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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
INTERVIEWEE: John F. Selle
INTERVIEWER: Joyce Miller
DATE: January 24, 1977
M: This is Joyce Miller. I'm interviewing Mr. John Selle at his home,
555 Northwest Twenty-Third, on January 23, 1977. I'd like to start by
asking Mr. Selle about his family coming to Gainesville.
S: My father moved to Florida in 1918 coming to Palatka where he built a
big moss ginning plant. Moss ginning plants are out of style these days.
There aren't any more of them in existence, but we used to take the
Spanish moss growing from the trees, which grew a lot heavier then than
it does now, and rot it. It's got a very fine hair-like fiber on the
inside of it. The bark rots off and the fiber remains. You gin it up,
clean it, and shake it with all the other stuff. We sold it to furniture
manufacturers as a substitute for more expensive curled hair. He started
a branch plant over here in Gainesville about 1921. When our factory burned
down in Palatka, we moved over here to Gainesville. I went to the high
M: Do you know what year the factory burnt down?
S: We moved here in '22. I guess it was about 1921. I graduated there in
1923 and finished my college education two years here at the University
of Florida and two at LSU ELouisiana State University]. I finished and
went up to New York to live and then came back down here in 1930, got
married in 1931, brought my wife down. We've been in Gainesville ever
since, steadily, which has been some forty-six years, something like that
M: In 1931, when you came back down here, where did you live?
S: You know where the Winn Dixie market is up there on Sixth Street now?
Well, that parking lot out in front of it was part of our front yard.
The land there where the whole market is was our moss factory, and I lived
in a little shack. I don't know what it was built for, but it was cer-
tainly not built for high-rent living. It was better than colored shacks,
but nothing like a home or anything. We lived in that for two years and
then built a home out there in Golfview. Rudderman bought it from us
M: You built by yourself that specific house that they moved into, didn't you?
S: I didn't build it myself, I had a contractor build it for me. I wasn't
a builder in those days. I was a moss ginner. I came down and took over
my father's moss factory after he died. That's what happened in '31.
So my experience in the thirties began in 1931. That was an interesting
time of life down here. I liked it a lot better then than I do now,
'cause you had lots of friends, you knew everybody in town practically,
and you saw everybody you knew at least once a week.
M: You knew the university people too, even though you weren't connected
with the university?
S: I knew a lot of them, but there weren't so many of them to know back in
those days either. I've been acquainted with a lot of them trying to
come on the university there. M.Contgomeryl Anderson EProfessor of
Business Administration], Dick Anderson's father, was a very good friend
of mine. I remember back then in those old days at the university too,
but that's in the twenties so we won't go into that.
But in the thirties things were quite active down here. I was a
very active individual back in those days. I started the Gainesville
Home Builders Association. Bill CWilliam M.] Pepper and I organized the
Junior Chamber of Commerce. He was the first president of it and I was
the second. Then I organized the Gainesville Little Theater, too.
M: How many people were in the Junior Chamber of Commerce at the time you
S: Nothing like the membership today. I guess we had about thirty or forty.
M: What kind of activities would they do? Would they also try to bring
business and exhibits and things like that into town?
S: No. We left that to the Chamber of Commerce to do. Our work was volun-
teering service. Today the Junior Chamber of Commerce operates on a
little different basis. They sell Christmas trees and donate $5,000
to this or that group, but we never gave money to anything because we
didn't go out to raise money. We volunteered services.
One thing we did when I was president of the junior chamber was to
buy the Devil's Millhopper. That was privately owned at that time.
We wanted to do something with it and we bought it from the owner. I
don't know where we got the money from. I think most of it came from
M: Do you recall who the owner was at that time?
M: Do you recall what year that was?
S: It would've been about 1934 or 1935, because that's when I was president
of it. We were trying to get the government to do something with them
through WPA CWorks Progress Administration] or PWA [Public Works Admini-
stration], but they only did it when it was owned by a government entity
of some kind. A city or a county or a state or something. So we
donated it to the county, and then the county got PWA on there. They
dressed it up beautifully, put in walkways and stairways and railings and
built barbeque pits out there with iron grills on them and all that stuff.
In a short time the people had shot up the signs and cracked away the
cedar railings. I don't know what for, but they were cut away. They stole
the grills to most of the barbeque pits, and it was just a wreck about
two years after it was all built beautifully.
M: That soon?
