Interviewee: May Cox
Interviewer: Stephen Prescott
Date: May 17, 1990
P: I am Stephen Prescott, and I am interviewing Mrs. [Mary Elizabeth] May Cox, a
pioneer resident of Gainesville. [We are in her home on 115 NW 35th Street.]
Today is May 17, 1990. Mrs. Cox, when did you come to Gainesville?
C: My father came in December of 1912. He bought some land from Father
[Patrick] Lynch; he brought twenty acres of land. Father Lynch was starting a
Catholic colony [San Jose Catholic Colonization and Land Company].
P: What was your father's name?
C: My father's name was Julius Parker Wright.
P: So you are a significant family on both sides in Gainesville history, both your
father's side and your husband's side.
C: Yes. He [went to Florida in 1912 and] bought the land, and then he came back
to Burr Ridge, Illinois, and sold our home. We went to stay with my grandmother
in Chicago, who was Mrs. Doobie. She was Irish. When he got the house
finished, we came down in. I think that was March of 1913.
P: So you have been here seventy-seven years.
P: How old were you when you moved here?
C: I was between eight and nine.
P: I believe you told me you will be eighty-six the last day of this month. [So you
were born May 31, 1904].
P: As you know, I am interested in the history of the Catholic church here in town,
and particularly Father John Conoley. Can you tell me what it was like growing
up in Gainesville as a Catholic in the 1910s and 1920s?
C: Well, we were out five miles from the schools in Gainesville. There was only one
school. It was one building for both the grade school and the high school. Of
course, I was in the grade school. I was the only Catholic in my room, and
nobody liked me, so I did not want to go to school. But my father and mother
would talk to me and tell me that that is the way the pioneers started, that is the
way a place got started was for somebody to move into a place and live right.
We had to do our faith. My father got us a horse and a surrey, I guess it was, to
go to school, because we were out five miles.
He bought this land from Father Lynch. I remember Father Lynch. When we
came down in 1913, he had just had a stroke and could not say mass for a while
there. There were all different kinds of priests coming in. Every Sunday there
would be somebody there, but not through the week. My father had a little
trouble getting his deeds because of Father Lynch's stroke. It was called San
Jose Catholic Colonization Company. My father had to write to the bishop to
really get good deeds.
P: I did not know that. So the diocese itself had bought the land and was selling it?
C: No. Father Lynch got this money from up North and different places that
[people] donated to start this. He said he was starting this and had to raise
money, and the only way he could raise it, I guess, was to beg [for] it. One of the
other ones was his lawyer, and his name was, I remember, E. C. F. Sanchez.
P: That is an old Gainesville family.
C: Yes. My father finally got the deeds because he did not want to build anything
else on the property until he had the deeds. He just built this little house.
P: About how many families were involved in this colonization?
C: Well, there was a Stanley that lived next to us, and there were the Linehans that
lived on the other side of us. Then there were the Diamonds that lived there for
a while, and the O'Rileys, but they went back to where they came from because
they could not make a living. Now, there were a few other families that did not
live on [the colony].
P: Was your father a farmer?
C: No, my father was a draftsman. He was the head man of Sawyer Shirt Company
in Aurora, Illinois.
P: Did he work as a draftsman after he came to Gainesville?
C: No, he did not. He tried to farm some, but he could not make a go of it. He was
also very good at building. He could do lots of things. He worked for the city a
while when they were putting down water pipes. He was the supervisor of the
men that laid the pipe. He knew all about laying it out, putting it so deep, and all
Then he went into building houses. He was good at that. He got men and
taught them to be carpenters, so he had men under him. He built these houses
out here in University Park. He would draw the plans, because he was used to
drawing plans, and he built the houses for 10 percent above cost. When he got
a certain amount done, they paid him a certain amount; it went on like that.
There were people that wanted to pay for their house when it was being built and
not be paying on time. He did that for a long time until he retired.
He was retired only about ten years when my mother died, so he was living alone
in our house out there that he had built. I was living in Gainesville then, and I
was married. He got sick and had to have an operation. My husband told him to
come live with us, because we had plenty of room. I was going out back and
forth taking him meals and doing his wash and [doing other things for him], and
my husband said he would rather my father stay at our house instead of me
running back and forth, since we had room. We had a private room and a
private bath downstairs that we let him have. We slept upstairs with the children.
He lived with me eleven years. Then he got cancer and died.
P: What year did you get married?
C: I married in February 1928.
P: You were about twenty-four, roughly, when you got married?
C: No, I was older than that. I was thirty-four. I had been married twice. My first
husband and I lived in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and I had a little girl, our only
child, when I was twenty-six. My husband was drowned, and I came back home.
P: So you were gone from Gainesville for a few years.
C: Yes. I was gone from Gainesville from 1924 or 1925.
P: So you were gone for about three years, and then you came back home.
