Oral History Reflections

Hello, everyone!

So sorry to keep you waiting on updates for my interview with Bob Gross. The reality of such a project is that there are often lots of details to work out before it can be completed. Our library director Jeff Thompson has been hard at work putting together the footage he shot of my interview with Bob in October (discussed in detail in this post). The rewarding part of this experience is that the Brevard Library system has professional film editing equipment and software that allows for modifications to be made after the filming process. For instance, the photos that Bob has shared with me that correspond with various topics discussed in the interview have been digitized and embedded into the interview itself. This type of editing allows for a more dynamic experience for the viewer, which is very important in oral histories that frequently mention specific locations and people.

While I’ve been awaiting the finished footage to send for transcribing, I’ve been working on other miscellaneous projects for the Historical Commission. This includes a new project of transferring all of the newly edited oral histories onto DVD’s that will become a permanent, archived collection in the Central Brevard Library available for reference. It’s rewarding to see the all of the oral histories I worked on being made available to local patrons and researchers.

Creating new DVD’s with edited Oral History Files

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Creating new DVD’s with edited Oral History files.

This internship has continued to teach me many valuable skills that I hope to carry on to future projects. I’ve grown tremendously in my use of technology to preserve and communicate the history of my local community. In fact, I’ve found the marriage of history and technology to be a match made in heaven. At first I was worried about using these new programs, but I quickly found that expanding upon my technological skills has been equal parts challenging and rewarding.

I’ve learned video editing techniques in Adobe Premiere Elements, utilized digital file converting software, worked on editing professional audio transcripts, crafted biographical descriptions, and uploaded content to and managed the Historical Commission’s YouTube page.

This is all on top of the other useful skills I’ve had the opportunity to utilize including researching oral history subjects using databases such as Ancestry.com, ProQuest, and the physical collection of the county’s genealogical department. I’ve also utilized the microfilm machines and helped scan and organize important, local photo collections in the form of the Weona Cleveland collection.

Even creating and maintaining this WordPress blog has been a useful learning experience in basic web design and blogging techniques!

Most of all, I’m proud of my contributions to the Oral History project as a whole. At this point, I have worked on 30 oral history videos including editing footage, proofreading transcripts, writing researched biographical descriptions, and posting finished videos to YouTube.

To come full circle, the most rewarding experience so far was being able to research, create questions, and act as interviewer in an new oral history with Bob Gross. While I don’t have the video uploaded at the time of posting this update, I will embed the video link below as soon as it is available.

^ So please continue to check this page for updates!^

I continue to be grateful to my supervisor Mr. Michael Boonstra and the wonderful group of employees, volunteers, and patrons who help make my internship experience so educational and memorable!

-Heather Pierce

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Digitizing Vintage Photos: Week of November 13th

Hello,

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:

001 Eau Gallie Blvd. to Indian Harbor Beach looking South to Melbourne Causeway
Eau Gallie Blvd. to Indian Harbor Beach looking South to Melbourne Causeway
002 Melbourne Indialantic Bus Line Postcard
Melbourne Indialantic Bus Line
002 Nannie Lee's Strawberry Mansion, early 1900s
Nannie Lee’s Strawberry Mansion, early 1900s
004 Melbourne, US 1 and New Haven, 1950s
Melbourne; US1 and New Haven 1950s
005 Waiting for the Ferry (Possibly Melbourne Beach)
Melbourne Beach Pier
010 Melbourne Library
First Melbourne Library
021 U.S. 1 Near Site of Brevard Hospital looking North
Old Dixie Highway (US1) Near Melbourne Hospital
027 Possibly Hollis Bottomley with Friends ca. 1920s
Possibly Hollis Bottomley with Friends ca. 1920s
029 Plane Crash ca. 1920s
Plane Crash ca. 1920s
033 Chain Gang Oct. 10, 1924
Chain Gang 1924
038 First Public School in Melbourne, taken ca. 1898
1898: First Public School in Melbourne
040 Mayday celebration
Mayday Celebration
051 Melbourne Fire Dept. ca. 1929
Melbourne Fire Department 1929
053 Lee House AKA Lily Tidwell's
Lee House AKA Lily Tidwell’s
059 President Harding in Melbourne 1923
President Harding in Melbourne 1923
062 Melbourne Ave. Melbourne “School” band
Melbourne Ave. Melbourne High School Band