S: Just give the vandals a chance. They don't wait very long. Later the
county gave it to the state, and the state gave it to the university. I
think the university owns it now.
M: Can you recall any other types of projects that the junior chamber did
besides involving the Millhopper?
S: There was one. The chamber didn't have much to do with it, but as an
officer of chamber and interested in it, I did something here. It nearly
knocked me out of being interested in Gainesville politics. A friend
of mine, Hyman Sobol--he died several years after that--a young attorney
here...we decided that what the city needed was some expansion of its
light plant, of its water plant, some more paving, some more sewers, and
some general improvements. We got some friends of ours, engineers, to
estimate just what it would take to do it, and what it would cost to do it,
and they came up with a figure something like $6 million I went up
to the PWA people in Jacksonville and talked to them about it. They were
willing to come in on the deal, but they would put up most of the money
except for the sponsoring. I mean they had to put up 10 per cent. So
that would've meant the city would put up $600,000, say from donating time
of employees or use of vehicles, anything there that would've added up to
that. But they could issue bonds for it, if they cared to, and PWA would
buy the bonds. They offered to buy these bonds and let us pay them back
at the rate of $60,000 a year for eleven years. That would pay the bonds
and the interest now. So then we went to the city commission on the
prospects of a bond issue. They said, "Oh no, we're not going to issue
any bonds. No, no, no, no, no. Don't even talk about it." We kept
talking about it, and finally we got them to have a hearing on it. We
said, "Look, we don't want you to have this meeting to vote on something.
We just want people to be able to express themselves." So Hymie and I
paid for the ads ourselves. We took ads in the newspapers; we got the
courtroom there as a meeting place because the city hall was a little
bitty building right on the corner there. That's now a parking lot for
the present city hall.
M: This is the old courthouse that you're referring to?
S: Yes. This was in the old courthouse. That night, when we had the meeting,
there were about fifteen people there. About a half a dozen of them were
junior chamber members that came up, the rest of them were members of the
commission, and Hymie and I and about a half a dozen interested citizens.
The only two that opened their mouth were opposed to it. They did not
want the city of Gainesville to issue any bonds. We said, "Forget it.
We're not trying to do this for ourselves, we're trying to do it for the
city of Gainesville, and if you don't want it, forget it." So we forgot
it. I went into the navy in 1943.
When I came out in '45, I happened to meet the man on the street
who'd been mayor-commissioner at that time. Let me think of his name--
Milton Baxley. I had just faced the fact, when I came out of the navy to
Gainesville, that they were voting on a bond issue. Except this bond issue
was for $6 million to do just the improvement of the light plant,
not the water plant, not the paving, nothing. The $6 million [we talked
about] would've covered everything. We'd have got every street in the
city of Gainesville paved, sewers put in, and expanded the water plant
and the light plant. We got as much expansion as they were talking about
there in 1946. They wouldn't vote for $600,000, but they voted for the
$6 million, and Milton said to me, "John," he said, "you know, I was going
through my files there the other day and I saw some things which I felt
damaged us. You know, there was a correspondence with you and me back in
those days. I don't want to do it here on the street," he said, "but if
you'll come to my office someday, I will stoop over and you can give me a
good kick in the tail, which I certainly deserve."
M: So the attitude really had changed over a ten-year period here in town?
The commission's attitude and the town. The town went ahead and voted
in favor of that bond issue? The $6 million one?
S: Yes, they voted for it finally. We had to expand the light plant, and there
wasn't enough to take care of our needs. I wish they hadn't expanded it,
and they'd just start buying power.
M: You said that you founded the Home Builders' Association. Do you recall
some of the early members of that association?
S: M.Coorman M.3 Parrish of course is active. Tassinari. Tassinari left
Gainesville here a good many years ago, but his wife is still around.
She's the OAC COlder American Councill-director now. Nita Tassinari.
Why she kept her divorced name, I don't know, but she did. One of the
perils of old age is, not that you forget things, you just can't think of
M: Of the names, and there are a lot of people who have trouble with the dates.
Names and dates. Would this just be a meeting or would the Home Builders'
Association make any decisions as to building in Gainesville?