C: Yes. My husband was drowned when my daughter was ten months old. She
was born in 1930. I do remember my children's birthdays.
P: I think your second husband [David Cox] is the gentleman who started Cox
Furniture, which is still in business here in town.
C: Yes. He was a little older than I was. He had two boys. Neither one of them
went to college, but my son went through college. My second husband had a
furniture store. He did a lot of things. I have in a cedar chest [documentation
that shows that] he had a degree in pharmacy and a degree for teaching. That
was the first thing he did; he taught when he was very young. Then he studied
pharmacy, and he was in the drug store working. He said the man across the
street had a furniture store. He always closed up at five, and the drug store
never closed up till ten, so he decided he wanted a furniture store. He moved
down to Gainesville and bought out a furniture store. I believe it was Padgett
Furniture Company that he bought. It was on the west side of the courthouse
square. The railroad street went down Main Street. I think he said it was 1917
when he bought that furniture store out. It went all the way through the block. It
was, I believe, sixty or eighty feet wide. It went through the whole block.
Then in 1938, a month before my son was born, that whole block burned.
Students [from the University of Florida] ran all the way uptown. He walked up
there. We lived just two blocks from the store, on the corner of Pleasant Street
and Orange Street. Now they are 2nd Street and 2nd Avenue. It is two little
blocks behind Lewis Jewelry Company. He walked down to the store, and the
boy saw him take his key and open up the front door. The fire started in the
back. The front was not as wide as the back. The store was kind of like an ell
shape. On this side of it, facing Main Street, was a little Jay's Dress Shop, and
next to that was Thomas Hardware. Thomas Hardware went around behind
Jay's, and there were windows all there. That place back there is where they
kept their paint and rags and stuff, and that is where the fire started. Well, he
had his key and went to the open front door. The students said, "If you let us
break these windows, we will get this front furniture out for you." He said, "All
right. Take it and put it over on the courthouse lawn." They carried it all over
there and sat there with it and took the books all out. They got all that out. But
we lost a lot, too. Then we looked for another place to buy, and we found this
one where we are now.
P: I believe at one time the First Baptist Church was on the location where Cox's
Furniture is now, the old, original First Baptist Church. That is what I was told.
C: [I remember the building. It was two stories high. On the first floor was
McCollum's drug store and a bakery, and there were steps on the side of the
building that went up to the upper floor. I remember going there two or three
times when I was about fifteen].
P: It was built in 1923, the same year that Father Conoley left.
C: Oh, is that when he left?
P: Well, he actually left in February 1924.
C: Where did you find that? I was trying to find out.
P: That took a lot of chasing down, because no one knew where he went when he
C: When he left, he was in bad shape.
P: He sure was.
C: But these Kincaid girls did not know anything about his getting beat up. Like I
said, they never really took a lot of interest in it [the Catholic church in
Gainesville]. They came to church every Sunday and all that. They lived in
Newberry. They had one brother that was drowned.
P: Newberry was too far away, I guess, for them to be actively involved in a church.
C: Yes. They had a Ford, I think, that they came in. My mother and Mrs. Kincaid
were good friends. They talked back and forth.
P: As you know, I am particularly interested in Father John Conoley.
C: I would like to know a little bit more about him. It is too late now. I have been
thinking [about that]. You ought to write all of these things down, these things
P: I am going to.
C: I should have long back, but who thinks it is going to be valuable some day?
P: But it always is.
C: I told Kitty Kincaid, "A lot of people write things down. That is where we get a lot
of things from olden days. You have to look it up somewhere."
P: The only two sources are to find someone like you who can remember or find a
diary in somebody's attic somewhere. Tell me what you remember about Father
Conoley. I guess you would have been here when he came here in 1919.
C: Oh, yes, we were here.
P: What did he look like?
C: I wish I had a picture of him. He was a really good-looking man, and he was very
smart. I know he took interest in the University students, because he wrote plays
[for the UF Masqueraders] and traveled with them. Did you hear anything about
P: Yes, I heard quite a bit about that.
C: My mother made the costumes for him. She had me embroider across on the
stoles down on the bottom. I was just maybe thirteen or fourteen years old.
P: [The University of] Florida was an all-male school then. I understand some of
the girls and women in town sometimes played the ladies' parts for him. Were
you ever in one of his plays or knew anybody that was?
P: Did you ever see one performed?
C: No. Now, I went to one in St. Augustine. I do not know who wrote that, but that
was from the University, too. It was called Spanish Nights.
P: I believe he did write that, according to the information in the University
C: That was some time ago. But they were carrying that on year after year over
there. I remember after I was married I took some of my grandchildren over
there one night. They wanted to see St. Augustine when they were staying with
me, so I said we would go over and spend a night or two and look it over, and I
would take them all around these places. I took them out there to see that play,
and we stayed in a hotel because it was so late getting out. We did not go home
till the next day.
