Melbourne Village and Digital Organization: Week of August 21st

Hello!

This week I uploaded the two oral histories I discussed in last week’s post to YouTube:

  • Charles Terryn (Early Cape Canaveral/Palmetto Berry Farming): Click here
  • Guenter Wendt (NASA Engineer): Click here

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.

Click here to view Hester Wagner’s oral history!


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.

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Working on some playlist categories that will be published on the Brevard County Historical Commission’s YouTube channel soon.

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.

Thanks for reading!

-Heather Pierce

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Palmetto Berries and NASA: Week of August 14th

Hello, everyone!

This week I’ve been working on two new oral histories–actually, two stories of Cape Canaveral. One is for a gentleman named Charles Terryn, whose father worked as a palmetto berry farmer in Cape Canaveral, and the other is for a gentleman named Guenter Wendt, who was a mechanical engineer for NASA beginning with the Mercury Program.


Charles Terryn grew up at Cape Canaveral with his extended family, including his grandmother who owned a convenience store selling sodas, snacks, and gasoline to residents, and later to military personnel who came to work at the Cape. Charles talks a lot about his father’s business of growing, harvesting, and processing palmetto berries, which were sold and shipped to pharmaceutical companies to be used in medicinal products. This involved long days from dawn ’til dusk, all they way from autumn to late spring.

I was curious as to what medical purpose the berries serve and found out that they are mostly used in products to help with male prostate conditions. The berries look like this:

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Palmetto Berries (Photo credit to the Tampa Bay Times)

(These berries are no longer legal to harvest in the wild in Florida due to them being a crucial part of the local food chain.)

Like with most oral histories, I spent a lot of time researching names and places. One great tip I learned is using the census records on ancestry.com to find the names of neighbors and extended family that lived in the same area. In Charles’s case, it worked really well because the Cape Canaveral community was very small.

Newspapers also continue to be a great source for information, such as for finding the name of one of Charles’s Seventh Day Adventist pastors from Cape Canaveral, Pastor DuBose. It’s all about utilizing a variety of resources, and checking them often!

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I found the name of Charles’s pastor, Pastor DuBose, at his historic Seventh Day Adventist Church from Cape Canaveral using online newspaper databases.

The interview also included some interesting information the home Charles Terryn grew up in, which doubled as his grandmother’s store. The building, along with several other buildings, including the above mentioned church, were moved from their original location on the Cape when the Air Force purchased the land and forced the local population to move in 1950. The end of this interview contains footage of Charles and the interviewer, Roz Foster, walking around the historic homes as they stand today in their new location.

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The Terryn Store of Charles’s youth
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The Terryn store as a private home (2007)
  • If you are interested in learning more about the Terryn family and these building I recommend you check out this article written by the interviewer, Roz Foster, in 2008 Spring/summer edition of the Indian River Journal (the official publication of the Brevard County Historical Commission). Click here.

Ironically, it was due to the moving of families like the Terryns that made way for technological progress at the Cape. My next oral history was conducted in 1992 with Guenter Wendt, a German born engineer and official “Pad Leader” at NASA during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. Guenter was born in Berlin, Germany and fought with the German Air Force during WWII. His aeronautical engineering skills served him well, but he was unable to continue his work in Germany after the Allied victory.

So, Guenter moved to the United States to be with his father and began work with the Defense contractor McDonnell Aircraft. While Guenter was often strict, even affectionately earning the nickname “der Führer of der Launch Pad” from Astronaut John Glenn, he had close relationships with the astronauts and crew at NASA. He even participated in practical jokes around the facility called “Gotcha’s,” which is discussed in the interview.

Guenter’s personal stories about his time working with these individuals made his interview extremely interesting to watch (especially for space history buffs!).

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Guenter Wendt (left) with Astronaut Walter M. Schirra Jr.

The end of the interview even includes Guenter discussing some of his memorabilia from his time at NASA and narrating clips of launches at the Cape.

Checking the names and spellings for this interview has been particularly interesting. One mention of a contractor for the Gemini Program was difficult to hear; I could only make out the word “Martin.” So I did a little research online and was able to find the full name, Martin-Marietta. This was listed in the “Project Gemini Case File” by NASA in an online PDF. Thankfully my detective work paid off! Check it out!

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I used this document to confirm the “Martin-Marietta Corp” name mentioned in the interview. You can also see McDonnell Astronautics Co. listed 4 lines below (the company Guenter worked for).