S: Building in Gainesville was a lot different then than it is now. There
were a lot of vacant lots scattered all over town, and the developer
didn't have to go in and buy a plot of raw land and build streets and
sewers and everything and build the whole thing up at one time. My first
building was over in Florida Park and what's now Tenth Avenue and Eleventh
Avenue and up to as much as Fourteenth Avenue. I was building in there
for several years. I've decided that I was a dope to build. I could've
just bought the lots for what I paid for them and sold them ten years later
for what they were selling for then. I would've made about twice as much
money as I made when I was sweating it out and building a house on it and
selling it. But we didn't do much as a Home Builders' Association. We
checked into things like locations. Those of us that were selling houses
kept the secretary and had a paid secretary. We had all the merchants in
town that dealt with builders as associate members. But the thing that
I'm proudest of doing here was the Little Theater.
M: Let me ask you one thing about the Home Builders' Association first.
I understand from Mr. Hart Stringfellow that the building of homes never
decreased during the Depression in Gainesville, that Gainesville and
Houston, Texas were two cities that were leading in building construction,
even during the Depression. Do you recall any statistic or reference
S: No, because actually I wasn't a builder back in the thirties. It was after
I got out of the navy in '45 that I became a builder,and I know that
building cameto a screeching halt there in the fifties. I don't think there
were half a dozen houses sold in the whole year of 1953. It took me the whole
year to sell four of my houses. I don't think there was much building going
on. It wasn't the typeof building that exists today because the houses
that were built in the thirties are very different from the houses being
M: How would they differ so much?
S: These days no builder anymore builds his own kitchen cabinets, for instance.
You buy those. They're beautifully done, beautiful to look at, very nice
to use, and they're up there. Then they put in dishwashers. We didn't
even know what a dishwasher was except for our hand. These wall-type
ovens and stoves and everything which everybody puts in now, they weren't
made back in those days. The family room was an unknown thing back then.
You had a living room and you had a porch, but that's all you had.
M: That change is fairly recent. I think that's been within the last twenty
years even, the addition of the family room. For instance, my own family,
when they moved into their house in 1955 or 1956, they had not even heard
of a family room at that time.
S: During the forties and early fifties when I was building, I didn't have
family rooms in any of my houses.
M: Let's talk about the Little Theater. You were one of the beginning people
in the Little Theater. Perhaps you know Marinus Latour or Thelma Bolton
and their activities in the Little Theater also?
S: I think it was back about 1933 or '34 Emmeline Buchholz approached me. She
had started what she called the Little Theater. But it was called the
Little Theater because it dealt with little people, with children. The
children's theater. She had heard something about Little Theater activities
in other parts of the country, and she wanted to get hers built up into
this. Would I take that over? Well, I am a young fellow, and I'm
full of vinegar. So I got the Little Theater organized. We had about
250 members to start with, of which I only accounted for memberships of
about 200 of them. I was on the telephone from morning to night until
my ears got sore. When we'd gotten up in there in membership--it only
cost three dollars a year--we gave six plays. It'd be fifty cents admission
each play, based on your membership cost.
M: So if you were a member you didn't have to pay admission to the plays?
S: No. That's what membership consisted of. You just bought like a season
M: This was in about the mid-twenties?
S: No, mid-thirties. We had no place like the Little Theater has today. We
gave some of the plays in the high school, some of them at the women's club,
gave them anywhere we could find space to give a play. We had a paid
director. They don't pay directors anymore, but we had a paid director
who came out, Mrs. C. B. Pollard, a very charming woman and a very
competent director. Her first play was not what you'd call a Broadway
world beater. It was something like Pigs is Pigs, or something like
that. [Walter J.] Matherly [Dean of College of Business Administration]
was the chairman of our board of directors, and Helen, of course, was
active in it too. And Alice Parrish. I've got a file on them.
M: Talking specifically about Claude Murphree....
S: Claude was a nephew of Dr. Albert Murphree, the president of the university
in those days. He was a big fat boy but very friendly. He was a very
accomplished musician. He played the...not the organ in the theater 'cause
they didn't have an organ, they had a little piano. He and Sophie were
the musicians for the movie theater. That was when the theater was down
there where the old post office is. It was in that block right there north
of the old post office.
M: Was that the Lyric Theater?
S: Yes. We also had the Baird Theater in those days, which is now Cox Furni-
ture Company. You had to go up one set of stairs to get on the second
floor which is the ground floor for the Baird Theater. They had quite a
stage and a very nice-sized theater up there, but in time travel and thea-
trical groups stopped coming to Gainesville and the whole thing was
abandoned, lay there for years before anything was done with it to convert
it over into a useful building for the furniture store. They had to put
another floor in there, of course. I think they've got three floors
in there now. They had to put that second floor in there because it
was all, from the seats on up to the ceiling, was all one open....
