We’re Number One!

Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida.

Not only is St. Augustine the nation’s oldest city – celebrating 450 years – we are at the top of the list of College Towns to Live in Forever according to College Ranker. In the middle of downtown St. Augustine, you’ll find Flagler College housed in the former Ponce de Leon Hotel. It’s not the only college in town. St. Johns River State College has a campus here too.


Ancient Mysteries

Leonard Nemoy died this week. Although he was best known for his role as Spock in the Star Trek series, I was also a fan of the Ancient Mysteries series he hosted. Here is the episode on the Quest for the Fountain of Youth that is focused on St. Augustine.

Mrs. Lois Remembered

Holland School

Lois Link (center back) began her teaching career in Georgia at the Holland School in 1908.

In 1975, our uncle, Thomas Barker, sent a request to the Cheatham County, Tennessee, Register for a certified copy of his discharge papers so he could receive medical treatment at a VA hospital. Although Tom, his sisters and his mother lived in Cheatham County during the war, they had returned to Georgia in the late 1950s after their mother, Lois, retired from teaching.

The transmittal letter attached to Tom’s discharge papers included this lovely tribute to Lois.

I was one of Mrs. Lois’ pupils when I was in elementary school and I still feel that I owe her a debt of gratitude. She was one of the old dedicated teachers who saw a pupil from conditions at home to response at school. I had to be out of school a good bit because of my mother’s illness. At nine, during the depression, I was taught to work and still get my school work. Mrs. Lois came by my house and brought lessons and tests and allowed me to make my grade that year. Today’s teachers couldn’t care less – if a child is absent as much as I was, failure would result, but Mrs. Lois helped me the next year to come out of it and I still feel a special love for her and her consideration and help.

With good wishes to you and the sisters who live there, I am,

Sincerely yours,
(Mrs.) Betty J. Ross

Pirate Gold!

Old Quarry Road

Old Quarry Road in the late 1960s. Photo art by the author.

The road in front of our old house has a history almost as old as this city. Huge coquina blocks were dragged from their Anastasia Island quarry down this road to be loaded on barges and floated across the bay to the Castillo de San Marcos construction site. The road is lined with ancient live oak and cedar trees creating a tunnel effect. Several times the city tried to pave the road, but residents fought to keep the trees until finally an exception was made to city code allowing it to be paved at less than “regulation” width.

One of those ancient live oak trees shaded the road right next to our driveway. In the early sixties, a construction crew digging ditches for sewer lines found the skeletons of two Indians under this oak tree. This generated lots of local excitement. Archaeologists were called in to review the site, the remains were removed for study and the construction crew was finally given the go-ahead to continue their work. The ditch was dug, pipe was laid and things returned to normal – almost.

Someone remembered a story about a pirate – I don’t remember which one now – who had been offered amnesty by the Governor of Florida. This pirate expected treachery when he met with the governor so he decided to bury his treasure before he got to the city. According to the story, he and his two Indian servants buried the gold on the south side of a live oak tree on Anastasia Island – then he killed the two Indians and buried them with the treasure. He was right to take precautions. Instead of amnesty, he was arrested and later executed so his treasure was never claimed.

Well, you can imagine what a hornets nest this legend stirred up. People were out in front of our house all hours of the day and night trying to find the treasure. As soon as the police chased them off, more would show up. Our parents were highly irritated by all this commotion but we kids loved it. Pirates! How could you not love pirates!

It would be weeks before things settled down again.

The reality check is that about 100 yards east of the now infamous live oak tree is the remains of an Indian village – probably where the quarry workers lived during the fort’s construction. On the west side of our property – at the edge of what was then Quarry Creek – those Indians would harvest and clean oysters and clams for their meals. It’s not surprising to any of us that Indians would be buried in the area.

Not surprising, but not near as interesting as pirate gold.

Remembering Challenger

This article was originally posted on January 28, 2013.

Twenty-seven years [twenty-nine now] ago I sat at the window in my office enjoying the clear, crisp morning that would give us an unprecedented view of the Challenger launch more than 120 miles away. Normally clouds would limit our view. Even so, we would not see the shuttle itself, just the fire from the rockets and the huge vapor trail following it.

Since we seldom saw the sequence where the external tanks drop, we didn’t recognize the unusual attitude of the vapor trail as a problem. We had no television or radios in the office so we didn’t know anything was wrong until someone came by with the news. The TVs in our training room were quickly jerry-rigged with makeshift antennas to pull in the local news coverage of the disaster and we spent most of the remainder of the day in a state of shock.

What I remember most about that day is the vapor trail which seemed to hang there in the sky for hours (no, but it seemed that way) as testament to what had happened.

My fascination with space travel continues and I watched every shuttle launch I could until the program ended. I will always be in awe of the men and women who ride those amazing rockets into the unknown.