P: Apparently, based on people I have talked to, Father Conoley was a tall blond.
C: He was tall, blond, and very nice-looking. Not stout, not skinny, either.
P: Kind of a muscular build?
C: I would say he was 6'3", 180 pounds, something like that.
P: Do you know anything about his background before he came to Gainesville?
C: Well, someone told me that his parents had died or something and he was in a
home, but I do not remember much about that.
P: As far as I can determine, his father died when he was young, and his mother
died when he was a freshman in college in Lake City.
C: I remember this from hearing my mother and father talking to him when he was
around the house. But when they talked about the Ku Klux Klan, I really got
scared, because I had heard about them so much.
P: Did Father Conoley stay with your family quite a bit?
C: No, but he came out to eat with them.
P: Mrs. Charlotte Hatch, whose maiden name is Chazal, grew up in Ocala, and
Father Conoley stayed with her family when he went down to Ocala to say mass.
She remembered him as having a fantastic voice. She said that his sermons
were just gripping.
C: Oh, he did. And he could sing good.
P: That is what she said. And she said that he was a good speaker also very
C: He was a good speaker.
P: She said he could recite the ABCs [and captivate an audience].
C: I went to confession one time, too, and he asked me if I wanted to be a nun
[laughter]. I told him I would have to ask my mother.
P: Did you know that he had been an Episcopalian when he was a child?
C: No, I did not know that. But I knew he was a very strict Catholic.
P: Tell me about his involvement with the University of Florida and Crane Hall,
which ultimately became St. Augustine [Catholic Church].
C: There was a lady named Mrs. [Mary A.] Crane who was very wealthy, and she
came down every winter to Gainesville, along with her granddaughter or a
daughter (I do not know which it was) named Mrs. McCarthy. They were very
wealthy, and she gave Father Conoley $50,000 to buy the property that he
wanted to build something for a school or something for education. Well, Father
Conoley wanted it for the students, and they called it Crane Hall. They have
changed it since to St. Augustine Chapel. This Mrs. Crane and the Browns -
there was a Mr. [Edwin] Brown, too, who had a hardwood mill in Gainesville,
Brown Brothers Hardwood Mill, way down there at the end of Main Street where
Spring Villas are now and the McCarthys [contributed a lot of money for the
building]. Father Lynch had died. We needed a bigger church, and I know they
put windows on the church with their names on them. When they tore down the
old church, [those windows were not preserved]. The new St. Patrick's now is
over on [NE] 16th Avenue.
P: The old church would have been on what is now NE 1st Avenue?
C: NE 1st [Street]. There are office buildings there now.
P: It was called Main Street East then?
C: East Main Street, yes. Then when my mother died, I put a window in. The priest
was Father [Thomas R.] Gross or Father [William F.] Balfe. He [Father Balfe]
was there in 1949, I know, because that is when my daughter got married. She
was the first one to be allowed to be married in the church marrying a
non-Catholic. Father Balfe was our pastor then. He wanted to build onto the
back of the church, and he wanted to make a baptismal place. I put a window in
there in my mother's name, and I got a St. Patrick statue and put it in there in
memory of my father. That statue of St. Patrick is now down near Mount Dora;
the church there is called St. Patrick's.
When Father Gross came, he did not like statues that were painted; he wanted
them all just white. He set all of the statues out on the curb for the garbage man
to take away the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and my
statue of St. Patrick. A friend a mine went to mass that morning and saw them
all out there, and she asked him if she could have them. She knew that I would
want mine, and she said should she keep it for me. She said, "I got it and
brought it home. I put it in the trunk." It was about five feet high.
My niece came up to see me, and I was telling her about it. She said, "Well, they
are building a new church (I think it was in Mount Dora, down near Leesburg),
and they are calling it St. Patrick's. They would love to have that statue." I said,
"Well, let us get it painted where it is nicked." After years, you know how
somebody bumps them or something. So she took it down there. She knew a
lady that was an artist that painted, and she got her to touch it up. She did not
charge anything. She said they left the little plate on it that says "J. P. Wright,"
with the year he was born and the year he died. She said it is still in that church.
P: Coming back to Father Conoley, you would have been a teenager when he was
here, so I guess you remember him pretty well. You were old enough.
C: I cannot remember how old I was.
P: Did you have much personal relationship with Father Conoley, or was it mainly
just as your priest?
C: No, only going to church. When my mother told him she would help him with
those costumes, well, then he came out to the house, and sometimes he had
dinner with us or lunch or something. He talked to her a lot. He got the very
best of materials, and he would get them by the bolt. I remember my mother
saying, "That is awfully expensive material." He said, "Yes, but it has to last
because it is going to be traveling around." It was skinner satin. There was a lot
left over, and she asked him if he wanted the remnants of it. He said, "No, I do
not want them." So she made Father Benedict [Roth], down at St. Leo, some
P: I guess your family was very active at St. Patrick's.