M: So the height of the building is the same as it was, but they put the extra
floor in, then?
S: Yes. Split up the big theater space. In those days, Claude Murphree was
kind enough to play for us in the theater whenever we needed any help.
He was always willing to play for anybody. I kind of lost touch with him
for a while. Then he moved down and built a house very close to the one
I built after the war. His mother lived there with him and took care of
him. But his mother was a character, oh boy. One day my wife sees some-
body coming through our house. It's his mother. She's walking through
our house. She said, "You pardon me, I'm just taking a short cut." It
was just shorter to come through the house than to walk around.
M: That's an interesting person. You were in the performances also?
M: As indicated in one of the programs, and your wife was in the programs
S: She got into a lot of them, but I didn't. I've been trying to locate the
program for the last one I was in. We gave it down at the recreation
building that was built during the war down there, right by the old Kirby
Smith school. What else about the thirties?
M: Well, let's see then. One thing that we were talking about before is that
you would meet wherever there was a facility, whether it be P. K.....This
is including P. K. Yonge after '35. One of the productions was in P. K.
Yonge School, which was built at that time. But that would be the P. K.
Yonge School that is now Norman Hall and located on campus?
M: Not the P. K. as we know it today, which was built much later.
S: No. That building that we were using, I think it's been torn down.
There's one big building down there on the old P. K. Yonge grounds that
was torn down.
M: Would this be where the field is today and the tennis courts, next to
S: I think so, yes.
M: Let's talk about the moss business then. You took it over, you said, after
the death of your father?
S: In 1931, yes.
M: How old were you at the time you took it over?
S: Twenty-five, because I was born in 1906.
M: You already explained the process of getting the fibers, and then who
would you sell these fibers to in town?
S: Not in town.
M: Not in town?
S: We sold them up in High Point, North Carolina because that's where the big
furniture industry's located, and this is also the furniture manufacturers
who used it for padding in upholstered furniture.
M: How did you ship your stuff, by rail?
S: By rail.
M: Your business was located, you mentioned, where Winn Dixie is today. There-
fore,did you ship it through the T & J Railroad rather than the Atlantic
S: It had to go out by the T & J to someplace. We called ET & J] the "Tug
and Jerk trains" in those days. We bought green moss from all over the
area around here. We sent trucks out every day, and they had certain routes
which they'd take. We went down almost to Ocala, and over towards Newberry,
and you know, around there,and bought green moss for...what did we pay for
it? I think it was five, six dollars a ton, and then we paid up to four
cents a pound for the cured moss.
M: Then you would ship it out on T & J to Jacksonville. It would go from
there to North Carolina.
M: Then come back as a finished product, and then?
S: I don't remember ever buying apiece of furniture with moss in it, but I
guess there is some of it around here. That's just out of the question.
I mean they don't even used curled hair anymore. It's all this rubber
and foam and stuff.
M: What year did the business close?
S: The moss factory? It was in 1936, I think, that we had to move it from
there....Anyway, we had to move. The city condemned us as being a nui-
sance, which the dust created. All you've got to do is move out into
the country somewhere because you got a messy operation. Pretty soon
people start building all around you and then they say, "Well, you got to
go because you got a messy operation that bothers us." Like these
M: They build them way out initially.
S: Build them right out. They get surrounded; then the people object and they
have to move them again because of noise of the plane.
M: So where did you move to?
S: We moved down to 1230 South Main Street. We built that place down there
and bought a lot from...what was his name? I shouldn't forget his name.
M: Would Pound be the one you bought the land from?
S: No, he owned Standard Fertilizer Company. Well, maybe it'll come to me
later. We moved down there until recent years. Then it burned down again
and we never rebuilt it. By that time I was a builder in Gainesville; my
brother was running the moss factory and we burned out so many times in
that location. The original location we burned down four times. I think
we did it, we've got burned out and we did encourage the people of Gaines-
ville and a lot of firemen withhoses and with axes and stuff like that.
M: Tell me about your brother. He ran the business for a while...?
M: Was he helping in the business when you were running it?
