The Dreaded Yellow Jack

Yellow fever, also known as the “yellow plague” or the “yellow jack,” was one of the most dangerous and dreaded diseases prevalent in Florida during the 1800s. The disease is viral, spread primarily by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, but this knowledge was not widely known until the 20th century. In the meantime, epidemics often broke out in Florida during the summer months, especially in cities.

With no good understanding of how the disease was caused or spread, Floridians often blamed the infection on contact with a yellow fever patient or the presence of “miasmas,” swampy areas whose fumes supposedly affected those who breathed them in. Preventing yellow fever infection became an essential part of life in Florida. Entire communities, such as Bel Air outside of Tallahassee, were developed to provide a place for those who could afford it to get away from sickly downtown areas during the summers. Yellow fever even affected the social seasons, as many businesses and schools ceased operations during the hottest months to avoid the danger.

A life insurance company's travel endorsement with a yellow fever exclusion clause (1882).

A life insurance company’s travel endorsement with a yellow fever exclusion clause (1882).

As more people moved into the state and transportation by rail became faster and more common, yellow fever epidemics became larger and deadlier. A series of outbreaks emerged in 1887 and 1888 in cities across the state, infecting thousands and wrecking local commerce. Larger port cities like Key West, Tampa, and Jacksonville were the hardest hit.

A drawing from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper depicting Florida being dragged down by yellow fever (circa 1870s).

A drawing from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper depicting Florida being dragged down by yellow fever (circa 1870s).

Hundreds of residents fled the cities, while those who remained tried every conceivable method to combat this scourge whose origins they could not understand. In Jacksonville, townspeople built large fires with heart pine, believing the pungent aroma of burning pitch would cleanse the air. Cannons were packed with heavy charges and fired in the center of town, with the belief that the shock waves would break apart the invisible organisms responsible for causing the fever.

Pinewood fires burning in the middle of Bay Street in Jacksonville, which it was believed would purify the air (1888).

Pinewood fires burning in the middle of Bay Street in Jacksonville, which it was believed would purify the air (1888).

Yellow fever wrought considerable destruction in Florida, but it indirectly benefitted the state as well. The severity of the epidemics in 1887 and 1888 led legislators to take action by forming a State Board of Health to combat the problem. The Board met for the first time in 1889, with Dr. Joseph Y. Porter of Key West as the first State Health Officer. Porter and his colleagues across the state immediately set to work establishing quarantine policies for ports and working with local governments to clean up potential breeding grounds for disease. Survivors of yellow fever became immune to further infection, and the State Board of Health issued “immunity cards” to these individuals so they could travel during epidemics without being subject to quarantine. As conditions improved, the board moved into other area of public health, including the collection of vital statistics and the regulation of burials and transportation of the deceased.

A yellow fever immunity card issued by the State Board of Health (1899).

A yellow fever immunity card issued by the State Board of Health (1899).

A death certificate completed for the Nassau County Board of Health, patterned after a template recommended by the State Board of Health. This certificate is one of over 2000 death and burial record entries from Fernandina now available for searching on Florida Memory.

A death certificate completed for the Nassau County Board of Health, patterned after a template recommended by the State Board of Health. This certificate is one of over 2000 death and burial record entries from Fernandina now available for searching on Florida Memory.

By 1900, scientists had demonstrated that yellow fever could indeed be carried by mosquitoes, which helped health authorities to better target their efforts to eradicate the disease. As a result, fear of the “yellow jack” these days is little more than a footnote in the history books.

Jacksonville’s “Treaty Oak”

“Big Oak is really big.”

Someone once wrote these profound words on the back of a photograph to describe what may be one of the oldest single living things in the entire city of Jacksonville. “Big Oak,” now known as “Treaty Oak,” is an enormous Southern live oak tree (Quercus virginiana) estimated to be well over two centuries old. It’s located in Jacksonville’s Jessie Ball duPont Park, parts of which were once known as the Dixieland Amusement Park.

“Treaty Oak” in Jacksonville (circa 1950s).

The tree appears in a variety of photos and postcards in the Florida Photographic Collection, although the “Treaty Oak” appellation doesn’t really appear to have taken hold until the 1930s. Most historians ascribe the new name to an effort by Florida Times-Union reporter Pat Moran and the local Garden Club to drum up public interest in preserving the tree. Eager to play up its significance, Moran explained that the old oak had borne witness to a number of agreements between Native Americans and white settlers.

