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!
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.
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:
(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!
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.
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!).
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!
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!)
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!
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:
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!
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.]
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!
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.
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.
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.