S: No, he was in school. He was going to the university when I came down here
to take over the place. Then he worked for Dun and Bradstreet for a while,
and about the time I left to go into the building material business up in
Starke, after the war began, he took it over.
M: So he was gone for most of the thirties?
M: And what about your sister?
S: She lived down here with my mother. When my mother came down....They
stayed up in New York and New Jersey there for some little time after I
came down here. I can't even remember where we lived when we came down
M: They came down after you came back from the war. Your sister was here in
the later thirties, is that right?
S: Yes. She had started school at Tallahassee and then dropped out after a
year and went to work out at the university there in the bookstore or soda
fountain or whatever you call it.
M: Where, here or in Tallahassee?
S: At the university here. She was here for a good many years.
M: What about your interest in golf? You belonged to the Gainesville Country
Club, did you not?
S: Yes. A lot of it was because Moorman Parrish was selling lots out in Golf-
view, and with a lot you got a year's membership in the Gainesville Golf
and Country Club. So I inherited that when I bought a lot from him. The
price of things in those days is fascinating for anybody having to pay them
today. But I paid him $800 for a double lot out there in Golfview. You
look at the lots the houses are on now and extend it all the way down to
the next block. Sometime later he came to me. He had been hooked in this
Phifer Bank and he owed them a lot of money. He could pay that off with
certificates of deposit, which all depositors got. You didn't get any
money, but you got a certificate that said that the bank owed him that.
But if you owed the bank money, you could pay them with those things. So
I had about $300 worth of them from my moss business in which we were
using that bank as our bank at one time. So I paid them the $300, and
he gave me a lot just east of the one that we already built the house on.
Could you imagine getting a good building lot in Golfview for $300?
M: That's amazing.
S: And then, we went and we got down in south Gainesville, the property where
the Florida Laboratory is located now. This fine old gentleman, Ira
Baird, made me a proposition. He was always making me propositions. He
propositioned me out of moving out there and building a house on that sub-
division out....Oh, what do you call it?
M: This is where?
S: Where Kirkpatrick lives now, you know.
J: Is it Kirkwood?
S: Kirkwood, yes. He'd sell me the land for $1,000, a half of a big item down
there about 400 feet wide and 11,000 feet deep, running along both sides
of the railroad track. Then he'd put up the money to build the new plant
with and let me pay it off in the sum of $100 per month, which was actually
less than I'd been giving Major Thomas just to rent a little property where
we were before. But that interested me. We'll sell them a house out in
Golfview. We needed a little bigger house by that time. He wanted to
build out in Kirkwood. There were only two houses out there. There was
B. Kirk who ran the block plant making concrete blocks, and then Kirkpatrick
and I could have anything you wanted out there. There wasn't even a
road to it. I said, "Where are you going to put the road?" He says, "You
stake out your lot and I'll build a road in front of it." That's where
this road happens to be cut through now.
M: About when was this? This was in the forties?
S: No, this was in the thirties, 1939. Because when I went into the navy, I
sold that house that I built out there. I said, "How big a lot are you going
to give me?" He was going to trade me that $300 lot out in Golfview for a
piece out there in Kirkwood. I said, "How big a lot you going to give me?"
He said, "Go out and stake you out something." He said, "We got plenty of
land there. Get ya'll a nice big lot." So I had a lot there about 350 feet
wide and running back all the way back into the woods. I had so much of it
that I never even bothered to clear it off. I cleared off fifty feet on
either side of the house I built and let all the rest stand woods 'cause
it was no use to me except that it kept neighbors from getting up to close.
M: That's a nice deal. That's a nice trade.
S: Yes. I built that whole house back in those days for $4,000 using beau-
tiful red pecky cypress. You just can't get that kind of red cypress wood
today. It's the only house I've ever seen that didn't have an ounce of
plaster in it. The ceilings were tile board and all the walls and even
the bathrooms and kitchen and stuff were pecky cypress, for $4,000. At
that time they were building some low cost housing up in Jacksonville for
low income rental people. I had four bedrooms, three baths, a big living
room, a big separate dining room, an enormous kitchen, a laundry, a maid's
room, and a two-car garage for $4,000. They were building low cost housing
up there in Jacksonville which cost them around $12,000 a unit.
M: Oh my gosh. What a difference. You wonder who was making the money on
that deal. I'm curious about your interest in football. Were you a big
Gator fan in the thirties?
S: Oh, yes.
M: Having been an alumnus of the organization, you seem to be....
