Skip to main content
Jax Daily Record Monday, Oct. 31, 201112:00 PM EST

50 years ago this week

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

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.

• Circuit Judge Marion W. Gooding dismissed a suit by a bonding company which sought more than $32,000 from a Jacksonville plumbing firm headed by Mayor Haydon Burns.

Gooding ruled in favor of arguments by Burns’ attorney, Martin Sack, that the complaint filed by Pan American Surety Co. of West Palm Beach was not legally sufficient to grant the remedy it asked for.

Pan American’s suit alleged that Burns, as president and majority stockholder of Walter Denson Inc., fraudulently diverted the firm’s working capital to help finance his 1960 campaign for governor of Florida.

Pan American, which wrote performance bonds to guarantee Denson’s work as a subcontractor on construction jobs, claimed it had to pay more than $32,000 to creditors of the Denson Co.

Asking recovery of the money from Burns, Pan American claimed its losses were a direct result of the alleged withdrawal by Burns of the firm’s money.

Burns had categorically denied any diversion of funds for political purposes and labeled the charges “ridiculous and absurd.”

“I’m not surprised at this or any other steps the opposition might resort to between now and the next governor’s election,” he said.

Burns was considered in political circles as a probable candidate for governor in 1964. He didn’t specify the source of any opposition.

Gooding’s action did not necessarily end the court battle. He gave Pan American’s attorney, William T. Moore of Miami, 20 days to file an amended complaint. Moore said he planned to do so.

• On a less controversial issue, Burns purchased the first carton of light bulbs to start a sale by the Lions Club of Greater Jacksonville for the benefit of its sight conservation program and other community services.

Burns bought the bulbs after signing a proclamation setting “Lions Light Bulb Week.” The sale would continue through Nov. 18

• A request by Northside businesspeople for the State Road Department to four-lane U.S. Route 17 from Jacksonville to the Georgia state line drew the full support of the Duval County Commission. The commissioners voted unanimously to relay the request to the State Road Board.

The request came in the form of a resolution adopted by the North Council of the Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce, signed by M.E. Sweet, its chairman.

Northeast Duval County, the resolution said, was becoming one of the county’s largest industrial areas and “many tourists now prefer and will always prefer” to travel on U.S. 17, since it was the federal highway closest to the East Coast.

The commissioners also indicated a study was being made of the possibility of opening Commonwealth Avenue, where it dead-ended at Baker Avenue, all the way through to U.S. 301.

Jimmy Blitchington, president of the Westside Civitan Club, asked for the extension as an evacuation route for West Jacksonville residents in case of a nuclear warfare emergency.

• Robert L. Parsons, director of the recently completed Cummer Gallery of Art, died after a brief illness. His death occurred less than two weeks before the new riverfront museum was scheduled to open to the public.

Parsons had been working for the museum’s opening since March 1959, when the DeEtte Holden Cummer Museum Foundation was established by bequest of the late Mrs. Ninah M.H. Cummer.

Parsons, 53, was a native of Washington, D.C., and had lived in Jacksonville since his appointment to the museum post. He and his wife, Carolyn, resided at 1513 S. Edgewood Ave.

• Henry Miller’s controversial novel “Tropic of Cancer” was about to go up in smoke in Duval County after Circuit Judge John McNatt signed a final decree banning the book in the county and ordering the destruction of all copies.

County Solicitor Edward M. Booth on Oct. 25 secured a temporary court order prohibiting possession, distribution or sale of the book, charging it was obscene under the terms of a law enacted by the 1961 Florida Legislature.

Booth said he did not construe the orders as applying to private citizens who purchased copies of the novel before the temporary injunction.

Sheriff Dale Carson said the paperback editions would be burned as soon as Vice Squad Chief Jim Hamlin rounded up all of the copies from distributors and retailers.

J.L. White, president of the Duval News Co., said he fully agreed with Booth’s action. White said he took steps prior to the temporary injunction to remove copies of the book from sale in stores his firm serviced and that he had no knowledge of the novel’s contents prior to its distribution.

• On a 3-1 vote, the County Civil Service Board tabled requests to grant pay raises to three key administrative employees of the school board.

A request to increase the maximum salary range for the school board’s senior office machine repairman was rejected by the Civil Service Board.

Four school board members and Superintendent Ish Brant showed up to ask the Civil Service Board to increase the maximum salary of Comptroller Joe Smith from $7,500 to $7,825 annually; Purchasing Agent Walt White from $6,325 to $7,500; and Tabulating Supervisor Jim Harris from $5,992 to $6,500.

After a lengthy discussion, Civil Service Board member Jack Forehand moved to table all three requests. He said he wanted to talk it over with the board and its attorney, John S. Cox, in private before making a final decision.

Member Carl Taylor seconded Forehand’s motion. He said one member of the Civil Service Board was out of the city and he wanted all members to be in on the decision.

Chairman Marshall Heath joined Forehand and Taylor in the vote to defer action. Dissenting was member Paul Akin, who indicated sympathy with the school board’s requests.

School board member Charles Johnson, who was a CPA, said in private industry “a man of Smith’s quality” could not be employed for less than $10,000.

“You’re getting a bargain at $7,825,” he said.

School board Business Director L.O. Calhoun said Smith was handling a $54 million annual budget, including capital improvements.

• The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission said the Russians detonated a 50-megaton nuclear weapon, double the size of their previous tests, 12,000 feet above the ground near the Arctic Circle. Pressure form the explosion was recorded at the weather bureau at Imeson Airport.

Officials said a microbarograph, which measured atmospheric pressure waves, recorded the explosion. They said the measurement jumped .2 inch, only the third time such a strong wave had been recorded in Jacksonville.

In 1883, the bureau recorded waves from an eruption of the Krakatoa volcano and in 1908, high pressure waves were recorded when a meteor struck the ground in Siberia.

• In addition to thousands of people, a stork visited the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural and Industrial Fair.

Favor Design Libby, a jersey cow, gave birth to the first animal born at the 1961 fair, which usually welcomed several new specimens to the local livestock population during the event.

The calf arrived just one day short of its mother’s 2nd birthday, said Kay Armstrong, fair manager.

Holly Hill Dairy officials named the calf “My Fair Kay,” in honor of Armstrong.

• A young girl in Arlington, concerned over the ravings of Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev and the explosion of huge nuclear bombs high above the arctic wasteland, had an idea and put it into effect Halloween night,

When 10-year-old Joyce Calabrese made the trek to her neighbors’ doorsteps, she said “pray for world peace” instead of “trick-or-treat.”

Calabrese wore a flowing white gown decorated with blue and red stars. On her head, she wore a crown made of cardboard and carried a candle tied with red, white and blue ribbons.

A fifth-grade student at Parkwood Heights elementary school, Calabrese said she prayed every night for peace for the whole world and then developed the idea.

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