Given the tree’s impressive size (and apparent age), the story isn’t difficult to believe. The majestic oak’s trunk is over 25 feet in circumference, and its branches grow to over 70 feet in height, which creates a circle of shade about 190 feet in diameter. One report from the 1950s suggested that over 3,000 persons could find shade under the tree at the same time.

Men and women stand in and around Jacksonville's famous

Men and women stand in and around Jacksonville’s famous “Treaty Oak,” then known simply as “Big Oak” or “Giant Oak” (circa 1900s).

Moran’s efforts to preserve the tree were noble, but funding would be required to secure the land around the tree and provide proper protections. Jessie Ball duPont and the Alfred I duPont Trust took action in the 1930s by purchasing much of the land surrounding the tree. In the 1960s, the duPont interests donated the land to the City of Jacksonville with the understanding that it could only be used for a public park having the tree’s continued preservation as one of its goals. The park was initially called “Treaty Oak Park,” but it was later renamed for Jessie duPont to honor her efforts to preserve the historic tree.

Jacksonville’s “Treaty Oak” is just one of many famous trees and other living legends around the Sunshine State. Search the Florida Photographic Collection for images of these landmarks, and tell us about your favorites by sharing them on Facebook or Twitter and dropping us a comment.

The Beatles Are Back!

Fifty years ago, the Beatles played their second and last Florida show as a band at the old Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.  This was a particularly exciting and dramatic time for Floridians and for the Beatles.  The band’s movie, A Hard Day’s Night, had recently premiered in the United States. Record breaking crowds were screaming at their shows while millions of viewers were swooning and shaking their Beatle wigs in front of the television. “Beatlemania” had taken hold in Florida and across the country. Yet this particular show was nearly canceled due to Hurricane Dora, racial segregation and the illegal sales of live Beatles footage. Recently, the State Archives and Florida Memory was privileged to receive never before seen photos of this nearly doomed event along with an eyewitness account from beginning to end.  Read on as Annette Ramsey shares about the Beatles, her father’s dedication to getting her to the show despite the bad weather, and these incredible Fab Four photos.

Annette Ramsey:

I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show and loved them! Especially Paul! My dad found out that they were going to tour the U.S. and would be performing at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. So he bought tickets from a radio station. Our tickets cost $4.00 each and we sat in the bleachers. For $5.00 you could sit in front of the stage!

Annette Ramsey at her Beatles-themed birthday party (1964). Photo courtesy of Annette Ramsey.

Annette Ramsey at her Beatles-themed birthday party (1964). Photo courtesy of Annette Ramsey.

Annette Ramsey's Uncle Bern dressed as Ringo Starr with a Beatle wig (1964). Photo courtesy of Annette Ramsey.

Annette Ramsey’s Uncle Bern dressed as Ringo Starr with a Beatle wig (1964). Photo courtesy of Annette Ramsey.

So the day of the concert came. It was September 11, 1964. I was 9 years old at the time and my dad was 39. A hurricane was predicted to come through…Hurricane Dora… and it did come the day before the concert. Because of the destruction my dad and I could not drive to Jacksonville as we had originally planned. My dad said to my mom “We have to find a way to get Annette to the concert and once we get there, we can figure out how to get back.” So my dad found a friend of a friend who had a commuter plane and he happened to have two seats available. It was my first plane ride! The Beatles plane landed right before ours and ours was still in the air but you could see them walk down the steps. The women in our plane took their shoes off and started beating them against the windows of the plane! Daddy was scared to death! When our plane landed everyone tried to run after the Beatles! But they were long gone.

The Beatles having a hasty dinner and press conference at Jacksonville's George Washington Hotel (September 11, 1964). Photo courtesy of Annette Ramsey.

The Beatles having a hasty dinner and press conference at Jacksonville’s George Washington Hotel (September 11, 1964).

John Lennon at the George Washington Hotel press conference in Jacksonville. The Beatles did not sleep at the hotel and nearly canceled their show in opposition to racial segregation in the city (September 11, 1964).

John Lennon at the George Washington Hotel press conference in Jacksonville (September 11, 1964).

Since we had arrived several hours before the concert, my Dad decided we should go downtown and have dinner. He was in the mood for a nice steak! So we went to a restaurant that happened to be across the street from the George Washington Hotel. While we are waiting for our meal my dad saw a reporter with a badge that said “Tampa Times.” At the time we had two newspapers in Tampa, the Times and the Tribune. So Daddy asked him if he had seen the Beatles. He said yes that he had covered an interview with them across the street at the George Washington Hotel. He was a photographer and his name was Vernon Barchard. He said he would show us where they were going to come out. Of course I wanted to go right then but Daddy was going to have his steak! After we finished eating we went across the street with Vernon to the parking garage at the George Washington Hotel. After what seemed like hours to me (but really wasn’t) they got out from the elevator and they were literally pushed against the wall by all the screaming fans. Vernon positioned himself to take a picture and my dad held me on his shoulders. When Paul came out Daddy pointed at Vernon and said “Tell Paul to smile and take the picture.”
It was very hard for the Beatles to get into their car and leave. Female fans jumped on the car and beat the windows with their shoes like on the plane!

