Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Real Santa Claus

He didn't find his calling until late in life. In fact he already had finished a career in the US Navy and another as a Barber in a small Florida town. But when he decided to become Santa Claus he began to dance around even more than Frosty.

My great uncle, Walton Hugo Wilson was born May 15, 1924 in Oneco, Florida and died June 14, 2002 in Lecanto, Florida. His name was chosen by his older sister, my grandmother Edith. He was the youngest of seven and his mother told Edith, who was 18, she could name her brother. She named him after her two boyfriends.

Frank Wilson & Hugo Olson 1923
On the day her brother Walt was born Edith was making plans to marry Walton "Tink" Fulford and would do so three weeks later. Apparently Hugo Olson was still on her mind. This picture of her brother Frank Wilson with Hugo was in my grandmother's papers when she died.

Walt grew up in Cortez, Florida after his father died in 1933. He liked music and used to perform with the Culbreath family who later became famous as the "Cortez Grand Ole Opry." He was also a promoter of sorts. He made a wax record of them playing and took it to the radio station in St. Petersburg to get them to put the group on live. The first radio show was 45 minutes of just fiddle music because none of them would sing. Walt told them they needed to sing along so the next time he sang and they played the instruments. The Station must have liked it since they asked them to play every Saturday night. He had a radio voice so Walt also did the announcing when they played on the radio.

Walt joined the Navy during WW II and served as a Hospital Corpsman during the invasion of Iwo Jima. His unit suffered a 91% casualty rate. He said it was during the war that he picked up his skill as a barber. He would cut hair for his shipmates and became pretty good at it. He had worked in a barber shop back home in Oneco when he was a kid, sweeping up the clippings from the floor.

Walt outside barber shop 1979
When the Navy career ended he moved to Lecanto, Florida and worked at a barber shop in Crystal River. After a couple years the owner told him he was going to double the rent barbers paid, so Walt decided to build his own place. He built a one room, one chair barber shop next to his house. He did all the work himself, using 100 year old tongue and groove heart pine boards he salvaged from an old barn.

He opened the Whippoorwill Barber Shop on February 20, 1978 and ran it until 1992. Walt liked people and liked to talk. He said he would talk religion, politics, history or whatever came up.

Walt "Santa" Wilson 2001
After he closed the barber shop Walt started his 3rd career as Santa Claus. Like his others he had been practicing it before he started it up seriously. He came to visit my folks a couple times around Christmas and would always be in costume.

I remember one cold night when we had Christmas supper at my aunt Annie's house in Sarasota and Walt was standing out in her yard waving at the cars as they drove by. Annie and Julian always had a huge Christmas light display that stopped traffic on their street. Having a real life Santa didn't hurt their popularity at all.

Walt dressed up and made the rounds at schools, nursing homes and anyplace else that would let him in the door. He had white hair and the beard year round. His personality was perfect for the job. He always had a funny story or joke to tell and loved kids.

Walt married Freida Oliff King on November 5, 1954 in the Northside Church of Christ in Jacksonville, Florida. She died in 2011, nine years after him and they are both buried in the Magnolia Cemetery in Lecanto, Florida.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Eaten by worms

There are several deaths in the Bible which are popular with young boys. Back in the day, when I taught 7th grade boys in Sunday School, they actually listened if we were reading one of them. Probably the worst is the one about King Herod being eaten by worms.

I came across a similar story doing family research. James William Mann was born April 20, 1859 in Sterns County, Minnesota and died October 19, 1908 in Cortez, Florida. He was a carpenter and boat builder and moved to Cortez in the 1890s from Longboat Key, Florida. His father was one of the earliest settlers on Longboat Key and lived in a crude house made of palm tree branches.
Thomas Mann House

James Mann married Elizabeth Vashti Sauders on January 20, 1889 and their son Harry Thomas Mann married my grandmother's first cousin Addice Eugenia Wilson.

The story is that James was very fond of eating raw shell fish and from this developed a disease that killed him. His entire body was infested with the worms. He told people he first knew something was wrong when a small nodule appeared on his arm that itched. He opened it with a knife and a tiny worm crawled out. 

He went to Tampa for treatment but they didn't know how to cure him or keep it from spreading and he died soon after.

They folks in Cortez packed his body in a big tin box full of ice and laid him out in the front yard. They took him to Bradenton for an autopsy which was preformed by Dr. Hubbard Gates.

Robert King, a physician who wrote a history of the area said it was done in the drugstore. The autopsy showed the cause of death as "proliferating custode larvae in man." 

James Mann was buried in the Major Adam's Cemetery in Bradenton, just a few rows away from my Wilson family members.

I first heard the story in a 1993 interview of my mother's cousin Doris Adams Green.    

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Grandpa's Cradle

My Dad made this 30 yrs ago when our first child was born. She wasn't his first grandchild but she had the good timing to be born after he started woodworking as a hobby. His hobby didn't last long so this is one of the few remaining signs of it.

The cradle has traveled around from Bradenton to Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Miami, Memphis, Searcy, Atlanta, Warrenton and Dover.

It was the first bed for our daughters and a bunch of nieces and nephews. It is now getting ready for a trip to Philadelphia for our first grandchild!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Mailman in the Family

Mail delivery or at least post offices seem to run in the Lundy family in Florida. One reason may have been the Civil War service of three Lundy brothers. Two of the three served in the Confederate army but quit and with their younger brother joined the Union army. My great grandfather William Lundy was the younger brother.

Jim Lundy Post Office

Post Office jobs back in the 1800s were lucrative political appointments. It would be assumed they went to Union veterans in the South after the Civil War but in this case the privilege lasted a couple generations.

William Lundy's son James William Washington Lundy was appointed the postmaster in Parrish Florida and ran it out of his general store. This photo was taken around 1910.

William Lundy's older brother Mathew Washington Lundy was appointed Postmaster in Perry, Florida in the 1890s and then passed it on to two of his sons.

Thomas Washington Lundy was appointed in 1906 and James Hindley Lundy in 1909. This photo from 1909 shows Thomas Lundy and his family in front of the post office in Perry. The family lived upstairs.

I also found these articles in the Tampa newspaper announcing their appointments as Postmaster.

April 10, 1906 Tampa Tribune


February 20, 1909  Tampa Tribune