C: Yes, my father was. One time he did not have anything to do, so he remodeled
the rec room for nothing. Of course, that is all torn down now.
P: Apparently Father Conoley was very involved with the students.
C: Oh, he was, and that was one of the troubles. He was not involved with girls or
anything, just boys.
P: Well, that is all that was at the University of Florida then.
C: I remember one time when my brother came out from confession he said,
"Mama, you told me the priest does not know who it is when you go to
confession. You just tell him all your sins. He knew who I was, because he told
me to go and light the candles for the altar." He knew he was an altar boy
P: He knew who he was.
C: Like I told him, I had to ask my mother [when he asked me to become a nun].
P: Apparently, in late 1923 and early 1924, Father Conoley got in very serious
trouble with the Klan. Do you remember when that happened?
C: The only thing I remember about it was we went to church, and we found out
then. I know everybody was alarmed about it, all the parishioners.
P: Can you tell me what happened?
C: Three men dressed as Ku Klux men came and got him; they took him and beat
him up. They took him to Palatka and put him on the priest steps of the rectory
in Palatka. They just left him lying there.
P: Do you know how badly they beat him up? Did they leave him for dead, did they
beat him up pretty bad, or did they just rough him up?
C: I guess they beat him up pretty bad.
P: The best I have ever learned, his health was ruined. Did they know who the men
were that did it?
C: My father knew the names, and I have been trying my best to wrack my brain
trying to remember, but I cannot think of their names. One of the names was
Waldo. Did you hear anything about Waldo?
P: One man told me that the local Boy Scout master was one of the three men that
took him. He could not remember his name, but he remembered he was over
the Boy Scouts of Gainesville.
C: I do not know about that. My brothers were not old enough to be Boy Scouts.
P: I understand the Klan had spread rumors about Father Conoley before they took
him. Did you hear about that?
C: Yes, I knew there were a lot of things spread about that.
P: Apparently they spread rumors that his interest was more than friendly with some
of the boys.
C: Yes. And they would go up there to the rectory, you know. I know that Waldo
lived right across from the church. That was when it was on Main Street.
P: Waldo was his last name?
C: Yes, Mr. Waldo. Did you hear any other names? They might come to me.
P: No, ma'am, I did not. As far as you know, it was just these three that kidnapped
C: Well, I remember my father knew three names.
P: Did they go into the rectory and get him, or did they grab him off the street?
C: I think they just got him there from the rectory, now that I think back on it.
P: Do you remember what time of the year it was that morning you went to church?
Was it spring or summer or winter?
C: I cannot remember what I wore [laughter].
P: It has been a long time.
C: Yes, it has been a long time. I wish I could remember those names. I remember
what my daddy said: "Now, just remember, those men are going to die a horrible
death." And they all did. He would remind us of it. He said, "So-and-so was
killed in an automobile accident last night." My father had pretty good mind.
P: Tell me about when you got to church that Sunday morning that Father Conoley
had been kidnapped, the best you can remember. I know it has been a long
C: Well, they were just congregated around the outside of the church, and
somebody else came and said mass. I do not know who it was.
P: Did you find out that morning that Father Conoley had been kidnapped, or did
they simply not know where he was?
C: They said he was in Palatka.
P: Do you know if he was hospitalized or saw a doctor or anything?
C: I think he was.
P: You think he was put in the hospital?
C: Yes. That is why they had to disguise themselves.
P: Did you ever see a Ku Klux Klan meeting in Gainesville or see a Klansman in his
C: I never saw a meeting, but I saw them dressed.
P: You saw them dressed in their robes?
C: I saw them dressed one time. They were going to a meeting, I think. I think it
was one evening, and we were going to an evening service at church. We went
to church with a horse and buggy. The horse was tied up in the back.
P: I have learned that Father Conoley had an Essex roadster that he used to drive
to Ocala. Do you remember seeing that?
C: No, I do not remember that.
P: Did the people in the church feel threatened? Were they afraid the Klan might
come after them?
C: Yes. There was a rumor that they were going to burn the church down. I do not
know where it came from.
P: I have heard two different rumors. I do not know if they are true. One is that the
Holy Name Society, which I guess would have been all the men in the church,
got their guns and went there because they were afraid the Klan would attack the
church. I have also heard a rumor that the Knights of Columbus in Miami tried to
come up to defend Father Conoley.
C: They might have been from Miami, because there was no Knights of Columbus
P: Several people have told me that, but I do not know it is absolutely true.
C: I would not be surprised. My father belonged to the Knights of Columbus up
North, but there was not a chapter down here. They did not have enough men or
something. They have one now, and they named it Patrick Lynch, after the first
priest that was here.
P: After Father Conoley was kidnapped, did he come back in later weeks as priest,
or did he immediately leave?
C: I do not think he ever came back to Gainesville.