Beatles Paul McCartney and George Harrison leaving the George Washington Hotel for their show. Annette Ramsey is seen at top right (September 11, 1964).

Beatles Paul McCartney and George Harrison leaving the George Washington Hotel for their show. Annette Ramsey is seen at top right (September 11, 1964).

I don’t remember how we got from the parking garage to the concert. We may have taken a cab? And I don’t remember any of the opening acts. The Beatles portion of the concert was late because photographers had been traveling around taking unauthorized film footage of them. The band wouldn’t start until they left. We sat in the bleachers. Our tickets cost $4.00 each. The bleachers shook because the women stamped their feet and you could hardly hear the Beatles because of the screaming! I have read that their set only lasted 37 minutes. It seemed longer to me.

Beatles drummer Ringo Starr at the Jacksonville Gator Bowl show. His drums had to be nailed to the stage due to the remaining high winds from Hurricane Dora (September 11, 1964).

Beatles drummer Ringo Starr at the Jacksonville Gator Bowl show. His drums had to be nailed to the stage due to the remaining high winds from Hurricane Dora (September 11, 1964).

The Beatles on the windswpt stage at the Gator Bowl, September 11, 1964. Concert-goer Annette Ramsey recalled that the cardboard letters spelling out "Beatles" were eventually ripped away from the side of the stage by the wind.

The Beatles on the windswept stage at the Gator Bowl, September 11, 1964. Concert-goer Annette Ramsey recalled that the cardboard letters spelling out “Beatles” were eventually ripped away from the side of the stage by the wind.

After the concert we met Vernon at a pre-arranged place and he drove us back to Tampa. A week later he mailed me these photos. I am happy to share the photos with other Beatles fans. I am planning to return to Jacksonville in October to see Paul McCartney. My dad said he’ll pass this time and let me go with my husband!!

***

If you have photos, film footage or great memories of the Beatles in Florida please contact the State Archives.  We would love to share your memories with the rest of Beatle fandom and the world!

 

Animated Map Series: Jacksonville

Florida Maps: Then & Now is an animated map series from the State Library and Archives of Florida. The project uses Google Earth to create animated videos with historic and modern maps, photographs, and primary source documents from our collections.

This episode features historic maps of Jacksonville.

If you have trouble viewing the video, download it here.

Transcript

Welcome to Florida Maps: Then & Now, an animated map series from the State Archives of Florida. This episode highlights historic maps of Jacksonville.

Long before concrete and steel spanned the St. Johns River near downtown Jacksonville, the Timucuan chief Saturiwa (Sat-ur-e-ba [IPA: Sæt-ur-ih-bah]) presided over the area shown on this map, from the confirmed Spanish Land Grant of Ezekiel Hudnall. This Westward bend in the St. Johns sits upstream from the French built Fort Caroline, destroyed and then rebuilt by the Spanish and christened Fort San Mateo in the 1560s.

By the 18th century, just decades after diseases and slave raids vanquished the Timucua, Seminole cattlemen drove their herds across the river at this narrow spot along the St. Johns River. Called Waca-Palatka (wack-a-pill-at-ka [IPA:Wak-ʌ-pæl-ɑt-kɑ]) by the Seminoles, and Cow ford by English speaking settlers, the area served as a natural point to wade and ferry cattle to eager buyers. The Americans renamed the area Jacksonville in the 1820s after Andrew Jackson, hero of the First Seminole War and the territory’s first governor.

Jackson’s policies eventually led to the removal of Seminole Indians from the area, and forced those few that remained in Florida into the deep recesses of the Everglades. Jacksonville became the hub of commerce in Northeast Florida by the time of the American Civil War. After the war, Jacksonville continued to grow and expand on both sides of the St. Johns River.

Commercial needs in the 20th century dictated the deepening of the St. Johns. Docks and piers proliferated along the water’s edge, as well as seawalls to hold back the water from the growing city. This Eastward facing point is now the site of EverBank Field—the home of the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Gator Bowl, and the annual Florida-Georgia rivalry game.