Continue reading “Digitizing Vintage Photos: Week of November 13th”

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

The Long and Short of Interviews: Week of July 17th

Hello, everyone!

I started off this week with an interesting assignment. In our archives we have a set of three very short interviews conducted in 1992 by Junior Achievement members of Brevard County. These three interviews are of three very influential business men in Brevard County: Al Trafford, Homer Denius, and Al Neuharth. These men were being featured as laureates in the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame.


I was involved with Junior Achievement programs in high school and college, so I was excited to see a project of theirs pop up in our archives. The only disappointing thing was that the interviews were very brief, only 10 min or less per subject. That made the editing easier of course, but I am told we don’t have any longer interviews on record for these individuals, which is unfortunate.

Here is some background info on these men based on the YouTube descriptions I wrote:

  • Al Trafford was a native of Brevard, from an early pioneering family. He attended the College of Business Administration at the University of Florida and returned home after graduation to work in real estate. Al served as realtor, broker, President, and Chairman of Trafford Realty. He also acted as Director of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Director of the Cocoa Beach Chamber of Commerce, served as President of Brevard County Board of Realtors, President of the North-Central Brevard Board of Realtors, and served on the Board of Governors of the Florida Association of Realtors, among numerous other business and charitable positions throughout his life.

 

  • Homer Denius earned a degree in Electrical Engineering while working for the Crosley Corporation and co-found Radiation Incorporated, with his colleague George Shaw, for the purpose of research and development in conjunction with the space program. In 1967 his company would merge with Harris-Intertype Corporation, which still operates in Brevard County today. He was also a lifetime member of the Board of Trustees at the Florida Institute of Technology and was awarded an honorary doctorate for his contributions to engineering and technology.

 

  • Al Neuharth moved to Brevard County after founding the Florida Today Newspaper in 1966. He is best remembered for his extensive work in media, including founding the first national newspaper, the USA Today in 1982. He eventually become President and Chief Executive of Gannett Corporation, which would serve as the platform from which he created the first national newspaper. Al worked in many positions, including working as a reporter with the Associated Press, serving as City Editor of the Miami Harold, and acting as Chairman of the Freedom Forum, which champions free speech. A bestselling author, Al wrote numerous books, including his popular autobiography titled, Confessions of an S.O.B. He decided to build a mansion in Cocoa Beach due to his love of the Space Coast.
Vintage Photo of Al Neuharth

While the interviews are short, I definitely recommend checking them out! As you can see, these were very influential men in Brevard County.

Next, I also started working on a new oral history for a gentleman named Isaac Houston. Thankfully, this interview is much more substantial, about 2 hours! He has a lot to say about being part of the Black Community in Brevard, including witnessing integration of the school system in the early 1960’s.

He talks a lot about his work in the education system, but he also worked in administration at NASA and was the music director at his church.

Editing and taking notes on Isaac Houston

Finally, I sent one more new oral history off to be transcribed. It was for a woman named Martha “Pat” Woelk. She is a descendent of the Sams and LaRoche families, early pioneers of Brevard County. She was the last resident of the historic Sams House in Merritt Island, which was built in 1875. The interview is unique because it follows Pat around the property as she describes what she remembers about its history.

 

That’s about it… Until next week!

-Heather Pierce

Working with Wickham: Week of June 26th

Hello,

This week I’ve been working mainly on getting our three different oral histories with Joe Wickham, a former Brevard County commissioner, edited and ready to be posted to YouTube and the county website.