P: He never came back?
C: I do not think so. I never saw him. He might have come back to see certain
people, maybe in the evening where he would not be noticed or something.
P: From the time he was kidnapped by the Klan and beaten up, he was never pastor
of St. Patrick's again? He never celebrated mass [again at St. Patrick's]?
C: No, not after that.
P: I have been told he was physically injured severely.
C: I think he was. I do not think he could do much.
P: I have even been told that the Klan apparently emasculated him. Have you
C: Yes, I heard that.
P: He did not die; he did live. He did not die until 1960. Apparently they castrated
him and left him for dead, but he recovered.
C: How long did he live from the time that happened?
P: That happened in 1924, so he would have lived thirty-six more years. He was
almost seventy-six when he died.
C: Well, that was good.
P: He died July 25, 1960, and he would have been seventy-six on September 12.
There is some ambiguity about what happened when he left Gainesville.
C: That was a terrible black eye for Gainesville, for the Catholics. What Catholic
would want to move here?
P: Do you think most of the people in town knew what happened, or was it mainly
just mainly the Klansmen?
C: Oh, I think it got out, because I have heard other people talk about it.
P: Even the Protestants in town found out about it?
C: Oh, yes. There was a school teacher that was Catholic teaching the fourth grade
in the Gainesville school, and because she was Catholic, they put her out. That
happened right after that.
C: Right after that.
C: They tried to do everything. When I was in high school, I had a professor who
was studying to be a lawyer. He was a young man who was going to the
University, and he did substitute teaching. They could teach history, and he
taught me history. Every day I would get so mad I did not want to go to history.
He was always asking me different things about the Catholic Church, and if I did
not know it, I would say, "I will tell you tomorrow." Then I would go to the priest's
house [and ask him before class the next day].
P: I found the letter that Father Conoley wrote to Bishop [Patrick] Barry in February
of 1924. At that time, he asked Bishop Barry about going back into the service.
He had been a chaplain in World War I; he was a major. In fact, they even
called him Major Conoley sometimes on campus.
C: Yes, I knew he had been in the service.
P: At that time, he was considering going back in the service, [but he was kidnapped
and abused before he could re-enter the army]. It seems like the church had
some problems. The church building was sitting on a moist place, and they had
to re-do the flooring and some other things.
C: What I think it was is they would get cheap people to build these things, because
I knew my father went in and did a lot of repairing after something that somebody
did in the rectory.
P: Do you know if Father Conoley ever spoke with your father or any other families
in town after he left? I know Mrs. Hatch told me that he corresponded with her
father up until the early 1950s. He knew her father pretty well, because he would
spend Saturday nights in their home.
C: Well, I do not know. He could have corresponded with my father, but it was their
mail, so I never bothered with it. I did not bother their mail.
P: I just thought he might have mentioned to you or something that he had heard
from him. He was pretty close to the Chazals, because he would spend the night
in their home.
P: So you never heard of him after he left Gainesville?
P: When Father Conoley was kidnapped and mutilated, did you get another priest
right away, or was there a period of a few weeks when nobody was sure what
was going to happen?
C: The bishop would send priests.
P: So you did not get a permanent pastor appointed for a few weeks?
C: I have a list somewhere, and I could not find it, of all the priests that we did have.
I do not remember having Father Conoley in there, because I still do not think he
was the main pastor.
P: Well, according to the diocesan records, the church had only one. They had
been trying to get a second priest, but I do not think they had him yet. They
probably had gotten two right after he left, but I think he was both the pastor of
St. Patrick's and the director of Crane Hall, and was also going to Ocala twice a
C: I know there were not very many priests.
P: There were not very many then, unfortunately.
C: Father Marion [Bowman] and Father Benedict [Roth] used to come up [from the
St. Leo monastery, near Dade City]. They were very young. They were just
ordained, really. My mother and father got pretty close to them, because they
were so young, and they wanted to know places to go to swim and things like
that. Now, they had eaten in our house a long time.
P: Father Marion remembers Father Conoley. Apparently, they shared Ocala.
There was a priest from France with a long French name [Dominique A. G.
Battalaccio] who had been in Ocala for a long time, and then he had died. There
were not enough priests to send one there, so Father Conoley would go down
two weekends a month, and Father Marion, who was just a young man, would
come up from St. Leo the other two weekends. Father Marion is still alive. He is
C: I got a letter from him not long ago. He told me Father Benedict died. I would go
down there after I married on weekend retreats and the like, and I would always
see them. Father Benedict baptized my son. My son was born in May, and our
priest, Father [John Vincent] O'Sullivan, was on vacation, so Father Marion and
Father Benedict came up from St. Leo. Father Marion must be younger than
Father Benedict was, because he said my son was the first child Father Benedict
I sent my son down there to camp in the summer. My husband was sick when
he got in high school, and I wanted him to go down there, but my husband said,
"Oh, do not send him away from me." So he did what he wanted in high school.
