Boynton Beach’s Most Wanted Man – Do you know him?

This week we have a guest blogger, Janet DeVries, archivist at the Boynton Beach City Library and author of four books on the history of Boynton Beach and Delray Beach. She tells the story of a mysterious picture found at the library.

The distinguished gentleman stares out of the old photograph. The handsome fellow sports short, carefully combed hair, a clean shaven face, and extremely long sideburns. Who is

The Mystery Man of Boynton

he? His identity remains a mystery. A news reporter for WPTV News Channel 5 in West Palm Beach was so intrigued with the image the station ran a story about the mystery man. Since then, people all over the country have been trying to identify him.

Why all the fuss over a guy in a picture? What archive doesn’t have unidentified photographs? The provenance of the 14” by 18” crayon portrait (a charcoal enhanced photograph) is also a mystery. Even the way the portrait was discovered is something out of a Nancy Drew book.

A furniture refinisher discovered a hidden drawer underneath an old display cabinet in the Boynton Beach City Library. Perhaps it wasn’t really a “secret” drawer, but it was stuck closed and no one knew of its existence until the refinisher revealed to us the contents of the drawer. Most of the items were Boynton Beach Historical Society papers and old newspapers, along with two old Boynton post office ledgers from 1913 and 1921.

I put the portrait on display in a vintage camera and photographic exhibition in the library. A news reporter for WPTV saw the “suspect,” I mean the unusual man in the image, and inquired as to his identity. When I simply said “I don’t know,” that question was followed by “where did it come from?” After hearing the story, WPTV broadcast the mystery man’s face on television along with the caption “Most Wanted.” Due to the far-reaching power of the Internet and social media, the image has made its way around the world.

Since then people have been sending in clues. One of the most noteworthy tips came from Maureen Taylor, the internationally recognized photo identification and history expert. Taylor has written several books on the intersection of history, genealogy, and photography including the title Fashionable Folks Hairstyles 1840-1900. The Bostonian called with evidence to the photos age based on hairstyle, clothing and type of photographic image.

Taylor said the photograph dates from around 1880. She concurred that his notable hair were “Burnside” style sideburns, but noted that by 1880 they had become quite exaggerated. The photo detective said “The short hair combined with the facial hair confirms the date. His jacket and tie are also the style from the circa 1880 period. He really liked to show off!”

WPTV once again showed the story on television with some of the new clues. The furniture with the hidden drawer was traced to Mr. G.A. Stevenson, owner of Stevenson Feed & Seed. The old store was located next door to the Seaboard Railway, just west of present day I-95. The place closed years ago and Mr. Stevenson himself is gone.

A number of people are on the case, following leads and tracking down clues. The local Daughters of American Revolution chapter, historical societies and libraries locally and nationally, even postal history experts are conducting their own investigations. Meanwhile, the kindly looking gent in the photograph continues to patiently peer out of his frame as if looking for a relative.

80 Years Ago Today, a College was Born.

Imagine it is 1931 in Palm Beach County. The land bust has left many residents penniless and land speculators long gone. The Great Depression is in full swing, and just three years earlier, the worst hurricane in Florida history in terms of loss of life had occurred. So what to do to help the community prosper again? Propose something that was a radical concept at the time – establish a public two-year college so that local residents could achieve the dream of higher education for their children.

Joe A. Youngblood

This idea was quietly announced April 13, 1931 by the County Superintendent of Instruction at that time, Joe A. Youngblood. Youngblood hailed from Arkansas, and was elected in 1925 to the superintendent’s post after a successful career in insurance. Youngblood’s political advertisement from 1932 described him as “a college man”; Youngblood earned a Master of Arts degree from Vanderbilt University. On page 7 of the Palm Beach Post Youngblood told of the idea to offer college classes at the Palm Beach High School. Howell L. Watkins, the principal of Palm Beach High School, and Youngblood worked together to gain support for the idea. At that time, parents had to send their children to a private college, to the University of Florida at Gainesville, or the Florida State College in Tallahassee (later called Florida State University). Many parents simply could not afford room, board and tuition during the Depression, so Watkins and Youngblood thought of offering college classes at the high school so young adults could live at home and still attend college, at least for the first two years of college studies.

Howell L. Watkins

What we consider commonplace today in having a community college was not common at that time. There were a handful of what were then called “junior” colleges around the nation, but only one other one in Florida, St. Petersburg Junior College, which had opened in 1927 and was private. The University of Florida was a key player in helping the fledgling college design its curriculum and make sure that the faculty were ready and able to teach college-level classes. Classes started in 1933, with Watkins serving as Dean, and the entire class schedule was published in the Palm Beach Post (see below). That first semester, 41 students took classes in mathematics, science, music, education, foreign language and English. Mr. Youngblood’s wife Ethel was among the original faculty and taught German and Latin.

The University of Florida continued to supervise the curriculum, and the college continued to expand its classes and curriculum.The first graduating class in 1936 numbered 3 students – Charlotte Cross, Franklin Kamiya, and Virginia Cunningham. It is interesting to note that Franklin Kamiya (in the black cap and gown below) was born in West Palm Beach, and his family was part of the Yamato Colony of Japanese immigrants in the Boca Raton area, who arrived in the early 1900s. His uncle was George Morikami of the Morikami Museum and Gardens fame.

The College’s First Graduates in 1936

The first president of the college was John I. Leonard, who succeeded Youngblood as superintendent and guided the college from 1936 til 1958. Leonard and Watkins were also

John I. Leonard

instrumental for having the college accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which occurred in 1942. The college soon outgrew it’s Palm Beach High School home, and moved to a larger facility at Morrison Field in 1948. The mobilization of Morrison Field for the Korean War caused the college to move to the Lake Park town hall, until land was granted from the Palm Beach County Commission for the 114 acre Lake Worth site.

