Excerpt: Island Visitors

from Yesteryear I Lived in Paradise by Myrtle Scharrer Betz

Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg

Eddie Rickenbacker

Eddie Rickenbacker

Robert Lincoln

Robert Lincoln

Editor’s note: Myrtle and her father frequently hosted visitors, including such famous ones as poet Carl Sandburg, Eddie Rickenbacker, and Robert Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln.

ENTERTAINMENTS AND ISLAND VISITORS

Often, on moonlight nights, groups of young people would arrive at dusk at our home for a cook-out supper. This would almost always consist of several chickens cut up and cooked in a large iron pot over an outdoor fire. When the chickens reached the near-tender state, rice was added and cooked down. This cooking was always the duty of the men folks. A great pot of coffee was on one side of the fire. The food was served in wooden throw-away plates – no paper plates at that time. Someone, usually the couple or couples that had come as chaperones, supplied the flatware. Some of the party had brought either cakes or pies. Father had built a large table and benches, and cut a stack of wood for the cooking; such a happy time, everyone was friendly and laughing. The young couples did much teasing, but they were never rough or unduly noisy. There was no drinking and no smoking, unless it was a pipe of one of the men who were in the chaperone group. After the picnic supper was over, someone in the group would have a mandolin or guitar and we would gather around the cook fire that was now a bonfire and sing. Then it would be time to leave for the sail back to Clearwater…

…In these faraway days, there was little for the many tourists that were filling the hotels to do. Men went quail shooting, fishing or played golf.For the ladies there were cards and gossip; no roads, no cars. One hired a horse and buggy to visit a nearby town. But water travel was available. Clearwater had charter (sail) boats at the city dock. There was, across the sound, what was called Shell Island, Clearwater Beach today. Here one could picnic and walk the Gulf-lapped beach searching for its treasure of shells. Anclote Lighthouse, a distance of some fifteen miles and a full day’s trip, was often visited.

Caladesi Island gatheringNearer and of increasing interest was Hog Island or Scharrer’s Island. Here the boatmen brought their fares of the curious and the interested. My father never seemed to tire of showing visitors around his acres of semi-tropic island. When a group would arrive, he would drop whatever he was doing and become a gracious host. Paths had been cleared leading to points of interest.
The first stop on the walk was our large and well-cared-for garden. There was always much amazement that a garden could be grown on an island. This always struck me as strange. What was so different about an island? Father answered questions, named plants and trees, pointed out birds and especially the nests of the eagles and herons. The Indian burial mounds were a high point in the nature walk. As many of these visitors came from the plush Belleview (later the Belleview Biltmore) Hotel, I met the great and near-great.

In our home, which most of the visitors wished to see, I had been given one corner for my own. There was a little rolltop desk and chair and, plastered on the walls, covers from The Saturday Evening Post. These were usually lovely ladies posed with beautiful horses or dogs and were done by an artist named Charles Dana Gibson. Among these, there hung a picture of Montgomery Ward’s new great building in Chicago. At that time there were no branch stores. This picture had been included in one order for free, and such a huge building I had never seen, so up on the wall it went. A gentleman visitor in our home stepped up to me and, pointing to the picture said, “I’m Mr. Thorn, the head of that business.” No doubt he was as much impressed by seeing his great building hanging on the wall of a pioneer Florida home as I was on meeting him.

Among the names I recall were those of Robert Lincoln (he and my father visited often) and the poet-writer Carl Sandburg. Maybe his visit had something to do with the fact that Lincoln wintered in Clearwater. Much later, Sandburg sent a copy of his Lincoln, the Prairie Years to my father. With a dream in my heart that someday I, too, might write, I sometimes got a bit of encouragement, as when Rex Beach said, “You can do it.” A shy little islander telling her dream to a writer.

Fritz Kreisler

Fritz Kreisler

Maybe the greatest thrill of all was hearing Fritz Kreisler play on Father’s violin. Then there was a friend who brought Eddie Rickenbacker to visit. After reading in the papers so much about this World War One ace and later of his miraculous rescue in the Pacific, I felt very humble and privileged to meet this fine, well-known figure. And now, just maybe we islanders were different, as had been pointed out by some of the local people.

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