He was on the football team.
P: He went to GHS [Gainesville High School] here?
C: He played football for [the University of] Florida, too.
P: Oh, really. What was his name?
C: Asa Cox.
P: So he is still here in town.
C: Oh, yes. He is having a hard time now. See, we had to go bankrupt.
P: Things have been tight. The local economy has been tight.
C: A lot of people are going bankrupt.
P: I used to work at Norman's Country [grocery store], and they had a lot of
C: Asa was going to build [a new location for Cox Furniture] out near where
Norman's Country was built [behind the Oaks Mall].
P: Right, I remember that.
C: I am glad he did not. Ever since they built that [downtown] plaza, that took our
parking space away, so we do not have enough parking. Ever since then,
[business has been] down, down, down.
P: Let me summarize what we have talked about to make sure we have it right.
You remember Father Conoley, that he primarily worked with the students, he
did say mass at St. Patrick's, and occasionally he came out [to your house].
Your mother worked pretty closely with him making costumes for his plays.
C: Yes. He would eat a meal with us now and then.
P: He was a fairly young priest, and a very tall, attractive man.
C: To me, he looked like he was twenty-five or thirty.
P: I saw one picture, and he did, but actually he was in his late thirties. He was
thirty-nine when he left town.
C: I ought to have a picture of him.
P: There is a picture of him in the UF yearbook. It is just a head-and-shoulders
picture, and he is wearing his major's uniform, and I thought he looked probably
in his late twenties, not his late thirties.
C: Well, he was young when he was there.
P: You remember going to church one Sunday morning, and he had been kidnapped
and beaten up.
C: I do not know whether it was Saturday night it happened or early Sunday
morning or Friday. We were in the country, see, and we did not get any news.
The people that were at church were congregating and talking about it.
P: Do you remember the name of the church in Palatka where he was dumped?
There probably was only one.
C: Oh, yes, there was only one little church there. In fact, all the towns that had
churches had just little ones.
P: Maybe Jacksonville might have had three or four, but that would have been an
C: Oh, yes, Jacksonville had some. Newberry had a church.
P: Did it?
C: Newberry had a church, because the Kincaids lived in Newberry. Their father
ran a grocery store. Mrs. Kincaid was Miss LaFontisse.
P: That is probably the church that is High Springs now.
C: That is in High Springs. They even moved that little church.
P: Certainly things have changed now. The Catholic Church now is just booming
here in town. There are four parishes here in Gainesville [Holy Faith, Queen of
Peace, St. Augustine, and St. Patrick], plus St. Madeleine's in High Springs.
They are all quite large.
C: Well, and Keystone Heights has one [St. William].
P: Starke has one [St. Edwards].
C: Hawthorne has one [St. Philip Neri], and there is a little church out in Interlachen
going toward Palatka. I went to Keystone for a while. I had a lake place, and I
stayed out there about ten years. Father Williams came there. First we had an
old priest. He had been a major in the army. He was retired, and he said he had
two pensions--he had a government one and a social security one. He wanted
to build a little house because he only had a room in the sacristy in the church.
He said, "Do not worry about the payments. I will meet them because I do not
need my money." And he did. He was an older man. Of course, they came to
my son for furniture because he always gave them a good price.
P: They have always had good-quality merchandise at Cox's.
C: Then I gave him a La-Z-Boy chair myself, because I was going to church out
there. When he left, he said, "Did you give that chair to the church, or did you
give it to me?" I said, "I gave it to you. Take it with you." But the women did get
together and raise the money to furnish the house. He was a good old priest.
P: Even with Father Conoley's problems, apparently the Klan here in town and
maybe some other people did not like his popularity with the students.
C: They just did not like that. That was the only thing that we could figure out.
P: They did not like the fact that he was so popular. In fact, he was writing these
plays that were being done across the state. So they first started rumors
accusing him of homosexuality. They spread vulgar rumors about him for
months and months, apparently, and then they finally kidnapped him and left him
mutilated in Palatka. Is there anything you remember about the period you think
is important that ought to be added?
C: I cannot think about what year he was here. I have been trying to locate that.
P: He came in 1919 and left early in 1924. I know he wrote a letter in February of
1924 asking permission to go back in the military, because he said he thought he
was better suited for working with young men than being a pastor. Then, based
on the records I have found and based on what you have told me, when he was
kidnapped, he never came back. So apparently it was sometime in late February
C: See, I was in my late teens if it was in 1924.
P: He was in the army in 1917-1918 and came here sometime in early 1919.
Before that, he had been at the cathedral in Jacksonville as Bishop [Michael J.]
Curley's chancellor. Then when Bishop Curley went to Baltimore as archbishop
of Baltimore, Bishop Barry had come in.
C: That is right.
