Oranges and Organization: Week of October 9th

Hello, everyone!

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).

  • You can watch Juanita Wright’s oral history here.

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.

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Citrus workers picking fruit in Cocoa, Florida near the Indian River in 1949. Image from the Florida Memory Project: https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/294941

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!

  • Check out “Firing the Groves” here!

 

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.

Until next time, thank you for reading!

-Heather Pierce

 

 

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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!

Panels from Cocoa and Mims: Week of September 18th

Hello everyone,

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]

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  • 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).

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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:

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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!

Thanks so much for reading! See you next time!

-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