One of these interviews is the panel I mentioned last week, which features another county commissioner, Dave Nisbet. The transcript came back rather quickly for it being almost two hours long. However, that means I’ve been working on a 36 page transcript, yikes! This type of editing is certainly tedious.

Another challenge this week has been the oral history of Joe Wickham from 1995. This interview contained severe amounts of electrical feedback noise, which is very irratating to the listener.

I spent some time researching the Adobe Premiere program I use to edit videos to learn how to reduce this. After some trial and error I was able to learn about filters for the audio track that help reduce this kind of background noise. This type of noise is called “blue noise,” and can be reduced in video editing programs. I had to use the “expert” mode of the program, which is less intimidating than it sounds, to apply these effects to the audio track. Although the result is somewhat “tin can” sounding, at least the dialogue seems somewhat clearer and the buzzing sound is decreased.

Removing blue noise in Adobe Premiere Elements for Wickham’s oral history

I’m really glad I’m able to increase my computer skills while on this internship, including how to work with video editing programs. Since so much of the content we view is online, I know it is important to understand how such content is made and published from both a personal and work perspective.

I also made the final edits on the transcript for Mary Elizabeth Scobie this week, wrote the YouTube description and got it uploaded to YouTube!

  • Click Here to watch Scobie’s oral history on YouTube!

Writing YouTube descriptions is always tricky because they have to strike a balance of being informative, but not too wordy.  When I watch the oral histories I jot down important topics or themes in the video to help me write the description later. Many times there are similar topics, like mosquitoes(!), but having an “idea cloud” in my notes from editing the video often comes in handy when organizing my thoughts. 

My messy editing notes including the topic of MOSQUITOES! (Very common in Brevard oral histories)

Similarly, the right tags must be used to help others on YouTube find the video when searching. This may seem silly, but tagging information is really important for making it easily accessible. I see this both in archive work (such as finding aids and indexes) as well as with social media sites, like YouTube (and this very blog on WordPress)!

The above photo is from my notes on the third oral history of Joe Wickham, which is from 2000. He is older here than in the other interviews we have. It’s interesting to see his more reflective approach to the questions he is asked as he provides the audience with his hopes for the county he had so much influence in building. 

That’s about it for this week. I will hopefully be uploading all three oral histories containing Joe Wickham for the public in the near future!

Thank you as always for reading. 

-Heather Pierce

Property Deeds and Panels: Week of June 19th

Hello, everyone!

It’s been a productive week at the Brevard County Historical Commission. I uploaded two new oral history projects to the YouTube channel. You’ll remember I’ve been talking about Roy Roberts Jr. and Jack Salmela; they are both now up and available to watch! Please check them out:

Click for Roy Roberts Jr.

Click for Jack Salmela

I also began editing a new oral history this week from the archives. This was for Mary Elizabeth (“Beth”) Scobie. She comes from a well known family who settled in the north part of the county in the 1800s. She is a charming woman who talks a lot about the early days in the Titusville area as well as her family’s fishing business and many personal memories. I sent the video off to be transcribed and began the editing process. I will hopefully be posting her interview next week.

In the meantime, you can take a look at a section about the Scobie family from one of the Brevard County history books produced by the Historical Commission!

I also edited my first full panel interview. This interview is hosted by Wes Houser, a politician and business man in Brevard, and features Dave Nisbet and Joe Wickham, two prominent County Commissioners. These two men were extremely influential in the development of Brevard County and have really valuable perspectives. I’ve sent this off to be transcribed and am hoping  it turns out well, since this is the first project I’ve sent to them with more than two speakers.

Editing the panel interview in Adobe

Next I will be continuing to work on the additional oral histories we have on Joe Wickham. Joe Wickham spent about 30 years in politics in Brevard County and even has a park and road named after him: Wickham Road and Wickham Park. (Which will be instantly familiar to anyone who lives in Brevard). He was particularly influential in building roadways and getting a strong mosquito control program.