S: For a good many years I saw every game they ever played, here in Gaines-
ville anyway. To start with we had a Gator Growl. The first Gator
Growls were boxing matches. We had the finals of the boxing matches there.
That was the only entertainment we had for a Gator Growl; come out and
watch the boxing matches. That was on that area now that's used as a
parking lot south of the stadium. You sat on the ground there and watched
the boxing. Then the cheerleaders would get up and lead a few cheers.
Then we'd all go home and you'd seen the Gator Growl.
M: Is this while you were a student still?
M: This was after you were a student?
S: This is when I came down and lived here.
S: Back when I was a student, our big intercollegiate activity was the flag
rush we called it. In order to do that, they'd nail a flag up on top of
a high pole and grease it. Then it was up to one class to get it down
and another to keep them from getting it down. It was a kind of a bloody
mess 'cause lots of fights got into it. It was a roughhouse thing.
After I got messed up ane time, my father finally got the university to
cut it out.
M: Do you recall Red Barber at one of the Gator Growls?
S: Oh, yes. I don't remember at the Gator Growl, but I remember Red Barber
very well. Most of his experience dates back from the time that we had
a stadium. I don't recall just when that stadium was built.
M: In 1931 is when they built the stadium. I guess he was here till about
1934, when he left to go up north to do baseball games. I think he went
to Cincinnati from here.
S: Are you sure about that '31?
M: I'm pretty sure. Do you think it was earlier or later?
M: Later? I'll have to check. I don't have it with me, but I have it at
home. I'll have to check it out.
S: 'Cause I came back here to live with my wife in '31. They may have been
building it then.
M: I could check. I might be off a year. Did you ever go on the trains to
any of the football games?
S: Oh, yes.
M: Do you remember what that kind of experience was like?
S: Back in the thirties I didn't go on trains to games. That was in the
forties that I started doing that.
M: Did you ever spend the evening with Sid Grossman by any chance? The
reason I ask that is because you told me the New Orleans set, the chess
set, in reference to how you earned the money. I thought maybe you had
bumped into Sid Grossman on the way to the football games with the same
kind of things.
S: Yes, I bumped into Sid in the Optimist Club here. Somebody had formed an
Optimist Club. Sid and I were both members of it, so I saw him every
once in a while there. We were good friends. I don't even know whether
he's alive today. Is he? I haven't seen him in five years.
That's one difference between now and then. Back in the thirties
they had a drugstore called Glass's, just north of the courthouse. It
was a popular meeting place. Back in those days the banks stayed open
till three o'clock not two o'clock like they do now. Every businessman
in town would flock down to the bank there and get in his deposit before
three o'clock and then go around to Glass's for a Coke. There was always
a conglomerate bunch of people in there, your old friends, and you saw
everybody you knew at least once a week. Now I go to some kind of a
party somewhere,and I run into the fellows I've been first-name friends
with them for thirty years and haven't seen them for ten years.
M: The town has really changed like that. Do you know that it was owned
by Hart Stringfellow's brother-in-law. That's his wife's maiden name.
M: I guess it was Miller's prior to Glass's, and then Glass bought it out.
What about your collections? Looking around in your den--collections
of guns and chess men. Was that something that you were interested in as
early as the thirties, or has that become a recent hobby?
S: Not chess. But I got the third gun down from the top there, that pistol,
in 1931 on my honeymoon down in Havana, and that got me started on gun
collecting. Then those two up there, second and third one down, that
pair were my next ones. That was all in the thirties, but I think that
was about all I ever had. No, I went up to the World's Fair in Chicago
in 1934 and then I bought that Arabian rifle.
M: Which one is that? The top one or the bottom one?
S: The top one with the white bone inlay and that stuff. They're all ages,
I've acquired many of them from Jimmy EJames David] Glunt's collection.
Do you know who James Glunt was? He was a history professor at the uni-
M: Where is this one from, the second one from the top with the square back?
S: That's an Arabian snaphaunce.
M: Talking about the prairie....
S: It was covered with about four to five feet of water. I used to go duck
hunting out there. If I shot a duck, and I didn't have a boat, I'd wade
out up to my neck in water to get my duck and pushed the moccasins off
of the hyacinths there. It was like somebody pulling a stopper out of
a bathtub full of water. The hole fell out of the bottom of a sinkhole
down at one corner of the prairie, and it drained the whole thing. I
remember back in the late twenties about '28 or '29, seeing the picture
up in New York, where I was working at that time, of people going out with
washtubs collecting fish. The fish had no place to go and as the water
went there was little puddles left where the fish would get in the pud-
dles. Finally you'd just go in and just shovel them out with your hands.