Junior colleges continued to spring up around the state; one of the college’s 1941 graduates, James L. Wattenbarger, went on to become the architect of Florida’s junior college system through his doctoral dissertation which presented the plan that was adopted in 1958. In the ensuing decades, Palm Beach Junior College became Palm Beach Community College in 1988, and finally Palm Beach State College in 2010. Additional campuses were added in Palm Beach Gardens, Belle Glade and Boca Raton to provide easy access to all citizens of Palm Beach County. The college also has the original historic building on the Palm Beach High School grounds among its facilities.

Dormitories at Morrison Field

I recently corresponded with a great niece of Mr. Youngbloods; she had no idea of his role in helping to form a college. In her mother’s garage she had discovered a few items he had on his desk. I am sure not even in his greatest imaginings could he have foreseen what the college is today. This May, Palm Beach State College will confer its first bachelor’s degrees;

1935 Biography of Joe Youngblood

the “little college that could” has become the big college that can. I am among the over 90,000 people who have graduated from the college over the years. It is amazing how one idea can transform a community and a state through education, the greatest emancipator ever known.

Complete Schedule – 1933

Lights! Camera! Action! Palm Beach’s First “Moving Pictures”

A few weeks ago the Academy Awards were held, and I wondered, what was the first movie ever filmed in Palm Beach County? The Palm Beach County Film Commission maintains a list of films shot in Palm Beach County, but it only goes back to the 1960s. Then I got a clue from the book “Loxahatchee Lament”, a collection of pioneer tales from

Dorothy Dalton

the Jupiter area. One of the articles in the book was based on excerpts from a scrapbook kept by Mrs. Frank Shuflin. In the scrapbook she clipped an article about a “moving picture”being filmed in the Jupiter area in 1923 starring Dorothy Dalton, a major star of the silent film era. In the movie being filmed, they needed a tropical swamp for a scene. The article describes how they could not find a suitable location in West Palm Beach, so they headed up to Jupiter for filming. They filmed at the Pennock Plantation and the Lainhart orange grove west of Jupiter.

The article did not mention the title of the film, but did mention the director, Irvin Willat.

Fog Bound Movie Poster

A bit of Internet searching revealed that the film was entitled “Fog Bound.” The AMG movie guide provides the following synposis: “Pretty Dorothy Dalton co-stars with the handsome but not as stellar David Powell in this action-packed Paramountdrama. The wealthy but idle Roger Wainright (Powell) finds himself falling in love with Gale Brenon (Dalton), a modern, independent young lady who manages several Florida orange groves. While Wainright is enjoying himself at a local gambling resort, the place is raided by revenuers and Sheriff Holmes (Jack Richardson) is killed in the ensuing gun fight. Wainright escapes and Gale hides him, later helping him to escape into the swamp. But the dead man is her father, and when she discovers that Wainright is suspected of being the one who discharged the fatal shot, she leads the posse to him. At the last moment, her love for him causes her to weaken, but he turns himself in anyway. A friend, Mabel Van Buren, reveals that she witnessed the killing, and that it was another officer, Deputy Brown (former matinee idol),who did the dirty deed. Evidence backs her up, and Wainright and Gale are reunited.”

The Heart Raider Still

The Heart Raider Movie Still

Further searching in the Palm Beach Post provided two more movies made in 1923. A comedy called “The Heart Raider” starring Agnes Ayres, was shot in Palm Beach.  Time Magazine provides a short summary of the film: “Agnes Ayres proceeds through this picture as a society siren against whose heart of gold other hearts, of lesser, masculine metal, shatter themselves by scores. Then one day in walks a misogynist. On board his yacht heart-of-gold meets heart-of-iron.The cast is pleasantly supplied with Mahlon Hamilton as the misogynist and Charles Ruggles as supplementary clown. All in all the results justify two hours expended in their inspection.”

The third film to shoot that spring was “The Exciters” starring Bebe Daniels. This comedy’s plot is as follows, from Moviefone “The Exciters is the old one about a footloose heiress who must marry by the age of 21 or forfeit her fortune. The girl (Bebe Daniels), an

The Exciters Lobby Card

inveterate thrill-seeker, chooses as her mate a handsome gangster (Antonio Moreno). Lots of thrills and laughs occur as a result of this shaky union. The gangster eventually reveals that he’s an undercover cop, and the girl finally agrees to curb her craving for excitement. Veteran scenarists Sonya Levienand John Colton adapted The Exciters from a novel by Martin Brown.” Bebe Daniels returned in 1926 to film “The Palm Beach Girl”, where many locals served as extras at a train station scene in the movie. Another scene with a train was shot in Jupiter, where a train rammed a prop car.

I wish I could provide clips from these films, but only The Heart Raider exists in a private

The Palm Beach Girl Movie Poster

collection.  It is estimated that 60-80% of the silent movies filmed are no longer in existence ( Films of this era were made with a type of material called cellulose nitrate, which was extremely flammable. Old black and white movie film also contained quite a bit of silver, so thousands of movies were destroyed for their silver content. This kind of film is no longer used; it was replaced by “safety film” which was still stamped on film and negatives well into the late twentieth century. The George Eastman House has a Czech copy of The Heart Raider in its collection, and it would be interesting to see the Palm Beach and West Palm Beach of 1923.  I don’t know if indeed these are the oldest movies ever made here, but they certainly are among the earliest.