Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ethel Allen's Date With The Devil

Well I don't know if this October will bring any paranormal experiences like last year's ghost hunt at the historic Pritchard House in Titusville, check out my archives for the low down on that spooky night, but it has brought us new information on an infamous local crime that I chronicled in this blog on April 9, 2011. I am speaking about the brutal murder of Cocoa's Ethel Allen, whose mutilated and burned body was found on the bank of the Indian River on November 21, 1934. This murder has continued to fascinate in part due to the violence involved in the crime and partly because no one was ever arrested for it. That such a sensational crime occurred at all in sleepy Brevard County at that early of a date also adds to the shock factor. However, some 78 years later local authors Gail Sheldon and Gloria Falco set out to try and solve this very cold case and have put together their findings on the crime in a new book entitled "Ethel Allen's Date With The Devil."

In addition to using traditional investigative methods the authors used paranormal techniques like searching for EVP's in Ashleys restaurant, a place that has had a long, assocation with her story. One of these techniques actually uses dowsing rods to search for high electro magnetic fields. A question such as "Where you were killed?" can be asked of a spirit and in the hands of an experienced user the rods will point in a direction which can then be followed.

If you are interested in learning the "latest" on the Ethel Allen case be sure to check this out!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Friends of the Library Donate state of the art Microfilm Scanner!

With Friends like these, who could ask for anything more??? This is what we are saying after the Friends of the Central Brevard Library donated a state of the art microfilm scanner called the ScanPro2000. While some may think that microfilm is a thing of the past, the library system has a large collection of film that still needs to be viewed and community members frequently bring in records of their own, military for instance, that are on film or fiche. Unable to obtain parts for our aging readers and down to only one working machine the Friends donation allows us to keep serving our patrons with the use of the latest technology. The ScanPro 2000, which fits on a small desktop, comes attached to a computer and a 24" montior and does a lot for its small size.
With automatic focus, digital zoom, editing software, several scanning modes, DPI choices, cropping ability and varioius exporting options, such as to a thumb drive or email, there isn't much it can't do. Below is an example of two scans of a photograph printed in a 1935 issue of the Cocoa Tribune newspaper, which we have on microfilm. The first scan shows how it appears on the film when viewing it and the second scan shows the same picture after using the Auto Adjust feature of the ScanPro2000. Pretty great stuff, come by and check it out!
Cocoa House Newspaper Photo Before Editing
Cocoa House Photo After Editing

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Podcasts, Webinars & Online Classes

Numerous new free resources for online genealogy education have appeared during recent years. You can now sit at your computer and learn from the nation's top experts. How do you get started?
Experienced genealogist and Family History Center volunteer Patti Payne will tell you all about it on Monday, May 14, at 9:30 am in Room 1 of the Central Brevard Library. This meeting is free and open to the public. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tragedy on the Banana River

Georgiana Cemetery, Merritt Island, Brevard County, FL
In the beautiful Georgiana Cemetery on Merritt Island, sits a stone that has puzzled and fascinated Brevard County residents for years. The stone documents the deaths of Myrtle, Mary and Martha Smith three daughters of M.G. & E. Smith who all died on Wednesday June 14, 1916. The fact that all three girls died the same day has led to endless speculation on how they might have met their fate, from the obvious illness to more sinister implications. After searching the microfilm of the two local newspapers of the time and finding no mention of the girls I wrote to the Vital Statistics Department in Jacksonville to obtain copies of Martha and Myrtle's death certificates, they could not find one for Mary. There finally in black in white was the cause of death which was listed as "drowning, caused by storm."  

After finding this out I went back to the newspapers and searched again with no luck, so I put it in a drawer and was at least happy that I knew what had happened to them. A few months ago I received another inquiry about the stone from Faye Roberts in Alabama and I responded with what I knew. When she asked for more details I informed her that despite my best efforts, that was all I had been able to find out. Intrigued she contacted a friend who had access to a database of historic newspapers from throughout the country that we did not have access to. There she found the full and heartbreaking story curiously published in the pages of the New Smyrna News on Friday June 23, 1916.

The paper relates that J.J. (Joseph) Ramsey, his daughter Florence, a son of about 10 years old and three of his grandchildren, the Smith sisters, decided to go from Merritt Island across the Banana River to get to the beach where they planned on camping for a week to play in the surf and hunt turtles. Although "a heavy cyclonic gale was raging," Mr. Ramsey decided to cross to the beach anyway. The boat, an ordinary sized rowboat equipped with a sail, six people, a tent and a month's supply of provisions was overloaded even for good weather. About a mile from the eastern shore a shift of wind tore the sails down to the water capsizing the boat and throwing the occupants into the water. Although Mr. Ramsey got his daughter and the three girls to the side of the boat they were unable to hold on and they were drowned. Mr. Ramsey and his son held on to the boat and when it was driven near the shore they were seen and rescued by William Venty, one of the camping party whom the Ramseys intended to join. Miss Ramsey's body was recovered on Thursday and the little girls on Friday. It was reported that in Miss Ramsey's clinched hand was a lock of hair, proving that she had tried to catch and save at least one of her nieces.

As if the story wasn't tragic enough the author related that the three girls were the only children of M.G. (Martin Gaither) Smith of Rockledge who had lost his wife Elizabeth, their mother, giving birth to the last of the three girls. Thus Mr. Smith was "left alone in his sorrow."

It is still a mystery to me why the local papers did not report on the accident, perhaps it was just too hurtful to Mr. Smith and his father-in-law, who I am sure had a tremendous amount of guilt to live with, but I am glad that after all these years we finally know what happened to the girls. The last line of the article states "The sympathy of the entire community goes out to the bereaved family and especially to Mr. Smith," and even today almost a hundred years later I am sure you will agree with me that it is hard not to feel that way upon hearing the story.

Monday, January 30, 2012

More Brevard County History Comes to the Library

This year has gotten off to a busy start with the move of the Brevard Historical Commission collection to the Central Brevard Library in Cocoa. The Historical Commission was created by ordinance in 1979 by the County Commission to "collect, arrange, record and preserve historical material and data relating to the history of the county and of the state." The commission itself is made up of 15 unpaid members appointed by our five county commissioners and administrative support will be provided by existing library staff.  While we have been managing the collection and answering inquiries since May of last year, it was still at another location. Last week everything was carefully packed up and moved to the second floor of the library where it will be housed adjacent to the genealogy collection. The commission's collection is made up of everything from old photographs to antique furniture, maps, early newspapers and archaeological items. 

 Brevard County in 1856

While the collection is not open to the public for browsing, due to the rarity and delicate condition of many of the items, it is cataloged and items can be retrieved for researchers by staff. In addition to saving the taxpayers money by combining services, the collection will be more accessible than in the past due to the library's extended hours. The library's concrete building with hurricane shutters also offers more protection than its former location.

For those of you interested in our local history the commission has several projects you might want to check out. The three volume set of Brevard
County history books is fascinating and their quarterly journal of history is another winner!