are housed at the same location as the Florida Historical Society, where I did my previous internship. In fact, I remember seeing Speedy there every morning chatting with other volunteers. It’s cool to work on that blast from the past!
You can read an article about the Mosquito Beaters from the Florida Historical Society by clicking here!
Finally, I worked on a panel of gentlemen from Mims, Florida talking about the area and their memories growing up. Their names were: Samuel Hendrix, Joseph Ricard, P.W. Robert, and Ralph Sharpe. That interview has just left the editing process, but I should have more information about it soon!
I hope you enjoy these videos! I especially enjoyed learning more about the Space Program from Guenter Wendt. It has great personal stories about astronauts (particularly the Mercury Seven).
If you would like to learn more about these two video subjects, be sure to check my blog post from last week by clicking here!
This week I began editing a new oral history for Hester Wagner. Hester was a long time resident of a unique community in Brevard called Melbourne Village. Known as an “intentional community,” Melbourne Village was founded in 1946 by three well-educated women from Dayton, Ohio: Virginia Wood, Elizabeth Nutting, and Margaret Hutchison. They witnessed hard times during the Great Depression, which fueled their ideas on what an idealized, prosperous community would look like. The community was partly based on the theories of economist Ralph Borsodi, who believed in self-reliant living off the land in a post-Depression world.
Hester talks a lot about the two natural hammocks in the community, Erna Nixon and Deerhead Hammocks, as well as the abundant wildlife. However, most of the interview features information on the politics of Melbourne Village, which is based on a Town Commission. Political splits, religious tolerance, and community involvement are all topics discussed.
One helpful resource was a book we have in the collection of the Brevard County Central Reference Library. It’s called Melbourne Village: The First Twenty-Five Years 1946-1971 by Richard C. Crepeau.
It was really helpful with verifying names and events. There is a PDF version of the book and another work by the interviewer of this oral history, Georgiana Kjerulff, among other resources available on the Melbourne Village website.
The community is still active today and you can learn more by visiting their website here.
Another project I began working on was creating an organizational system for the videos we have been uploading to the county website and to YouTube. Since we have over 50 videos uploaded now (I just uploaded my 20th since my internship began), we needed a way to organize them for our audience.
I had the idea to create YouTube playlists so that people can easily find videos that fall under topics they are interested in learning about. It’s interesting to see how what once was predominately just an entertainment and social media platform, has now become an excellent educational resource. The trick is making sure the information is presented in an efficient and useful manner. A cool part about this internship is learning how being digitally savvy provides an important skill set for such a broad range of tasks. Computers have really changed the way we get information to the public from a historical perspective. I’m glad that there are digital tools that allow backlogged oral histories, that were once simply collecting dust on a shelf, to reach the largest audience possible.
Finally, I began one other project. It’s a bit different than most oral histories; it is an outdoor oral history following a group of descendants of former residents of a place called “Maytown” around old building sites.
Maytown is now a ghost town to the north of Brevard County in parts of neighboring Volusia County. It was once the location of two railroad crossings, but is now mostly empty, rural acres and a few abandoned buildings.
I should have more information on that next week as I finish the video researching and editing process.