While there is a lot of great history in Brevard County, it’s hard to resist the glamour and wonder of NASA’s space program at Cape Canaveral. Even today, if I’m away from home and someone asks where in Florida I’m from, I always tell them, “I live on the Space Coast!”

(As you can see from our binders of NASA photos, the Brevard County Historical Commission also takes space seriously!)

Binders of NASA photographs in the collection of the Brevard County Historical Commission
  • These interviews should be posted next week to the Brevard County Historical Commission’s YouTube page, which I will also link to on this blog. Please look forward to them!

Thank you for reading!

-Heather Pierce

Wild Grapes, Happy Creek, and Travis Hardware: Week of July 31st

Hello again! I have a fairly long update post this week with links to 3 new oral histories for you to view!

This week I have been working on three oral histories. The first is finishing up the Lucy Mae Seigler video from last week. I’ve really enjoyed working on this interview because it highlights the importance of the church community in the life of the local people, in this case Mims. Many people have mentioned how the church and the home were the cornerstones of life, so it was nice to see an interview that focused on that element. I especially enjoyed the story of Lucy Mae creating wild grape jelly from grapes that showed up in her yard after Hurricane Charlie in 2004. Lucy Mae took this as a sign from God, so she decided to pick the grapes in order to make jelly for her family and friends.

  • It is a really great story, and I encourage you to watch Lucy Mae Seigler’s oral history by clicking here.

The next oral history that I’ve been working on is for a woman named Evelyn Briggs Smith. Evelyn is the descendant of two pioneer families in the north Merritt Island area, the Briggs and the Beneckes. This oral history has a lot of really entertaining personal stories and information concerning the pioneer lifestyle of Brevard’s earliest settlers.

The Benecke family came from Germany to homestead in Merritt Island on a place called “Happy Creek” in “Happy Hammock.” The area was named for the moonshine that use to be distilled on its shores, making everyone, well, happy! Evelyn discusses how her family was both tough and resourceful in order survive among wildcats, rattlesnakes, alligators and hurricanes! (Floridians don’t mess around!) Evelyn’s mother Lena even use to catch baby alligators to sell to northern tourists! (Can you imagine that?) Other interesting stories include a boy cousin named June, eating sea grapes and sea turtles, and swimming in phosphorescent lagoons!

Here are some photos from the Happy Creek area circa approximately 1900 provided by Evelyn’s cousin, Ray Benecke, to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). Click here to visit the source page of the following images:

Please also take a look at these small articles about the Briggs and Benecke families in the Brevard County Historical Commission’s official publication, the Indian River Journal.

Click here to access the issue of the Indian River Journal from Fall/Winter 2016, which contains the following clippings:

Happy Creek

Happy Creek and Briggs

Like all oral histories, there were plenty of names that needed to be checked for spelling and accuracy. However, I lucked out with several names in this history due to their unusualness. I’ve come to appreciate finding unusual/uncommon names since they’re often easier to research. For instance, in this interview there was an individual mentioned named Zannie O’Berry (never mind her male cousin June!). While I had to ensure a correct spelling for Zannie, it wasn’t too much trouble since there was only one person with such an unusual name living in Brevard County! These instances make the research part of my job fun.

  • Check out the really interesting oral history of Evelyn Briggs Smith by clicking here!

Finally, I started a third oral history for a gentleman named Roy Wall. This video was slightly challenging due to his age at the time of the interview; unfortunately, he had a bit of a hard time hearing the questions and sometimes got off track. Roy was born in 1889 and was 103 at the time of this interview! He lived to be a very impressive 106 years old and I’m very thankful he was interviewed before he passed away.

Roy was a distinguished Mason, served for 16 years on the Rockledge City Council and was also a member of the Cocoa Chamber of Commerce. Today Roy Wall Boulevard in Rockledge, FL is named after him.

He worked in Brevard as a banker during the Great Depression, and witnessed first hand the difficult times that followed when the banks closed. In 1936 he began working at the Travis Hardware Store in Cocoa, Florida. The Travis Hardware Company began in 1885 as a boat selling items up and down the river. The company is still family run and in operation toady over 130 years later! Roy discusses how much he enjoyed working at the hardware store and his deep admiration for its owner, S.F. Travis. Mr. Travis was well-known for his generosity and his upright and honest business practices.

Here are a couple of recent photos I took of the Travis Hardware Company in Cocoa, Florida. It’s only a short walk from where the Historical Commission is located at the Central Reference Library. They still do a lot of local business and they often attract tourists visiting downtown Cocoa Village.

  • Please check out Roy Wall’s oral history by clicking here!

That wraps this week, until next time!

-Heather Pierce