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.
• The observance of Labor Day took on a solemn meaning for a small group of working men and the families of working men at special ceremonies at the Duval County Courthouse on East Bay Street.
A hushed group of about 50 people gathered on the west lawn of the seat of County government to remember their dead colleagues and injured kinsman who suffered in the March 19, 1957, elevator crash during construction of the building.
The toll on that day was seven workmen dead and 12 injured, many of whom were crippled for life.
County Commission Chairman Fletcher Morgan was master of ceremonies for the event, which included the dedication of a bronze memorial plaque on the lawn near the site of the accident.
The plaque, bearing the names of the killed and injured, was unveiled by Earl Fickling, one of the survivors of the crash, as other survivors, relatives and officials stood by solemnly.
That the suffering of the workers and their families was not entirely a waste was pointed out by Florida Rep. John Mathews Jr., who said the worst construction accident in the history of the county brought about new legislation and a strengthening of industrial safety regulations “to make a repetition of the catastrophe almost impossible.”
“These men did not die and suffer without some achievements. Our hearts should be full of gratitude for them,” he said.
In his speech, Mathews contrasted the American observance of Labor Day as symbolizing the achievements of organized labor working in partnership with management to build a better America.
• A proposed $86 million municipal budget for 1962 was approved by the City Commission, an increase of more than $1.4 million over the 1961 budget.
Part of the increase was an appropriation for a $25 a month across-the-board pay increase for City employees, including the police department. The pay increase expenditure would total $1,336,000 for the year.
Another big item boosting the expected expenditures was a $286,000 contribution to the City employees’ pension fund, which was founded in 1937.
City Auditor John Hollister said $39,886,110.50 was earmarked for the 1962 general fund expenditures, which were designated to cover the expenses of various City departments such as police and fire.
Revenue for the general fund was derived from several sources including transfers from electric department revenues, real estate taxes and the City’s share of the state cigarette tax.
The remainder of the budget was designated for units such as the electric and water departments and the municipal docks, which were self-supporting.
The budget was scheduled to be printed and presented to the City Council, then it would be advertised and public hearings would be conducted before the full Council.
The Council had already gone on record as being opposed to appropriating $468,375 for charitable contributions.
The Council advised recipients of City donations to ask the legislative delegation to enact legislation to allow the County Commission to provide funds.
More than 20 such organizations probably would be affected, including Jacksonville University ($100,000), Edward Waters College ($50,000) as well as the United Service Organization, the Jacksonville Symphony Association, the Jacksonville Art Museum, the Jacksonville Choral Society and the Jacksonville Children’s Museum, among others.
“It’s our annual headache,” said Council member Ralph N. Walter, who chaired the Budget Committee.
• About one-fourth of the population of Duval County was expected to enroll in school Tuesday morning when the 1961-62 school year began.
School system statisticians predicted that 108,000 students would enroll in elementary and secondary schools and that more than 5,000 adults would assist them in their pursuit of knowledge and truth.
The adults included about 4,000 teachers and administrators in the 114 public schools, plus cafeteria personnel, school bus drivers and clerical, custodial and maintenance workers.
Among the expected opening-day challenges were having 12,000 first-time students, the learning of new bus schedules and routes for 28,500 riders and the opening of two new junior high schools.
In addition, 37 schools would be teaching classes on double sessions.
School Superintendent Ish Brant said the anticipated 19,645 students forced to take turns in the classroom because of overcrowded conditions could expect no relief before midterm.
“I don’t believe we can possibly hope for any more classrooms, certainly no new schools, before the first of the year,” he said.
“But before this school year is over, the $35 million school bond construction program will at long last start making a dent in the double session enigma,” he said.
Brant called the incoming swarm of 750 new teachers “one of the finest groups we’ve ever had” and that numerous preschool workshops for teachers and principals were “most profitable” and expected to “create greater cohesion in the coming school program.”
The two new schools in the system were Arlington and Jefferson Davis junior high schools. The former enabled Terry Parker Senior High School to avoid double sessions, while the latter did the same for Nathan Bedford Forrest Senior High School.
In addition, 7,300 pupils were expected to enroll in Duval County’s two dozen parochial and private schools, including 155 students enrolling at the Bartram School for Girls, a boarding and day school for students in the grades 7-12.
The Bolles School, a military day and boarding school for boys, expected to enroll 100 students in grades 7-12.
Bishop Kenny High School, the only high school operated by the Roman Catholic Church in Duval County, was expected to have an enrollment of 850 students in grades 9-12.
• The first day of school wasn’t without challenges for students, parents and school officials in Arlington.
A massive traffic jam developed due to 4,000 students attempting to arrive at Terry Parker Senior High, Parkwood Heights Elementary and the new Arlington Junior High School.
The opening of the junior high added to the traffic burden on Lone Star Road, which was backed up as far as six blocks and hundreds of students were late for school.
Parker Principal Sidney Friend reported more students arriving than expected for the first day of class. He said estimates were an enrollment of 1,800, but “after this day’s showing, I’d revise that to at least 1,900.”
• Local attorney George C. Young was named by President John F. Kennedy to be U.S. District Judge for the northern and southern districts of Florida.
Young, who lived at 4725 Apache Ave., would be nominated, subject to Senate confirmation, to succeed retired Judge George W. Whitehurst in the lifetime $22,500-a-year position.
Young had practiced law in Jacksonville since 1953 as a partner in the firm of Knight, Kincaid, Young and Harris.
• On the 50th anniversary of his career as a City employee, the City Commission approved renaming the Talleyrand Avenue generating station the “J. Dillon Kennedy Generating Station.”
A resolution authorized by his four fellow commissioners was adopted unanimously.
Kennedy first was employed by the City on Sept. 3, 1911, as a water tender in the electric department and worked through a variety of positions to a supervisory capacity.
He was elected utilities commissioner in 1949 and had been re-elected three times.
• Sheriff’s deputies were on the lookout for a thief who had apparently been overcome by the craze for backyard swimming pools.
Mary Kelly of 8642 Blarney Stone Court told County Patrolman W.E. McCooley a thief entered the backyard of her home and stole a 10-foot diving board from her pool. It had been bolted to four metal legs.
McCooley said he would keep his eyes open for the next step – a thief who would try to steal a swimming pool to go with the board.