P: I really appreciate it, Mrs. Cox. I cannot tell you how you have enlightened me.
C: I wish I could have helped you more.
P: Well, you have helped me a great deal.
C: I am going to start telling my grandchildren to write things down that are
P: Several people had heard that the Klan had actually kidnapped him and had
actually mutilated him, but they were not old enough to have been there. They
heard it from their parents and grandparents.
C: From people like me.
P: But you were a teenager. You were old enough to know what was going on.
C: And I had ears. My mother said I was listening too much.
P: But I really do thank you for this. Not only that, I just like to talk about old times.
It is just fun for me.
C: I like to think about old-time things. I located those windows that were taken out
of the church, and they are going to be put at Queen of Peace, with Father
P: When do you think you are going to be ready to build your first church?
C: I do not know.
P: You still go to Holy Faith.
C: I am just five minutes ride from Holy Faith.
P: Was Father Walsh at Holy Faith for a while?
C: Oh, yes, he built Holy Faith.
[End side A2]
P: This is Stephen Prescott with the [University of Florida] history department.
Today is August 6, 1990, and I am continuing a conversation with Mrs. May Cox
at her home. We were just reminiscing about Father Conoley, and you were
telling me about how capable he was and how he stirred people up because of
that. We had talked before, and you were not sure if he was the pastor at St.
Patrick's or just the rector at Crane Hall, but when I checked, he was both. They
did not get a separate priest for Crane Hall until 1928, four years after he left
C: I did not think he lived there.
P: He did not live in Crane Hall.
C: No, he did not live in the rectory either, did he, at St. Patrick's?
P: He may not have the whole time.
C: But he used to go there a lot. He used to have a lot of the boys meet him there,
because he wrote plays. He just was a real smart man.
P: He was. Mrs. Hatch, whose maiden name was Chazal, told me that he would tell
a story about a black preacher, and it would crack everybody up. She said she
could remember him because he stayed in her father's home when he went to
Ocala twice a month to celebrate mass.
C: Mrs. Hatch?
P: Her name is Hatch now.
C: I wonder if she was a music teacher.
P: She told me she went to school at FSU, and she had trouble getting a job when
she got out because she was Catholic. Her maiden name was Chazal. Her son
is still in the insurance business in Ocala. So we had talked about that.
C: Oh, there are a lot of people school teachers who lost their jobs because
they were Catholic.
P: Three priests came after Father Conoley, but they did not stay very long. Then
there was one that stayed for a long time. Their names are on the sheet I gave
you. Father O'Sullivan stayed for fourteen years.
C: Oh, yes, he was there. He married us in 1928.
P: Did he? Yes, when Father Conoley left, you had Fathers Nolan, Halligan, and
Lehmann in a period of four years. Then Father O'Sullivan stayed for fourteen
C: He was there a long time.
P: And then Father [Jeremiah P.] O'Mahoney was at Crane Hall because they had
separate ones then. 1928 is when they got two priests.
C: We were developing a little more.
P: Stephen O'Connell was a student at the University of Florida during the period
when Father O'Mahoney was here. O'Connell later became the president of the
University, from 1968 to 1974, and he brought Father O'Mahoney back and gave
him an honorary doctor's degree from the University of Florida.
I want to go back over what we said about the people that took Father Conoley
out of the rectory.
P: You remember one of them was Mr. Waldo, and another was Mr. [Lewis W.]
Fennell, [the police chief]. You cannot remember the third one's name?
C: I cannot remember who the other one was. You did not find out who the other
one was? You did not find out who the other one was?
P: No, I have not. I was hoping when you saw that list of names on the street, you
would remember one.
C: I wonder if they would have anything in the diocese, if the bishop would have
anything about that.
P: He does not have names. I checked their archives. But you are sure that Mr.
Waldo and Mr. Fennell were two of the three men that took Father Conoley.
C: Yes, I remember those names as we talk about it now. As I said, this was before
I was married. I was about nineteen, I guess.
P: Well, he was here five years, so you would have been fourteen when he first
came to town and nineteen when he left. Can you remember if there ever was
any explanation for his leaving, or was it hushed up?
C: I think they just tried to hush it up.
P: Everybody the city, the Catholic church, and everybody?
C: I think most of the city people just did not care, because I do not remember any
of them saying anything. But I knew, and so did my parents.
P: I am sure most of the people in the Catholic church at the time would have
C: Yes. The only explanation, they said, was because he fooled around with the
University boys so much.
P: They apparently tried to start rumors that his interest was more than friendly.
P: Well, Dr. [George Seldon] Waldo was the mayor when it happened, so that
would explain how he could do it and not get prosecuted. I checked the police
records, and there is no record that anyone was ever prosecuted for what they
did. But he was the mayor, and his father-in-law, Mr. Fennell, had been the
police chief, so that would explain that. But you definitely remember your
father's saying that Mr. Waldo and Mr. Fennell, who lived on the same street [as
the church], were two of the men who did it.
