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