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Named after Joe Wickham

The other interesting thing that happened this week is that I was able to watch Mr. Boonstra research property records for a historic home in Rockledge. A patron requested to find out who the first owner was, which meant looking up records in our microfilm collection. We were able to piece together clues to find out that the home was built in 1907 by the brother of a well known figure in Brevard, Hiram S. Williams. The man’s name was J. C. Williams, and by using Ancestry.com we were able to see his name was John, as well as find his birth year of 1846.

John C Williams listed as Hiram S. William’s brother
John C. listed below his brother in the census


While I was waiting for some oral histories to finish uploading and converting I did some more research on my own and found some more records on John C. Williams. He lived in New Jersey and died there in 1913. I used clues such as the name of his mother and sister, who lived with him at the time of the 1900 and 1910 census, to confirm his identity.

I’m still not sure why he was building a home in Florida when it seems that he was residing in New Jersey…perhaps a summer home or investment? However, while there are still some unanswered questions, I’m still really enjoying this type of genealogical work.

I’ll be continuing my work on the panel interview and additional Joe Wickham interviews next week!

Until then, thank you for reading!

-Heather Pierce

Many Mosquitoes: Week of June 12th

Hi everyone,

This week I was able to finish editing and submit the oral histories of Roy Roberts and Jack Salmela for transcription. Both have come back this week so I am working on finishing the edits so they can be posted to YouTube ASAP.

Roy Roberts was a citrus farmer and and land developer whose father served as a county sheriff. Roy lived in Scotsmoor, Florida in his childhood home, which he actually physically moved to its current location after the U.S. government forced him, and many others, to sell their land when they began developing the space program at Cape Canaveral. His interview had some interesting stories including his father’s experience arresting individuals behind illegal moonshine operations and some stories of the early pioneer days in the county creating a homestead.

Jack Salmela lived in Sebastian, Florida and worked for many decades at the Brevard County Mosquito Control District. As one can imagine, mosquitoes are a HUGE problem in Florida. So, Jack’s work was extremely important in this county. He even won several awards for his environmentally conscientious methods of implementing mosquito control. One of these was the Conservation Service Award, which is the highest honor bestowed by the Department of Interior to private citizens.

I’m becoming accustomed to encountering names of people and places I am unfamiliar with when working with these oral histories, but discovering the correct spellings and locating information always feels like a treasure hunt. Using Ancestry.com I was able to locate several individuals mentioned in my current projects. For instance, I was able to confirm the name of Roy’s childhood school teacher Mrs. Lillian Hutzler using the 1930 U.S. census. I love making these discoveries because it feels like I’m plucking these people right out of history; each discovery brings a real rush of excitement! I feel like I’m saying “You’re not forgotten!”

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Lillian Hutzler was a school teacher in Orsino (part of Merritt Island, Florida)
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Ancestry.com helps you understand old documents if you are not skilled in reading cursive or if a document is difficult to read.

Sometimes I wonder what records will be left of me when I’m no longer living. With the internet, things may be easier for future genealogists and researchers, but I’m sure the excitement will still be the same.

In other news, Mr. Boonstra and I were able to find a new picture for the banner of the Brevard Historical Commission’s YouTube channel! Last week I just put up a default image, but now it has an image of a 1920’s golf course in Rockledge, Florida. I’m so happy that we now have a real piece of Brevard’s history headlining our page! Check it out by clicking here!

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A screenshot of the new icon and banner for the YouTube page. (Recognize these names?!)

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I plan on having the Roberts and Salmela interviews up on YouTube and the website early next week, so please look forward to that!

I’m still hoping to work on an oral history from scratch, including researching questions and being present for the interview process. I know Mr. Boonstra is looking into potential candidates, so I hope something will work out. I think it would be a great learning experience about how history is put into action!

That’s about it for this week, thanks for reading!

-Heather Pierce