C: Yes, they were on the same street.
P: And they were two of the three men that took Father Conoley?
C: They were two of the three.
P: Thank you, Mrs. Cox.
C: My father went to Father Conoley, I know. I think it was after he was in the
hospital for a while.
P: So your father did go see him in the hospital after it happened?
P: Was that in Palatka or Jacksonville?
C: It was here in Gainesville when they did not have a hospital. They had a house
[Old Fellows Home at the corner of SE 2nd Avenue and 7th Street]. It was just a
big house, and they had nurses in there, so it was just a small hospital. What
was the population of Gainesville then?
P: About seven thousand people, I think.
C: Yes, about six or seven thousand people.
P: Your father went to see him after he was taken?
C: Yes. Of course, now, he saw him a lot of times before this happened, and so did
my mother, because she made all of the costumes for him.
P: That is what you told me. But your father did see him after it happened?
C: Yes, I am sure it was after it happened.
P: So they brought him back, and he was in the house that functioned as a hospital
here in Gainesville for a while.
C: It was on what is now 7th Street. I do not remember what the name of it was
then. That street crossed University Avenue the other side of where the Kirby
Smith School is, that big building that is not a school anymore.
P: That is like the administrative offices of the school board or something.
C: Yes, that building was there. That is where I went to school. And then there was
a big field where the high school kids played their football. Well, this house was
down alongside that street about two blocks. It was a great big house, two
P: Down near where Dr. Barrow's offices are now, in that general area?
C: In that area.
P: So after they took him and beat him up and injured him, he was brought back
C: He was brought back. The priest over there got him brought back.
P: The priest in Palatka brought him back and put him in the hospital?
C: Yes. I mean, they brought him back from Palatka, because when he opened the
door, he found him at his door all beat up.
P: Do you know if he was conscious?
C: I do not know that.
P: So maybe I could find out what the priest's name was at that time in Palatka.
C: In that year.
P: In that year. But he brought him back.
C: If he did not, then some of his parishioners did.
P: Yes, some of his parishioners did, and your father went and visited him. As soon
as he got out of the hospital, he left town right away. Is that right?
P: As far as you know, he never came back to Gainesville at all or saw anybody?
P: I know one of our professors wrote him in May 1951, but he did not answer.
C: He did not answer?
C: I do not blame him.
P: I do not, either. Mrs. Hatch told me that he kept in contact with her father and
wrote her father up until the early 1950s when her father got sick. As far as I can
find a record, he did not keep in contact with anybody in Gainesville after it
happened. He probably wanted to forget Gainesville as quickly as he could.
C: Yes. But he was the one that really got Crane Hall started. He was good at
mingling with people. He was so young and so smart, and these rich people that
came down to St. Patrick's [gave him the money he needed].
P: This would have been Mrs. Mary Crane and her daughter-in-law, Mrs. McCarthy.
C: Mrs. Crane and Mrs. McCarthy. Now, Mr. McCarthy was president of a bank
here. Then the Depression came along. I do not know how, but he got out of
the bank somehow. One girl married a McCarthy, and Mrs. Crane was an aunt
of Mr. McCarthy. Their mothers were sisters, I think. And then Mr. Brown was
related somehow. He owned Brown Brothers Hardwood Mill. His daughter
came by to see me last week. She lives in Jacksonville.
P: What is her name?
P: What is her first name?
P: Joan Brown Hardy. Do you remember her father's first name?
C: Edwin Brown.
P: Edwin Brown.
C: Let me see. He was a lot older than this lady he married. This Brown girl calls
me May. Her mother and father had a lot of money. I was going to high school,
and when they wanted to go on a trip, they asked me if I would come and
baby-sit a little boy who was two years older than she was. She was about four
when I used to do that, three or four, and the little boy was about eighteen
months older. I would stay with them three weeks at a time in the summer when
I was not going to school.
P: I guess it was the McCarthy's son who was killed in World War I.
C: In World War I. There was a beautiful window [in his memory]. The Cranes, the
McCarthys, and the Browns all put beautiful windows in St. Patrick's Church.
P: They had St. Patrick's remodeled, apparently.
C: They had it remodeled.
P: Then Mrs. Crane gave money to build the first Crane Hall?
C: Yes, but Father Conoley was the one that got that going.
P: Yes. Apparently he came to Gainesville with the idea of working with the
students. Bishop Curley would have been the bishop when he first came. Then
he became Archbishop of Baltimore, and Bishop Barry became bishop.
Apparently he came here and was very popular with the students. They thought
very highly of him.
C: Oh, yes, they did. They all did. I remember he was a good-looking man, too,
real good looking.
P: I found a photograph of him tall, blond.
C: Yes. He was a real good-looking man.
P: Well, I appreciate talking to you, Mrs. Cox.
[End of the interview]