For more information and other animated maps: Florida Maps: Then & Now

Jacksonville’s First African-American Lawyer: Joseph E. Lee

Drawn portrait of Joseph E. Lee (circa 1890s).

Drawn portrait of Joseph E. Lee (circa 1890s).

Joseph E. Lee was one of the most influential African-American men in Florida during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For over four decades, Lee worked as a public servant, acting at various times as a state legislator, a lawyer, federal customs collector, and educator.

Joseph E. Lee (circa 1900s).

Joseph E. Lee (circa 1900s).

Lee was born in Philadelphia in 1849, and graduated from Howard University with a law degree in 1873. He moved to Florida that same year and was admitted to the bar, making him the first African-American lawyer in Jacksonville, and one of the first in the state. He served in the Florida House of Representatives from 1875 to 1879, and in the State Senate from 1881 to 1882. In April 1888, Lee was elected Municipal Judge of Jacksonville, the first African-American to have this honor. Around this time he also served as the dean of the law department of Edward Waters College, an African-American institute of higher learning formed in 1866 to educate freed former slaves. Lee would remain a trustee of the college for over thirty years.

Edward Waters College in Jacksonville (circa 1889).

Edward Waters College in Jacksonville (circa 1889).

Joseph Lee also participated in state and local politics, serving as Chairman of the Duval County Republican Party and secretary of the party’s statewide organization for nearly forty years. The Joseph E. Lee Papers housed at the State Archives of Florida (Collection M86-027) contain dozens of letters from around the state asking for Lee’s counsel on matters regarding political strategy. The two letters below pertain to a particularly dramatic situation in 1916, in which the Democratic vote for the governorship of Florida was split between two candidates, Sidney J. Catts and William V. Knott. Republicans hoped that with the Democratic vote divided as it was during the primary, the Republican candidate, George W. Allen, would have a good chance of winning the general election. Republicans were almost never elected to statewide offices during this period, as their African-American supporters were generally restricted from voting, and white voters overwhelmingly supported the Democratic Party. In the first letter, John Edwards of DeLand asks Lee how he should advise the Republican voters of his county since their candidate, Allen, was reputed to be from the “lily-white” faction of the party that favored a conservative approach to African-American civil rights. In the second letter, Lee replies that despite Allen’s positions in this regard, he would be voting the entire Republican ticket, Allen included, and he hoped the Republicans of DeLand would do the same.

Letter from John Edwards to Joseph E. Lee, Oct. 24th, 1916

Letter from John Edwards to Joseph E. Lee, Oct. 24th, 1916

Letter from Joseph E. Lee to John Edwards of DeLand, Oct. 31st, 1916.

Letter from Joseph E. Lee to John Edwards of DeLand, Oct. 31st, 1916.

Joseph E. Lee died March 25, 1920, but his leadership was remembered in a number of lasting tributes. Civil rights leaders James Weldon Johnson and A. Phillip Randolph both remembered Lee as having been a memorable influence on their lives, and to this day a Joseph E. Lee Republican Club still operates in Jacksonville.

Who are the leading lights from your community or county? Search Florida Memory to find photos and documents of other great Floridians like Joseph E. Lee.

Jacksonville in the 1920s (Part Two)

On the move in Jacksonville in the Roaring ’20s.

Eva Boswell and Ed A. Crane in front of the Capitol Theatre (December 4, 1927)

Eva Boswell and Ed A. Crane in front of the Capitol Theatre (December 4, 1927)

Businessmen on a good will tour (May 16, 1925)

Businessmen on a good will tour (May 16, 1925)

“Boosie” St. Johns River Follies (1921)

“Boosie” St. Johns River Follies (1921)

Bay Street in front of the Union Terminal (1921)

Bay Street in front of the Union Terminal (1921)

Automobile race at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds (1922)

Automobile race at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds (1922)

Adams Street (June 5, 1923)

Adams Street (June 5, 1923)

Found a great photo of Jacksonville in the 1920s that we missed? Share it with us in the comments!

Jacksonville in the 1920s (Part One)

Enjoy a few of our favorite photographs of Jacksonville Beach in the Roaring ‘20s.

Two miles south of Jacksonville Beach (August 19, 1927)

Two miles south of Jacksonville Beach (August 19, 1927)

Tourists at Jacksonville Beach (January 20, 1929)

Tourists at Jacksonville Beach (January 20, 1929)

Jacksonville Beach (ca. 1923)

Jacksonville Beach (ca. 1923)

Tourists walking along the jetty (1929)

Tourists walking along the jetty (1929)

Have a great photo of Jacksonville Beach in the 1920s? Share it with us in the comments!