It never filled up again.
M: Were there other people with great interests in guns? You were just
beginning your gun collections really in the thirties.
M: You mentioned about four guns. Were there other people in Gainesville that
you shared this similar interest with? Say you would exhibit your guns
or have meetings together with or anything like that?
S: I think Jimmy Glunt was the only other one that was collecting guns at
that time. I've got some things here which might be of some interest to
M: Let me ask you one thing and then we'll look at that. When you came here
in '31 and took over the business here, we were already in the midst of
the Depression. How did that affect your moss factory or did it have any
effect on the moss factory?
S: At one time we were paying these poor colored people only a half cent a
pound for cured moss. For every pound of moss that they sold they had
to collect about eight pounds of green moss to get one pound of cured moss
out of it. Gather eight pounds of moss for a half cent. It hurt me to
do it, but I was selling it then for about three cents a pound and it was
a big loss in the ginning process. I wasn't making anything out of it.
When I came back in the thirties, it was about $200 a month.
M: Was it just you and your wife at that time?
S: Yes. We had no children when we got married.
M: I'm sorry. I didn't mean that.
S: We had trouble trying to organize the budget on $200 a month. There
wasn't any way we could do it. By the time we added in the little things
like incidentals and emergencies and stuff, it always came to more than that.
So we decided what the hell, let's forget trying to organize a budget. We
won't go on a budget. We will buy nothing unless we've got the money for
it. We charged nothing. We did that for a number of years. When I got
tired of paying cash and preferred to write checks once a month and stuff,
we had trouble organizing and getting some credit in town.
M: Because you had paid cash for everything. That's still true today. You
have a scrapbook there?
S: Yes. Here's something interesting. A railroad running right through
Gainesville. Cedar Key down at this end and Fernandina up at this end.
When I started to be a builder here, I bought some lots up on Ninth
Avenue. Then I had an attorney go over the title insurance of it. He
said, "Well, John," he said, "you got one problem there. You got a rail-
road right-of-way running right through."
M: So that anytime the railroad would be allowed to do that?
S: Their own right-of-way. He said, "But I wouldn't worry about it. The
railroad's been out of existence for the last forty years." But this
is a railroad running right through my lot here in Gainesville. This
is when I was in the navy at St. Marks. I'm one of the very few that had
commissions in both the army and the navy. I was real proud of my record
at the university. I don't think there's anything much here that goes
back to the thirties.
M: This is mostly the last thirty years, say since the forties on?
S: Yes. In the forties I was the OPA price administrator for the state of
M: This is your mother's stuff?
S: That's my mother, yes. Here is a building that's named John F.Seagle.
M: Here it mentions your junior chamber and Little Theater. Let me ask you if
there's anything about the thirties that you'd like to tell me that I haven't
asked you yet? I left out quite a few things because I wanted to spend
more time onthe things that you were personally connected with rather than
general things that I can get from other areas. Is there anything
specifically of the thirties that you'd like to add?
S: You mentioned that it was right in the middle of the Depression. I remember
buying from the little market down there on South Main Street, in one of
those little stores south of the fire department, steaks that were ten cents a
pound. You'd get porterhouse steaks, sirloin steaks, round steaks, any
kind of steak you wanted for ten cents a pound. We used to get half a
round steak and sirloin steaks and grind it up for hamburger when we wanted
M: You could afford to do that at that time.
S: One day my wife came back from market....There was a Piggly Wiggly over
there just south of where Baird Hardware was, and then there was another
market down there just south of the Florida National Bank building. She
came there one day with a great big shopping bag that you get down there
at the market filled with green beans, snap beans. "John," she said, "I
got a real bargain today. Look what I got for ten cents." You know
my heart bled. To think of anybody having to go out and raise and then pick
all those damn beans, and then sell them to a store for enough so that they
could afford to sell that much beans for ten cents. Things were not happy
in those days. We didn't have welfare, we didn't have food stamps, and
people were suffering. If you didn't have anything to eat, you could always
go get a meal at the--what we had then in those days was not the Salvation
Army but something similar to it. They were doing a crackerjack business.