Endings, Beginnings, Turpentine and more: Week of September 25th

Hello everyone,

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!


Updates:

  • 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.

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“Dipping and Scraping Pine Trees, Turpentine Industry in Florida” Image credit to Central Florida Memory

Once again, Ancestry.com came in handy supplying information via draft cards and other documents for identifying family names.

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Here is Lena Curry-Stoke’s father’s draft card confirming her mother’s name as Viola.

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.

See you next time!

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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

Sams House: Week of July 24th

Hello!

This week I continued where I left off from last week, working on Isaac Houston and Martha “Pat” Woelk’s oral histories. Isaac Houston’s video has been quite a challenge due to its length. At 2 hours long with a transcript just under 21,000 words, there was a lot of work to be done in getting it ready to post.

Thankfully, the interview is very interesting and contains a lot of important information about segregation and integration in Brevard County. As both an educator and a member of the Black Community, Mr. Houston had a great perspective on these events.

  • The link for Isaac Houston’s YouTube video can be found here.

Martha Pat Woelk’s oral history deals with the history of the LaRoche and the Sams families, which are both her relations. This interview is unique because it tours the viewer around the Sams House property and gives a personal perspective. The Sams House is a historic home that was built in 1875 in Eau Gallie, Florida and then transported via the Indian River to its present location in Merritt Island in 1878. I was astounded to learn that the entire home was dismantled and reassembled in order to accomplish this. When you think of a house, you generally consider it a permanent structure!

Here is an excerpt from the YouTube description I am writing to provide some context:

The focus of this interview primarily concerns the Sams house, located in Merritt Island, where this oral history was filmed. The home was originally built in 1875 by John Hanahan Sams, who came from South Carolina after the Civil War to set up a homestead in Florida. Pat was the last of the Sams family to live in this historic home, and she has much to say regarding the history of its architecture and landscaping features. Included in this discussion is the unique story of how the oldest building on the homestead property, which was originally constructed in Eau Gallie, Florida, was disassembled in 1878 and moved by raft up the Indian River to its current location in Merritt Island. A second, two-story home was also built on the property by 1888, and the land and properties were occupied by Sams’ descendants until 1995. The house is currently a Florida Heritage Site sponsored by the Brevard County Historical Commission, The Brevard County Tourist Development Council, and The Florida Department of State.

As you can see, I had to do a little research to find out more about the families and the history of the home. The wonderful thing is that it remains as a historical site that you can visit today! In fact, it is the oldest standing home in Brevard County. The area also contains a lot of Native American artifacts and beautiful local wildlife.

You can visit the Sams House at: 6195 North Tropical Trail on Merritt Island, FL 32953.

  • Here is a link to an article about the house from the Florida Historical Society.
  • Here is a link to another website with some more information about the Sams House
  • And here is a link to the official Brevard County webpage about the property and the surrounding conservation area. [The site is currently part of Brevard County’s Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) program.]
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Sams House/Property Today (Click to link to the photo’s source at the Florida Historical Society’s Blog)
  • The link to the Martha Pat Woelk YouTube video can be found here.

I also started another oral history this week for a lady named Lucy Mae Seigler. She is another member of the Black Community who talks about her family and life in Mims, Florida.

(Mims is in the northern part of Brevard County and is also where Harry T. Moore, the Civil Rights activist I wrote about previously, was murdered in his home. If you are in the area, you can visit the Harry T. Moore Cultural Complex at: 2180 Freedom Ave.
Mims, FL 32754 . Check out their webpage here.)

Lucy Mae is a deeply religious woman who discusses at length the importance of the Christian faith to her life. This interview focuses primarily on her family history and the fellowship and community she found at the Greater St. James Missionary Baptist Church of Mims. This video is currently being transcribed and will be edited for accuracy and posted online next week.

Finally, I have the line up for the next two oral histories I will be working on, which I will have more information on in next weeks’s post!

As always, 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

Wrapping Wickham: Week of July 3rd

Happy Fourth of July, everyone! I hope you all had a lovely holiday.

Due to the Fourth, it was a short week at the Historical Commission. However, I was still able to get a lot of things accomplished!

The biggest news is that I was able to get all THREE Joe Wickham interviews up to YouTube, including the one where he is a panelist alongside Dave Nisbet. (I should clarify, while I’ve obviously been focusing a lot on Joe Wickham this week, Dave Nisbet and Wes Houser also have a lot of interesting things to say in the Early Times in Brevard Panel!)

Here are the links:

Please check them out! They are a great portrait of some of the leading innovators and visionaries of Brevard County.

So obviously, the transcript for the interview with Joe Wickham from 2000 came back over the weekend, which means I started the week correcting it as the final Wickham transcript.

I found out that Joe Wickham actually died less than two months after this interview was filmed in 2000. I knew he seemed to be in frailer health compared to the previous two interviews, but it was sad to hear he passed away so soon after this footage was shot. It just reminds me of how important it is to record these oral histories before these individuals’ stories are lost.

While doing a final review of the transcripts, my supervisor Mr. Boonstra was able to find an inconsistency with a date provided in the County Commissioner panel. In the interview they state that the newspaper in Titusville, Florida, the Star Advocate began in the 1800’s when a Mr. Hudson purchased it. However, it didn’t actually take on the Star Advocate name under Mr. Hudson until after he moved to Florida in 1925. In this case, I was directed to add a footnote to the transcript since the actual date is quite a bit different than what is stated in the interview.

I’m really thankful Mr. Boonstra takes the time to double check these transcripts since he has much more background knowledge than I do about the history of the county.

To investigate further, I used the Library of Congress to see the recorded publication dates and found a start year of 1926 for this incarnation of the paper. This matches with the oral history we have on record for the Hudson family, which states they arrived in Florida in 1925.


While there may be some historical inaccuracies in oral histories, the purpose of this type of project is to preserve the memories of the interviewee from their own perspective. Thus, things may get a little hazy. However, since someone may use these oral histories as research material, I brought it up to Mr. Boonstra that it may be helpful to have a sort of disclaimer on the website indicating the purpose of the project and reminding viewers/listeners that oral histories may not be 100% historically accurate.
Here’s the little disclaimer I wrote for this purpose:

The purpose of this project is to preserve memories and personal accounts as they are remembered by the individual. Please note that the nature of oral histories are subject to the limitations of human memory, and as a result these interviews may contain some error of facts or dates as they are presented. The provided transcripts are as faithful to the recorded interview as possible and are therefore not guaranteed to be completely free from historical inaccuracies.

In other news, I also had the chance to sit and watch the front desk and answer the phone for a little bit while Mr. Boonstra was out of the library. While I’ve become accustomed to working in the back with the archives, it was good to get some experience with the public!

For instance, an older couple came in on Monday looking for some specific articles from the Florida Today. While I wasn’t equipped to handle their request on my own, I was able to take their information and direct them on how and when to come back and complete their research. I think it’s really beneficial that I’m able to develop some of these customer service skills while I am completing this internship.

In fact, I’m two months into this internship and feel like I’m really learning a lot! Not just about necessary research, editing, and office skills, but also about the county I live in. I’ve been so involved with working on these oral histories, it almost feels like a mini history course!

Just look at this growing pile of edited (and re-edited) transcripts! (I definitely need to recycle these soon!)

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That’s it for this week. Thank you very much for reading!

-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