Skip to main content
Jax Daily Record Monday, Feb. 20, 201212:00 PM EST

50 years ago this week


Have you ever wondered what life was like in Jacksonville half a century ago? It was a different era of history, culture and politics but there are often parallels between the kind of stories that made headlines then and today. As interesting as the differences may be, so are the similarities. These are some of the top stories from this week in 1961. The items were compiled from the Jacksonville Public Library’s periodical archives by staff writer Max Marbut.

• On Feb. 20, astronaut John Glenn orbited Earth three times, becoming the first American to accomplish the feat. His flight ended in the Atlantic Ocean near Grand Turk Island in the Bahamas, about 800 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral.

Next to those closely linked with the space flight, a Jacksonville Beach family was among those most interested in Glenn’s historic mission.

The USS Noa, a destroyer based at Mayport Naval Station, recovered Glenn and his “Friendship 7” space capsule. The ship’s commanding officer, Cmdr. John D. Exum Sr., lived with his wife and two children at 300 Coral Way.

“Well done. We are all proud of a fine job by a fine ship,” messaged Capt. W.K. Ratliff, commanding officer of Destroyer Squadron 14, to which the Noa was attached, to Exum and the vessel’s crew.

The Noa was one of 24 ships and more than 60 aircraft that were spread downrange to await Glenn’s return to Earth.

“At 12:57 p.m., when we knew he was committed to a third orbit, we felt like we were going to be the ship to get him. At 2:38, we knew we were the ship when we heard the loud explosion in the sky and saw the spacecraft coming down. It sounded like a jet going through the sound barrier,” Exum said.

When the Noa returned to Mayport two days later, a large crowd gathered on the dock to greet the 276 officers and crewmen aboard the ship.

“We were at the right place at the right time,” said Exum.

The Fletcher High School band played as the Noa sailed into the carrier basin at Mayport. Surrounded by tugboats, she presented a salute by spraying water high into the air.

Jacksonville Beach Mayor William S. Wilson spoke and made Exum the resort’s honorary First Citizen. Other words of welcome and congratulation were given by Gerry Adams, president of the Beaches Chapter of the Navy League.

The highlight of the welcoming ceremony was the presentation to Exum of a gold-plated baseball fielder’s mitt by Adelaide Smith, who was Miss Mayport of 1962.

It was inscribed: “Mayport’s centerfielder, USS Noa, dd 841. This award commemorates the retrieval of Mercury capsule Friendship VII and astronaut Lt. Col. John H. Glenn Jr., USMC, on 20 February, 1962. Awarded by the officers and men of U.S. Naval Station, Mayport, Florida.”

• At its meeting at the Mayflower Hotel, Sheriff Dale Carson told the Rotary Club of Jacksonville that in 1961, crime in Duval County showed a 13.5 percent increase.

Carson said the increase was part of an overall rise in crime that had been recorded throughout the United States. Locally, he said, 27 percent of crime took place outside the city limits.

Carson said much of the incidence of crime in the city was due to the more crowded living conditions and to “the type of people who inhabit certain areas of the city.”

There were 13 murders in Duval County in 1961, up 18 percent, while manslaughter was down by 61 percent and assaults were down 64 percent.

Breaking and entering cases totaled 1,749, an increase of 37 percent. Carson said part of the increase was due to a change in the method of reporting and classifying breaking and entering crimes. For instance, if a penny gum machine was broken open and looted it was reported the same as if a burglary occurred in which thousands of dollars had been stolen, he said.

Carson’s department made 6,146 arrests in 1961. Of those, 58 percent were discharged by justices of the peace.

Carson told the group that as sheriff, he was responsible for law enforcement throughout the county and that was why his officers occasionally went into the city limits to conduct gambling and moonshine raids.

During 1961, Carson said, his department broke up gambling operations which grossed nearly $2 million annually for the operators.

The 22 cars of the Duval County Patrol which were on the road during the day, and the 12 that were in service at night, piled up 150,000 miles, answered 180,000 calls and conducted 66,000 investigations, Carson said.

Part of the patrol’s work was protecting children at crossings. Carson praised highly the work of the School Boy Patrol and credited the organization with the record of Duval County never having a child killed at a school crossing.

• U.S. District Judge Albert L. Reeves denied a motion for a new trial for Floyd C. Fallen, who was convicted Jan. 11 for conspiring to burglarize the Whitehouse Post Office.

Reeves also declined to reduce the 20-year sentence he imposed following the conviction.

The new trial motion was argued for by Joel Moss, the court-appointed attorney who represented Fallen during his trial. Moss also suggested that his client’s sentence be reduced, terming the 20-year period tantamount to a life sentence for Fallen, who was 40 years old and confined to a wheelchair.

Reeves also had before him a letter from James Theodore Dickson, who was charged with Fallen in the robbery, but who pleaded guilty and was given a five-year sentence.

Dickson said that in his opinion, the 20 years Fallen was given was too harsh a sentence, in view of his own five-year term. He added that he was more guilty than Fallen, in the conspiracy, as he had actually broken into the post office while Fallen did not participate physically in the burglary.

During Fallen’s trial, the government contended Fallen was “the brains” of the conspiracy and had planned the burglary, which Dickson and another man, Donald Jackson Alford, carried out on Sept. 2, 1960.

Alford also pleaded guilty to the charge and was given a probationary sentence. He was the principal government witness at Fallen’s trial.

Shortly before his trial on the burglary charge, Fallen was arrested on another federal charge that connected him and six others with the theft of a $20,000 load of whiskey from an interstate shipment. He was awaiting trial for that alleged conspiracy.

• Trustees of the Duval County public school system rescinded earlier action in which they had imposed a stiff fee on a basketball team for use of a school gymnasium.

The new action in effect reduced the fee to a custodian’s salary which the “Silent Gators,” a team of deaf youths, already had paid in January while using the gymnasium at John Gorrie Junior High School.

Trustee Hugh Wilcox, who originally asked the board to impose heavy fees on the Silent Gators because the team had failed to follow established policy by requesting use of the gym before they actually used it, moved for the rescinding of the fee.

“In view of the fact we weren’t aware of the nature of the applying group at the time, and since we want to encourage similar groups to avail themselves of our school facilities after hours, I move we strike all fees except those they already have paid,” he said.

• It may have been sparks from an exasperated golfer’s temper, but Wesconnett volunteer firefighters said they would probably never know what caused a grass fire at Timuquana Country Club.

Capt. N.J. Frascello, who was in charge of the two units that responded to the fire, said a three-acre patch near the green on Hole No. 5 was burned.

“But it didn’t disturb the golfers. We used a service road to get to the course and didn’t have to cut across any fairways,” he said.

Frascello said that damaged in the hour-long midafternoon blaze were considerable underbrush, some pine trees and “many lost golf balls.”

Be the first to know the latest breaking news and information that business leaders rely on in this fast-paced changing Northeast Florida economy. Regional business news, trends and statistics needed to grow your business. Key upcoming events you won’t want to miss and much more. Click Here to Grow your Business NOW!

Related Stories